Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Last Sunday night I was looking for a place for a quiet dinner on my own after finishing up an American Sommelier wine seminar at Vignola-Cinque Terre.
(I tried to stay at Vignola, but they were booked.)
So I called over to Piccolo, the new restaurant that Damian Sansonetti and his wife, pastry chef Ilma Lopez, have started at 111 Middle St. Even though it's a tiny place, they had room for me because, Damian told me later, people have not yet caught onto the fact that they're open on Sundays.
They've only been open about three weeks or so, and this was my first visit. I decided to indulge in the cheeseboard, and these cheeses, imported from Abruzzi by Bob Marcelli of Marcelli Fromaggio, were so outstanding I thought I would share them with the other cheese lovers out there so you can go try them if you want.
Damian told me his restaurant is the only place in Portland these cheeses from are being served. Most, he said, are sheeps' milk cheeses that come from a heritage breed called "sopravviana."
Sansonetti uses the Pecorino di Parco (pecorino of the park) on pasta and salads. This cheese is listed in the Slow Food Ark of Taste and is made by Marcelli's cousin Nunzio.
On my cheese plate there was Pecorino Gregoriano, an earthy "fresh pecorino" that is aged just two to three months.
"It's got a great acidity coupled with the flavor of the milk and creaminess," Sansonetti says.
My favorite was the creamy Ricotta Passita,an aged ricotta that is rubbed with herbs to protect it before it is lightly cold smoked. This cheese is also in the Ark of Taste.
Sansonetti said he is using a smoked ricotta that is smoked over juniper braches for his eggplant salad. The cheese, he said, is "creamy, complex, salty, smoky, sharp and sweet.".OK, that's it for the cheeses. Just because I know you're curious, here's what else I had that night:
Local suckling pork belly over toasted farro,grilled artichoke, orange.
As usual, Ilma's dessert was stunning -- a nontraditional tiramisu made with mascarpone and a kind of "coffee jelly" - no lady fingers.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod