Little Italy | February 2021 curdbox

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We’re in the heart of winter now, when comfort food reigns supreme. And what’s more comfort food than Italian? And since we’re in the littlest month, why not make it Little Italy? We regrettably can’t ship you Nonna’s lasagna, but we /can/ ship you a little array of Italian delights. Just like Little Italy the neighborhood, it’s a mix of Italian and Italian-American products, several from companies started by Italian immigrants, that bring a little slice of what this country has to offer—with some little versions, to boot!

The Little Italy box

Burratina by Calabro

Calabro, started in the 1950s by an Italian immigrant, brings to market beloved Italian cheeses, including their Burratina. The diminutive “ina” suffix means that this is a littler version of Buratta, a Puglian cheese with a cult following—for good reason! Burrata is basically a mozzarella that’s pulled into an adorable dumpling shape and filled up with stracciatella, which is a mix of strands of mozzarella and cultured cream. Burratina is the same thing, just smaller and thus even more charming. Cut into these beauts and the creamy filling spills out—they’re fresh, milky, and rich (for this reason, these will do better in a little bowl than directly on your cheeseboard). Drizzle some of this month’s balsamic vinegar on it to learn what heaven tastes like.

Calabro's Burratina with Sutter Buttes Pomegranate Balsamic

Brigante with Rosemary by Pinna

Our next cheese hails from the achingly gorgeous Mediterranean island of Sardinia (I mean really, have you seen the photos of this place?), made by Pinna, a third generation family-owned company that hews closely to the cheesemaking traditions that have existed on the island for centuries. Because its mountainous terrain is better suited to sheep than cows, Sardinians primarily produce (pecorino—the generic name for all Italian sheep’s milk cheeses. Brigante with Rosemary is one such pecorino—it’s a young basket weave mold cheese (known as canestrati), which means that the curds are pressed directly into baskets, letting the whey drain out and leaving the basket imprint on the rind. Brigante is a friendly & flexible cheese, so it’s versatile and easy to pair. It’s got a delicate, milky taste that’s infused with rosemary, and a springy texture. A little hunk of Brigante on the garlic crostini? Mwah! Molto buono!

Pinna's Brigante with Rosemary with Veroni's Mortadella

Gran Biraghi by Biraghi

Last up is Gran Biraghi. Gran (or grana) means “grainy or “granular”, so these are your hard cheeses that are commonly used for grating to add a savory, salty depth to anything and everything. The best known example of a grana cheese is parmesan, though Grana Padano is increasing in popularity as well. Gran Biraghi is a grana from Piedmont, that luscious northwest corner of Italy nestled up with France and Switzerland at the foot of the Alps. This cow’s milk cheese, aged 1 year, is hard in texture, and a little crunchy and crystalline. Though it obviously grates well, it can also be shaved off into delicate umami-fun flakes that melt on the tongue—try it with the mortadella to amplify its savory flavor.

Garlic Crostini by Isola

To pair, we have the garlic crostini from Isola, another company founded by an Italian immigrant that’s dedicated to bringing artisan Italian products to the American market. Crostini means “little crusts” (there’s that diminutive "ini" form again), and they are meant to be rich and crunchy vehicles for all sorts of Italian treats. These ones are made with olive oil and garlic—how could we do a Little Italy box without those?

Pomegranate Balsamic by Sutter Buttes

Next is our little bottle of pomegranate balsamic. Sutter Buttes in California imports real balsamic vinegar from Modena (that’s the good stuff) and blends it with the juice of California pomegranates. This meld of Italian and American is an elixir that’s dark and complex, syrupy, and a little acidic—it’s like liquid gold, making everything more delicious. You don’t need much, just a few drops per bite, so you’ll have plenty leftover for salads, roast vegetables and meats, eating straight out of a spoon (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.)

Mortadella with pistachios by Veroni

We round off our board with mortadella with pistachios from Veroni. Italy has so many world-renowned cured meats (salume) in its repertoire, it was hard to choose, but the cooked and cured pork sausage mortadella is an absolute classic. Originally from Bologna, mortadella dates back to at least the middle ages, and is so associated with the region that outside of Bologna, it's often just called bologna (or baloney).

Mortadella is what’s known as an emulsified sausage—similar to frankfurters—which means that meat and fat filling is so ground finely ground that the fat is evenly dispersed in small droplets throughout the sausage (i.e. emulsified). This leads to tender and homogenous texture the larger pieces of fat are added back in after, which give mortadella its signature mosaic look). Like cheese, mortadella is best served at room temperature, so its flavors can really blossom. This superlative version from Veroni has a full and balanced, meaty taste with an almost buttery texture, with nutty pistachios studded throughout. It would go spectacularly with any of the cheeses. It’s also classic to fry it up for a sandwich (maybe a grilled cheese, hm?) Fun fact: Veroni are also the creators of the world record holding giant mortadella—decidedly not little!

So there you have it! Dive into your box, if you haven’t already, and as you munch on through, let’s be grateful for Italy, Italians, and Italian Americans—they bring us just so much good food. Buon appetito!

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Did you take some photos for the 'gram while enjoying this box? Please tag us @curdbox, along with our cheese and pairing partners @fratellipinnathiese@calabrocheese@isolaimports@sutterbuttesoliveoil and @veroni_usa. We love to see our cheese lovers enjoying their boxes!

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