Pecorino, Why Drinking Little Sheep is Better Than Counting Them

Osteria Papavero: As Close As it Gets To Italian Dining in Madison

(a guest post from Gillian Nevers)

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, Dan and I had dinner at Osteria Papavero.

I love Papavero. It’s small, smartly lit and feels very much like a neighborhood restaurant. Eating there is the closest to eating in Italy that you can get in Madison, Wisconsin. That is probably because the Chef and owner, Francesco Mangana, was not only born in Belonga, but studied and trained there. The food is traditional Tuscan, beautifully and simply prepared, with attention paid to using ingredients produced locally.

It was our twentieth anniversary, counting from the first time we got married. We’ll celebrate our nineteenth in June, if you count from the second time. But, that’s another story.

We began our meal sharing a plate of Antipasto di Tartufo, passing up my favorite, Antipasto Misto di Verdure (vegetables are very much apparent on the menu), then moved on to the entrées. Dan ordered the Tagliatelle ai Fungi; I ordered Guancie, one of the specials, mostly because I’d never eaten beef cheeks. I was not disappointed. The house-smoked, then slowly cooked, cheek came served on top of a slice of grilled polenta, surrounded by just the right amount of red wine sauce made with a hint of balsamic vinegar. Of course, we ordered wine: Dan a red, and I a white––a 2008 Barone di Valforte Pecorino from the Abruzzo, to be exact.

Gillian Nevers near L'Aquila

Pecorino has been my wine of choice (if I can find it in Madison) since I discovered it the last time we were in L’Aquila. As was our habit, while in L’Aquila, Dan and I walked to the center before dinner, stopping for a glass of wine before meeting up with family. One evening, we stopped at La Fenice, a wine bar near the Palazzo del Governo, we had first been to with Joshua. La Fenice was also one of Joshua’s favorite haunts for morning coffee, because it had a comfy chair, more or less, hidden away, where he could read the newspaper, and the owner, Maurizio, had a large collection of old jazz tapes. It was also a well-stocked wine store. **

I asked the bartender to recommend a white, preferably on the dry side. He poured a small amount of a Pecorino, and after tasting it, I asked him to fill the glass. The full bodied white had the flavor of a blend of fresh fruits, but without the strong acidity of some Chardonnay’s. I thanked the bartender for suggesting it and attempted to make a joke by telling him it was preferable to drinking formaggio. Or, did I say it was preferable to drinking sheep? After all, a pecorino is a cheese famous in the Abruzzo. It is also a little sheep, and it is thought the Pecorino grape got its name because it was once a favorite snack of sheep as they were driven through vineyard lands on their way to lower pastures.

Whether it was because my Italian was so bad or he just didn’t think it was funny, the bartender didn’t laugh. But, he did bring us another little bowl of potato chips.

**La Fenice has been off limits since the April 6, 2009 earthquake. Maurizio, the owner is looking for a new location. When he finds one, he will need to build his wine stock from scratch. After the government opened the neighborhood to private companies, not just to fire fighters, to build the scaffolding to prop up buildings and make the streets safe, thieves broke into the bar and stole the remaining bottles of wine.

Note, if you are reading this on Facebook, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

Ostaria Papavero: http://www.osteriapapavero.net/

Wine on FoodistaWine

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