Food & Drink

Holiday Entertaining

The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are so many easy ways to keep people happy, and to be able to spend time with them rather than finding yourself working double-time in the kitchen while everyones off caroling (though, personally, I’d rather be in the kitchen than subjecting others to my singing). Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness, get people an easy appetizer, and to keep yourself happy while you’re watching your rib roast cook away in the oven. I’ll be honest: there isn’t any cheese that doesn’t go with the holidays, but there are a few recommendations that I have that are exceptional this time of here. 

Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness

The first, and most traditional, is stilton. Here at Via Umbria, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a whole wheel of it from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. We carry cheeses from our favorite affineurs across the pond year but the stilton that we buy for Christmas is my favorite part of this relationship. Stilton has been a part of English Christmas tradition for a long time.  As such it pairs with so many of the foods that we eat, from spiced nuts to the big beef itself. Neal’s Yard’s stilton is made by one of the smallest producers: Colston Bassett, a co-op in Nottinghamshire where they take care to do everything by hand (something you won’t find at the factory that makes the stilton you’re buying at the supermarket). 

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I also really like the L’Amuse signature gouda for this time of year. It’s a cheese we are fortunate to have on hand year round, but when the days get shorter and colder, the cheese really stands out. This good gouda is not something soft and flabby, that requires smoke to mask it’s flavor. This gouda, traditionally made in the Netherlands, is colored with anatto and aged for over two years. If you ever hear someone talk about crystallization in cheese, this is the prime example, as it’s age makes almost crunchy. It’s flavor is an intense caramel that warms the soul – and pairs with some of your seasonal beers – the stouts and porters that good brewers release for the colder days. 

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My final cheese recommendation for the holidays is also the easiest to recommend, since it is only released this time of year: the Rush Creek Reserve. This is one of those now-trendy cheeses with washed rinds that are wrapped in spruce bark. But they’re trendy for a reason (they’re delicious) and they are perfect for entertaining. To eat them you slice off the top and open up to reveal a cheese so soft it’s ready for dipping. Of all these cheeses though, Rush Creek is the best. It’s producer: Uplands Cheese Company of Dodgeville, Wisconsin makes only two cheeses with their small herd. This cheese is made with milk that is produced in the autumn, when the cow’s diet has switched from the fresh summer grass to hay. It’s made with raw milk, making the beefy, brothy flavor so much more intense. It’s so good and honestly, hard to find and sells quickly (I’m not kidding people go crazy for this). If you’re entertaining for the holidays this is the cheese to get. 

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The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are ...

Cheese of the Month: Ogleshield!

One of the most fun aspects of working in food is that it is ever evolving and changing. Tradition may be the undertone of most things you see, but innovation is everywhere, regardless of how steeped the source. As a cheesemonger, finding fascinating new cheeses hidden in renowned traditional sources is one of my greatest pleasures.

No matter where in the world you look, many of the practices of making cheese are the same. The curds are heated in similar patterns, similar cultures are used, and many similar rind formation techniques are applied, but the results can be drastically different. So if I was surprised to find one of the foremost names in traditional English cheeses attached to a Swiss raclette style cheese, I was even more surprised to find one of England’s foremost cheddar producers as well! Montgomery’s Cheddar has long been held as one of the standard bearers of English cheddars and their collaboration with Neal’s Yard Dairy in Ogleshield reflects a lot of that commitment to quality and tradition, even in a more innovative cheese.

The first of these collaborations occurred on Ogleshield’s predecessor, Jersey Shield. Jaime Montgomery uses primarily more mild Holstein milk for many of his cheeses but made the decision to expand his small Jersey herd to cheese production as well. Jersey Shield started more traditionally English with a ashy gray bloomy rind, a firmer texture, and a cheddared style. However, due to the larger size and delicate nature of the fat globules in Jersey milk, the cheese did not succeed as affineurs had hoped. William Oglethorpe, who at the time was the senior affineur at Neal’s Yard, knew that the cheese had the potential to be incredible, they just had to find a way to get there, and thus, Ogleshield was born.

Ogleshield has all the ingredients for an incredible cheese: Jersey milk with its characteristic bright yellow fat and complex flavor profile from a master dairyman and a rind hand-washed and salted in the traditional Swiss style developed by master affineur, for whom the cheese is named. The result is a semi-soft, nutty, and almost fruity cheese incredible for melting with more punch and tang that a traditional raclette.

We are very happy to announce that Ogleshield will be our May cheese of the month! Come taste it in all it’s wonderful forms May 3rd at 7:30! Please visit our website for tickets!

Author: Emily Shifflett

Tips From Our Cheesemonger Emily Read more

One of the most fun aspects of working in food is that it is ever evolving and changing. Tradition may be the ...

Tabarrini Day

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am a bit startled.  And then I think for a minute – thank you is an easy expression – I use it a dozen times a day.  Giampaolo doesn’t want to be thanked – he is simply enjoying spending time together – to him this is nothing extraordinary and no reason to be thanked. “Don’t mention it – this is what we do.”

dinnerWith_Ombretta

And what they do is spectacular.  Over the last couple of years Giampaolo has expanded his cantina into a show stopping beauty.  With high ceilings and miles of space to store his wine, a tour of the cantina is endless.  And his wines are fantastic.  

We arrive for lunch on a beautiful spring day straight out of central casting.  The sun is shining high in the sky, a gentle breeze is blowing across the terrace and there is a beautiful, clear view. dinnerWith_Ombretta2 I arrive a few minutes behind the group and everyone is animatedly talking on the terrace – drinking one of Giampaolo’s collection of sparkling wines.

Today’s lunch is not about showcasing Tabarrini wines – he knows we are all big fans already.  Today we are dipping into his private cellar and drinking wines that he has been given or collected over the years.  We start with a beautiful Sicilian wine – only 10,000 bottles are produced each year.  This one has been aging in the cellar and is extraordinary…  Daniele and Teddy pop into the cellar and return with a big Primitivo from Puglia.  A friend of Giampaolo’s makes this wine and it holds up perfectly with the beautiful guinea fowl we are eating.

Tabarrini_3Our visit to the winery today is also a reunion. Giampaolo’s mother Franca had made her first trip to the US in December and spent two days with us at Via Umbria cooking amazing dinners to serve with the Tabarrini wine.  Franca comes out of the kitchen to say hello and to kindly let us know that whenever we are ready – her bags are packed.

So we enjoy a beautiful lunch and as we are leaving we pause on the steps to sit for just a minute to enjoy the day and of course more wine is poured and Giampaolo decides that his work in the field is done for the day.  Tabarrini_4We don’t need a facebook memory for this day – the fresh air, the laughter and wine all bring back memories of people and place – of a day enjoyed two years ago that perfectly mirrors today.  Two hours later we say our good byes and leave.

But it’s not really good-bye because we are meeting up on Saturday in Verona to taste wine and enjoy another meal together.   Don’t mention it – this is what we do.

With great wine, great meal and great people Read more

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am ...

Smoked Salmon Tasting

There isn’t a single event at Via Umbria that I don’t look forward to but the Ivy City Smoked Salmon tasting particularly piqued my interest. I know I’m not alone that for me and my family, smoked salmon is a kind of simple luxury. We enjoy smoked salmon by itself as a snack or for breakfast in our bagels or for dinner in a salad or a pasta. Our affinity for smoked salmon can let us tell you that not all brands are created equal which made Ivy City’s appearance much more intriguing.

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It was an intimate event which fostered intimate connections. I was seated next to some Via Umbria regulars, and by regulars I mean almost daily customers, whom I had been acquainted with before. As always, conversation flowed freely while we noshed samples of five of Ivy City’s smoked fish paired with a variety of spreads, my favorite of which was a creamy goat’s milk butter. An Ivy City rep explained to us the kinds of salmon we would be tasting which was an educational experience in and of itself. I did not even know there was such a thing as hot and cold smoking!

The salmon itself was divine which makes it no surprise that Via Umbria has started carrying it. smoked salmonddThree in particular stood out to me; the traditional smoked salmon was superb and as someone who appreciates the classics, I wondered as soon as it hit my lips if there was any way I could send this to my mother who lives 2,000 miles away. This is the kind of salmon that you want on a Sunday morning when you want to feel decadent without leaving the comfort of your home. The other two surprised me, one that had hints of dill and the Ivy City signature “Salmon Candy” which carried notes of honey without being overly sweet. The savoriness of the salmon and the honey played so well together that I only wish I could have more.

If you missed the tasting and are in the neighborhood please stop by to take a look at the Ivy City products Via Umbria has started carrying. You will never regret an opportunity to let what Via Umbria has to offer meet your taste buds.

Author: Judith Crews

The Only Kind of Smoking Mothers are OK With Read more

There isn’t a single event at Via Umbria that I don’t look forward to but the Ivy City Smoked Salmon tasting particularly piqued ...

Pizza Pizza

For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the right ingredients, to cooking the meal everyone joins in, and everyone has inspiration for what we should be preparing. Oddly enough, most of our big ideas and inspirations seem to revolve around fire. Whether we’re roasting a whole lamb over the pit in the backyard, a suckling pig in the magic pig box, or flames shooting out of the grill creating the perfect charr for our steaks, we just can’t seem to get enough of cooking over an open flame.

IMG_1219And pizza is no exception. When we renovated our house twenty years ago, we thought long and hard about what to do about the fireplace in the room that we were converting into our dream kitchen. After many rejected thoughts and ideas, a light hearted suggestion from our architect turned into his nightmare as we all quickly agreed that converting the fireplace into a wood burning pizza oven was the perfect solution.

And thus, a whole new flavor of family activities was born. Without any practice at being a pizzaolo, Bill quickly learned the trade and lead the family to pizza perfection. The perfect blend of feast and fun, pizza night at the Menard house soon became a regular event for friends and family alike. The world is your pizza- with an array of choices in front of you- trays of cured meats, fresh vegetables, caramelized onions,  sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, and of course olive oil, fresh pesto and tomato sauce as a base – everyone rolls up their sleeves and tosses a pie or two.

Our American tradition of Pizza night has become a fan favorite at la Fattoria del Gelso where fire also reigns supreme. In Umbria – Marco is the pizzaolo.  He has perfected the dough recipe and is a master of the perfect bake- creating light IMG_1212and airy pizzas that cook up nice and crisp on the bottom. The tomato sauce is rich without being overwhelming.  And of course here we have an amazing selection of toppings –prosciutto, guanciale, salami picante, capocollo,  porchetta – and that’s just the meats!

A quick word to the wise- the perfect pizza requires a balance of tastes and textures.  Too much sauce makes it impossible to cook and too many toppings often leads to an accidental calzone.

This past Sunday after a beautiful morning hunting successfully for truffles and wild asparagus – it was a great treat to sit back and enjoy a bite of dozens of Marco’s creations.  Pizza with sea salt and rosemary, with roasteIMG_1221d vegetables, with crispy guanciale, with Cannara onions and sausage,  and of course pizzas with wild asparagus and with fresh truffles. The grand finale?  Nutella pizza.

But why should we have all the fun? Take a pizza our family traditions and start your own! Come enjoy a slice with us at Via Umbria, bring your friends and family for a make your own pizza party, or visit us in Umbria and let Marco take care of you. No matter which way you slice it, you can’t go wrong when you’re eating good food with good friends.

From Truffles to Nutella Read more

For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the ...

Springtime means Sheep Time

I’ve been on a sheep-cheese kick, as of late. Sampling Umbria’s multitude of pecorinos while traveling through the region this past February (you can read about my trip in my last blog post) left me wanting more of that distinctively fatty and creamy, yet slightly gamey umami punch that you can only get from sheep’s milk.

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Unbeknownst to me at the time, I couldn’t have planned my return from Umbria any better –  I rolled right off the plane and smack dab into the beginning of lambing season. Springtime is the beginning of sheep time in the cheese world. Because of ewes’ lactation period, sheep’s milk isn’t available year round – the season starts in the spring and ends in the early fall. That means that fresh sheep’s milk cheeses simply aren’t available during the late fall and winter, and aged sheep’s cheeses slow down production because of the lack of fresh milk. Basically what I’m saying is, spring is a good time to come home with a hankering for sheep’s milk. Good job, me.

While lots of different cultures around the world make cheese out of sheep’s milk, pecorino is probably the best well known. That being said, it is probably one of the most misunderstood. Many of my customers come to my counter asking for pecorino, but have no idea that, a) it is actually made from sheep’s milk, and b) there are many different types of pecorinos out there. So let’s start with the basics: the word pecorino comes from the Italian word for sheep, pecora. Hence, any Italian cheese made with sheep’s milk is technically a pecorino. This means that in Italy, there are a truly incalculable amount of pecorinos – when I staged at Caseificio Broccatelli, their dairy alone made at least a dozen different styles of pecorino.

At the Via Umbria cheese counter, we’ve carried a few different types of pecorinos over the past year and a half, but three styles in particular stick out – Romano, Toscano, and Sardo. Pecorino Romano, from Rome, is probably the best well known of the bunch. With its grate-able texture and extremely salty flavor, is perfect for seasoning dishes. Our Tuscan friend, Toscano, on the other hand, is much softer, creamier, and milder – a good addition to any cheese plate and a natural fit, in my opinion, to pair with charcuterie. Pecorino Sardo, from the island of Sardinia, however, is my personal favorite. More moisture and complexity with less salt than the Romano, but harder and brinier than the Toscano, this delightful cheese is a happy medium on the pecorino spectrum. It’s good on a cheese plate, grated into dishes, drizzled with honey and served with walnuts, melted over traditional Sardinian bread – you name it, Sardo’s good for it.

I’m pleased to announce that Pecorino Sardo will be the Via Umbria April cheese of the month! Come taste this springtime favorite at our Monthly Cheese Party, next Wednesday April 5th at 7:30pmPecorino_Sardo_Cheese.

Pecorinos on the rise Read more

I've been on a sheep-cheese kick, as of late. Sampling Umbria's multitude of pecorinos while traveling through the region this past February ...

Cheese Travel in Umbria

One of the little-known facts about working in the cheese business is that there is a fair amount of travel involved. Visiting cheesemakers and producers is essential to understanding your products and being able to bring them to life for your customers. Lucky for us cheesemongers, most of these cheesemakers live in some pretty darn beautiful, idyllic places. This winter, I was lucky enough to spend time in one of these gorgeous locations – Umbria.

Flying into Perugia, I was full of excitement, not knowing what to expect. I had visited Italy before – Tuscany, Florence, Venice – but had never been to the “green heart of Italy” known as Umbria. As the plane descended, I was struck by the beauty of the Apennine mountains framing the central valley. Even though it was winter, the view was indeed green – full of silvery sage olive groves and striking, pin straight cyprus trees. This was going to be a good trip.
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Having worked at Via Umbria since it opened in November of 2015, you could say that I have become quite familiar with Umbrian cuisine. However, experiencing this style of cooking – Torta al Testo, truffle covered everything, and lots and lots of pork – in its natural habitat was a truly one-of-a-kind experience. It was also fascinating to put these dishes into historical and geographic context. For example, Umbria is the only region in Italy to be completely landlocked, which meant that salt used to be very scarce. As a result, traditional Umbrian bread is still to this day made without salt.

Learning about the cheese culture in Umbria was equally captivating. Because of various importation laws concerning bringing cheese into the US, I was very unfamiliar with the cheese traditions of this particular region. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow Fabio Brocatelli, a local cheesemaker whose family has made cheese in Umbria for the past three generations. Following him around the dairy, I learned that because of the fairly rocky, local mountains, the soil isn’t rich enough to support the type of pastureland necessary for cows. It is, however, ideal for goats and sheep. As such, most cheese from Umbria is either a pecorino, or made from sheep’s milk, or di capra, or made from goats.

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We stopped by and visited with one of the farmers who provides Fabio with sheep milk for his various pecorinos. Like most of the sheep farmers in the area, this shepherd was originally from Sardinia. As we sat at the large, farmhouse table, waiting for the espresso to brew and munching on traditional Sardinian flatbread with homemade cheese, I learned that after the devastation of World War II, many Sardinian farmers made the trek north to Umbria to continue their farming traditions. As such, the amount of sheep drastically increased, and pecorino became an ingrained part of Umbrian cuisine. As drinking espresso turned into drinking housemade wine and mirta (traditional Sardinian liquor), various neighbors started dropping by, filling the kitchen with warmth and laughter. Although my Italian is, in the best of circumstances, poor, and my Sardinian is completely non-existant, I felt charmed and welcomed by these people.

My time in Umbria flew by entirely too quickly. To say I ate well would be the understatement of the year. To say I had a good time would be equally inadequate. I am so grateful for the experience and it is one that I will certainly not soon forget.

an Unforgettable Experience Read more

One of the little-known facts about working in the cheese business is that there is a fair amount of travel involved. Visiting ...

Ivy City Smokehouse

I’ve always loved smoked salmon. Growing up, on special occasions there was always a little “bagel and lox” to be had for breakfast. The simple balance of saltiness and fishiness was something that I was always surprised that I enjoyed – I was never much for fish. That being said, I had no idea what I was eating really. Then one day, while living in Scotland, I grabbed some breakfast to eat on the train to London: a bagel with smoked salmon. Surprised at the low cost of such a brekkie, I was happy to pretend it was a special occasion – I was on my way to London, after all.

bagel and lox

Then I got on the train, got settled and took a bite: this was not lox. Or, at least, this was completely different than anything I had eaten before. The intense smokiness added a whole layer to the salt/fish balance that I was used to and it was amazing. For the rest of my time there I was eating this salmon up. It was something that I dearly missed when I returned stateside. Until recently, when I happened upon some salmon smoked by a company called the Ivy City Smokehouse.

Right here in Washington, DC, in a neighborhood with an historic legacy of food production (and a modern reputation for artisanal liquor production) they were making smoked salmon as good if not better than what I was buying in a Scottish train station. So naturally, with our focus on sourcing local, I wanted to get them in our store. I reached out and was immediately impressed with their company and philosophy. Great care is taken into the sourcing of the fish, with entirely sustainable trout and as close as possible to sustainable salmon being used. Indeed, the detail with which Nate, from the Smokehouse, spoke about the sourcing and sustainability was remarkable.

ivy city

I soon realized that they had a whole range of all-natural products: a salmon candy in the style of the Pacific Northwest, a gravlax (Scandinavian, but oh so like the Jewish lox of my nostalgia), the best “pastrami-style” salmon I’ve ever tried, and even a hot smoked trout that is to die for. The commitment to quality stands throughout the product line and I know that you will enjoy this fish as much as I do.

DC's go-to spot for all things fresh salmon Read more

I’ve always loved smoked salmon. Growing up, on special occasions there was always a little “bagel and lox” to be had for ...

Via Umbria’s Very Older Brother

It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described by Anthony Bourdain as “an empire”), Roscioli is a family affair built over 4 generations that started with a renowned bakery, and now includes a wildly popular salumeria, ristorante, caffe/pasticceria and more recently the Rimessa and wine club.  Roscioli built its reputation on unrivaled quality and the breadth of their offerings.  They have been recognized through features in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller and even garnered a visit by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations.

 

For the past several years they have sought to meet the customer where he is through a program of curated tastings they call Rimessa Roscioli.  Sommelier Alessandro Pepe and a team of top rated food and wine experts lead small groups on food and wine tastings in a relaxed, casual setting that they describe as “an educational and convivial lab.”  We think it describes perfectly Via Umbria.
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Rimessa Roscioli tasting dinner on left; Via Umbria Laboratorio on right.
When we first met the acquaintance of Alessandro and his partner, American born ex-pat Lindsay Gabbard, we were immediately struck by just how similar our passions were.  They, like us, love food and wine because they can create connections between strangers.  And they strongly believe that food and particularly wine, can and should be “democratic.”  Although an expert sommelier, Alessandro scoffs at wine tastings where the conversation focuses on arcane trivia such as malolactic fermentation.  Enjoying wine and getting in touch with your own tastes and sharing that with others is the what sommelier should strive to teach and it is precisely what Alessandro and Lindsay have been doing for the past decade.

 

Rimessa Roscioli is taking their show on the road and coming to Washington, DC and for one night Via Umbria is honored to be hosting them, preparing a special evening of food and wine tasting in the company of these fascinating and engaging people.  Limited seating is available on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be unforgettable – a small group tasting around a communal table featuring eight hand selected wines paired with a dozen small tastes, including a pasta dish and a dessert and lots of conversation and enjoyment.  This is a rare one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience and savor true, authentic flavors imported directly from Italy by one of Rome’s most respected sommeliers.  Tickets, which are non-refundable must be purchased in advance and can be bought online or at Via Umbria.

Located in Rome Read more

It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described ...

Frenching Meats

Not too long ago, I had my first experience with frenching a rack of lamb. For those of you who don’t know what that means- frenching is a technique in which you “beautify” the meat by exposing the rib bones, thereby making the chops more attractive. Nearly every rack of lamb in the grocery store, as well as beef ribeye, and pork loin goes through this process.  While it does indeed make the chops more attractive for plating, and removes quite a bit of fat from the dish, as I was removing the “extraneous” meat from the lamb bones, I felt a pang of sadness. How much goodness we were wasting! Succulent layers of meat and flavorful soft fat was all going to end up in the trash can just for the sake of appearance.

lambchetta_cookedFlash forward a few months and I found myself eating in a small restaurant (the where and when of this meal isn’t important) and noticed a framed article from the Washington Post Food section on the wall. The article was an interview with the restaurant’s chef and included a recipe for a lamb roast, the photo of which looked more like a porchetta than any lamb roast I’ve ever seen. But something seemed familiar about it and I couldn’t shake that feeling. When I got home I opened up a few of my meatiest cookbooks and butchery books and found that same recipe in a pop up in few different places- one of which went so far as to call it a lambchetta. This particular roast was a rack of lamb, but rather than remove the meat from the bones and waste pieces of perfectly good lamb, this roast was based on the premise that only the inedible part of the lamb should be discarded: basically, cut out the bones rather than the meat. What this leaves you with is a “flap” of meat, which is essentially the lamb’s belly, which you then season and roll around the lean loin (the part you are used to seeing as the lamb chop). The first time I made it for myself I kept the seasoning simple, using only salt, pepper, red wine, garlic, and rosemary, but you can really go wild with flavors here. The simple seasoning created flavors that were out of this world, but next time I have visions of testing out a yogurt and feta marinade on the inside.

Lambchetta love story aside, this isn’t the end of frenching meats for my case but I am intrigued by and committed to trying out new ways to avoid waste. With this track record, I think that I may be able to stumble into some pretty incredible flavors this way. So why not join me? Stop by the counter and let me know what unique recipes and preparations you’ve tried and love, let’s brainstorm new ways to create amazing dishes, or just give me a call and I’ll make you a lambchetta that will change the way you eat lamb forever. Either way, I have a feeling that the next few months are going to be pretty tasty.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Making chops more attractive Read more

Not too long ago, I had my first experience with frenching a rack of lamb. For those of you who don’t know ...