>> Wednesday, October 10, 2012
I love Sunday suppers.
Sunday is the day when you can spend a little extra time preparing for that fun, relaxing dinner. Instead of quickly trying to churn out a dinner in 30 minutes after a long, hard day at work, you have the whole afternoon to shop, prep, and cook that elaborate (or just time consuming) meal.
Oddly enough, I find that the type of dinner I enjoy most on a Sunday evening is actually not that complicated.
Instead, it involves visiting one of my favorite neighborhood markets, Formaggio Kitchen, and just buying whatever catches my eye. Formaggio Kitchen offers tons of fun eye candy for food lovers, but be forewarned! You could easily spend hours (and many, many dollars if you're not careful!) perusing their aisles filled with all sorts of carefully curated, artisanal products.
A few Sundays ago, we noticed that the salumi counter had a really interesting assortment of cured meats. Not only did they have the famous Jamon Iberico from Spain, they also had the most coveted Jamon Iberico Bellota, the richest, (fattiest), and most luxurious cured pork in all of Spain (and possibly the whole world).
Spanish Iberian cured ham is prized for its rich savory flavor. The pigs roam freely in oak forests and are fed a diet of only acorns at the last stage of their lives. Because of this diet, the fat in these pigs is mostly monounsaturated, "healthy" fat (oleic acid). The Bellota breed is the finest because it eats purely acorns during this last stage (as opposed to a mixture of acorns and grain, or grain only).
Up to this point, I had only tried the Iberico pork at restaurants, once as cured meat at a lovely Spanish cafe in London, and (if you can believe this) once as a breaded fried pork cutlet at a specialty tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo.
Iberico Pork Tonkatsu from Butagami in Tokyo
It's unusual (and typically pretty difficult) to find this type of pig at the market in the US.
The price for the bellota was pretty insane ($189/lb!!!), but ended up only being about $20 for the four slices that we bought.
For fun, we decided to pit the normal famous Jamon Iberico (still a whopping $99/lb) against the Jamon Iberico Bellota ($189/lb). We also bought some "ordinary" (I'm sure it was still pretty nice) prosciutto from Italy, and rounded it off with a local Soppressata Picante from New York.
You can't go to Formaggio without getting some cheese, so of course we sampled several at the counter (one of my favorite things to do) before settling on a few different pieces.
Some of my favorites right now? Hooligan from Cato Corner Farm from Connecticut. It's a washed rind cow's milk cheese that's creamy yet salty and strong. It's classified as "stinky", although I find it more approachable than, say, a blue cheese (which I'm still learning to like).
I also love their buratta and mozzarella, which I believe comes locally from Everett, Massachusetts.
And to top off the simple Sunday supper? Local greens (my favorite is arugula, which is my default), paired with whatever cheese I fancy that day. Here, I've purchased some lovely halloumi, another one of my favorite cheeses (and one that tastes fantastic grilled!).
Wait, what about the meat?
Of course, how could I forget?
I loved the normal jamon iberico. It's got a deep and complex richness that can only come from quality pork that's been aged for quite a while. There's just a bit of fat on the edge to round out the meatiness.
The Bellota is really, really fatty. It's sort of like eating a blend of cured meat and pure lardon (just the fat). The fat, of course, is extremely flavorful. And remember, it's mostly monounsaturated fat, so if you're going to eat animal fat, this is about as healthy as it gets.
For me, however, it was too much. I don't love munching on pure fat, and I couldn't get over that gag reflex that I usually get when eating really fatty pieces of meat (e.g. on steaks or certain Chinese dishes). It was worth trying, but at least for me, I'll gladly pay half the price and enjoy the (still) wonderfully deep and rich flavors from the normal jamon iberico.
The prosciutto was solid, and we actually used it to make a fun "copy" of a dish we so often enjoy in the North End (will post about that soon!).
If you like a bit of "kick" in your salami, you'll love Soppressata Picante. It seems like every cheesemonger (or whatever you call those people behind the cheese counter at Formaggio), recommends this one when we say we want something spicy. We've tried some of the others, but we almost always go back to this one. It's really good, and has become a standby for us every time on our Sunday supper "salumi" plates.
Anyway, if you love fun, gourmet markets full of stuff you didn't even know you wanted, you have to stop by Formaggio Kitchen. They have an excellent selection of cheese, cured meats, and all sort of other things. My most recent "find" there? truffle salt and incredible dried pasta from Italy - yum. It's definitely one of my favorite places in my new "hood."