Virtual Gourmet

  June 6,   2021                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 



Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot" (1959)



By Gerry Dawes


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani


On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. June  2 at 11AM EST,I will be interviewing Victoria Lewis of the New York Botanical Garden. The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.

On Celebrating Act2 I will be talking about "What's the Difference Between a Pizzeria, Trattoria and Ristorante."



By Gerry Dawes


         The people of Asturias, Spain, proudly call their land a Paraiso de los Quesos (cheese paradise). Outside the main cities, farms—with their cows, goats and sheep—enable the production of a wide variety of cheeses, which has helped create an economic engine that has prevented the depopulation of many small townships in the region.
       Having Marino González (left) as my guide to the region’s valleys and mountains and cheese producers was the equivalent of taking guitar lessons from Andres Segovia. González was born in 1956 on a remote farm in the isolated mountain village of Cirieño.  “When I was born, the mountain villages of my native region were still very Medieval,” he told me. “My five siblings and I had to work like adults to survive as a family.”
        González is a taciturn man who speaks Spanish with a Medieval Asturian village accent that requires concentration to interpret sometimes. With his low-key, but expert, commentary along the way I was led through a remarkable series of cheese-related adventures by a man who is obviously profoundly in love with his Asturian homeland.
        González left the family farm and attended law school before deciding to dedicate himself to reviving the traditional, often nearly extinct, cheeses of Asturias, beginning with his own family’s made in his home village. He began to market the artisan cheeses of some 40 small producers for whom selling their cheeses outside the region was nearly impossible.  By 2010, they were billing nearly $6 million of food products and built a large new facility near Siero, outside Oviedo, to keep the cheeses in acclimated chambers for a curing process known as afinaje.  
Since I first met González in the early 2000s he has taught me everything that I know about the Asturias—its cheeses and its other regional products: fabada Asturiana (the Asturian national bean dish), artisanal sidras (apple cider) and Calvados-like apple brandies.
        In 2005, I made my first visit to Asturias since 1971, meeting González in the Picos de Europa mountains, then driving to the dramatic Desfiladero de Los Beyos canyon and up into the hills to visit his family home. There his sister Aurora produces an historic, nearly extinct, now highly regarded artisan cheese made from cow’s milk, a dense, compact, paisano queso with a unique flinty texture and flavor. The pieces break away like shards of white chocolate, and the chalky firmness at first bite melts into a creamy paste, which I ate with cider.
        On several outings, I visited a number of cheese producers who work with González in Arenas de Cabrales, where he showed me Cabrales cheese production and how a thin length of bone is used to bore into the cheese, a sample of which is extracted and smelled to judge how the cheese is developing. We sampled González’s Cabrales, laced with a blue Roquefort-like benign mold that imparts a strong, spicy flavor.
           In 2010, I visited the lively Sunday morning market in Cangas de Onís, where cheeses, sausages, beans, vegetables, cider and more are spread across several blocks and augmented by the local specialty food shops, some offering more than two dozen local cheeses. In the west near Áviles, close to the Cantabrian Sea, I sampled the cow’s milk blue La Peral and the unique piquant paprika-laced Afuega’l Pitu (“fire-in-the-throat”). I tasted three types of raw milk goat’s cheese made by Jesús Gutiérrez and his son Manuel in the tiny rural Peñamellera Baja community of Buelles along the Cares-Deva River. 
Back at Arenas de Cabrales, I visited González’s own artisan cheese plant, destroyed in a flood in 2012, and the dark, humid caves on the hill where hundreds of Cabrales cheeses were maturing along with Afuega’l Pitu, Peñamellera and Ovín.      
On six other trips ranging from 2006 until 2017 I made other forays with Marino González into Asturias and visited another dozen artisan cheese producers under his guidance. My stay at the Heredad de la Cueste in Llenín was part of another remarkable three-day Asturian adventure during the last days of October 2012. On that trip, I returned with Jaime Rodríguez to visit Rosa Maria Intriago, after she had moved part of her cheese-curing operation up to a vast, newly utilized cave supervised by the Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council) of the Denominación de Origen.  Known as Cueva Oscura (Dark Cave) and long used as a refuge by hunters, the cave is up in the puerto, a mountain pass in the Picos de Europa near the hamlet of Avín (population about 130).
        When Rodríguez and I visited the cave, we found Rosa Intriago stacking her Gamonéu cheeses on shelves for curing. There was a brochure about the new cheese-producing cave with admonitions about fotografía prohibida (photography prohibited) and signs that said it was prohibited for anyone to be in the caves who did not have an official reason to be there. But I was with Rodríguez, Intriago and other Gamonéu producers who were members of the Regulatory Council and no one seemed to care that I was taking photographs, so I took several, knowing that I would not be coming back to the Cueva Oscura again soon.
        The great blue cheese Cabrales, the best-known of all Asturian cheeses (and second only to Manchego among Spanish cheeses), is usually easy to find in good cheese outlets in America. Importers and stores such as Despana Brands, La Tienda, Michelle Buster’s Forever Cheese, Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, Whole Foods, Zabar’s and many other American outlets carry these cheeses.
        Along with Cabrales, the other major Asturian blue cheeses are Gamonéu, La Peral and Monje Blue. Valdeòn, the blue cheese from the Castilla y Leòn side of the Picos de Europa, is available in top cheese stores in the American and European markets. So are Los Beyos, an I.G.P. (Protected Geographical Indication) available in milk from cows, ewes and goats; La Collada, a brand of Marino González’s family cheese also available as “Tres Leches,” (mixed milk); Afuega’l Pitu (cows’ milk), and the Penamellera Alta cheese La Cueva Llonin (mixed milk).         

Excerpted from Sunset in a Glass: Adventures of a Food and Wine Road Warrior in Spain

By Gerry Dawes ©2021





                                                TAPAS & CUCINA

                                                                434 White Plains Road, Eastchester NY


                                                                           By John Mariani

        It was mere happenstance that I’ve reviewed two Spanish tapas restaurants last month, but I’ve found a third, in Eastchester, New York, that deserves kudos for taking the genre a step further by putting Italian flavors onto the menu, calling it “Mediterranean Fusion.” Owner Gennaro Martinelli (left), who runs San Gennaro, one of the best trattorias on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, has taken over a small, quaint space in the suburbs where he’s offering a lot of new ideas you won’t find anywhere else.
        Martinelli, born in Capua, Italy, studied cuisine in Paris and worked at Vesuvio on the Champs Elysée, then in various European cities before moving to New York, and at 33 he opened San Gennaro several years ago; Tapas & Cucina debuted this spring. It’s a long, rustic room with good lighting, a small bar, rough wood chairs and tables and paper tabletops. The wine list is not long but of good quality and reasonably priced. The dozen wines by the glass cost from $11 to $14. Martinelli also makes his own limoncello. His partners, Esteban Ortega and Luz Adriana Ospina, keep him true to Iberian tradition.
        The menu is arranged in eight categories: Tapas, Pizza, Salad, Pasta, Paella, Meat, Fish, and Dessert. I can vouch for the pasta, meats and fish at San Gennaro, so my friends and I concentrated on the first two categories, where the more unusual dishes are to be found.
        In Spain’s tapas bars you usually go to the bar and simply pick the tapas arrayed on little plates and eat them standing up or at a table. At T&C the portions are more substantial and plated so that sharing is easy enough. The best thing to do is order several of them; at prices ranging from $8 to $18, six or more will make up an entire meal, and our party of four had tastings of each. You’ll get a complimentary cup of bean soup to rouse your appetite, and there is also good bread you use to soak up all the juices and sauces, as with the grilled octopus (below) served with salad, bruschetta and a lemon dressing ($18). Zucchini flowers would be a rarity at a tapas bar but not so much in Italy right now, so these are stuffed with provolone cheese that oozes out from the bright yellow and green flowers ($13). Croquettas are always on a tapas menu, and here the crisp little fried balls contain wonderfully fatted Serrano ham ($12), and the plump empanadas ($12) of either chicken, beef or vegetable have a fine, brittle crust and succulent contents. Although I’ve run across it before, I was delighted to find the menu has sweet dates stuffed with pungent bleu cheese, smoky bacon, basil and a rich, garlicky aïoli ($16). Certainly unique is T&C’s pasta pie ($11), a Neapolitan-style timbalo of fat bucatini macaroni lavishly stuffed with mozzarella, peas and chopped meat. And one of the heartier dishes is slow-cooked pork à la Madrilena in a bright, lusty ragù of plum tomatoes, served with soft cornmeal polenta. The only disappointment among the tapas we tried was fried calamari ($15) because the calamari had little flavor of their own and tasted more of the fried batter.
       Unusual, too, under the pizza category is the La Tapas, topped with sliced potatoes, sausage, smoky mozzarella and dusted with aromatic rosemary ($16). Next time I go I am eager to try one of the paellas (right), which include a classic Valenciana as well as a marinara and vegetariana  ($32 for two people, $58 for  three). Among the pastas, one of the stars at San Gennaro also shines brightly here: nudi, made with ricotta and fontina, chopped spinach and a truffle-dotted cream sauce with bits of crispy prosciutto ($22).
        The desserts, made on the premises, included a first-rate, not-too-heavy tiramisu ($10) and leche frita ($11), a form of “fried milk,” typical of Northern Spain.
      You could drop into T&C for a light array of tapas or enjoy a full meal, the only dilemma being how to choose among dishes that all seem so savory. By the way, from Manhattan, Eastchester is about a 45-minute drive. 




By John Mariani 


        Katie heard from David within an hour; he said everything was all right with his police friend, Brian Cunningham. So she went to the precinct house and picked up the letter on City of Chicago Police Department stationery, stating who she was and why she wanted access to the house, and if the owner doubted it, they could call Lt. Cunningham directly.
        Katie thanked the officer profusely and Cunningham said, “Oh, I’ve got something else David said you might be interested in,” and he handed her a piece of paper with the name Alice Britt, an address and phone number. Katie’s mouth dropped open.
        Cunningham said, “David said this woman might once have been Al Capone’s psychic.”
        “I hope so,” said Katie, “but how did you find this?”
        “In between raiding warehouses and bordellos and arresting mobsters, we police sometimes have to haul in a psychic if someone complains she’d been gypped out of a great deal of money.  It’s usually just petty larceny, but apparently Miss Britt was pretty well known in her day and shook down a lot of important people, including Capone.  So we had an arrest record on her.  It doesn’t indicate she ever served any jail time, but she got out of the business and ran a woman’s hat store before retiring.  That’s the last address and phone number we have for her.”
        Katie kept saying thank you to the lieutenant, then asked if she could use his phone.
        “Sure, use that one over there.”
        Katie dialed the number.  After four rings a woman answered. 
“Alice Britt?”
        “No, Alice doesn’t live here anymore.”
        Katie thought, where have I heard that phrase before?
        “Well, my name is Katie Cavuto, and I wonder if you could tell me where she’s living now?”
        “Last I heard she was in a home.”
        “Would you happen to know which one?”
         The woman told her to hold on and Katie heard her muttering.
        “If she’s still there, she’d be in Mother of Mercy, in Evanston.”
        “She must be very old,” said Katie.
        “They ain’t got many young ones in a rest home.”
        Katie thanked her, hung up and called a taxi, giving Lt. Cunningham Alice Britt’s new contact information.  He smiled and said, “I’m sure this’ll come in real handy.”
        Mother of Mercy was, for what it was, a fairly well-kept, clean place, though it smelled of antiseptic and aging bodies, with an undertone of urine.  Katie asked for Alice Britt’s room number and signed in, took the elevator to the third floor and asked a nurse on duty where the room was.
         “Down on the left,” said the nurse. “You may be in luck.  She just had her dinner, so her energy level may be up.
         Katie thanked her and walked to the room, rapping very lightly on the door. 
“Miss Britt? My name is Katherine Cavuto.”
         Alice Britt lay in her bed while a nurse’s assistant was tucking in her blanket. The old woman was weak but surprisingly bright-eyed.  Katie stood before her for a few moments while Alice adjusted her thick eyeglasses.
         “Who are you? Do I know you?”
         “No, ma’am, I’m from out of town and I’m a writer”—she thought that sounded softer than journalist or reporter—“and I’m writing about Al Capone.”
         “You’re too young to know Al Capone,” said the old woman.
         “That’s true, but I am very interested to learn more about him from people who knew him.” 
“I knew him,” said Alice Britt. “Knew him well.”
         “I understand you were his, uh, psychic?”
         “Oh, that was a long, long time ago.  During the Depression.  He was a very important man back in those days.  But he was like a little boy with me.  I’m sorry, dear, what’s your name again?”
         “Katherine Cavuto.” Katie wrote down “short-term memory loss?”
         “Italian, eh?”
         “So was Al, y’know. I’m Irish-American.”
         “Miss Britt, may I ask you some questions?”
        Alice Britt waved her hand to indicate okay.    
“And do you mind if I record what we talk about?” asked Katie, taking out a voice recorder about the size of a cigarette lighter.  Alice Britt waved her hand again.
        “Now, when you said Mr. Capone was like a little boy, what exactly did you mean?” asked Katie.
         “Oh, I met him because he was having these bad dreams about seeing ghosts walking around his bedroom. When I was first introduced to him, he was almost in tears, like a little boy.  Said he was terrified by the ghosts and could I help him get rid of them.
        “Well, I had a pretty good reputation back then as a psychic. I had a gift, I really did.  I’m not saying I could actually see into the future, but I could calm people down, tell them what they wanted to hear.  Most of the time people who use psychics want to know if they’ll be getting out of debt or getting their hands on some money, and of course I told them they would. Not soon, but they’d get it. Others were getting over the death of a loved one, usually a wife or husband, and they wanted to know if they were still out there somewhere and if they still loved them. So I’d ask them a little about what religion they were, then I’d tell them what they wanted to hear according to their beliefs.  This one’s in heaven, this one’s waiting for you beyond the grave.  You had to be able to read people’s minds.  That’s what a psychic is. I never hurt nobody.”
         “And did you help Mr. Capone?” asked Katie.
         Alice Britt began coughing and the nurse’s assistant gave her some water to sip through a straw.
         “Oh, I think I helped him plenty.  He was a Catholic, or was born one, and deep down he thought he was going to go to hell for his sins.  I mean, everyone in Chicago knew what those sins were, and you didn’t even have to be a Catholic to wish a man like Al did end up in hell.  He said he was terrified as much by the ghosts as he was being shot down in the streets like a dog.  He was a young man, y’know.”
         “So how did you bring him out of it?”
         “To tell you the truth, I dragged out my visits as long as I could.  The money was no object to Al Capone.  I think I probably came by a couple of times every week until he went to jail.  I don’t remember what I told him but I made him believe the ghosts were vanished back beyond the grave.  And I told him he had to make his peace with God.  He answered that he gave tons of money to Catholic charities and poor people.  I said that was fine, but you have to get those old sins washed clean.  Told him I could see them like black spots on his soul.”
       Never trusting the batteries in her recorder, Katie was writing notes fast, amazed at the old woman’s brightness of mind and her recall of events that had happened so long ago. 
“May I ask if you ever held a séance and what happened?”
         “I’m pretty sure I did. I must have. There was a lot of money to be made from séances, and you could acquire new customers that way. So, let me think, let me think. I did so many of those damn things back then.”
         After another sip of water, she went on.
        “If I remember correctly, we had one séance in which I summoned his father from the afterworld.  I found out he’d died young and Al was afraid he would too.  Now, of course, the people at the séance, if they’re believers, will swallow anything you tell them because they want so much to hear it.  So I told them that Al’s father was sad because his son had grown up to be a gangster—I didn’t use that word, but just that Al was a real disappointment to him—and that his own soul would never be at rest in heaven unless Al joined him there, free of sin.”
         “So how did Al react?”
         “He broke down. He was sobbing like a little boy.  And I remember asking him if he thought he could lead a better life and make up for his sins, and he said the oddest thing, as if it really wasn’t in his hands.  He said, ‘God only knows.’ Maybe it was his way of saying he was too weak to reform or too deep into the life he created for himself.  But that’s all he kept saying, ‘God only knows, God only knows.’”
         The old woman paused, then said, “I don’t think I ever went back to the house after that, but I do remember he paid me more money than I’d ever seen before, so I guess I must have helped him some way or another.”
         Alice Britt began coughing again, clearly with a lot of phlegm in her throat, and the nurse assistant asked if Katie might come back another time and let Miss Britt rest. Katie nodded and said, “Miss Britt, I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, and thank you so much for speaking with me.  You’ve been a lot of help.” 
   Alice Britt raised a wrinkled hand and made a slight wave goodbye.
        “Will you do me a favor, Katherine?”
        “I don’t know if you go to Mass but if you do, say a little prayer for me.”
        “I’d be happy to.  I’ll even have a Mass said for you, how’s that?”
        “That would be wonderful.  Thank you very, very much.”
        Katie left the room and knew she’d never see Alice Britt again.

John Mariani, 2015




By John Mariani

        Blame California’s winemakers, if you like, for the soaring alcohol levels in their wines, but the practice is becoming so widespread globally that finding a red wine under 14.5% alcohol is getting more difficult than finding one at or above that critical number. And white wines are not far behind.
        There are two principal reasons why this is happening, one natural, one engineered by winemakers. Of the former, climate change and, in particular, global warming are heating up the vineyards, causing the grapes to build up more sugar, which, when crushed at the winery, ferments into alcohol. For cool, rainy regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux, that is a welcome change, because there the grapes must struggle to attain a balance of alcohol, fruit, tannins and acids. In lesser estates of Burgundy those wines may go through what is called chaptalization, by which sugar, usually as a syrup, is added to the grape must to boost the alcohol, or wines from sunny, warmer southern regions might be added as a booster.
        But in warmer viticultural regions like California, South America and Australia, sufficient sugar is not a problem. Indeed, the best winemakers seek a level well below 14.5% for red wines and below 14% for whites. But that is the exception. Taking advantage of those higher temperatures, most winemakers have allowed their wines’ sugar levels to increase, largely by letting the grapes hang on the vine longer, which  intensifies the sugar-juice content in the grapes. These winemakers may argue, reasonably, that if you pick warm-climate grapes too soon, you achieve ideal alcohol levels but lose the flavor maturity called phenolic ripeness. (There is a process, called reverse osmosis, by which alcohol can be removed from a wine without harming the flavor.)
        The argument in favor of higher alcohol wines is simply a  question of preference among consumers. Ever since California began producing high alcohol “blockbuster” Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs in the 1970s, they began winning high accolades from the burgeoning wine media for whom big-bodied, very fruity wines invariably stand out —especially when ten or twenty wines are tasted blind at one time. A Bordeaux blend of grapes from a certain vintage at 14% alcohol would have a tough time beating a California 100% Cabernet Sauvignon at 15% or 16% alcohol.
        Largely, vintners have followed the awards and high ratings given by the wine media, especially Robert L. Parker Jr. (right), whose newsletter Wine Advocate has long championed big, bold wines, which invariably have high alcohol (though Parker has denied he favors such wines). Thus, in wine shops everywhere you find the rating numbers from Parker, Decanter, Wine Spectator and other magazines posted on the wine bins.
      Privately, many vintners admit that this is their rationale for making blockbusters, and those who oppose it say the wines are deliberately being manipulated to appeal to those who go by high ratings or like a more intensified style of wine.
        And what’s wrong with that? How can one or even half a percent of alcohol make much of a difference in a wine? The answer is threefold: First, according to the Federal Standards of Identity, table wine is defined as “Still grape wine having an alcoholic content of not less than 7 percent by volume and not in excess of 14 percent by volume,” and wines above 14% are designated as sweet dessert wine. So, technically speaking, wines at 14.5% and above aren’t even table wines at all—a technicality vintners pay no attention to. Second, wines above 14.5% may, though not always, taste rich, fruity and bold in the current vintage but fail to come into balance and taste flat after a while. Third, the proof is in the drinking: Try one night to drink two glasses of a red or white wine below 14% alcohol, then the next night one above 14.5%. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll feel the effects of the alcohol with the second bottle, and that the flavors you enjoyed with the first glass of it may taste tannic and cloying with the second.
        Is there a place for such high alcohol wines? Yes, if you know in advance. Italy’s Amarone wines are made from grapes dried to intensify the sugars almost to raisin status (right), so the alcohol is deliberately boosted to achieve a rich, almost Port-like richness. Also, if you are char-grilling a big sirloin with a black crust, big reds can complement the beef’s iron and minerality, though after a couple of glasses the wine will take precedence and take hold.

It is, of course, a matter of preference, but the more you drink good, well-balanced wines with reasonable alcohol levels, the more you will find the refinements, complexity and nuances in them rather than have your palate overwhelmed by a 16% Cab.



BE A MORON, #455

Merseyside (England) Police showed a photo of Carl Stewart and a photo he posted of himself holding a block of cheese that was used by police to identify Stewart, who was jailed  May 23,  sentenced for 13 years and six months on various drugs charges.
Officers were able to analyze his fingerprints from the photo to identify him.


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Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

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Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

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FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences." 

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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