Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why they served French wine at an Italian luncheon

November 15,

I had a fun lunch today at the David Bouley Test Kitchen, which is a place that Bouley set up in Tribeca as a sort of food lab for visiting chefs to play in, but it also has become an event space. 

The lunch was thrown by Legends From Europe, a three-year marketing campaign by the Italian consortia representing three Italian cheeses — Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, and Montasio — and Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele. Since those consorzi are traditionally enemies, it’s something of a political breakthrough that they’re all working together.

The Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano people announced their partnership a couple of years ago with press conferences and a big party at Madison Square Garden (Magic Johnson inexplicably walked through the party, causing macho Italian-American men to become giddy) followed by a VIP viewing of a basketball game in the fancy boxes at the top of the Garden (Knicks vs. Nuggets, which the Knicks inexplicably won). 

Here’s what nobody ever says about those two cheeses, which come from similar parts of Italy and are part of the same family of cheeses known as grana (hard, aged cheeses that cleave in a particular way): Parmigiano Reggiano is more expensive than Grana Padano, it’s generally aged longer and is widely regarded as being more complex in flavor and, well, better. 

That’s not bad for Grana Padano, which is suitable for cooking or grating and serving over pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano would be wasted if used in that way, and it’s too expensive for non-rich people to use as anything other than a special-occasion cheese. 

I understand why saying that is politically sensitive, but they really need to get over that. Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are not natural competitors. They are different products at different price points to be used differently and eaten on different occasions. I think they’ve decided to work together to stress that they are different from generic Parmesan cheese, and consumers should know the difference.

Bringing two kinds of prosciutto into the mix just makes it better all around. And Montasio, well, why not? It's delicious and melts good.

So, we had five food products, all from Northeastern Italy. So what wines did they serve during the pre-lunch reception? Two sparkling German wines. At lunch, the wine was French — a white Bordeaux and a red Burgundy.

We asked the Test Kitchen's manager why he did that, and he said he was instructed that he should by no means use any Italian wine, because members of the different consorzi would never agree on which wines were suitable to be drunk with all of their products. The Montasio and Prosciutto di San Daniele people would likely have been happy with a Tokai Friuliano, but the other three groups might have been irked by such a choice. And I can't imagine the Friulians doing anything but smirk if they were served a Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna.

What I ate:
Slow-poached Connecticut farm egg with Prosciutto di Parma and a Parmigiano Reggiano cloud

Fresh sardine with tomato-saffron broth, fingerling potatoes, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano crisp

Melon soup with ricotta ice cream

Hot caramelized Anjou pear with chocolate, biscuit Breton, hot truffle sauce, lemon verbena and Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream.