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My recent run-in with Rome’s ‘Nazi di Formaggi’

4 Jul sprung

I thought this was an appropriate post for the 4th of July. As per usual, this is a true story, with not a word of a lie (okay there are possible embellishments for entertainment value only, that’s all). Enjoy!

Rachel at Rome's Cheese Nazi

There is a good reason this pic is blurry — it was shot at the very moment we got sprung taking photos inside the boutique of Rome’s ‘Nazi di Formaggi’… explanation below!

cheese fridge Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi

The magnificent cheese fridge at Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi, Rome

On a recent trip to magnificent Rome, I found myself in a scene that I can only describe as the Italiano, formaggi version of that “Soup Nazi” episode from Seinfeld. Confused? Let me tell you the story.

In my extensive research to find the best cheese, pasta and foodie gems in Rome, I stumbled across this post by Parla Food on a special cheese boutique nestled away in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto district. Beppe Formaggi is a cheese concept store featuring divine Italian cheeses, mostly from the northern alpine region of Piedmont, and a rustic dining salon for private degustations and wine tastings.

After wandering for over an hour and getting completely lost trying to find the shop, I had hoped for a welcoming reception to match my high expectations and bright-eyed, food tourist enthusiasm. Armed with only my iPhone camera, pocket Italian vocab book and sheer excitement, I proceeded to do what came most naturally — taking photos, of course!

Little did I know, this was NOT the done thing in the boutique of Mr. Beppe Formaggi.

The man himself emerged from the back room: a gusto, hearty Italian character with a powerful presence who proceeded to sternly look at me and slowly shake his head. Confused, I attempted to introduce myself in hopeless broken Italian. I could have said, “My name is Rachel; I’m here to order a lifetime supply of formaggi for the entire extended family of Berlusconi,” but it would not have made a difference.

“No photos!!!”

Ugh… how stupid of me not to ask permission first, I thought to myself. I’m not off to a good start here.

Here’s the photo I managed to take before being scolded like some sort of despicable undercover paparazzi:

Fresh Goats cheese selection at Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi, Rome

Some of fresh Goats cheeses at Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi, Rome

Next attempt: Come on Rachel, you’re a cheese journalist (did I invent that title?) … Surely it will change things if I explain myself?

A younger, handsome lad with piercing northern Italian blue eyes arrived at the counter. This one smiled. I explained to him (resorting to English) that I am a journalist writing about cheese for America and Australia, and was it OK for me to take some photos?

He went to the back of the shop and had a few words with Mr. Beppi Formaggi, who again crossed his arms and shook his head. Blue-eyed boy came back with bad news.

“Sorry, miss, you can’t take photos.”

And that’s how I found myself as rejected as our friend George Costanza being told “No soup for you!” by the Soup Nazi — only in my case it was “No cheese for you!”

Ouch.

Okay, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, since I was still allowed the cheese, just not the photos.

So I figured, if I can’t take pics in the store, I will just have to taste the cheeses, buy them and photograph them back at the hotel room. So that’s what I did.

I started with the mildest of fresh Italian goat cheeses, the beautiful array of Meline di Capra — soft, delicate and crumbly, decorated and adorned with black ash, dried wild flowers, camomile buttons and herbs. I then worked my way through the brothers, sisters and cousins of the king of cheeses, Parmesan, and then finally asked for the rarest Italian blue cheeses I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.

Blue-eyed Italian boy disappeared under the counter and then produced a seductively oozing, runny blue cheese with a pale pinkish-orange rind. It was a six-month-old gorgonzola from Piedmont made of unpasteurized, non-treated cow’s milk.

creamy sweet blue cheese

The undercover photo: A sweet, mild and creamy gorgonzola from Piedmont, Italy


“This one’s really special,” he said. “It’s too soft to pass you a sample but this one is so nice, she is almost sweet.”

“I’ll take it! Now, please show me your strongest blue cheese. A strong, very ‘gusto’ one, please!”

He returned holding a seriously mean-looking blue from under the counter.

“Are you sure you want to try her? Most people can’t handle this one, it’s verrrry strong.”

I replied without hesitation: “Absolutely!”

So, slicing off a sliver, I tried the sample. Boy, was that one big cheese! This blue had serious power. It was so strong it was almost spicy. The blue mould was so developed and intense you could actually feel the texture of it, kind of like a silver foil — practically crunchy. The aftertaste was a warming white peppery sensation that lasted a good 10 minutes on the palette.

Next, the pretty little fresh goats cheeses and our sweet and spicy feisty blues were wrapped up before we rushed off back to the hotel.

For our final night in Rome, what better way to celebrate than an Italian cheese pre-dinner aperitif with a nice bottle of champagne? I took some better pictures before the cheeses were quickly devoured. The rest of the blue came home with me and I’m still working my way through it and loving every spicy morsel!

Thanks, Mr. Italian Cheese Nazi, your welcome wasn’t exactly as warm and fuzzy as that spicy blue, but your cheeses are simply wonderful and made for an incredibly memorable last day in beautiful Rome.

formaggi and champagne in Rome

Happy days: The ultimate pre-dinner aperetif of Italian cheese and champagne back at the hotel in Rome

italian fresh goats cheeses

Meline di Capra: The gorgeous fresh goats cheeses adorned with black ash, dried wildflowers, camomile buds and mountain herbs

strong blue cheese

Cheese that knocks your socks off: That strong and spicy Italian blue cheese


This article was originally published for The Cheese Course — a European-style cheese shop in with nine locations in Miami and Florida, offering over 150 artisanal cheeses imported from dairy farms all over the world. Check out my new column where I write and video blog as “The Cheese Reporter” on their blog here.

The Roman Cheese Nazi (AKA “Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi”)
Is located at:

Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9A/11
00186 Roma
tel 06-6819-2210

www.beppeeisuoiformaggi.it

If you do visit, say “hi” from me!

Mamma Mia Ciasa Mia! Could this be the best pasta in Paris?

20 May best pasta 2jpgciasa mia

I know I know, it’s a big call, but trust me — I take these statements very seriously. After my first meal at Ciasa Mia, I got home, and in an unprecedented event, I could not sleep. And not because I ate too much either. I simply could not stop thinking about the incredible meal I had just experienced, and found myself lying awake dreaming about that amazing PASTA like some intoxicating whirlwind holiday romance.

ciasa mia best pasta in paris

The stuff dreams are made of. Ciasa Mia’s Kamut Spaghetti with Mussels, Girolles and Smoked White Pepper with Pecorino.

Ciasa Mia potato and rosemary ravioli with speck

Potato, speck and rosemary ravioli filled with cèpes and mageret de canard fumé

The discovery wasn’t all mine, so I do admit I was tipped off. When you hear your Italian friend’s voice rise two decibels excitedly describing food with dangerous hand motions and enough passion to scare the French diners at the table next to us, I knew I had to check this place out. And yes I’ve been back multiple times since, just to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself the first time, but the food at this place never ceases to amaze and delight me.

For someone with a terrible memory, I can still remember and describe in intricate detail, every course I have eaten there: Truffle-filled egg yolk amuse bouche, pine infused ice cream, cèpe and white truffle carpaccio with parmesan soufflé, scallops in hay-steamed smoke, pastas that are delicious enough to overcome the strongest of carb-nazi willpower, deconstructed tiramisu, melt in your mouth house-made focaccia, and not to forget the famous “colours d’automne”- a dessert experience you absolutely must save space for. The flavours, the products, the seasons, the passion for quality, innovation and creativity with respect for tradition and romance, the flamboyant service with flair and precision… the passion the food is made with here paired with the warm friendly ambience of a family–run Italian alps ski chalet is so cosy you could just crawl up by the fire with your limoncello, satisfied belly and just dream away.

Who would have thought this little gem on a tiny street just next to the pantheon was hiding there? If you didn’t know to look past the cutesy quasi-kitsch restaurant signage and lace curtains on the facade, you could easily miss it. And if you can’t get there in person, don’t worry. In my usual form, I shamelessly went back and asked the chef for the recipe so we can all enjoy the pleasure of THAT PASTA (scroll down for recipe).

Where was the best pasta you have ever eaten? My runners-up for Paris are Procopio Angelo and Bocca. Drop a comment below to share your favorite addresses in Paris and beyond.

Ciasa Mia Restaurant is located near the Pantheon in Paris’ Latin Quarter at
19 Rue Laplace 75005
Ph: +33(0)1 43 29 19 77
www.ciasamia.com

See a video review by Francois Simon here

La lotte en croute Ciasa Mia Paris

La lotte en croute de peau de poulet (monkfish in chicken skin crust) with balsamic lentils, rosemary potato and vanilla eschalotte

ciasa mia italian wines

Wine selection at Ciasa Mia

Lemon brulee with almond praline

Lemon brûlée with almond praline- amazing!

ciasa mia paris truffle injected egg

Six minute scallops- steamed in hay smoke with sea salt. Black truffle jus-injected egg yolk. explosions of flavor- literally.

Deconstructed Tiramisu Ciasa Mia Paris

The delightful deconstructed tiramisu

Pine infused Icecream ciasa mia paris

Pine infused ice cream – unforgettable.

Chef Samuel Mocci with Italian white truffles

Chef Samuel Mocci with Italian white truffles

Organic kamut spaghetti with mussels, girolles, pecorino, and smoked white pepper

Recipe by Samuel Mocci from Ciasa Mia Restaurant, Paris

Serves 4 people

This recipe cooks the pasta using the absorption method, like you would a risotto. It soaks up all the flavor from the stock and self-sauces once you add the cheese and remaining ingredients.

Ingredients:

300 grams kamut spaghetti (or substitute with a similar fresh pasta of your choice)
1 litre of unsalted chicken stock
30 grams sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 knob butter
50g pecorino finely grated
50g parmesan finely grated
Freshly ground smoked white pepper (if you can’t find smoked pepper you can use smoked sea salt to add the smoky flavour)
200 g mussels (weight without shells)
200 g girolle mushrooms (you could substitute for cepes or chanterelles also)
2 cloves garlic- finely diced
2 tbsp finely diced flat leaf parsley

Recipe Ciasa Mia Pasta

Preparing the Ciasa Mia Kamut Spaghetti Recipe

Directions:

Bring the chicken stock to boil in a large pot with olive oil, butter and sea salt.

To cook the mussels: In a separate pot, place mussels in their shells with white wine, olive oil and finely diced garlic and parsley. Once the mussels open, remove the mussels from their shells (leave a few in the shell for presentation purposes). Leave in pot and set aside. Thoroughly rinse and then pat dry the girolles with paper towel. Dice the mushrooms finely and set aside.

Once the water is boiling add the spaghetti to the pot and gently stir the pasta and water until all the water has been absorbed by the pasta, being careful not to let the pasta stick together or to the pot. Check that the pasta is cooked just to al dente. If it is still too firm, add more stock and cook further until it’s absorbed (as you would a risotto)

Once the spaghetti is cooked, remove from the flame and add the parmesan, pecorino and a generous portion of freshly ground pepper. Mix through well- you will see that the remaining moisture in the pasta mixes with the cheeses to ‘self-sauce’

Sprinkle the diced girolle mushrooms on the base of the serving plate and then season with quality virgin olive oil. Serve the pasta into portions over the mushrooms and then add the mussels, with a few still in the shell over the pasta. Serve with extra grated pecorino and diced parsley to garnish if desired.

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