Venetian Valentine: Cheese Lovers’ Porn
13 February 2011
Tomorrow is Valentines’ Day, but this weekend it has been celebrated by those whose Monday night is otherwise prohibitive. By now, nearly five weeks in Tuscany, I would have my choice of young men on Vespas, tousled cherubic hair and perfect white smiles in tow, to sing about Amore and share a romantic Prosecco with me tomorrow night, or this weekend before, as the case may have been. But I am in the quiet hills of Lunigiana, where the goat population far outnumbers that of the human one, and daily life is mostly spoken for. Whatever is a single girl to do on Valentines’ Day in Lunigiana? Borrow sordid debauchery from Venice, the city of romance. I arranged to have it for myself after an almost-too-hot soak in “Marrakech Spice” milk bubbles tonight. My Venetian Valentine night went something like this: Not going to Venice. Carnevale is in a couple weeks, so go then. Live vicariously but stay in Lunigiana. A gorgeous heart-shaped Montasio from Fruili/Venice with a dozen roses (a.k.a. local Lunigiana rose hips marmalade) and a gorgeous bottle of 2007 Ronco Severo Refosco also from Fruili/Venice. Yes, it has been a delectably indulgent affaire for one, in honor of the many loves, and their many forms, in Venice.
The fancy wine shop in Pontremoli was my second stop. There was a more pressing issue I faced yesterday morning, market day: Find the heart-shaped cheese I saw several weeks ago at the cheese stand on the left when your back is to the church. Not the one on the right, or the one around the cobblestone curve off to the near right... the little cheese cart on the left. There was an enormous queue so I slid over to the blood orange cart and hoarded about a dozen. I’m still not used to them everywhere. Or anywhere, for that matter, and I can’t get enough. Nor am I used to a coin being worth two Euros. Needless to say, I can sure come home with a lot of goodies from market after parting with what feels like only laundry quarters. You just have to know how to shop, right? I did find the heart cheese and I did break into paper money for it, delighted to have learned the Montasio DOP from Fruili/Venice was what’s for dinner. Then the wine. The roses were in place back at the farm, jars of organic rose hips marmalade already a staple at Podere Conti. Wine should have been a bit more of a time investment, particularly since I know about five of the 400-odd varietals represented in Italy, and my fancy-pants high-brow California tasting behavior has yet to interest anyone whatsoever. But in the wine shop on Via Cavour, once I found the little tag for Fruili, it was really quite simple: guess. So I did. I went with the median price of a varietal I had never heard, and my night was set in medieval stone, until Boom! Only steps away from the darling little wine shop, the seam on my bag had gone faulty, my wine bottle now shattered into a million pieces, jagged green arrows floating in wine-against-marble. It was evil, as if cupid himself had botched my date. But the kind man with a bleeding heart for my bleeding finger replaced the bottle of wine and would have gladly performed surgery, had the need arisen for such attention. He was most gracious, as I am finding each and every Italian. I suppose Cupid was only kidding for a second. Besides, he was already pointing his next arrow.
Had I worn a mask to my own party for one, it might have been too perfect, or too weird. The texture of the Montasio was gorgeous, between the rind a delicate lace pattern woven with sweet buttery milk, and smooth at room temperature with its lingering mild cream effect. The mistake I made was to taste the cheese first, in fact, because the smoothness rounded out the wine so much, my initial impression of the wine was in another time zone from the actual notes once they hit my taste buds. But I am the creator of this night to honor Venice, and Venice says “anything goes.” All inhibitions checked at the door. And the creamy Montasio moved slowly down, hesitating before plunging into the dark cavity that is throat. It was a sacrilege to rush it down, to fight the urge for one bite to last and last, all in the name of a wine pairing, but I did, and that was when Montasio, Rofrosco and I melted into a ménage a trios of sacred union, layering one over the other, both intermittently and deliberately. And then came the rose hips, a climactic sweet-and-tart daub of shiny red gloss, bringing it all together with a satin ribbon of a finish.
And then fickle Venice was gone in a flash. And the church bells chimed over the valley behind the farm. And the olive branches danced and still are dancing in the moonlight again. And tomorrow Venice may appear again, in the sound of the cowbells on the breeze, perhaps, to remind me that sheer pleasure, like love itself, can never be contained, but can always be reinvented.