Sometimes newer isn’t better. Keeping tabs on the new markets and gourmet shops is rough, though thrilling when a new one appears. But, sometimes the old standbys can yield some surprises that keep them fresh and vital.
SAY CHEESE: Buy it by the pound.
Micucci Grocery, at 45 India Street in Portland, is a Portland institution, in business for decades, and a vital stop for anyone interested in Italian food and cooking.
It often takes people — including me — too long to begin exploring Micucci’s wonders, but it never takes long to return in search of the store’s inspiration, ideas, and honest ingredients.
This day was no different. I wanted to put out a platter of cheeses and accompaniments before a dinner date, but this couldn’t sting my wallet. A dinner out was to follow later in the evening, so I really needed to keep to my twenty dollar budget.
Immediately upon entering Micucci, a friendly face at the cheese counter was quick to offer a hello, though the greeting was overwhelmed by the immense board behind the counter listing all the cheese varieties and prices. “Are those prices by the pound?” His affirmative answer was almost shocking; these are what some other places charge for a quarter-pound. Of course, we may not be comparing apples and oranges here. The cheeses at Micucci may not be from the milk of a single sheep on an organic farm in Washington State, but be flexible.
A snowy white wedge of Dutch Goat’s Milk Gouda looks delicious. It’s a creamy, slightly tart cheese well complemented by a wedge of the Manchego. This is one of Spain’s most valuable exports, a whole-sheep’s-milk cheese that is slightly crumbly in texture. At $9.99 and $8.99 a pound, respectively, the quarter-pound wedges fit well in the budget.
Sitting atop the cheese counter was a cluster of pint baskets brimming with perfectly ripe California figs, for $3.99 each. Who could resist?
The wine selection at Micucci is sizeable. Among a sea of bottles is a familiar label. The Charamba is a vinho tinto, a red table wine from the Douro region of Portugal. This is the same region that brings us port, among many other things. This 2003 vintage rustic red has a medium body with lots of berry fruit, and at $5.99, is an excellent companion for the cheeses.
Near the breads are several packages of Ines Rosales Tortas de Aceite, which, through the cellophane and wax paper, look like pita-sized crackers. The pair at the register say they are slightly sweet and have a hint of anise (that’s the licorice flavor), and their smiles and wide eyes say they’re a must.
There’s not even much preparation for this appetizer-snack: open the wine to let it breathe; leave the cheeses out to come to room temperature; wash, dry, and slice the figs from the bottom; serve with the tortas in their wax-paper wrapping.The cheeses and wine marry perfectly with the fresh figs and warmth of the anise-flavored tortas. The leftovers ended up as dessert after the evening’s outing.