As we drove over the hills leading into Verbania, a town in northern Piedmont, we were welcomed by a breathtaking view of Lake Maggiore. Our flight had arrived in Milan just a few hours earlier and while seriously jet lagged, we eagerly looked forward to our visit with Eros Buratti, a local “stagionatura” (ager) of Piedmont cheeses.
Eros and his family own a small cheese and specialty shop in Verbania called La Casera. They also manage a small wholesale business that allows them to share beautiful, high-quality Italian cheeses with other retailers. From the very start of our conversation, over a restorative espresso at a lakeside café, it was clear that Eros shared our beliefs and values about cheese. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, we talked about artisan cheese production throughout Italy and the U.S., and agreed on the importance of artistry in every aspect of the cheese making process — from the dairy to the cheese maker to the ager and even to the retailer.
After a brief cheese tasting in Eros’ caves, it was already time for our next stop: We would be eating Sunday supper at his mother’s house!
At the family home overlooking Lake Maggiore, we were greeted by wonderful aromas from the kitchen and, soon enough, by Mama Carla herself. Mama, who helps package the beautiful leaf-wrapped robiola cheeses we get from Eros, had cooked coarse ground yellow polenta in a copper pot for hours and topped it with braised beef stracatto and local wild porcini.
We washed it down with some of our favorite red wines, including an amazing 2001 Cappellano Barolo, and went back to Eros’ cheese cave for another round of tasting, featuring classics like Robiola di Roccaverano and Taleggio, as well as cheeses we’d never seen before, such as Rosso di Lago and Fiocco del Bec.
By this point, you might think we’d eaten enough, but our next stop was dinner with Eros and his wife at a trattoria in the center of town. We topped the night off with a special tasting of mostardas and locally-produced beers.
It is exciting that after 30 years of importing Italian cheeses, we can still find young suppliers like Eros who are sticking so simply and so perfectly to tradition.