Sheep's Milk Ricotta and Barbaresco: A David and Goliath Story

As we settled into our seats at the bar on a suddenly chilly January evening, we ordered a young Barbaresco to warm ourselves up, knowing that it would pair with the food we were in the mood for. Barbaresco, the less popular, but slightly more elegant younger brother to heavy-hitter Barolo, comes from the Nebbiolo grape in the northern Italian region of Piemonte. Austere and hard-to-approach at first, the 2015 Ca’Nova warms up to you as you get to talking. “Do I risk looking like a jackass and ask the neighborhood pizzeria’s barkeep to decant my wine?” the thought crossed my mind. “Anything to eat?” he asked. I guess the moment’s passed. So we ordered our food and let the wine breathe in the glass. Thankfully, the pours are shallow. There are few things worse when it comes to the wine-drinking experience than an over-eager waiter pouring an almost full glass - leaving little to no room for the aromas to fill the bowl.

A couple hours pleasantly passed as we enjoyed our meal - stuffed squid, wilted rapini dressed with vincotto, wood-fired margherita pizza. Things didn’t get interesting until we’d chomped down the last piece of smoky, crispy, pizza crust and start to ponder cheeses and desserts. We settled on a sheep’s milk ricotta: served with olive oil, salt, pepper, finely chopped green chives, and a mild honey. Surprisingly delightful. Creamy with a modest crumble. Airy but not without substance. The ricotta reminded me of a friend I had in kindergarten who spoke softly and infrequently, but always had something interesting to say. Mild-mannered, pleasant and never a bother. After a particularly indulgent bite, I reached for my glass but paused midway. The Barbaresco, more elegant than his brother though he may be, would certainly bully my soft-spoken kindergarten friend. I take gentle swig of the wine, and - wow. Oh my. My soft-spoken friend may, in fact, speak softly, but he sure carries a big stick. What happened on my palate, though, wasn’t a scuffle between a mild-mannered kindergartner with a stick and an elegant bully. No, it was anything but. The two left the sandbox the holding hands, the best of friends.

Why did that pairing work? Or better yet, why did it work so well? Well, it wasn’t the ricotta alone; it was the full caste of characters - the olive oil, honey, salt, pepper, chives. A beautiful salty, creamy, sweetness, to complement the dark cherry and plum, the tar and roses, the earth and spice from the Barbaresco.

As we settled up and left, I couldn’t help but wonder why the soft-spoken kindergartner and the bully couldn’t just get along and be friends more often?