Legends From Europe Dinner At Meritage

About a month after we returned from our honeymoon, I found myself sitting down to an Italian dinner at Meritage. But it wasn't just any Italian dinner. This dinner was sponsored by Legends from Europe and was meant to introduce and promote some of the foods Italy is known for that have P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) certification. You may also see this marked as D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). In order for a food product to receive this certification, it must be produced according to tradition and in a specific geographic region and meet quality standards. The thought is that the flavor, texture, and other unique components of a traditionally made food are "formed through a complex interaction of soil, plant life, and centuries-old production methods that cannot be replicated elsewhere," according to Legends from Europe.

You may remember from my honeymoon posts that Parmigiano-Reggiano has the P.D.O. certification. Grana Padano, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Montasio, and Prosciutto di Parma do as well. The dinner would incorporate each of these Italian treasures.

We started with an amuse-bouche of tuna tartare on a crisp salted wonton. This first bite served to pique our appetites as we awaited the Italian dishes.

Tuna tartare at Meritage, Boston, Mass.

Our first course featured Prosciutto di San Daniele. This ham is cured in the town of San Daniele using a natural system that relies on air and salt. A quality ham is fragrant with a rosy hue, delicate texture, and lingering finish.

We tasted the thinly sliced, salty ham with jumbo asparagus and aged balsamic syrup. The dish was paired with a glass of 2010 Marco Felluga "Molamatta" from Collio, Friuli. The simple presentation allowed the ham to rely shine. It's often served on its own or draped over melon.

Prosciutto di San Danielle with asparagus at Meritage, Boston, Mass.

The chef brought out a wedge of Montasio to show us before it was incorporated in the next dish. Montasio is a firm, crowd-pleasing cheese that takes its name from a mountain in the Alps of Friuli Venezia Giulia (in the northeastern corner of Italy). Younger cheeses have a mild, delicate flavor and pair well with fresh fruit like pears, work in sandwiches, or are used to make frico, a classic Friulian crisp cheese.

Wedge of Montasio

We had Montasio cheese frico with wild mushrooms, melted leeks, and spinach. The dish was paired with a glass of 2011 Le Terrazze "Le Cave" Chardonnay from Le Marche. The frico was amazing, and I loved that it was matched with such light, earthy counterparts.

Montasio cheese frico with wild mushrooms and leeks at Meritage, Boston, Mass.

Next we ogled a wedge of Grana Padano to be used in our upcoming course. Grana refers to the cheese's granular, crumbly texture and Padano to the Po River Valley (Pianura Padano) where it's made. Grana Padano was one of the first P.D.O. cheeses. Its production process is similar to that of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The wheels must age for at least 9 months. After 16 months, the cheese becomes more crumbly and takes on an assertive, tangy flavor. It makes for a good grating cheese.

Wedge of Grana Padano

We tried the Grana Padano grated in risotto mantecato that was drizzled with truffle oil. I'm not usually a fan of risotto -- the texture doesn't do it for me -- but I really enjoyed this version. Maybe it was the cheese, maybe the truffle oil. This was paired with a glass of 2008 Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco "Martinenga" from Barbaresco, Piemonte.

Risotto mantecato at Meritage, Boston, Mass.

Switching back over to ham, we next sampled Prosciutto di Parma (something I had a lot of in Italy) over braised monkfish osso buco. Like Prosciutto di San Daniele, Prosciutto di Parma is cured using only air and sea salt. This happens in the rolling countryside near Parma, Italy. It's usually served with melon or on pizza, and some chefs wrap fish or other seafood in it. I love it on its own but also enjoyed it in this unique dish. The monkfish was paired with a glass of 2007 Castellare, Chianti Classico from Tuscany.

Prosciutto di Parma over monkfish osso buco at Meritage, Boston, Mass.

The dessert course was coming up next, and we got a sneak peak of a Parmigiano-Reggiano wedge that would be the star of the dish. I have a whole post devoted to how Parmigiano-Reggiano is made, as we witnessed the whole process during a food tour on our honeymoon. You can check it out for the details.

Wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano

Dessert was a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano with quince compote, mostarda, and grilled baguette slices. The salty and sweet components played off of each other and made for a satisfying last course. And a glass of 2006 Cantina Fratelli Pardi, Sagrantino di Montefalco from Umbira was dry and balancing.

Cheese plate at Meritage, Boston, Mass.

I was happy to have the opportunity to learn about more of the special food products that come out of Italy and to even discover a new to me cheese: Montasio. You can find all of these products here in the US, some at regular grocery stores and some at specialty stores like Salumeria Italiana in the North End. Be sure to look for the P.D.O. seal so you know you're getting the real deal.

In addition to trying all of these foods at the dinner, I got to bring some of each home, compliments of Legends from Europe. I snacked on my Prosciutto di San Daniele on grilled bread with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, but I wanted to do something a little more exciting with the Prosciutto di Parma, so I whipped up some chicken saltimbocca. (I used this Cook's Illustrated recipe.) I've still got a wedge of vacuum-sealed Montasio that I'm going to play around with. In all honesty, I'll probably try to make frico with it... because it was just that good.

Chicken saltimbocca

A huge thank you to Legends from Europe for putting together this amazing dinner and to Meritage for executing and hosting it. This dinner was complimentary, but my opinions are my own. I love these hams and cheeses! I encourage you to try all of them. (And, no, I will never get sick of Italian food. I hope you're not sick of reading about it!)

Have you tried any of these Italian food products?