By Eileen Goldfinger and Paul Goldfinger, Editors @Blogfinger.net. Photography by Eileen Goldfinger.
If you think that you can’t get authentic Italian cuisine in Florida, you haven’t visited Mario’s Meat Market and Deli in Fort Myers (southwest Fla). This remarkable food store has customers lining up at the counter where you can get incredible breads, meats, sauces, homemade sausage, cheeses, wines, desserts, and custom sandwiches. For example, one of their specialty heros is called “The Italian” and consists of salami, pepperoni, capicolo, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot peppers oil and vinegar on a superb role with sesame seeds. Some people can’t wait to get home, so they chow down at tables arranged outside.
The people at the counter were remarkably helpful and cheerful. Some of them are professional cooks, so they will tell you how to prepare , for example , an authentic meat dish “braciola”
We were there picking up supplies for an Italian dinner that Eileen was planning and we stumbled on a “rare” culinary event. Representatives from a large cheese manufacturer (“Leone”) from the mountainous Verona region of Italy were getting ready to “open” one of their huge wheels. They were readying a parmigiano cheese called Monte Veronese, made from cow’s milk, specially prepared for Mario’s.
What was unique about this wheel was that it had been aged for five years, much longer than most cheeses from that northeast region where much of the Italian cheese-making occurs. The storage facility is kept at 80% humidity and 61 degrees F.
No one knows how long wheels have been the motif for storing cheese, but this variety has been made for nearly 900 years. To open the wheel requires great skill and experience if it is done in the traditional way—- manually with knives. Usually they use machines.
Gabriele Leone, the owner of the Leone company, brought out some special tools. He worked very carefully, but after watching this demonstration, I was amazed that he still has all his fingers. He was cheered on by the company’s bilingual American representative Mike Tuccillo and by Mario Pica, the owner of this remarkable store.
When he finally opened the wheel, it was a very special event and the performance received a round of applause. Then Gabriele began to offer chunks of the parmigiano, which is a hard cheese that tends to crumble. It is usually sold as wedges or grated. It should be stored in the refrigerator where it can last for up to 6 months. If a little mold begins to appear, just cut it off. We tried some, and it was delicious: fragrant and tasty.
Mike explained that the company is beginning to export their unique aged products to America. Thanks to Mike, Gabriele and Mario for giving Blogfinger access to this very special event.