“Oh holy hell….what is that?!”
“Not a flipping clue but I hope to be eating it in the next few days”
A coworker and I drooling over a photo that Jeremy Parzen had posted over at Do Bianchi, a dish that he and his wife Tracie were sharing while staying in Friuli just days before the group was to be meeting him there. I put the photo out of my head, likely replacing it with my usual pre-trip freak out and last minute shopping for underpants….not what you think. I go undie shopping before every trip where I am going to be living out of a suitcase for longer than a week. Oh not for those “just in case” moments, I mean c’mon who am I fooling? No the new undies stay home and all the panties that I no longer care for come along for the ride, this way I can wear them and toss them and not have to stuff used undies in with my clean clothes. A fantastic tip given to me by my mother in-law and a brilliant excuse to buy a bunch of new underpants! So what if my husband says I am behaving like a male cat and marking my territory, it works for me.
At some point once we were all gathered from the Venice airport and bumping along in the minivan that would be our transport for the duration of our time in Friuli Jeremy began telling us what to expect. Laying down the schedule, explaining how the morning tastings were to work and that was when I first heard it, “And get ready to eat a lot of Frico”. Jeremy went on to tell us exactly what that was, or what they were really as there are two primary kinds of this particular Friulian dish, crunchy and soft. I was fuzzy with sleep deprivation and slugging my way out of a Bloody Mary haze but I heard what I needed to, there was to be cheese…..crunchy fried cheese, and sometimes there would be slightly softer cheese with potatoes, and seeing as the people of Friuli were very proud of this regional dish the chances of us being served quite a bit of it were high. All I needed. I sat there fuzzy, hazy and in my less than comfy unders and I knew I was going to be very happy.
We climbed out of the minivan at Il Roncal, the winery/hotel that we were to call home for the next 7 days, everyone a bit sluggish from travel and a little awkward with the not quite knowing each other business. Everyone milled about in front of the doors that enclosed the kitchen/dining/bar room at the estate; I spied an ashtray and slipped away from the pack for a much needed smoke and just a second away to gather my bearings. I took two deep puffs and as I exhaled I felt the weight of travel being lifted from my chest. I was struck by the beauty of the spot where I stood, the terrace above me, the rolling hills across from me and the distant voices of the people that would be my family for as long as I was there….a solitary moment before I was to be flooded with information, places, faces and flavors that were completely new. I noticed before long that I was breathing in far deeper than I was breathing out, I was ready… “Now how about that Frico stuff?”
We were eventually greeted by Martina, the proprietor of Il Roncal who appeared genuinely happy to see us and after slipping a bowl of little cream colored “crackers” before us went bouncing off to get a bottle of Prosecco to kick off the first of our many elaborate lunches. “See, I told you….Frico” Jeremy said while pointing to the bowl of crackers. I tried to be cool, nothing worse than a fat girl throwing elbows and knocking people over to get to the bowl of crispy cheese bits. I took my glass of much needed and damn refreshing Prosecco and pretended that I wasn’t dying to plunge my pudgy digits into the bowl from which my fellow travelers were noshing, was killing me. I let coy win for a bit, waited until someone shoved the bowl in front of me and I could pretend that I hadn’t noticed the crunchy bits of savory want, took only one and popped it in my mouth as if I were just being kind, yeah my bug eyes and unsightly groan blew that cover all to shit.
The second that salty but not too salty chunk of crunch hit my tongue I was a goner. My mouth began watering and my teeth….without my permission; I was still trying to savor the damn thing… came crashing down upon it sending tiny shards of fried cheese around my whole mouth. I let my tongue press the pieces to the roof of my mouth and the most delicious, savory, almost creamy flavor enveloped my palate, that would be when the eye bugging happened and that was when we were asked to come inside and take our seats at the table….but, but…I want more of that!
One piece, I had that one piece of Frico to sustain me to the next place, likely at dinner from the way Jeremy told it, before I would once again…and fuck the shy business, I was gonna be all up in it…have the delight of Frico between my teeth and wrapping itself around my palate. Um yeah, not so much. Days! Days went by and not one Frico sighting, what gives? Sure every morning I drug my sleepy ass down to the Il Roncal dining room to find slabs and slabs of creamy and delicious Montasio, the regional cheese from which the crunchtastic delights were made, it was wonderful and I sure as shit partook but….whimper, Donde the Frico?
At just about every lunch and dinner we were served Montasio in varying stages of age; from the youngest or fresh which is aged between 60 and 120 days, the semi-aged which is 5 to 10 months old, up to the oldest which is 10 months or older, was there, Friuli is very proud of their Montasio of this I can assure you. All absolutely wonderful, mild with a beautiful fruitiness and this luscious creaminess, less sharp and sweet than Parmesan with a clear milky freshness that was sublime with the high acid wines we washed them down with. I adored tasting and learning about yet another cheese but dammit, I was aching to get my Frico on. Guess I wasn’t the only one, at some point Jeremy had to ask about the lack of Frico and I turned out that everyone had assumed that we had been stuffed to the gills with the regional dish so they thought they were doing us a favor by not forcing yet another Frico on us….sigh.
On our final full day our handlers at the Consorzio took pity upon us and made arrangements for us to have lunch at a spot that was known for its Frico and not just any Frico, the soft Frico which much to my elation is basically a semi-crunchy cheese shell with…soft potatoes inside of it. Well friends that right there is better than porn to this Irish girl. Our little mix matched family sat around a picnic style table and cut into slabs of potatoes encased in chewy Montasio, drank crisp and refreshing Pinot Bianco and had a conversation wondering why this dish is not on every restaurant list in the states. Traditionally served with grilled polenta which is great and all I think on a list here in the states, this dish served with a bright salad of tender greens dressed with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, maybe a glug of good olive oil, well what the hell is there not to love?! An absolutely brilliant dish that is astonishingly wine friendly, wicked cheap to make and judging from the groaning and reaching that went on at that table, quite the crowd pleaser. One of the best things I put in my mouth on that trip and a dish that I will be making this weekend to share with friends and family….just so happens my cheese supplier has my newly beloved Montasio, so guess who else now has some…oh yeah, The Wine Country. Gonna be waving my Frico flag for sure….
One of my other favorite dishes with this marvelous cheese was served to us at the home of Daniela and Pigi Comelli. A simple but perfect salad of tender greens, (looked liked Mache) topped with grated pears, grated Montasio and topped with a piece of fried San Daniele ham and drizzled with good olive oil. That’s it. No vinegar, no fluff…just the thin shards of pear matched with the creamy luscious cheese. What the Italians do best, let the ingredients speak for themselves…perfection.