Mike's Undying Love for Moliterno

Growing up I basically hated food. I was the definition of finicky, constantly picking vegetables off of my plate, or anything else for that matter that I didn’t like the looks of. I scoffed at anything that was outside the little box that I had created for myself. When I first started at Di Bruno’s the only cheese that even came close to my lips was sliced American cheese. Provolone, Cheddar…forget it. I wouldn’t even touch it. Come to think of it, I didn’t even eat the American by itself, it had to be on a sandwich. That’s how picky I was. When I walked through the doors at 9th St. however, there was a lot of pressure to be a “foodie”. It was a positive pressure. I saw in everyone’s eyes how much they loved what they were doing. I felt like I was the only one who wouldn’t just eat whatever you put in front of him. I wanted that freedom. I wanted the satisfied look that they had on their faces when they tasted something that was exceptional. Little did I know that I was about to experience that feeling of satisfaction.

A week or two after I started, and went through the initial training process I was just about ready to explore (at the time I was only working Saturday’s, and there was very little time for tasting). Emilio finally pulled me aside and started to explain to me the fine art of selling food. He told me to start slow. Pick one or two cheeses at a time, every time that I came to work. I don’t remember the exact words that were said, but what I collected from the conversation was that; you can’t sell something without knowing what it is and what it tastes like, and that you can’t passionately sell something without loving it.

The first cheese that Emilio pulled down was a cheese called Moliterno; a sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia that’s aged “incanestrati” or in a basket then rubbed with olive oil and suet. Without hesitation I popped the sliver of cheese into my mouth. It was the first time in my life that I tasted something without giving it a scouring inspection riddled with a negativity that would inevitably give me a reason to not like whatever I was tasting. The result was astounding. If sliced American cheese was a one room shack on skid row, then Moliterno was a five star hotel on Park Avenue. I had never tasted anything like it; the salt from the sheep’s milk, the buttery texture from the olive oil, and the meaty finish from the suet rub. The flavors evoked so many different feelings. Of course at the time, I wasn’t aware of the these subtle nuances, but the flavor was so abundant and memorable that I knew that this was destined to be the first benchmark on my culinary expedition. If nothing else the experience taught me to let my guard down when it came to food.

Now when I sit down at restaurants and order braised lamb shank with winter vegetables and sundried cranberry cous cous or tenderlon filet with cabrales and foie gras, I sit and think back to that defining moment in my life and know that Moliterno will always hold a special place in my heart for opening the window of exploration. Even if I still sneak slices of American cheese when no one else is looking.