The Beauty of Artisanal Pasta and Cheese

This week we have insight from two of our artisanal suppliers, Melina’s Pasta and Hillsborough Cheese Company, on their preferred methods of cooking and/or using their products.

melina's fresh pasta
Photo by Melina’s Fresh Pasta

Melina’s Fresh Pasta is based in Durham, NC. Carmella, the head pasta-maker and owner went on a culinary tour of Italy that ended at an Italian pasta making school. “I have a passion for my heritage, culture and especially the food. My goal is to teach people about authentic Italian food” while, of course, providing delicious pasta! Check out her website for more information about her story, her company, and her pasta (she even offers pasta making classes)! I called Carmella to get some tips on the best ways to cook her different kinds of pasta as well as what to pair it with and here is what she told me:

Firstly, Italians don’t put much sauce on their pasta, Americans tend to drown pasta in sauce, so she recommends not using much. The pasta you get from Melina’s is so flavorful that not much is needed other than oil, butter, or a little bit of tomato sauce for savory pasta. Italians also don’t use a lot of cheese (unlike the pasta smothered in cheese at Olive Garden), just a little bit to add flavor!

Fettuccini or Gnocchi: After you cook the pasta save a few tablespoons of pasta water (because it’s starchy) and sauté pasta, goat cheese, and pasta water to make a thicker sauce. Herbed goat cheese would be particularly good in this recipe.

Photo by Melina’s Fresh Pasta

Sweet Ravioli: Use browned butter as a sauce for the sweeter ravioli. I had never heard of browned butter before this morning and I’ve quickly become excited about it—it apparently has a very delicious nutty flavor. I found this recipe online, but it seems pretty simple. The key is keeping your eye on it and removing the butter from the pan when it is about a shade lighter than you think it should be to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Pierogi: There are two different ways to cook pierogi: you can boil them first and then sauté in a pan with butter and onions until they’re crispy, or you can just pan fry with butter to make them extra crispy. Carmella tends to cook pierogi the second way when she serves it and sometimes she cooks her ravioli this way as well.

cindy & Dorian in cheese shack
Photo by Hillsborough Cheese Company

Hillsborough Cheese Company is based in Hillsborough, NC and focuses on “the art of cheesemaking”. The head cheesemaker, Cindy, is a French-trained chef who makes mostly European-style goat’s- and cow’s-milk cheeses. “She earned a culinary degree from the Memphis Culinary Academy and spent a year at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France where she graduated second in her class with honors and earned a Grand Diplome in Cuisine and Pastry.” Check out their website/blog for more information about their company and their cheese and this article in the Chapel Hill Magazine: Chapel Hill Mag. article on HCC. Also watch this quick video to see a little bit of what their cheese-making process looks like.

I spoke with Dorian on the phone to hear what he likes to do with their cheese and what to pair it with.

All of their cheese (except feta and mozzarella) are delicious simply by themselves with a baguette or water crackers to accentuate the flavor of the cheese. Wine, of course, is fantastic to pair with all cheese.

Farmer’s Cheese and Brie: Great with fruit compote, pepper jelly, or jams.

Farmer’s Cheese and Labne: Drizzle honey or olive oil on top before serving.

Bloomy Rinds: Bloomy rind cheese is cheese that has a rind around it and is softer in the middle, brie cheese is the most well-known of this kind. Hillsborough Cheese Company makes three different kinds of bloomy rinds and all are great with thinly sliced apples or pears. You can also bake the fruit on top of the cheese if you’re feeling adventurous, recipe here.

Grilled Cheese!: The aged cheeses (such as gouda or manchego) with mozzarella make a fantastic grilled cheese—the aged cheese gives it a good sharpness and the mozzarella gives it the stretchiness we all crave in grilled cheese.

Goat Cheese: Great in Mexican dishes, folded into omelets, on top of a burger, or even stirred into grits for all you southerners out there!

One of their favorite things to do is to cut a baguette in half, butter the bread, and add ham and either brie or farmer’s cheese for a simple but delicious treat.

Finally, what’s a pasta dish or a cheese platter without a good wine? For a hearty red wine such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon it is best with an aged cheese or pasta with a light tomato sauce. Semi-sweet white wines such as Reisling, Chignon Blanc, or even Champagne are great with brie and bloomy rinds as well as pasta with oil-based sauce. For a guide to pasta and wine check out this website and a guide to cheese and wine here.

White wine, brie, caembert and grape on the wood surface

Pasta dinner with bread and wineHappy wining and dining!

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