Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mario Carrabs - Butcher and Then Some - Gesualdo (Av)

Mario Carrabs
A typical Saturday morning.  Time to fare la spesa, go grocery shopping.  I was in Irpinia for a few days and I decided to take a quick drive to the small town of Gesualdo nestled between the valleys of the rivers Fredane and Ufita. Gesualdo, home to a   must see medeival castle and, in the corner of a quiet piazza, a small butcher shop run by Mario Carrabs and his wife Virginia.  

When I arrived, the shop was bustling with activity.  No problem,  I made myself comfortable and sat on a wicker chair in the corner...the one with the soft red pillow...and soaked in a bit of la vita quotidiano, everyday life. A housewife picking up a few cuts of meat and a few recipe tips.  Another customer interested in making meatballs that evening  waited patiently for freshly ground beef right on the spot.  The door continuously opened and closed by Carrabs' s clients; regulars, and first timers like me who didn't mind spending a little time Saturday morning shopping.

But why here?Why not?  Mario smiled as he showed me photos on the wall dating back to 1913.  Photos of animals including a special breed known as mucca podolica.  Mario shared with me that Gesualdo was (and still is) famous for their animal fairs that lasted from may all the way through September. Merchants, customers and onlookers would come from nearby regions to purchase the best livestock around.  He took me outside and pointed to an apartment house down the street.  It used to be one of the many taverns set up for travellers who needed a place to stay and something to eat.  Each had its own Irpinian specialty on the menu; lambs brain, mugliatelli which is a cooked little 'package' of lamb intestines, and soffritto
Mario and I continued to chat between customers and while he was working on two enormous orders; one  for salami and cheese at the wine fair in Taurasi and some serious steaks for a wedding that evening at Villa Assunta.  Salamis and cheese.  My eyes couldn't help but go to the side of the shop where Mario had his specialty hanging.  Guanciale di maiale all'Aglianico, pigs cheek cured with Aglianico wine.

Irpinian tradition, Mario shared.  Many farmers would place their meats and cheeses in must, hay, straw, or  caverns to hide them from their lords or the taxman.  And by doing so, they not only were able to hang on to what they produced, they discovered interesting ways to preserve their products. Old traditions like these have been becoming quite popular again, and after a taste, I could sure understand why.  Nothing new to Mario, though.  His family has been in the business for three generations...

The tannins in the wine do not overpower or invade the flavor of the pork. Instead, it embraces giving a comforting contrast tto the flavorful fattiness.  At this point, it seemed only natural to try some other specialties that Mario makes, like his soppressata, capricollo, and pancetta.


Mario left me for a moment to cut some more steak, but not before a mini lesson on Irpinia's amazing cheese.  Virginia prepared three for me to try...
The first two by caciocavallo producer Vittorio Sorrentino whose factory is in Montella.  He makes his cheeses from the milk produced by the mucca Bruna, a particular species of cow.I tasted a young caciocavallo which had been aged for six months, ahile the other 2 years.  Just as I was about to try the third cheese, Mario was back with an explanation of what I was about to taste.  Another caciocavallo cheese, but this one was made with the milk from the mucca podolica.  A cow which loaves to roam the hills in Irpinia, travelling from pasture to pasture.  So the flavor of this cheese, aged for 2 1/2 years should be much more complex.  Was it? Yes, it was.

With all this tasting going on, Mario suggested I open up a bottle of wine.  Carrabs, a sommelier for a little over 10 years, has a small but fierce selection of wines from Irpinia and nearby Basilicata.  He handed me a glass, a corkscrew, a bottle of Antelio Aglianico del Vulture 2008 by Azienda Agricola Camerlegno, and went back to work.

No problem.   I enjoyed that glass with my soppressata and chunks of caciocavallo podolico,cheese as I sat in the corner, on a small wicker chair...the one with the red pillow...and soaked in a bit of la vita quotidiano...

Grazie Mario...

Macelleria Mario Carrabs di Mario Carrabs
Via Campo S.Leonardo, 1- 83040 - Gesualdo (AV) 


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