Giving Head: What Wine for Head Cheese?
Of all the salacious nuggets that still thrill Babbo sycophants, the one that I regrettably can't erase from my memory is the tale of President Clinton and Mario Batali's testa, boiled pig's head.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen. Porchetta di testa is a brined, slow-cooked head cheese. Traditionally it's roasted. In this case the charcutier cooked the head sous-vide. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see the ears along the edges and the tongue in the middle.
Evidently, in a celebration of the fratboy-sexist-misogynist mind-set that drives the great brain (read penis) behind Molto Mario, Batali sent out a dish of testa (which literally means head) to the president the first time Bubba visited the storied Manhattan eatery. According to legend, the server told Clinton: "Mario has sent this dish of head to you with his compliments -- on the house."
It gives a whole new meaning to the expression giving head.
With the ever-growing popularity of charcuterie made in-house (see my colleague Katharine Shilcutt's excellent, James Beard-nominated article on Houston's leading charcutiers), the question of what to pair with these fatty, salty foods is increasingly germane to the fine-dining experience.
If you've been following along here at Wine Time, you've heard me say it before: The supreme fattiness and saltiness of dishes like this (or, say, lardo, which is simply salt-cured pig's fat) beg for red wines high in acidity. Not only does the acidity in the wine help to cut through the fat on the palate, it also gives your digestive track a leg up in the laborious task of metabolizing these foods, which, historically and traditionally, were the farmer's way of using every part of the animal (while the landowners took the best cuts).
The next time you give your guests head, be sure to look for wines made with grapes like Sangiovese from Tuscany, Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, traditional-style Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Pinot Noir from Pfalz, or Zweigelt from Austria (the latter was my choice when I ate the other night at the charcuterie-driven Feast on Westheimer). That acidity will make that fat and salt all the more easy to swallow.
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