“I have the best job in the world because every day I get to bring the joy of food—especially cheese—to my customers, to the people of Philadelphia,” said Emilio Mignucci, one of three owners of the third generation in the Di Bruno Bros. tradition.
On Thursday evening, June 26, 2014 he hosted six international cheesemakers whose cheeses served as the foundation for a limited-seating six-course sit-down dinner.
The amuse bouche featured Jose Luis Martin’s Spanish Manchego 1605 cheese. Served aboard crispy, crunchy pan con tomate it created a creamy treat topped with tuna aioli.
Sam Holden’s Hafod Welsh Organic Cheddar highlighted the second course with a mini Boardwalk burger and fries served with smoked paprika ketchup and Haford “whiz.” The whimsical dish boasted a silver-dollar sized wagu beef patty on a bun with homemade pickles and special sauce.
Gazpacho thrilled tongues for the soup course as spicy cracked pepper set off the buttery, caramel-y notes of Betty Koster’s Dutch L’Amuse Gouda.
The salad course arrived wrapped like a bouquet of spring, with slender strips of cucumber tying local greens with a sprinkle of lardoons and duck rillettes. Philippe Goux’s French Marcel Petite Comte highlighted the walnut vinegarette.
Giorgio Cravero of Italy introduced his Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano that decorated the entrée of veal braciolettine resting on a bed of kale and fava chickpea puree.
Perhaps the highlight was dessert—“Di Bruno Bros. Lantern”—served with Joe Schneider’s English Stichelton. “This is the International Cheesemakers Rock Stars Dinner,” said Schneider, “but I’ve never felt like a rock star. I get up every morning at 5. I spend more time with cows than beautiful women. And,” he paused as the darkened room silenced, “making cheese has never gotten me laid!”
Laughter and applause echoed as servers delivered lanterns—complete with lighted candles—to delighted guests. Candied bacon crunch served as the shade and circled the base of hazelnut mousse. Di Brunos chefs created savory ice cream using Schneider’s Stichelton, and nestled a mini scoop atop macerated blueberries and strawberries.
Beers from Brooklyn Brewery accompanied each course and included Pilsner, Lager, Pennant Ale, IPA, Sorachi Ace, and Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse.
It’s clear why it was impossible to select a favorite course from $100 per plate dinner, whose proceeds benefited The Daphne Zepos Teaching Award (a scholarship for the teaching and training of cheese professionals), The American Cheese Society Education Fund, and the Neighborhood Kitchen at St. James School. The maximum 35 seats filled easily, capped at this number to keep the dinner intimate.
Mignucci choked up as he thanked the cheesemakers and applauded his staff for making his job look easy. “I told Amy and Danielle and my chefs what my vision for this was. They’re the ones who pulled it off. I wouldn’t be here without them and you,” he gestured to his guests. Finally, he nodded to the photos on the wall. “Danny and Joe (the first generation) made this all possible, and I’m proud to carry their legacy. They created a place where we can talk about cheese incessantly. Because of them I can bring joy to my customers, and that makes me feel like the luckiest man.”
Di Bruno Bros. has four locations in Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse location at 1730 Chestnut St. hosted the dinner. Other locations are the Italian Market, 930 S. 9th St.; the Franklin, 834 Chestnut St.; and the Comcast Center, 1701 JFK Blvd. They also have a stand at Ardmore Farmers’ Market, 120 Coulter Ave., Ardmore, PA 19003
By Jann Simmons