Carluccio’s, Princesshay, Bedford Street, Exeter, EX1 1GJ
I was recently invited to Carluccio’s in Exeter’s Princesshay for a cheese and wine evening; I like cheese and wine a lot, but this really had my husband’s name all over it – and he was even more delighted than usual…I hoped it wouldn’t disappoint.
On arrival we were warmly greeted by a member of staff and then we were introduced to our tutor for the evening, Stefanie. It turns out Stefanie is no ordinary employee; she has enjoyed being Exeter’s deli manager for the past 3 ½ years and, having studied both Italian and food, loves that she can bring her two passions together in this role.
She has visited Italy twice thanks to Carluccio’s, and has met and seen where a lot of the products in the deli come from. She also teaches other regional staff from a base near Bristol so she clearly knows her stuff.
If she isn’t available to serve you, don’t worry as Carluccio’s also ensure all their staff are trained well enough to be able to help deli customers, and of course the restaurant customers too as you would expect.
We settled down to a table near the kitchen; it has a lovely large opening so you can see what the chefs are up to, to some degree. We each chose a wine off the menu, both going for the Carluccio’s exclusive but in red for Steve and white for myself. Both were very nice wines; we shared a 3rd glass of their special red which was a delight – full of flavour, but light. Sweet on the nose with flavours of honey, black pepper and cherry.
For a Thursday evening, I noted how busy the restaurant was (they say Thursday is the new Friday right?) but it had a great ambience to it, with staff moving around without fuss and everything seemed to be happening smoothly around us. It’s larger than you think actually, and had perfect level of lighting, low enough for cosiness but not too low you couldn’t see what was on your plate.
Then a beautiful cheese board was presented. …Steve’s eyes lit up. He had to wait a tiny bit longer whilst Stefanie explained her background and the fact that Carluccio’s used to do taster events but this went on the back burner a little. With the current foodie buzz that is happening everywhere and people becoming even more aware of provenance, quality and impressing at home, Carluccio’s are planning to do mini events again whereby you can come along and try a selection of cheeses and possibly wines or olives in a relaxed atmosphere and chat with fellow attendees as well as learning about the products.
Along with our tasters, we had a useful info sheet that was only partly filled in, leaving room for your own notes as well as a map of the region so Stefanie could point out where they were from.
Right…time to dive into the cheese fest. Amongst the 5 cows cheeses on the board we tried creamy Taleggio from the Lombardy region, which has an edible skin, is square in shape, melts well and is ‘young’ (less than 40 days old). Then a Fontina from the Valle D’Aosta region; this is a protected cheese and only 70 or so dairies can make it. It had a lovely nutty flavour and becomes stretchy when warmed so it is good for fondues and delicious with speck ham. The most interesting and unusual cheese was Ubriaco (meaning drunk); this special cheese has a washed rind using skins and seeds of the prosecco grape which is an excellent use of a by-product. I found this totally different; it gripped the tongue and then exuded a hue or aroma in the mouth – certainly one to impress guests!
We were also served some fresh foccacias topped with speck and then some taleggio and fontina. Their foccacia is made in house every day, it was soft, airy and not too oily as some can be. I threw in a curve ball too and asked Stefanie if I could have mozzarella as it is one of my favourites and I do tend to buy the cheaper supermarket versions as well as treating myself to the finer ones so wanted to see how theirs compared. She was very obliging; it was so soft and a bit sweet and melted in the mouth – heavenly. All of the above were served with honey that had a few drops of truffle oil added, balsamic vinegar and some fig jam. All were absolutely delicious and complimented the various cheeses well.
After eating we were shown the deli area; we did not realise the vast selection the deli held. I know we champion local food but, if you want Italian food done right, this looks like the place to come. A wall of jars of wonderful pesto’s, pasta sauces and pastes. A wine fridge for takeaway wines that are not on the menu, and if you do want to drink it with a meal, they charge the shelf price plus a little corkage. Meringues, cakes and breads, a cheese fridge to make any cheese-a-holic jealous.
There is a ‘breakfast bar’ you can perch yourself at, on a stool, order coffee and just chill surrounded by all these goodies. Of course, if you haven’t got time of an evening or can’t get babysitter for one of the future events, then you are most welcome to just pop in to the store and ask to try some cheeses. There is no obligation to buy, it is all about service and sharing their love of all things Italian.
A few little facts for you:
- Cheese making was done all over Europe as, due to the preserving nature of cheese, it was easy to keep in a time before fridges
- Forma (of formaggio) actually means ‘shape’. Cheese was traditionally shaped in wicker baskets
- Cheese ‘skin’ is edible and ‘rind’ is not
- The biggest cheese festival is held every other year in a city called Bra
- Grana Padano is suitable for vegetarians whereas Parmesan is not
We had a very enjoyable evening which didn’t disappoint and we will certainly be back to the deli again; it really is an Italian treasure trove. They say animals are not just for Christmas, well neither is Carluccio’s deli. Keep an eye out on their website for upcoming events.