The next time you find yourself behind a long line of traffic inching through the Napa Valley on Highway 12, take a break and explore one of St. Helena’s hidden secrets. Tucked just a couple of blocks west of the main drag is the Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company. Citrus trees lining the small parking lot provide shade for the side yard’s worn wooden picnic tables and benches – nice spot to enjoy a beverage.
This is serious old school throwback.
The tiny Italian family run grocery store has been operating in this former olive oil milling location since 1931. As you step into the dark store, the food’s pungent aromas has you pulling out your cell phone to book the next flight to anywhere in Italy.
Bins and shelves are filled with a dizzying array of Italian foods – pasta, olives, dried herbs, bread sticks, sweets, beans, semolina, and fruit preserves. White powdery links of various salumi hang in bunches and cured, marbled meats wait in the chiller case – so many to choose from!
Try to find a spot to attach your calling card – yellowed business cards paper the walls and also overflow onto the rafters and supports. Bottles of the company’s olive oil, or NVOO, as they like to call it, are lined up on a tabletop that sits directly on top of the stone formerly used to press olive oil.
And the cheeses…big rounds of aged pecorino, asiago, parmesan share the cheese case with fresh mozz and ricotta salata. Who can resist the Black Pepper Percorino? The wrinkly hard rind, the black pepper veins, the delicious aroma all beckon… sure, cut a generous hunk of that cheese to go home with the olive oil and pasta.
Recipe: Black Pepper Pecorino Pasta
The intensity of a well-aged hard cheese shines best when the dish is kept simple.
- salt for the pasta water
- olive oil
- Black Pepper Pecorino (or flavorful aged, hard cheese of your choice)
- black pepper (optional)
- Adjust the quantities as you like.
- Cook pasta: bring a pot of water to boil and salt the water so that it tastes like the ocean. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions.
- Grate cheese: while pasta is cooking, grate and/or shave cheese.
- Heat olive oil: when pasta is a minute from being finished cooking, heat enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of a skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat.
- Mix together: when pasta is al dente, with tongs, add pasta to heated olive oil; reserve some of the pasta water. Add grated or shaved cheese and toss to mix well. If pasta is dry, add a little pasta water to moisten and toss well.
- Serve: garnish with shaved cheese and serve immediately. Add freshly cracked pepper if desired.