Walking down Arthur Avenue during the holiday season is a bit like navigating your way through a school of anchovies. The typically cramped Casa della Mozzarella transforms into a sardine can, albeit one with a ticketing system. The smell of cotechino is in the air. Tino's blockades their front windows with stacks of gift baskets and hams are hung over the deli counter like mistletoe. There are reasons to join, despite the madness. Perhaps you're attending a friend or coworker's Christmas party; maybe you're trying to impress your better half's family. Here are some suggestions (or, as it may be, reminders) for party favors you can pick up in Belmont.
We'll start off at Calabria, for no other reason than it's my favorite store in the neighborhood. In our previous post on the pork store, Queens-man Joe Distefano rang in with a shout out to their culatello. A worthy purchase, yes, but it'd also be a shame to stop by and not to pick up some sopressata ($14/lb). My tastebuds defer to the spicy, which is only slightly piquant. The fatty, oily country-style sausage makes an excellent appetizer served alone or with some sharp, dry cheese. Slice thin and enjoy.
Fresh, homemade ricotta ($3.99) can still be found down the street at Calandra. It's light and silky, with a restrained flavor and a fluffy texture unmatched by commercial varieties. You can also find smoked and fresh mozzarella, as well as burrata. They're also available at Joe's and Casa della Mozarella; I prefer the mozzarella at Casa, especially their creamy bocconcini for a perfectly bite-sized snack. Calandria also carries a tasty cacciocvallo ($6.99), a treasured gourd-shaped cheese produced from Molise down to Sicily, that is sweet and salty with a subtle sharpness. It's a cousin to provolone and a good substitute, too.
Looking for something funkier? You might want to inquire about ricotta forte ($13/lb): a real surprise for those who have only known the mild flavor of fresh ricotta. Carey Jones described the cheese as "so pungent that my eyes started to tear ... stronger than any blue cheese I'd ever eaten." Still, like so many foodstuffs left to age in an indelicate manner (read: go bad), a sweet finish hides behind the sour facade.
Finding the cheese in the United States is not at all easy, but you can still grab it through Mike's Deli. It's worth calling ahead to check to see if they've got it stocked. (It is currently in stock on their website.) Mike's also carries a line of olive oils ($14.95) under owner David Greco's name, including varieties infused with garlic, basic, hot pepper, and lemon. The lemon-infused variety is sickly sweet in that orange-essence kind of way and a far-cry from the notion of "balanced", but the basic Super Tuscan is ripe for dipping.
While the pastry shops in the neighborhood tend to be underwhelming, you do have a couple good options if you're looking to bring desert. At Egidio, you'll find one of the only fresh filled cannoli in Belmont—but you've got to ask for them special. (You can also get them at Madonia.) Good faith alone won't get the job done, and the pre-filled ones are, at best, a pale imitation. At Artuso, you can find struffoli, deep fried balls of dough drenched in honey, that are available only in the week leading up to Christmas. They're a favorite at the pastry shop—just try not to eat them all before you get to the party.
Calabria Pork Store
2338 Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10458 (map) 718-367-5145
Joe's Italian Deli
Casa della Mozzarella
604 East 187th Street, Bronx NY 10458 (map) 718-364-3867
2314 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458 (map) 718-365-7572
Egidio's Pastry Shop
622 East 187th Street, Bronx NY 10458 (map) 718-295-6077