I was dealt the gift of a great experience last night for simply doing my job. In pouring samples of Old Horizontal and Yakima Twilight for customers of DiBruno Bros. on S. Ninth Street, in the heart of the Italian Market in Philly, I got to interact with this legendary store’s customers and got to share in the riches of flavors that they so actively promote.
Crowded in behind the counter amidst the flurry of service activity as three employees adeptly addressed every customer’s need, I felt in the way initially. But free beer has a way of engaging people and soon everyone coming through the door was in for a sip and some education. Hunter, Asst. Gen. Mgr. of the store, provided the ice-breaking cheese education with samples of the stellar mature Montgomery’s Cheddar from Somerset, England for those sipping Old Horizontal. He followed up with a sensational Gruyere from the Bern Valley of Switzerland, Chateau Erguel, that had a sweet/tangy spike of green onion to it that dueled perfectly with the spicy Yakima Twilight dark and hoppy ale. The flavor sensations became a constant flow as new pairings were offered on the fly. But what remained constant was the bright-eyed approach of wonder and intrigue with which all customers shuffled up to the counter.
Through experience with the shop, they had come to expect delight, and walked in the door anticipating new flavor discoveries. What a great crowd to work with! In a brief lull in the action I stared up to the steel hooks holding provolone and soppressata that have been in service since probably 1939, marveled at the 45 year old cooler bursting with cured meats and breathed in a true sense (scents?) of place. How cool was this to be behind the counter, and a part of the joy that was being delivered to customers? Hunter and Zeke pulled me out of my moment of reverie with offers of more tastes. Midnight Moon, a Dutch goat Gouda aged here in the states by Cypress Grove, had me hankering the dark toffee tones of Baltic Thunder. Quadrello do Bufala, an unpasteurized buffalo milk cheese in the style of Taleggio was spectacular and led me to turn left and inquire about blue cheeses. That turn lead me to the discovery of the night, the truly knee-weakening combination of Old Horizontal and Verde Capra, a goat’s milk Gorgonzola shot full of moldy lusciousness.
Closing time came and as I gathered up the savory gifts that I’d be treating myself and friends to over the next few weeks of Christmas celebrations. At that point I reflected on the gift of experience. As gift-giving has been pushed into consumption of “must have” gadgets and commodities in generally, I thought that a better way to reward friends and family would be with the treat of experience. And so I am recommending that you consider a trip to DiBruno’s, or the quality flavor purveyor that is convenient to you, with someone you deem special, just to eat and learn. I can’t guarantee that the experience won’t come out cheaper than a Walmart gift card, but it will be a valuable experience well worth more than a physical gift.
DiBruno Bros. Italian Market store is located at 930 S. Ninth Street in Philadelphia and conducts beer or wine “happy hours” from 5 pm to 8 pm every Wednesday! Visit www.dibruno.com for other locations or on-line shopping.