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Delicious Deception
to Go With Wine

by Melissa Clark

A basket of browned shortbread cookies is not the usual fare at a wine tasting, especially when the tasting is in the Campania region of Italy and the wines are robust reds made from the Aglianico grape. Thinking that the cookies were my Italian hosts' misconception of what a group of Americans would want to nibble, I did not try one.

But then Leonardo Mustilli, head of his family's winery in Sant' Agata dei Goti, Italy, broke a cookie in half and motioned to me to do the same. I snapped off a crumb and let it melt on my tongue. I had expected a sugary surge, but salt and spice reigned.

These weren't shortbreads at all, but dainty little cheese crackers with a pungent, meaty, Parmesan edge. They were the perfect complement to the wines, their rich butteriness softening the tannins. Figuring that the crackers were made in a nearby bakery, I begged for the address so that I could pick some up for my trip back to New York.

But the crackers, it turns out, were made by Mr. Mustilli's wife, Marily, who happily gave me the recipe one so simple she could say it in a sentence: "Equal weights flour, butter and Parmigiano, bake in a low oven until firm, then brown them in high heat."

It is that extra step of browning the crackers in a hot oven that lends them so much character. It caramelizes the cheese, giving it an earthy, almost porcinilike intensity. That and using good Parmigiano-Reggiano are the secrets to success. The technique, no rolling pin necessary, is child's play. The result is resolutely adult especially when you serve them with wine.

Recipe: Parmesan Crackers

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