NORTH GRAFTON — A box of Pizzuta d’Avola has just arrived and Simone Linsin pops a few of the flat, raw almonds from Spain in her mouth. Her eyes light up. “Oh my God, they taste just like marzipan,” she says.
In Pecorino, a Country Cheese Shop, Linsin sells an eclectic assortment of European artisan and New England farmhouse cheeses, condiments, fresh baked bread, American charcuterie, local jams and honey, olive oils, and vinegars. She selects almost all of the products from small producers.
On a pastoral stretch of Route 30 in North Grafton, where shopping plazas yield to rolling hills and farmland, Pecorino is tucked in a nondescript brick building. Inside, the shop evokes Old World charm with the ambience of a small store in the European countryside. A glass case is filled with more than 60 cheeses including, of course, an array of Italian sheep’s milk pecorino, like a Pinzani Pecorino Tartufo, specked with truffles. There’s also Campo de Montalban, made from the Spanish blend of cow, goat, and sheep milk; the French creamy raw goat’s milk cheese, Chantal Plasse Tomme de Brebis; a nutty and salty Hawes Wensleydale from England. They sit next to blues from Connecticut’s Cato Corner, logs of Crystal Brook chevre from nearby Sterling, and smoked Gouda from Smith’s in Winchendon.
Linsin, 42, talks about her cheeses and other delicacies as art. She is almost always on hand to help customers with flavor combinations. It’s a place where you need to ask questions. What’s that jar of Harvest Song’s preserved baby walnuts in syrup from Armenia taste like? What cheese goes with it? How do you use Butcher salt? “My goal is to bring in unique products that are not available everywhere and need an explanation,” Linsin says. “I carry items off the beaten path.”
It’s likely that’s why her store had an instant following when she opened less than two years ago. Linsin’s dream for this shop began when she was just a girl in Schonau, Germany, a village near Heidelberg. Her grandfather owned the town butcher shop, with a slaughterhouse out back, and made sausages, sandwiches, and charcuterie platters. She loved working in the store after school. “I’ve always been a foodie,” Linsin says.
After she finished her schooling, Linsin became a flight attendant for a German airline. She met her husband, Markus, when she took an Italian language course in Calabria, Italy. They moved to Boston 12 years ago for his work as a software engineer. Linsin took a job with a travel company, but stayed home when her son Luis was born. When he turned 8, she was eager to get back into the food business, so she renovated a former pizzeria and opened Pecorino.
A brick wall hides a wood-burning oven and new wide plank flooring looks like old wood. An antique table Linsin refinished is a centerpiece in the room. A few months ago she took over an adjacent space to sell wine and now it brims with more than 80 labels from Italy, France, and California, many of them organic or made in small quantities. An old wooden electrician’s cabinet sits against a wall and its drawers display champagne and sparkling wines. Linsin also holds cheese tasting classes.
Another delivery arrives, and Linsin shrieks with delight when she opens the box and unwraps the butcher paper to discover the wheel of Italian Sapore del Piave she’s been waiting for. When she’s ready to cut into this aged cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region, there’s no question the lovely scent and crumbly texture will inspire another glorious moment with a food.
It’s likely her days are filled with them.
Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at atrieger@comcast