Go back a few years and few people would have known what Cacio e Pepe was. A staple of modern Italian cuisine, its simplicity was such that it was rarely if ever served in restaurants, especially those outside Rome where the dish seems to have originated. It was one of those comfort food dishes that many would eat at home when they lacked inspiration or ingredients.
But, over the past few years, the Cacio e Pepe or ‘cheese and pepper’ as one would translate it from Italian, has become not just fashionable and trendy but also extremely common.
The ingredients used to make this simple pasta sauce are water, cheese (pecorino Romano) and lots of pepper. Hunting for the best Cacio e Pepe or comparing one to the other may be difficult though of course the quality of the cheese used can make the difference. It’s akin to searching for the Holy Grail, you seem to be on the right track but it remains elusive.
That changed in February when the Cacio e Pepe of Lido 84, the restaurant of the Camanini brothers, Riccardo and Giancarlo clinched the house special award at the World Restaurant Awards for their ‘world famous’ Cacio e Pepe.
Riccardo and Giancarlo opened their acclaimed restaurant five years ago and have been winning one accolade after another catching them a bit by surprise.
Is the dish worth the fuss. And what’s so special about it?
In March, I visited Riccardo and Giancarlo’s restaurant in an idyllic spot on Lago di Garda for the first time. It had been on my radar for a long time. And my reaction after a lunch (and interview with Riccardo which will be published soon) was instant.
I was set to return to Lago di Garda for a family holiday in a few weeks and without much thinking, I booked the restaurant again not thinking much about the fact that we would have our little toddler with us apart from our other two children (more about that experience soon).
It is that good!
What makes the dish special is not just the cooking method and process and theatre at table but the intensity of flavour and the texture of the pasta.
The dish is cooked in a pig’s bladder. Stop to think about that for a minute and you might not really want to try this dish. But Riccardo has researched the use of the ‘pig’s bladder’ and found that it was used to store and transport food in Roman times thousands of years ago.
From this came the realisation that he could use the bladder as a vessel to cook the pasta in. To prepare the perfect dish he carried out more than 400 tests until he came up with the perfect result.
To make this dish, Riccardo uses rigatoni which is mixed with water, pepper, salt, cheese and olive oil.
After being cooked for 28 minutes, the bladder is cut in front of the customer and the pasta is served at table. Unlike other dishes where tasting is of the essence, here, the dish cannot be tasted before it is served at table. It is therefore the practice in the restaurant to try a few rigatoni that had been served at table to ensure that the dish has been cooked to perfection.
This dish alone is worth a special journey. But don’t be fooled into thinking the restaurant is a one trick pony. There is magic happening at this restaurant.