Posted on

Intimidated by Cheese? Leave it to Pecorino in Grafton.

Simone Linson cutting cheese at Pecorino in Grafton, MA (Photo: Erb Photography)
Photo: Erb Photography

Simone Linsin’s brigade of cheese purists is unsuspecting. Some of them began training their palates at her country cheese shop, Pecorino, before they could talk.

“Those are our cheese kids,” she says, gesturing to a collage of smiling children holding up wedges of aged goat gouda and triple creme blue as big as their tiny heads. “The kids actually make buying decisions for their families. They sample things from the case, then their parents step aside and let them do the shopping.”

Linsin grew up in Heidelberg, Germany where her grandfather ran a butcher shop. When she and her husband moved from Germany to America two decades ago, she set out to recreate what she refers to as “the good old world.” The center of her universe is the cheese case, which consists of between 50 and 80 selections depending on the season.

Photo: Erb Photography

Linsin doesn’t sell so much as she consults. “Whether they have people coming over, they want to give a gift, they want a snack, or they want something for after dinner—we are prepared to help customers compose a cheese board,” she says, acknowledging that many people are anxious and embarrassed on their first go around with the cheese case.

“We help customers navigate through textural differences: soft, medium, hard. Different milks: goat, sheep, cow, buffalo. Raw milk cheeses, washed rinds, and all sorts of stinkers,” Linsin says with a lightness that at once renders her sharp and approachable. She stares at the case as if it lives and breathes like one of her beloved cheese kids.

Linsin frequently finds herself asking, “How can we elevate the cheese experience?” For a long time, she underestimated the importance of accompaniments. At present, Pecorino carries 35 cracker varieties in its pantry section, along with duck fat, cornichons, specialty spice blends, and heirloom salts.

She fiddles with the spout on a giant metal vat, explaining, “We have olive oil fresh from California here in the tank and we fill three different vessels. People can bring those back for a dollar off their refills.” The olive oil compliments a selection of fresh bread from Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord, with whom they have worked since Pecorino opened 10 years ago.

Back then, Linsin was still skeptical about opening a cheese shop in North Grafton. “To be very honest, I hated this building. It was run down and I didn’t want to be here. This was a shack.” Linsin points behind the counter to reveal the feature that changed her mind, saying, “I hated everything except this 800 degree wood fired oven, which was actually used by a pizza place in the old days.” There was still wood in the oven when she moved in. Her family helped clean the place out and scavenged for refurbish-able materials in the basement of the building.

When it comes to wine, Linsin is particular. “I taste everything before I buy. I don’t do commodity buying. I don’t do deals. Everything is very meaningful to me including how I source it.” Linsin focuses on European wines, but she has also taken to curating an impressive natural wine selection from California.

Linsin prefers to bring lesser known varietals to her shop. “Ten years ago, that was a no-no, because Chardonnay and Cabernet ruled the world in America. I was very fortunate to find a clientele in North Grafton that was eager to learn and raise the level of education around here,” she explains.

When Pecorino opened in 2010, people told Linsin she was crazy. Now, she hosts two tastings a month. “We draw a super-crowd!” she says. Just like Linsin’s original cheese kids, the shop has grown up. In 2019, Pecorino is a fearless touchpoint for food and culture in the community.

See for yourself at their next wine tasting on August 23 from 5-7 p.m.

Photo: Erb Photography
Posted on 1 Comment

A Quick Bite With Simone Linsin

Simone Linsen, owner of Pecorino's. (Photograph by Erb Photography for Discover Central Massachusetts)

It starts when we are young. Our deep and growing journey of infatuation with distinct foods is a product of our environment. As we begin the early stages of life, we acquire a taste for the foods fed to us by our family, giving us an immediate connection between who we are and what we eat. “In the act of eating, we are connecting ourselves to the world, opening ourselves to the dynamic influence of properties, vital essence and emotions,” according to Food and Culture by Carole Counihan and this can be said about Simone Linsin, owner of Pecorino – A Country Cheese Shop in Grafton, Massachusetts.

“My thoughts revolve around food all the time,” says Linsin. “I grew up in Germany with a strong connection between family and food culture and I can’t remember a time in my life when food did not play a leading role. There were four generations under one roof and meals were usually eaten together. My grandfather’s butcher shop in the house was an abundant resource for the freshest supplies and everyone in my family was an outstanding cook – my mom, grandmother, aunts and great-grandmother were my best mentors in the kitchen.”

From Linsin’s connection with food, stems an appreciation for the food system as a whole – establishing with her, an identity too strong to hide from the world. Through various past ventures and career opportunities, the one that stands apart from the rest and infuses her sense of cultural exchange is as the owner of Pecorino.

“My professional education led me into a career in travel. When my husband and I came to the United States 18 years ago for his work, I continued to work in the travel industry, but after a few years and with the collapse of the travel industry, I was open to new things. I started to work part-time at a fine Italian delicatessen and wine shop in the area, then full time for a few years. Realizing how much I loved being in the world of food and wine again, I decided I wanted to take it to the next level and start my own business, with the location focusing on the town of Grafton, where we lived,” says Linsin. “I realized how much the field of cheeses and specialty foods was needed – but I wanted to educate and elevate in this niche and so the project started in the Spring of 2010.”

With the help of family, Linsin’s relationship with food became more than just a lifestyle, it became a business model. “In the midst of growing up in my grandfather’s butcher shop and a restaurant, I was also lucky to have traveled throughout Europe with my family, including Italy,” says Linsin. Her early influences as a child and adolescent have given Linsin a platform to fully perfect her relationship with food and embrace its influences. With Pecorino she turns a regular visit in her store into a moment of learning and discovery for each customer. Educating customers and giving them the right tools to explore and expand their taste palette is a specialty at Pecorino and Linsin’s consistent life of travel and deep roots to European foods is the foundation for an impeccable cheese and wine shop.

“I love what I do,” says Linsin. “I am surrounded by food all day and I never get tired of it.” Most people who work in the food industry for hours on end tend to come home and disconnect from their passion of food by plating together a much simpler meal for themselves, ordering out for dinner, or simply enjoying a bowl of cereal like Chef Chris Rovezzi. But for Linsin, her passions for specialty foods and wines doesn’t end at closing time, instead it is embraced in all aspects of her life as she dives right into the kitchen to prepare dinner, every night. “Throwing together a simple meal at home after a long and busy day at work is the best “therapy” I can think of. When I get home, I head straight to the kitchen, light a candle, pick the music, open a bottle of wine and start chopping onions,” says Linsin. “For me, the perfect meal is the balance of quality food, the right setting, social atmosphere and good company. One without the other makes eating just a basic experience, but when it all comes together, it becomes meaningful. I prefer smaller social gatherings around a table over a big party for sure. The communal appreciation of food and conversation at the table are what turn the food into a real meal, otherwise, it’s just satisfying a basic need. When I start cooking, my family joins in and life is perfect in that moment,”

“During the day at work, I love brainstorming about our meals and rarely find it a burden to think about dinner. I am not one to shop for groceries much in advance, and like to get things fresh and according to my mood,” says Linsin. “I adjust my cooking to the seasonal availability of fresh produce. For example, I don’t buy a single tomato in the winter and use imported canned San Marzano for sauces instead. My passion is anything and everything Italian, and I like authentic ingredients. My husband creates a magical vegetable garden every year, which becomes the focal point of resources during the season, but through my work, I have easy access to pristine products, which, admittedly make it easy to create dishes with fine ingredients.”

While Linsin is a fanatic of all things Italian cuisine, her husband is a connoisseur of Spätzle, a traditional egg pasta dumpling from his native home, the Black Forest in Germany. “He is a master of Spätzle. He makes the dough from scratch and my son then pushes the dough through a metal colander press from Germany to cook the pasta dumplings in boiling water. The dish is awesome—served with beef stew or anything with a lot of sauce! Leftovers, if any, make a perfect quick skillet dish the next day, baked with cheese, caramelized onions and a green salad on the side,” raves Linsin.

Whether Linsin is exploring a new area of Europe or brainstorming new dinner ideas while working at Pecorino, one thing is certain: her infallible relationship with food is a product of her upbringing. Surrounded by generations of traditions, family cooks, and food-industry business owners, it can be said that Linsin’s future in specialty foods was a work of fate.