As I write this, handmade Italian bucatini and mafaldini are drying inside the kitchen at Semolina, the new retail shop at 2474 S. Kinnickinic Ave. which will welcome its first customers beginning at 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 22.
The pastas – made by owner Petra Orlowski using finely milled organic durum wheat flour from Central Milling in Utah and locally grown stone ground flour from Wisconsin's Meadowlark Organics – were extruded with Italian bronze dyes, leaving their exterior purposefully rough so that it catches every drop of tasty pasta sauce.
Pasta (both extruded and hand shaped) will be among the showpieces for the shop, which will also carry a selection of hand-crafted products imported from small purveyors in Italy.
Feast your eyes
The shop itself is warm and cozy, decorated with warm wood, old world furniture and glowing lamps.
A confirmation portrait of Orlowski's grandmother, who inspired her appreciation for Italian food and cooking, is a focal point of the shop displayed against a backdrop of gorgeous multidimentional Venetian plaster hand applied by Chimenti Studios.
That's not insignificant. After all, it was Orlowski's passion for handmade pasta – combined with a desire to revive the tradition of less common hand-shaped varieties – which led her to open Semolina [Read more here].
And pasta you will find. Current selections include lumache, bucatini and mafaldini, sold in 8-ounce portions for $6-$8. Extruded pastas will be sold for $12 per pound, with hand-shaped varieties at $18 per pound.
But that's not all. Orlowski says she wants the shop to be a place where folks can go for high quality pantry items that are hard to find elsewhere.
"This is the type of place where I'd want to shop," she says as she walks me through a table of small batch Italian items, from Sardinian prickly pear and myrtle jams to Tuscan acacia honey.
She gives me a taste of organic fir honeydew honey from Tuscany, a unique product, made not from flower nectar but from honeydew, a sweet sugary substance left behind by aphids which bees collect and process into complexly flavored, mineral rich honey with notes of herbs, caramel and pine. Honeydew honey is prized in Europe, but a relative rarity in the U.S., which explains why I've never run across it before.
The shop is stocked with similar products, from Sicilian sea salt infused with lemon to grassy assertive olive oils to blood orange and fig balsamic vinegars.
Most of the items will be available for sampling, a boon for customers who wish to purchase specialty items to accompany cheese and charcuterie boards or liven up their pantries.
“It’s so exciting to be carrying such great products from small makers," says Orlowski. "And I’m excited to share these items, and different ways of using them.”
Wines are also a feature, with selections from Italy, Austria, Uraguay and Argentina which pair spectacularly with pasta dishes.
Along the counter – built from upcycled wood, decorative tin panels and a smooth wooden top made from bowling alley lanes – there's also a refrigerated case where Orlowski will display house marinated olives, sugo and pomodoro sauces (by the pint), Italian cheeses and charcuterie.
As the holidays approach, Orlowski says she plans to carry imported panettone from Sicily (boxed for gift giving) as well as Italian chocolates.
Pasta making classes
Customers can also look forward to pasta making classes which will be held right in Semolina's pasta kitchen. Each class will accommodate six guests who will learn to make simple, egg-based pasta (which they can take home), sample housemade pasta and sauce and enjoy a complementary glass of wine or other beverage.
Classes will be scheduled for Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons when the shop is closed. Orlowski says that, to ensure the safety of her guests who will be working in close quarters, she'll require proof of vaccination for attendees. Interested customers can watch for class schedules to be posted at semolinamke.com.
Beginning Friday, Oct. 22, Semolina will be open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.