Standing at a table in the corner of an Italian piazza-style tasting room, Salvatore Diliberto pours measured heaps of flour onto the wooden top. He creates a small crater where he will add egg and a little salt and oil, while singing a favorited Italian song. A renaissance man in many respects, Diliberto is a winemaker, trained opera singer, Italian tour guide and, during the week, a lawyer.
On select Sundays in the winter, he also plays an Italian nonna at Diliberto Winery in Jamesport for Sundays with Grandma, a pasta demonstration and wine pairing dinner.
Having grown up as a first-generation Italian American, Diliberto found Sundays to be a particularly special day. Extended family and sometimes friends would gather for a meal at grandma’s house, which in his case was his aunt’s home in upstate New York, spending the day around the table and sharing stories of what was going on in their lives. Recalling those memories and an eagerness to bring this once common concept back is the inspiration behind Sundays with Grandma.
“The best experience I had was the fact that these people sitting around the table for the most part had not been born in this country and when you looked around, every man wore a three-piece suit and the women were all dressed up,” Diliberto shares of his family, many of whom came from Dugenta in Campania, Italy, where he leads tours in the spring and fall. “You couldn’t tell who was a doctor and who was a laborer. I was always very proud to be part of that kind of family. These were hardworking people that made a long journey to make a better life for their children and grandchildren.”
As the years went on and Diliberto had children of his own, he endeavored to create the same social family experience in his own home with his parents, kids, siblings and in-laws. Music was always part of it with opera and classical music often playing in the background. With life taking people every which way, it can be hard to hold on to family traditions. If you can’t do it with your own family, Diliberto invites you to be part of his.
Being “grandma” is hard work, but work Diliberto truly enjoys. Every dish served during the Sunday dinners is homemade, including the mozzarella served with tomato and fresh basil, the tagliatelle pasta topped with marinara sauce made by Diliberto’s wife, Maryann, and the desserts like the pizza dolce. Each of the four courses are paired with the winery’s various vintages like the 2014 merlot or 2016 blend of merlot and cabernet franc called Cantina.
Guests sit family-style at long tables in the tasting room as Diliberto demonstrates how to make pasta while sharing stories of his childhood and singing songs like “That’s Amore” by Frank Sinatra or “Funiculi Funicula” by Luciano Pavarotti. His daughter, Riverhead High School choral teacher Dena Tishim, often accompanies him on the piano.
“I love to see the reaction of people when they see what goes on at Sundays with Grandma,” Diliberto says. “People enjoy the music and food, and the atmosphere of being with others and sharing a meal. Sometimes people come up to me during or after the dinner a bit teary-eyed and tell me it reminds them of their own childhood and how much they miss it. It’s a way of remembering the people who were important to you. That’s my reward.”
Sundays with Grandma takes place on February 17 and 24 and March 3 and 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. Tickets are $99 per person and must be purchased in advance. These dinners are strictly 21 and over.