Formaggio Kitchen » Blog http://www.formaggiokitchen.com Artisan cheese, charcuterie and specialty food. Fri, 27 Mar 2015 20:08:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When Red Wine Grapes Go Whitehttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/when-red-wine-grapes-go-white/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/when-red-wine-grapes-go-white/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:05:22 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11027 Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Sangiovese. The names of these grapes inspire images of red hues ranging from autumn auburn to vibrant vermilion; tastes of smoke, berries, cherries, and chocolate; textures ranging from tongue gripping to smooth satin. Yet we owe these sensory impressions largely to the skin of these grapes, and the Continue Reading »

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When Red Grapes Go White

When Red Grapes Go White: Hexamer Spätburgunder Weissherbst and Rainoldi Zapel

Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Sangiovese. The names of these grapes inspire images of red hues ranging from autumn auburn to vibrant vermilion; tastes of smoke, berries, cherries, and chocolate; textures ranging from tongue gripping to smooth satin. Yet we owe these sensory impressions largely to the skin of these grapes, and the time the juice of each grape spends fermenting in contact with its skin.

We are familiar with the practice of making a white wine from a traditionally red-wine grape when it comes to Champagne, which frequently is made at least in part from Pinot Noir. Outside of this, though, the idea of a white wine with any of the names above seems counter intuitive, or just plain odd.

We have on our shelves, however, two exceptional examples of the white vinification of red wine grapes that may convince you to become color-blind.

Rainoldi’s Zapel is mostly Nebbiolo with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented at low temperatures – to enhance the aromatic, fresh characteristics that the grapes naturally lend to the wine – and aged for a few months in stainless steel tanks, this wine is lightly yeasty and lemony on the nose. In your mouth, it feels like biting into a ripe Granny Smith apple – both crisp and full with a good acidity. Just a little basil and sage on the finish make this a wonderful wine to enjoy with meal of simple, delicate flavors.

The 100% Pinot Noir grapes for Hexamer’s Spätburgunder Weißherbst (Spätburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir) are hand-picked and vinified at very cold temperatures using only natural yeasts. Just a blush of peach in color, with gentle aromas of almonds, this wine is slightly frizzante, bittersweet orange in flavor, and finishes with a tingly bite. While this would be a perfect aperitif, it also would also stunningly compliment some richer desserts – think custards and buttercream-filled pastries.

For a fun experiment – pair one of these head-to-head with its red vinified counterpart and see if you can tease out components of flavor, properties of texture, or other characteristics that are indicative of the juice of the grape and transcend its skin and the winemaking process.

Rainoldi Zapel and Hexamer Spätburgunder Weissherbst 2013 are both available at Formaggio Kitchen South End, or for pick-up at Formaggio Kitchen Camrbidge with one day’s notice.

 

Marianne Staniunas is a cheesemonger and a member of the Wine Department at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

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Matcha, Sencha, Gyokuro, Hojicha: A Guide to Ippodo’s Japanese Green Teashttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/matcha-sencha-gyokuro-hojicha-a-guide-to-ippodos-japanese-green-teas/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/matcha-sencha-gyokuro-hojicha-a-guide-to-ippodos-japanese-green-teas/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:20:58 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=10067 Don't be intimidated by different tea preparation styles! Our growing selection of Japanese green teas provides exciting insight into Japan's rich tea heritage.

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Ippodo Matcha

Ippodo Matcha

Matcha, gyokuro, sencha, hojicha, these are familiar terms to Japanese tea lovers, but to many Americans they’re still pretty obscure. To be honest, I think it’s hard to find really great examples of these teas outside of Japan. That’s why I’m so excited to bring in several varieties from Ippodo Tea Co., one of Japan’s premier tea companies based in Boston’s sister-city, Kyoto.

Ippodo was founded nearly 300 years ago, in 1717 during Japan’s Edo period. With their close proximity to the Kyoto Imperial Palace and a commitment to high quality tea, they quickly attracted the attention of members of the Imperial family. In 1846 Prince Yamashina formalized this long-standing relationship by giving the store the name Ippodo (一保堂, literally “preserve one”) in the hopes the shop would “forever preserve its tradition of providing high quality tea with a supreme taste.” Almost 170 years later, Ippodo is still committed to that mandate – carefully selecting the finest leaves from around Kyoto. This area is the most renowned, high-end tea growing region in the country, thanks to a mineral-rich soil, mild climate, and a delicate balance of sunshine and rainfall (as well as the longest history of tea cultivation in Japan!).

Many Americans know of the Japanese tea ceremony, an extremely formal and artful method of tea preparation that takes years of practice to master and is a world-renowned symbol of Japanese culture; however, people in Japan drink tea far more casually than that every day. The preparation is a little different (often smaller servings than the mugs we’re used to here in the states), and there certainly are “best practices” for extracting the fullest flavors (usually involving a Japanese style tea pot), but for the most part you can enjoy these teas with however much or little fuss you feel like putting into them. Classic everyday Japanese teas are hojicha, sencha and some types of matcha, while gyokuro and other matchas traditionally require a bit more work.

hot tea vending machine

A machine for dispensing little cups of green tea that I encountered last month in Japan! Proof that not every cup has to be hard to make.

Now that they’re here, I’ve had so much fun folding Ippodo’s teas into my weekly tea drinking routine – from formal to casual preparation styles. Here’s a quick rundown on what each of these tea-types means, and how to get the most out of their unique flavors!

Matcha

Ippodo’s matchas are all made from gyokuro green tea, the leaves carefully destemmed and deveined before being ground into a fine powder. In addition to differences between most U.S. and Japanese matcha, there are many different grades of matcha in Japan, all of which can be broken down into two rough categories – those for preparing “thin tea” (usucha 薄茶) and those for preparing “thick tea” (koicha 濃茶). Most matcha is consumed as the thinner usucha, but for special occasions (and formal tea ceremonies), koicha is a real treat. Traditional matcha preparation uses a bamboo whisk for mixing with water; however, I know many people who toss it into smoothies or froth it with milk for matcha lattes (and I have fond memories of using a coffee stirrer to make low-grade matcha at conveyer belt sushi restaurants!). Perhaps the easiest way to make good matcha is to add it to hot water in a thermos and then shake until mixed for on-the-go enjoyment! Ippodo has an amazing set of short tutorials on matcha preparation that are a must for anyone looking to hone their technique.

Matcha Best Practices:

  • Water should calm from a boil to ~80oC/176oF (simply pour your water into an empty cup before pouring it over the matcha powder)
  • For usucha (thin tea): Aim for 2 grams (~1 heaping teaspoon) of matcha powder per 120ml (~1/2 cup) of hot water
  • For koicha (thick tea): Use 4 grams (~2 heaping teaspoons) of matcha powder per 60ml (~1/4 cup) of hot water

 

Gyokuro

Sometimes called “the whiskey of green teas,” gyokuro is a specialty grade of Japanese tea meant to be savored in small sips. The leaves are shade grown, giving the resulting tea a rich and nuanced flavor particularly high in the amino acid theanine. When not ground into matcha, full leaf gyokuro is perhaps the most important tea to prepare with a Japanese teapot—which helps you carefully extract every last drop of liquid from the leaves. That said, I make gyokuro for myself in a mug or other style of teapot all the time. Perfectly brewed gyokuro is a true art – layers of rich umami flavor that finishes smooth without too much bitterness – but simplified versions of the process (including Ippodo’s gyokuro tea bags) still produce a tea worth savoring. My new favorite method is to brew it iced. Steep leaves or a tea bag in ice and cold water for 15 minutes, truly refreshing!

Gyokuro Best Practices

  • Cool water from boiling to around 60oC/140oF before brewing. Ippodo recommends using three tea cups to cool the water – first fill one with freshly boiled water, then transfer the water to the second and finally the third cup before pouring it over the leaves
  • Steep for 1.5 minutes to allow the leaves to properly unfurl
  • Since the leaves have already unfurled you do not need to steep the leaves if you reuse them! For another infusion, simply pour new water over the leaves and then pour the tea immediately into your cup
  • Use ~80ml (1/3 cup) of water for 2 tablespoons of tea leaves
  • Try to pour every last drop of liquid from the leaves (without pressing them!) to extract all that amazing umami flavor

 

Sencha

Sencha is one of the most globally popular Japanese teas, and even though it is traditionally a higher grade tea, these days it is quite common for everyday drinking both abroad and in Japan. Well made sencha should reveal a balancing act that sets it apart from its shade-grown cousin gyokuro – sencha is sweet, bitter, grassy, astringent, and umami rich all at once. Really excellent sencha is prepared similarly to gyokuro, and Ippodo recommends steeping closer to a minute than America’s more popularly recommended 3 minutes. Often I’ve opted to steep my sencha even lighter, closer to 30 seconds, but after a recent trip to Japan I’m excited to bring out more of that classic, invigorating bitterness!

 Sencha Best Practices

  • Water should calm from a boil to ~80oC/176oF before brewing (simply pour boiling water into an empty cup before pouring it over the tea leaves)
  • Steep for about 1 minute to best balance sencha’s flavors
  • Since the leaves have already unfurled you do not need to steep the leaves if you reuse them! For another infusion, simply pour new water over the leaves and then pour the tea immediately into your cup
  • Use around 210ml (a scant cup) of water per 2 tablespoons of tea leaves (makes around 3 tea cups worth of tea)
  • Try to pour every last drop of liquid from the leaves (without pressing them!) to extract all the sencha’s flavors

Hojicha

Perhaps the most forgiving of our new Japanese teas, hojicha is a delicious roasted “bancha,” a lower grade of tea for everyday drinking that requires much less fuss than gyokuro or matcha. I find hojicha stands up perfectly well to freshly boiled water, and a longer steep simply accentuates the roasted flavor, so this is one tea you can definitely brew more like the black teas we’re used to drinking in the US. Unlike sencha and gyokuro, which were the teas of feudal Japan’s upper class, banchas like hojicha were historically the tea of the common people. Farmers would brew up a pot first thing in the morning before going out to the fields, leaving it to steep all day as a ready source of refreshment. While I still think multi-hour steeped hojicha would be too strong for my taste, the real lesson in this story is that you should definitely prepare hojicha however you like! Ippodo’s hojicha has often been called the best in all of Japan, and it is definitely among the most aromatic and nuanced hojicha I’ve ever had. I particularly love it on grey or windy days, and as an afternoon sip with my more coffee-inclined friends.

Hojicha Best Practices

  • Use freshly boiled water to brew your tea
  • Ippodo recommends using 4 tablespoons of tea to get the best flavor, even if you’re just making a single serving! However, this would also be enough for a full pot shared among three or four people
  • Steep for about 30 seconds
  • Try to pour every last drop of liquid from the leaves (without pressing them!) to extract all the nuances of hojicha’s rich, roasted flavor

 

Rob Campbell is a culinary adventurer, world traveler, science geek, and also Tea Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Vallana Winery: A Tasting with 5th Generation Vintner Marina Fogarty (Part 2 of 2)http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/vallana-winery-a-tasting-with-5th-generation-vintner-marina-fogarty-part-2-of-2/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/vallana-winery-a-tasting-with-5th-generation-vintner-marina-fogarty-part-2-of-2/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 13:13:46 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=10069 Just last week we were lucky enough to host Marina Fogarty, of the Alto Piemontese Vallana Winery, for a wine tasting and primer on her family's illustrious winemaking history.

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Vallana Wines

Two wonderful Vallana Winery reds — Campi Raudii and Gattinara — at Formaggio Kitchen South End

In the early 1800’s there was a priest in Alto Piemonte whose job it was to keep the cellars of the local bishop filled with wine. As he was getting on in years his niece was coming of age, and on the occasion of her wedding he made a gift to her of a portion of the vineyards he tended. Upon her marriage, his niece became a member of the Vallana family, and the rest . . . is history.

For more background, read part one of this blog series about the Vallana estate.

Just last week Marina Fogarty, of the 5th generation of the Vallana Winery, briefly passed through the Boston area and generously agreed to stop by our South End shop for an after-hours staff tasting. While we sipped through three of her family’s sumptuous offerings, Marina treated us to a lesson in history, geography, and anthropology that added a different kind of depth to her beautiful wines.

As we sniffed, sipped, and swished Campi Raudii (lovely, silky cherry and berry fruits; delicate acidity, gorgeous deep purple color), Marina explained that the soil of the Alto Piemonte region differs starkly from the nearby Langhe region, largely due to a supervolcano – an eruption so powerful that it entirely restructured the mineral composition of the soil. The overall climate, she explained, varies depending on the site of each wine producing village-appellation within Alto Piemonte, with the region’s proximity to the Alps creating numerous microclimates. These determine how the grapes grow, when they ripen and even how acidic their juice will be. The Campi Raudii blends Nebbiolo and Vespolina (one of Alto Piemonte’s indigenous grapes) pulled from several of Vallana’s vineyard sites. Perfectly drinkable without much aging, it highlights the most readily approachable aspects of each annual harvest. Campi Raudii, latin for “Red Field”, refers to the deep rusty color of some of the soil of the region, which was the site of a famous battle of 101 B.C., where the Romans held back the advance of the Germanic Cimbrian tribes invading from the north (and, as Marina noted, possibly prevented the region from becoming known for its beer rather than its wine).

Marina brought with her a bottle from the family’s vineyards in the village-appellation of Boca from the 2007 vintage – a wine none of us had tasted before. As we explored its flavors – richer than the Campi Raudii, with blackberries, a bit of black pepper, and earth; balanced by a deep acidity – Marina placed this wine for us. The northernmost appellation of Alto Piemonte, Boca has tough, rocky soil and mountain exposure, which can lead to challenging, cool growing conditions and late harvesting. Vallana’s interpretation of this wine, a blend of Nebbiolo, Vespolina, and, in this year, a bit of Uva Rara, demonstrates the fact that while some Alto Piemonte producers choose only to use Nebbiolo, appellations within the region are permitted to use some percentages of traditional, local varietals to balance and enhance the Nebbiolo. Vallana frequently does so – both to craft the flavor and ageability profiles they want to see in their wines, and to preserve the traditional winemaking practices of the region.

Finally, we dove into a bottle from the Gattinara appellation from the 1997 vintage. 100% Nebbiolo, with cigar smoke, cloves, and cinnamon on the nose, and a powerful acidity that gracefully eases into soft cherries. Marina explained that 1997 was an old-style, classic vintage for them. She tasted with us – although she had opened another 1997 just the day before – because every bottle has its own personality. “Wine is really alive.” If opened and tasted just after bottling, Marina shared, the wine is often uncomfortable, needing some time to settle into its new confinement. Similarly, once it gets situated, when first opened, it may become cross, taking some time to ease back into the open air. She found this one (breathing for several hours before pouring) strong and rich – and suggested we should seek out some steaks or other hearty, carnivorous fare to share with it.

Humbly but proudly, Marina mentioned that her family was producing village-specific wines many years before these villages were given their official appellations – meaning that Vallana wines defined, in part, the characteristics of these appellations. When asked about her family’s farming and winemaking traditions: “Practical.” So-called “organic” practices are just the way they have always worked; winemaking simply as a part of life – dependent on and in harmony with the dirt, air, water, flora, and fauna of Alto Piemonte.

Vallana Winery’s Campi Raudii and Gattinara are available at Formaggio Kitchen South End, or at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge with at least one day’s notice.

Marianne Staniunas is a cheesemonger and a member of the Wine Department at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

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Declare Your Love for Localhttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/declare-your-love-for-local/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/declare-your-love-for-local/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 13:28:06 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=9497 Many people come to us for our direct imports, but our selection of local products is just as strong.

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Local Carlisle Honeys

An array of local honeys from Carlisle Honey in Carlisle, MA.

Several weeks into the new year, we are starting to see how our resolutions are panning out (mine — not so well). One thing I have had a lot of success with is eating and shopping more locally, thanks in large part to being here at Formaggio Kitchen.

We work hard to bring in some of the finest foods from all around the globe, highlighting small producers and family-owned businesses we know and trust; the quality of the products is simply better, and we aim to honor their hard work and passion. From brebis and gouda to stilton and English cheddar, some products are simply best made where they originated, by the farm families who hold time-honored recipes.

Lucky for us, being in the agriculturally-rich and food-forward region that is New England, our side of the pond has a lot to offer, too. Many of our awesome cheesemakers, farmers, chocolatiers, brewers, bakers and other producers are located locally, even within 100 or so miles of our Cambridge shop. We love that they are able to stop by and deliver their own product, sample out goodies to customers and maintain a local presence in the store, and I try to support them each time I shop for my own groceries after work.

Local can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but one simple way to narrow it down is to set a mileage limit — 100 miles from your location is a common choice. We may not be able to grow or make everything within 100 miles of 244 Huron Avenue, but we’re proud to showcase plenty of options from our local producers! Here are some of my favorite local products:

 

Honey

New England is rich in small, local honey producers, and Massachusetts is no exception. Rick Reault, of Carlisle Honey (Carlisle) is a legend in the Massachusetts bee community. With over 10 years of bee keeping experience at Carlisle Honey, Reault is also one of the most influential teachers of beekeeping practices in the state. Most honey producers have worked with him at some point in setting up or maintaining their hive, and Reault is a major force in expanding bee keeping to new families and new generations. We’re particularly excited about Carlisle Farm’s new single varietal honey, Red Bamboo. One of the only single varietal honeys we’ve see in New England, this darker colored honey is made with the nectar of the Japanese Knotweed plant, with a warm round sweetness. Run Dog Run Farm (Westport), is another of our favorite local producers, producing exceptional wildflower honey as part of the operations on their family farm, as are the beautiful bottles of honey from the small honey producer Black Pond Apiaries (Harvard).

 

Cheese

Did you know that Massachusetts was the birthplace of American artisan cheese? (I bet you thought it was Vermont) According to the Massachusetts Cheese Guild – which represents some of our local producers like Ruggles Hill Creamery (Hardwick) and Mozzarella House (Everett) – Massachusetts has been leading the charge with the nation’s first dairy cows since 1624. And, naturally, where there is milk, there is someone figuring out how to store surplus milk – in wheels of delicious cheese.

Cato Corner Farm (Colchester, CT) is nearly local under our criteria, and they have been turning out cheeses from their small herd of Jerseys for decades. We recently received a wheel of their ever-popular Bridgid’s Abbey for our counter – a slightly squishy, extremely versatile cheese; it sits next to consistent customer favorite and award-winner, the creamy and stinky Hooligan. A newer cheesemaker, the almost six-year old Grey Barn Farm (Chilmark) is keeping Massachusetts’ cheese tradition alive and growing with cheeses from their own herd’s organic milk. With new cheeses coming in all the time, ask your cheesemonger for their favorite local cheese of the week!

 

Tea

Similarly, you may think tea is something that simply needs to be imported. For the most part, you’re right – despite ongoing efforts to propagate camela sinensis here in the states. However, herbal tea is another story. We were so excited to finally start sourcing local tea last fall! Karnak Farm in Saco, Maine grows acres of elderberry and chamomile plants destined for high-quality herbal infusions. (It’s 99 miles away! Really glad it just makes our 100-mile cutoff.) Their elderflower tea makes a delicately sweet, floral beverage with a lightly creamy mouth-feel that’s perfect for warming up on a wintry day.

Karnak Farm Elderflower

Locally grown Karnak Farm elderflower tea (Saco, Maine)

 

Produce 

We love our local New England produce. Red Fire Farm (Granby), Sweet Autumn Farm (Carlisle), and Joe Czajkowski Farm (Hadley) all fall within 100 miles of Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge, and bring in some of the best produce items year round. As we get closer to spring and summer, we can’t wait for Red Fire’s French breakfast radishes, Joe Czajkowski’s ramps and fiddleheads, and Sweet Autumn Farm’s duck eggs and specialty produce like green eggplant. Just outside our 100-mile mark, on the border with Massachusetts in the Berkshires, is Sparrow Arc Farm (Copake, NY), another of our favorite local producers. Among other things we’re hoping for more fresh fava beans from them in the spring!

Perhaps even better is the upcoming local morel season! We’ll be getting some locally foraged morels from New England fungi authority Ben Maleson (the exact location of the miraculous local treats is a well kept secret, but we’ve got an inkling they’re just within Boston’s city limits). Another amazing local resource is Four Star Farms (Northfield). We source locally grown wheat flour, corn meal, wheat berries and other grains from this sustainability-focused farm.

 

Bread

Though eyes usually dart to baguettes, ciabatta and other mainstays of the bread counter, I really like taking home Dan’s Brick Oven Bread (Richmond, NH), especially his original desem loaf. Desem refers to a whole wheat sourdough starter, and from the aforementioned brick oven up in Richmond, New Hampshire, Dan stone mills heirloom grains for his flours and turns out gorgeous, dark round loaves made with this natural leavening agent. The resulting bread is dense and nutty, full of satisfying whole-grain texture and a slightly tangy flavor. Because it’s a sourdough bread, it keeps very well, too. It goes with all the winter soups I’ve been making for dinner, but also holds its own with salted butter or as a healthy take on a grilled cheese. See if you can snap one of these up when they first come in! (Usually Wednesdays and Saturdays.)

 

House-Made

No list of local specialties would be complete without a mention of the incredible things we make in-house. All of Alice’s baked goods and pastries, Julie’s charcuterie, Eduardo’s homemade dinner each weeknight, a plethora of from-scratch deli salads and just-made sandwiches, and our seasonal Saturday BBQs begin and end right here at FK, and they feature New England ingredients like meats from PT Farm (North Haverill, NH) and Misty Knoll Farms (New Haven, VT) (both just a little over the 100-mile circuit) and local milk and cream from Thatcher Farm (Milton).

 

Eating local never tasted so good!

For more locally made treats, look for other staff favorites, including: Lakota Bakery cookies (Arlington), EH Chocolatier bonbons (Somerville), Effie’s Homemade crackers (Hyde Park), Kayak Cookies‘ Salty Oats Cookies (Hyannis), Somerville Chocolate bars (Somerville), Fastachi roasted and mixed nuts (Watertown), Iggy’s breads and croissants (Cambridge, MA), and breads from Clear Flour Bakery (Brookline) and Pain D’Avignon (Hyannis).

 

Leah Wang is still a farmer in Maine (in her heart and mind), but loves being a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Extending an Olive Branch…to Oliveshttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/extending-an-olive-branch-to-olives/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/extending-an-olive-branch-to-olives/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 14:28:21 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=10021 So many posts on our blog about olive oil – where’s the love for the olive itself? They’re not just a green-and-red ball resting on the side of your mind’s image of a martini. Olives – that is, the 10 percent of the world’s production that we eat as whole fruits – are absolutely delicious, Continue Reading »

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Formaggio Kitchen House Olive Mista

Our house olive mista (with a few piparras peppers mixed in)

So many posts on our blog about olive oil – where’s the love for the olive itself?

They’re not just a green-and-red ball resting on the side of your mind’s image of a martini. Olives – that is, the 10 percent of the world’s production that we eat as whole fruits – are absolutely delicious, and can bring your tapas or dinner to a whole new level.

Olives are fruits that come from the hardy Olea europaea tree, one that can live and bear fruit for a thousand years! Native to the eastern Mediterranean, olives were likely first used (and of course, are still used) for their oil; as much as 30% of an olive’s pulpy outer layer is oil. As mentioned above, only ten percent of olives grown end up as edibles – the rest goes into our pantry staple, olive oil, according to my go-to food historian, Harold McGee. As I write this during Boston’s third snowstorm in two weeks, the word ‘harvest’ does not seem like a relevant concept – but across the pond, this year’s harvest of olives (which happens in late fall and winter) is being pressed into the freshest, unfiltered oil. Yum.

Anyway. Have you ever tasted a fresh olive, right from the tree? Probably not. Olives taste extremely unpalatable this way, containing an abundance of the bitter substance oleuropein. Like other fruits, olives are first green, and eventually change to a dark purplish color, losing some of their bitterness as they ripen. The olives we eat can be anywhere on the spectrum from green to purple to black, and all of them, no matter the ripeness, go through some sort of soaking process to leach out the bitter compounds and make them tasty. Historically, several changes of water was a slow but successful method; however, commercially today, olives can take a bath in a simple brine, get packed in salt and then olive oil, or get dunked in an alkaline lye solution before brining. A wrinkly olive indicates that it was salt-cured, and therefore definitely delicious. (Thanks to Serious Eats for this crash course in olive curing.)

Italian Olive Tree

Olives growing on a tree in the Chianti region of Italy

To pit, or not to pit?

Occasionally we stock pitted olives (olives without their large pits or central seeds), but for the most part we carry unpitted olives. Pitted olives can be more convenient, but there is some controversy over the preparation of olives for the pitting process itself. Most gourmands consider the unpitted olive to offer a purer, more nuanced olive flavor. If you don’t have a special olive pitter, you can use a large chef’s knife to press down on an olive and push out the pit, or just remove them as you eat them.

At the Cambridge shop we always have several varieties of olives on hand for your next appetizer spread or recipe, ranging in flavor and texture. We also make a fresh batch of our house ‘olive mista’ containing several of these varieties and more, plus piparras (Basque pickled peppers) and other aromatics for a convenient and aesthetic snack. Here’s a rundown of the types of olives you’ll find at the cheese counter:

 Alfonso. These purple giants have a medium-firm texture and a lot of meat. Cured in red wine and red wine vinegar, Alfonsos will have a touch of sourness. We usually have these on hand for our house olive mista.

Cassee de Baux. An origin-controlled olive from Provence in the south of France, these muted green beauties are cured with fennel seeds, stalks, and flowers for a prominent flavor.

Castelvetrano. Easily the cheesemongers’ favorite olive. This eye-catching bright green Italian olive is crunchy and not too tart. A great starter olive!

Kalamata. The famous deep-purple Greek olive packs an outstanding, wine-y flavor in a small package. We get these superior kalamatas from My Olive Tree, a small company that also makes award-winning olive oil in southern Greece.

Ligurian. Also known as Taggiasca olives, these are delicate purplish-brown snacks are cultivated in the northwest of Italy. Known for a fruity but mild flavor, they can add complexity to your next bread, pasta sauce, or vegetable dish. A staple of our olive mista, but ask your cheesemonger if you’d like to take some on their own.

Lucques.  These are lovely lime-green olives with a slight crescent shape. Like castelvetranos, they have a bright and crunchy flavor, but with a touch more butteriness.

Nicoise. These olives must come from Nice, France as specified by their AOC, or origin-controlled, designation. Small, brownish-black olives have a delicate texture and flavor, perfect for appetizers. Find these both in our cheese case and in our house olive mista.

Picholines. Rich and buttery, oblong pale green olives originating in the south of France. Try these as a snack for their smoother texture and nutty flavor.

Oil-cured Provencal. In Provence in the south of France, olives and olive oil are a serious subject. These classic wrinkly olives give way to juicy, flavorful flesh that pairs well with chicken and fish.

Red Bella di Cerignola. At the supermarket olive bar, cerignola olives are the BIG ones. These giant red beauties are superbly meaty with a firm texture. Not too salty or winey, you’ll find these in our olive mista.

Lou Pistou. This mix gives you French green and purple olives, cornichons, and pearl onions all in one. Even if you don’t see it in the case, ask if we have any on hand.


Before you reach for a bag of potato chips, try a juicy, fruity, briney olive to satisfy your snacking craving! If you have never featured them on a cheese or charcuterie plate, you may realize how their flavors and textures pleasantly cut through the decadent savory and fatty hors d’oeuvres. Or simply chop them up and add them to anything you’re cooking for a new layer of flavor. (Same goes for capers!) We will always love and cherish our olive oils, but the original source of those bright, rich flavors come from olives, our new favorite snack.

Leah Wang is still a farmer in Maine (in her heart and mind), but loves being a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Chocolat Durand: Classic French Truffles by the Numbershttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/chocolat-durand-classic-french-truffles-by-the-numbers/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/chocolat-durand-classic-french-truffles-by-the-numbers/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 14:10:32 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=9978 Only a few times a year do we get these exceptional, thin and richly flavored truffles from Brigitte Roussel in France's Brittany region.

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Chocolat Durand 2015 Packaging

Chocolat Durand’s Coffret Bretagne and Formaggio Kitchen’s Choice 16-piece and 32-piece assortments. Packaging varies between shipments, but Valentine’s Day usually sees red ribbon!

A familiar name to many French chocolate lovers, Durand has been renowned for their delicate truffles since the 1980s, when this little patisserie began infusing their chocolates with herbs and spices for the 1987 Christmas season. A few years later, Formaggio Kitchen owners (and husband and wife) Ihsan and Valerie discovered these chocolates on a trip to Provence, and we’ve been smitten ever since.

Roughly four times a year (for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day) we receive a shipment of 16- and 32-piece boxes of Durand truffles. Phenomenally thin and delicate, these truffles are often snapped up fast by those who know to look for them (including a few staff members!). They make great gifts for the chocolate lovers in your life, and we think they taste sweetest shared.

Alas, as with all love stories, this one has had it’s ups and down. In fact, there have always been two Durands — Joël Durand and his wife Brigitte Roussel. Together they pioneered the infusions that make these truffles what they are, but unlike our love of Durand chocolates, the love between the Durands did not last. After their divorce they agreed to share the family name, with a twist: Joël maintained the tradition of labeling his creations with letters of the alphabet, while Brigitte got the numbers.

Today we source les chocolats numérotés from Maître Chocolatier Brigitte Roussel, based in her native Brittany. Our boxes feature a unique selection of Ihsan and Valerie’s hand-selected favorites from Brigitte’s many varieties of 64% cacao chocolate confections. We’re excited to also offer Brigitte’s unique Brittany Box (Coffrets Bretagne), which features 16 flavors classic to the culinary history of Brittany: fleur de sel, buckwheat honey and saffron, Brittany algae, wild anise of the seaside, coffee and lambic, East Indian spices, hazelnut and crushed Brittany crêpe, and salted butter caramel.

Each box includes a flavor guide, to help you identify the contents of each numbered tile. Our favorite way to savor these boxes is with friends, family or a special someone, taking turns with either the box or the guide, blind-tasting a chocolate and guessing the flavors infused!

Formaggio Kitchen Chocolats Durand 16-piece Assortment:

Palet d’Or (dark chocolate truffle topped with edible gold leaf); orange; Earl Grey; pistachio; lavender; absinthe; caramel; vanilla; almond praline; pepper; raspberry; rosemary; basil lemon; Guyana (milk chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon zest); Yucatan (dark chocolate, piment d’Espelette, Corsican honey); and a single origin dark chocolate

Brigitte Roussel’s 32 Flavors:
Palet d’Or (dark chocolate truffle topped with edible gold leaf); orange; black coffee; milk coffee; Earl Grey; cinnamon; jasmine; pistachio; fresh mint; lavender; Guyana (milk chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon zest); licorice; absinthe; caramel; Lebanon (dark chocolate, cardamom, coffee); vanilla; hazelnut praline; dill; Yucatan (dark chocolate, piment d’Espelette, Corsican honey); thyme; Irish Coffee; clove and lemon; pepper; raspberry; elderflower blossom; basil and lemon; Vietnam (dark chocolate, fresh ginger and citronella); Madagascar (single origin Madagascar dark chocolate with cacao nibs); verbena; and Tonka nut.

Rob Campbell is a culinary adventurer, world traveler, science geek, and also the blog manager at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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The Love Story of Saint-Amour Cote de Bessethttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/the-love-story-of-saint-amour-cote-de-besset/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/the-love-story-of-saint-amour-cote-de-besset/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 14:12:00 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=9970 With the approach of the holiday dedicated to love and lovers, this wine from the northernmost Beaujolais Cru, Saint-Amour, gets all the attention it deserves!

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Saint-Amour Cote de Besset

Château des Rontets Saint-Amour Côte de Besset, from Fabio Montrasi and Claire Gazeau.

As the holiday dedicated to love and lovers approaches, Saint-Amour, the northernmost Beaujolais Cru, attracts some attention that it perhaps does not receive at other times of year, for obvious reasons; however, Château des Rontets Saint-Amour Côte de Besset is a bit of a love story in its own right.

In 1995, Fabio Montrasi and Claire Gazeau left architectural careers and city lives to take over the Château des Rontets, which had been in the Gazeau-Varambon family since the 1850s. Most of the parcels of their vineyards fall within the appellation of Pouilly-Fuisse; only two tiny parcels – totalling one half hectare – fall within the village of Saint-Amour.

With the vineyard rising high on an Eastern facing hill, Fabio and Claire follow the traditional practice of gobelet, or weaving the vines into basket shapes. This allows the branches to grow to a fuller extent, while still permitting air, sunshine, and water to move freely among the grapes and leaves, which ultimately gives the grapes more time to ripen on the vines.

Once harvested, Fabio and Claire follow a strict practice of carbonic maceration. Whole clusters of grapes – stems and all – are carefully placed into tanks containing carbon dioxide and left alone for two to four weeks, as fermentation occurs almost exclusively within each individual grape. Fabio and Claire finally press the wine from the grapes when it has reached a state of mortification – when the color of the skin has passed into the pulp of the grape. Pressing at this point intends to make a wine rich in color and soft in tannins. Once pressed, the wine completes alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in large barrels and is bottled at the beginning of summer without any intervention of fining or filtration.

Every sip of the wine is a taste of the love that goes into its creation. Slightly herbaceous and sagey on the nose; silky peaches-and-cream on the palate – hinting at a sweetness that is belied by a finish of perfect acidity.

Marianne Staniunas is a cheesemonger and a member of the Wine Department at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

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Do Numbers Point the Way to Better Wine, Or Just Pointier-Headed Wine Buyers?http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/do-numbers-point-the-way-to-better-wine-or-just-pointier-headed-wine-buyers/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/do-numbers-point-the-way-to-better-wine-or-just-pointier-headed-wine-buyers/#comments Tue, 03 Feb 2015 14:10:02 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=9957 In a world of point scores and web experts our Cambridge Wine Buyer Stephen talks about his reasons for skipping the number ratings all together.

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A High Score for Wine Point Scoring

Today, it’s common for people to choose wines the same way they choose movies: by consulting what they consider to be an expert opinion. While it takes the two thumbs of a film critic held way way up to fill seats at the local cineplex, it takes a score of 90 points or better to generate real enthusiasm for a wine.

Over the last 30 years assigning numerical scores on the 100 point scale has become the standard tool for navigating the complicated world of wine. The intent may originally have been a noble one: to free wine buyers from the tyranny of sales people eager to push on them whatever they needed to sell. The point system made it easier for wine buyers to make a choice, but has it made them savvier shoppers, made it more likely they will go home with a wine worth its price, or encouraged the exercise of informed, independent judgment?

I’d argue that our love affair with the point system has had very opposite and unwelcome effects. Instead of promoting the more laudable ends, numerical scores have become the instruments of a new kind of retail tyranny that’s bad for consumers, and the industry too. Why? Scoring diverts attention from the very things that constitute the real glory of wine, including the fine distinctions and nuanced qualities that distinguish one wine from another: its deep attachment to place; its affinity for food; its amazing ability to evolve in the bottle and the glass.

Wine writing in the form that most of us would recognize is a 19th century invention, but it was only in the late 20th century that publications such as Robert M. Parker Jr’s Wine Advocate and Marvin Shanken’s Wine Spectator began to use a 100 point numerical scale to rate wines with a view to giving consumers a precise snapshot of wine quality as they saw it.

Today we scarcely encounter any bottle without a score hung about its neck. The practice is so widespread that many consumers base their wine-buying decisions exclusively on these scores, with the critical break coming at 90 points. With a rating below this wines are hard to sell; at any score above it they sell themselves. At Formaggio Kitchen we don’t buy or sell wine based on points. But in case you’re still addicted to to scores (yes, we see you there by the Barolo shelf checking cellartracker.com), here are a few things you should know about them.

1. Points convey a false sense of precision. 
The late Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert only had two thumbs to use in rating movies but wine reviewers have a 100 points to work with – a number that suggests an enhanced degree of precision when appraising that new blockbuster cabernet. In practice virtually every wine receives a score of between 85 (the effective low) and 95 (the effective high) with only an insignificant number falling outside these limits. With only 10 scores actually available to be assigned, it’s clear that there is far less precision in the 100 point scale than first appears.

2. The system has a disturbing margin of error. 
It’s reasonable to assume that due to hills and valleys in wine behavior and variation in taster performance on any given day, a critic may assign one point above or one point below what he or she might have done on another occasion. If true, this means that a wine that scored at 88 one day could easily be rated 87 or 89 on a different occasion. One point in either direction might not seem like a lot, but with only a 10 point spread this amounts to an unconscionable margin of error – or, to put in more scientific terms, a 30% fudgier fudge factor. Looking at it another way, for every wine there isn’t one score but three. Which is the one you can count on?

3. Scoring is a mass-production job. 
Numerical scores from major wine publications are the result of wines being evaluated in large-scale blind tastings – perhaps 100 wines at a time – where there is little time for reflection, no time for a taster to observe evolution in the glass, and no context ordinary tasters would find familiar. Consumers don’t experience wine this way, so why should we think that events of this kind can result in reliably useful indicators?

4. A certain profile routinely scores highly.
In tasting events of the kind I’ve described, the easiest way for a wine to stand out from others is to make an impact, and the easiest way to make an impact is to have exaggerated features. In these competitions, bigger body, more fruit, richer flavors make wines earn higher scores, while qualities such as elegance, restraint, finesse, and poise go begging. Is it any wonder that in the 30 year period in question we’ve seen a dramatic rise in ripeness at harvest, extract, alcohols, and pigmentation? The point system has changed the face of wine.

5. Points are susceptible to grade inflation.
Once the system was fully digested by consumers and industry, benchmarks were gradually established with a 90 score emerging as a gaping crevasse separating the lands of Don’t Bother and Must Have. For ambitious properties and brands, an inability to break the 90 point barrier meant failure and even a degree of shame.

6. It’s too easy for winemaking to become point-making. 
Consumers may be shocked to learn the lengths vintners will go to wheedle a couple of extra points from a critic. The techniques include additives designed to darken color and fatten texture. But the strangest work-around of all has to be the rise of consulting services like Enologix that will analyze your wine, predict the score it will receive, and then advise on how to raise it.

Wine by the numbers?  We’re giving it two thumbs way, way down.

Stephen Meuse is a wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge, and regularly talks wine on local PBS affiliate WGBH with America’s Test Kitchen Radio host Christopher Kimball.

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New Year, New Cider!http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/new-year-new-cider/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/new-year-new-cider/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 14:13:56 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=9950 We're celebrating the first month of 2015 with great new ciders from Flag Hill Farm, Bonny Doon Vineyard and Eden Ciders.

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New ciders for 2015! Bonny Doon Vineyard's Querry, Flag Hill Farm's Sapsucker, and Eden Ciders' Honeycrisp and Windfall Ice Cider.

New ciders for 2015! Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Querry, Flag Hill Farm’s Sapsucker, and Eden Ciders’ Honeycrisp and Windfall Ice Cider.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months you may have noticed our cider selection has expanded exponentially. At the moment we’re carrying more than 30 varieties of cider from whole swath of producers, both domestic and international.


 

Recent notable additions include Flag Hill Farm’s Sapsucker, Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Querry, and Eden Ciders’ Honeycrisp and Windfall Ice Cider.

 

Sapsucker is an organic cider—dry, and slightly carbonated, with plenty of funk from wild fermentation. At 9%ABV it’s one of the stronger ciders on our shelf.

 

Querry is a novel mix of 62% pear, 34% apple, and 2% quince juices. The mix is off-dry and extremely quaffable. This is the first cider from Bonny Doon, a Californian wine-maker.

 

If you’ve already tried Eden’s ice and regular ciders you know how special they are. Their new Honeycrisp and Windfall ice ciders don’t disappoint.

 

The Honeycrisp is a single varietal, with plenty of honey-sweetness, but featuring enough acid to balance out the overall flavor. It takes 4 lbs of apples to produce each 187ml bottle.

 

The Windfall, which we carry in larger 375ml bottles, contains juice from more than 30 heirloom apples from the Windfall Orchards in Charleston, Vermont. We can’t say enough about this stunningly complex ice cider. Look for notes resembling summer stone fruits that round out the wonderful apple flavors.

 
 

Teddy Applebaum is the Beer Buyer and BBQ Grillmaster (as well as part-time cheesemonger and chef) at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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A Different Kind of Spice: Peppercorns (Part 2)http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/a-different-kind-of-spice-peppercorns-part-2/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/a-different-kind-of-spice-peppercorns-part-2/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 14:15:13 +0000 http://blog.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=9911 Part 2 of our series on pepper! Spice Buyer Kim talks about five popular peppercorns that don't come from the piper nigrum plant.

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Pink Peppercorns and Bali Long Pepper

Pink peppercorns and Bali long pepper — two particularly striking alternatives to the standard peppercorn.

Peppercorn berries may have originated in India, but plenty of other places around the word have sought similar spice qualities in local plants that are now also called peppercorns. In Part 1 of our series on this “king of spices” we looked at the wide range of peppercorns available from the piper nigrum plant. In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at five other well known types of peppercorns that are not to be confused with “true” peppercorn berries.

Pink Peppercorns

Perhaps the most popular type of alternative pepper is the pink peppercorn. This is actually not a peppercorn in the traditional sense but instead the berry of a plant in a completely different family called shinus melle, also known as the Peruvian pepper tree. It was originally discovered in South America but now it is mostly cultivated in Madagascar, Mexico, and Australia. It is a very lightweight berry with a paper thin outer husk encasing a hard kernel. The flavor has the initial bite like green or black peppercorn but is then finished by a very fruity sweet flavor. Pink peppercorns are best used to finish a dish (especially foie gras). They can also be used in baking or in light sauces, however, you don’t want to cook them for too long or at high temperatures since they easily lose their complexity. Since they are particularly soft, skip the spice grinder and try crushing them by hand or in a mortar and pestle to preserve some of their texture. In terms of quality, it is best to look for berries that are mostly intact with very few separated husks since they tend to break apart easily with age and then quickly lose their flavor.

Bali Long Pepper

A rather visually fascinating form of peppercorn is the long peppercorn. These peppercorns are from the same family as the traditional peppercorns of the piper nigrum plant but are in fact their own species. This inch-long bud fruit is made of hundreds of tiny seeds that surround a core stem. Their taste is like mild pepper and mild ginger combined. It is great in sweet-spicy dishes to highlight both sides of its flavor, as well as in stews. These peppercorns can both be roughly chopped or ground to extract their full flavor. Try substituting these for traditional peppercorns in any recipe to create a different and unique flavor profile. It is also great in fresh salads and coleslaws in which their complexities are not cooked away.

Comet's Tail, Tasmanian and Sichuan Peppercorns

Three more varieties of peppercorn not from the piper nigrum plant: Comet’s Tail Peppercorns, Tasmanian Peppercorns, and Sichuan Peppercorns

Sichuan Peppercorns

Also called Szechuan peppercorns or “numbing spice,” these peppercorns are actually the rinds of the fruit of a shrub in the prickly ash family. Generally used in Chinese cuisine, they are very aromatic with a strong peppery flavor alongside citrusy notes that help break down fatty foods. As their alternate name suggests, they also have unique numbing qualities and should be used sparingly so as to not overwhelm your dish (or your palate). They are best roasted to release their aromatics.

Comet’s Tail Peppercorns

From the same family as traditional peppercorns, these peppercorns are quite rare. They are from the island of Java in Indonesia where they mature on the vine until they are a bright yellow-redish color. They are then handpicked with their stem still attached (hence their name) and sun-dried on bamboo mats. The flavor combines that of a traditional black peppercorn with a citrusy sweetness and notes of lavender, cloves, and nutmeg. They also have a distinct cooling somewhat bitter menthol felling on the tongue. They are used instead of black pepper in many curry dishes, and also as a substitute to allspice or clove.

Tasmanian Peppercorns

Also known as Australian Mountain Pepper, these peppercorns come from the Tasmania lanceolata plant, unrelated to piper nigrum. Rarely found outside Australia, they have a unique peppery sweetness that is great atop gamey meats. Since they are typically softer than black peppercorns they may gum up a pepper mill and are best ground instead with a mortar and pestle.

 

Kim Beaty is an avid home chef and outdoorsman, and a Spice Buyer, Assistant Pastry Chef and classroom instructor at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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