Formaggio Kitchen » Blog http://www.formaggiokitchen.com Artisan cheese, charcuterie and specialty food. Thu, 02 Jul 2015 13:27:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Peaches and Nectarines: A Lesson in Botanyhttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/peaches-and-nectarines-a-lesson-in-botany/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/peaches-and-nectarines-a-lesson-in-botany/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 13:27:24 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11644 The heart of June often evokes a childhood nostalgia for summer vacation, as evidenced by a recent discussion in the office here at Formaggio Kitchen. Among trips to the beach, overnight camp and baseball games, many staff members agreed upon the taste of ripe peaches and nectarines when asked what truly evoked childhood summer memories. Continue Reading »

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Masumoto Peaches

June Crest yellow peaches harvested by Masumoto Family Farms in Del Rey, California.

The heart of June often evokes a childhood nostalgia for summer vacation, as evidenced by a recent discussion in the office here at Formaggio Kitchen. Among trips to the beach, overnight camp and baseball games, many staff members agreed upon the taste of ripe peaches and nectarines when asked what truly evoked childhood summer memories. Somewhere in the midst of the office chatter, a little known fact was brought to light: peaches and nectarines are not separate varieties of stone fruit, but actually biologically identical with only contrasting skin textures (peaches are fuzzy, nectarines are smooth). Understandably, this piece of information perplexed quite a few people in the room, but before any scientific explanation was offered, the lunch rush began at the shop and it was time to get back to work. As the produce manager at Formaggio Kitchen and among those recently enlightened, I vowed to further research the subject and share my findings.

Produce Boxes

Formaggio Kitchen Produce buyer Emily Shannon with assorted stone fruit boxes from some of our favorite California growers. (From top to bottom: Masumoto Family Farms in Del Rey, CA; Naylor’s Organic Family Farmstay in Dinuba, CA; Ferrari Farms in Linden, CA; Twin Girls Farm in Cutler, CA; Homegrown Organics in Porterville, CA)

Much like their incredible aroma and flavor, the biology and genetic makeup of nectarines and peaches is rather complex. Also known as stone fruit, nectarines and peaches fall into the genus Prunus, alongside almonds, apricots, cherries and plums. Species of this genus are woody, with perfect spring flowers with an ovary that matures into the fruit, or drupe. Each drupe is divided into two parts: the mesocarp (outer skin and flesh) and the endocarp (inner pit).

Now that it’s clear that peaches and nectarines are scientifically the same fruit (Prunus persica), what gives the peach its distinct fuzzy skin?

High school biology class teaches that genes are the unit of heredity transferred from parent to offspring. Alleles are the possibilities of said gene, resulting in varying physical attributes. In nectarines and peaches, fuzzy skin is the dominant allele. Nectarine trees occur when both parents pass the recessive allele for smooth skin to its offspring. This Punnett square illustrates a sample genetic cross, with the capital F representing the dominant allele for fuzz, and lowercase f representing the recessive allele for smooth:

Peach Punnett Square

Peach punnett square showing recessive alleles for nectarine propagation.

In addition to this variant, peaches and nectarines may either be white or yellow fleshed, freestone or clingstone. Yellow fleshed fruit tends to be higher in acid than its counterpart, with a bracingly tart yet pleasant flavor that excels in baked goods. In contrast, fruit with a white flesh are lower in acid with a sweet, floral flavor, perfect for eating out of hand. As one may deduce from the name, freestone fruit has a pit that will fall easily away from the flesh when halved, whereas clingstone has a pit that will messily cling to the fruit.

There is absolutely nothing sweeter than selecting a locally grown peach, but while we wait for the delayed New England harvest, we work closely with SF-based produce distributor Veritable Vegetable. A certified B corporation, Veritable Vegetable places high value in strengthening communities and sustainable practices by supporting small, organic farms that specialize in heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables. Through Veritable Vegetable we have been granted access to some of the best fruit grown in the United States, including fruit grown by David Mas Masumoto in Del Rey, California. Recent author of LA Times pieces reflecting upon the severe drought in California, David Masumoto is not only a source of farming knowledge and technique, but also an advocate of sustainable growth and resource management. At Formaggio Kitchen, our produce department sources extremely high quality stone fruit from both local and California farms that have been left to mature on the branch for as long as possible, encouraging proper ripening and greater depth of flavor. By choosing excellent growers, we find that we have some of the best tasting and most interesting varieties available on the East Coast.

Our cheesemongers suggest pairing stone fruit with various styles of cheese, but we enjoy pairing juicy summer stone fruit with Robiola Roccaverano DOP, a creamy goat milk robiola from Piedmont, Italy or alongside a few slices of La Quercia speck from Norwalk, Iowa.

 

Emily Shannon is the Produce Manager at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Butter Me Uphttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/butter-me-up/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/butter-me-up/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11191 Many years ago, when I was a young child, I would never have thought that I would be writing about butter. Growing up in the southeastern part of Turkey, we would visit my grandmother and aunt who lived in a village close to the town I was raised in prior to my relocation to the Continue Reading »

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Cultured Butter

Two of our favorite cultured butters: long-time obsession Rodolphe Le Meunier’s Beurre de Baratte (salted and sweet), and local newcomer Ploughgate Creamery’s salted butter.

Many years ago, when I was a young child, I would never have thought that I would be writing about butter. Growing up in the southeastern part of Turkey, we would visit my grandmother and aunt who lived in a village close to the town I was raised in prior to my relocation to the US. Those trips are some of the fondest memories I have from growing up. We would always be eating really well and enjoying ourselves away from the city. My grandmother had two cows living on her farm and the milk would get used in a variety of different ways, from clotted cream to yogurt, but my favorite milk product that she made was butter. Early in the morning she would wake up, fill a wooden churn and start churning. She would do this for hours until the cream started to solidify into a smooth creamy butter. We thoroughly enjoyed having this with warm, wood-fired bread and grape molasses, along with many other fresh village delicacies.

All those times watching my grandmother make butter, I never thought that deeply about what butter is. In its simplest explanation, butter is solidified cream. Butterfat has the tendency to adhere to each other. During the churning process the butterfat in the cream starts to solidify. During this solidification process, the fat globules start to stick to each other and they get bigger and bigger until most of the fat turns into one solid mass. Think of tiny Play-Doh pieces being shaken in a box, what happens to the Play-Doh? It will stick to each other until all of the tiny pieces make a whole.

Bon Appetit magazine recently featured some of their favorite, and our favorite, cultured butters. What is cultured butter you may ask? In France and many other parts of Europe, cultures are added to the cream prior to churning, and then the cream sits for a few hours or up to three days. Specific cultures are added to develop aroma, flavor, and texture. Certain cultures can result in an acidic butter while others may produce a more nutty counterpart. Live bacteria or cultures may not sound appetizing but it is a crucial step in making cultured butter, and give the butter maker an extra tool to develop their own ideal flavor profile. For a butter to be considered cultured, it must also have a fat content of at least 82%. When it comes to dairy products, in my opinion, the higher the fat content the better!

We have a number of different cultured butters here at our Cambridge shop, including the ones featured in Bon Appetit last month. These are all exceptional butters and we are happy to see them getting the broader attention they deserve. The first one on the list, Rodolphe Le Meunier, has been a long time favorite here at the shop. A cultured French butter made using fresh Normandy cream, this butter is churned in the traditional French method, hand-molded, and then wrapped in a gold foil. We currently carry two varieties, a sweet butter (Doux) or one that is sprinkled with French sea salt (Salé à la Fleur de Sel). We are also thrilled to see new, New England-based Marisa Mauro’s Ploughgate Creamery cultured butter on Bon Appetit’s list. We especially love this butter, not just because it’s delicious, but because we have a close relationship with the maker herself. Marisa was a cheese maker prior to starting her butter business and a dear friend of the shop. Marisa makes her butter in Vermont at Bragg Farm using fresh cream sourced from the St. Albans Coop. She cultures her cream for 48 hours which results in a nutty, sweet butter and we absolutely love it! The sea salt crystals she adds also compliment the butter, giving you periodic bursts of saltiness.

These are some of our favorite snacking butters. Overindulging may not always be the best, but whether it’s baking, cooking or just slathering some on a hot piece of toast, we love butter’s ability to transform anything into something so much more. Check out the rest of our butter selection, or make room for one of these remarkable cultured butters on your table.

 

Serdar Sinaci is a buyer and food and drink enthusiast at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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The ABC of Biodynamicshttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/the-abc-of-biodynamics/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/the-abc-of-biodynamics/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 13:13:39 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11427 There are a just handful of really hot topics in the world of wine right now and one of them concerns an approach to growing grapes that’s known as biodynamics. One way to describe it is as a set of farming practices that takes organic agriculture to another level and adds a metaphysical twist. But what does Continue Reading »

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800px-Granton_Vineyard_Tasmania_biodynamic_composting_2010

Turning biodynamically-treated compost at Granton Vineyard in Tasmania. Credit: Mark Smith.

There are a just handful of really hot topics in the world of wine right now and one of them concerns an approach to growing grapes that’s known as biodynamics. One way to describe it is as a set of farming practices that takes organic agriculture to another level and adds a metaphysical twist. But what does it take to make a biodynamic wine, and does biodynamic practice result in a measurably better product?

A bit of history. Biodynamics are the brainchild of the Austrian-born philosopher, social theorist and mystic Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Steiner’s most enduring legacy until now has been the Waldorf School approach to education, but he also dabbled in alternative medicine before developing the principles of biodynamic agriculture (he coined the term). And while much of what Steiner had to say about planetary cycles, life forces, and reincarnation seems bizarre or at the very least unverifiable, these notions don’t seem to have limited his appeal to those who have found in biodynamics a practical alternative to conventional agriculture.

Isn’t biodynamics just old-fashioned farming? Not really. While there are some aspects of biodynamics that have similarities with traditional, preindustrial agriculture or are at least in sympathy with it, biodynamics is the 20th century invention of an urban intellectual who really never spent any time on a farm.

How does it actually work? Biodynamic practice begins with the assumption that you are already farming organically and are committed to working without the aid of industrial fertilizers or chemical herbicides and pesticides. On top of this, biodynamics asks you to make use of a series of nine preparations, some of which are sprayed directly on plants or soil, but most of which are applied to compost. They include stinging nettle tea, flower heads of the yarrow plant fermented in a stag’s bladder, and oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal. These preparations needn’t be made on the farm, but can be purchased. The timing of the applications is considered very important. Many farm activities are scheduled to coincide with phases of the moon.

If it sounds a little like voodoo to you, that’s exactly what many of its critics say. For some (me included) the mystery is less what the sprays consist of than that they are applied in such dilute concentrations that they seem too weak to be effective. In this regard they betray a debt to homeopathy.

Is there a scientific basis for biodynamics? The short answer is no, but this may just because we haven’t yet done the research required to say one way or the other. There have been studies done that appear to show that vines in better condition when maintained biodynamically, although yields may be a bit lower.

What any wine grower can see is that biodynamically farmed soils are generally in better condition than conventionally farmed soils, but whether this is attributable to biodynamics or just to the basic improvement brought about by organic farming and the very conscientious nature of persons who take biodynamics seriously is hard to say.

Clearly, no one trained in scientific method is going to be very happy with the more metaphysical aspects of biodynamics, which posit occult forces and cosmic influences that science just doesn’t recognize.

What does biodynamic wine taste like? Since the preparations aren’t put into wine but are only applied to vines or composts, there’s no reason for biodynamic wine to taste different from conventionally-farmed wine. Although some winemakers who have conducted trials on their own properties claim that wine from their biodynamically farmed plots tastes somewhat different than wine from other plots, it’s not likely to be a dramatic difference unless the conventional plots were being very badly farmed to begin with. Our in-store tastings bear out this impression.

Why, then, do some biodynamic wines taste unusual? Biodynamics regulate practices in the vineyard, but don’t have much to say about how wine is processed in the cellar. However, since this approach is very popular with people who carry their interest in natural winemaking into the wine cellar, it’s often the case that biodynamic wine is also made with little to no sulfur. Low-sulfur wines tend to present rather differently from their conventionally vinified counterparts. This is especially the case with white wines that seem to lose fruit and freshness when subjected to the anti-oxidant properties of sulfur.

Is it only off-the-grid types who practice biodynamics? Absolutely not. The number of biodynamic growers seems to be increasing annually and it has a number of devotees among very notable and successful wine properties in France, Germany, Austria, and the United States—including some corporate-owned properties.

How can I identify a biodynamic wine? You can look for a wine that carries a certification indicator on the label. Demeter is the oldest and largest certifying organization. Founded in 1928, it boasts members in many countries and owns a registered trademark on the term biodynamic. A rival certifying group, called Biodyvin, was created in 1995. As is the case with organic practice, many growers aren’t willing to pay for certification or choose not to conform fully to the requirements.

The best way to get the low-down on any particular wine whose provenance you’re wondering about is come by the shop and ask us.

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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Fragile Oil: The Decimated Olive Harvest of 2014http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/fragile-oil-the-decimated-olive-harvest-of-2014/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/fragile-oil-the-decimated-olive-harvest-of-2014/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11444 The winter of 2013-2014 was too mild. The spring and summer that followed, by contrast, were cool and wet. These seemingly innocuous conditions led 2014 to be one of the worst olive harvests on record in Italy and in parts of France. Bactrocera oleae, commonly known as the “olive fruit fly,” annually torments olive farmers Continue Reading »

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Greek Olive Oil

After record low olive oil production in Italy and France, something of a silver lining might come from Greece.

The winter of 2013-2014 was too mild. The spring and summer that followed, by contrast, were cool and wet. These seemingly innocuous conditions led 2014 to be one of the worst olive harvests on record in Italy and in parts of France.

Bactrocera oleae, commonly known as the “olive fruit fly,” annually torments olive farmers in all the major olive growing regions in the Eastern Hemisphere, as well as in California in the Western Hemisphere. Adults lay their eggs one at a time into the flesh of the olives growing on the trees throughout the spring, summer and fall, where the larvae then hatch and grow through several stages within the olives, eventually emerging as adult flies – and ruining the olives for eating or pressing into oil. Larvae that hatch in late fall, however, emerge from the olives earlier in their development and fall to the ground, where they enter into and remain in the pupa stage, hibernating for up to four months through the winter. Although farmers do resort to various forms of pest control to combat the olive fruit flies when necessary – and there are many effective organic practices – they generally rely on natural weather patterns to keep the fruit flies’ numbers in check.

Farmers can count on cold winter temperatures to wipe out many of the hibernating larvae, cutting down the number of adults who will start off the season. They can count on hot, dry summers to similarly reduce the population – temperatures over 30 degrees Centigrade make females less fertile and temperatures over 32 degrees kill off eggs and larvae. Farmers can count on nature to manage the fruit flies. Except when they can’t.

In Italy and parts of France, following a warm winter, the 2014 olive growing season brought perfect – cool, humid – conditions for the olive fruit fly to flourish – and it did, to the utter ruin of the olive crop for many olive oil producers, especially the smaller, grower-producers. To further augment the crisis, already susceptible olive trees in Italy were hit late in the growing season by the fungal diseases “olive leprosy” (Gloeosporium olivarum) and “peacock spot” (Spilocaea oleaginea). Additionally, olive trees in Southern Italy, in particular, Puglia, were attacked by the bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa. Not only did this bacterium affect the olive oil production for 2014, but the threat it poses to other types of crops throughout Europe is so high that the European Union just last month approved emergency measures including the complete destruction of all infected plants in Puglia and restrictions on importation for plants and products from Puglia and other affected areas to other parts of Europe. At the end of this catastrophic season, some producers saw an 80% reduction in olive oil production; some determined that none of their olives could be pressed into oil that would meet their quality standards.

This crisis really came to our attention when we began reaching out to the small producers we work with at the end of last year, to request our allotments for 2015 and received back apologetic, heart-felt letters explaining that they could not fill our orders, because they had no olives to press and therefore, no olive oil to sell. Some larger, more industrial producers have opted to import olives from North Africa, press them and sell that oil. To the grower-producers with whom we work, however, this was inconceivable. They pressed and will sell as much olive oil they were able to salvage – at the high standards of flavor and overall quality they demand – and hope for better climatic conditions and to be better prepared to combat Bactrocera oleae, as well as the other fungal and bacterial diseases, for the 2015 growing season.

To make matters even worse, Spain struggled with a terrible drought throughout the summer of 2014, which seriously reduced the olive oil production there as well. Faced with seeing empty spaces on our olive oil shelves in the coming months, Valerie and Ihsan looked to a European neighbor for a solution. They accepted an invitation from the government of Greece to attend a trade show highlighting a variety of Greek products, including olive oil. We knew the Greek olive farmers had enjoyed a more productive growing season and harvest and we already had great success with the olive oils from the Karelas family in Messinia (My Olive Tree), so Ihsan and Valerie were optimistic about more possibilities. As they had done years before with Italy, France and Spain, they went to seek out a handful of small producers who share their philosophy of craftsmanship, sustainability, sound practices and uncompromising quality, to partner with them to offer their olive oils to our customers.

What this all means, is that, instead of empty spaces, you will be seeing some new faces on our olive oil shelves and will have the chance to savor some new aromas and flavors. The Greeks should be arriving in June, so please ask for a taste when you stop by! We certainly will welcome back our old Italian and French favorites as everyone gets back on track with the harvest of 2015; ultimately, our shelves will be filled with a broader selection of olive oils – richer for its diversity.

 

 

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

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How Many Kinds of Wine Are There, Anyway?http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/how-many-kinds-of-wine-are-there-anyway/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/how-many-kinds-of-wine-are-there-anyway/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 13:25:51 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11305 “What kind of wine is this?” is a question heard frequently in the Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge wine corner. Wine is categorized and merchandised so many different ways today that it’s not surprising that consumers are confused by our attempts to simplify it. One way to answer the question is to just look at how shelves in Continue Reading »

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White Wine

“What kind of wine is this?”

“What kind of wine is this?” is a question heard frequently in the Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge wine corner. Wine is categorized and merchandised so many different ways today that it’s not surprising that consumers are confused by our attempts to simplify it.

One way to answer the question is to just look at how shelves in retail shops are arranged. In places where wines are heaped together by country, the response might well be “This is a French wine.” Other outlets shun the nation-state system in favor of a varietal approach, where the answer might be “this is a Chardonnay” or “this is a Cabernet Franc.”

Still others set a regional tack. In these outlets, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, and the Mosel inhabit their discrete domains. Some retailers have sections devoted to wines made from organic grapes or wines that are low in sulfites. Wines with high scores from Robert M. Parker, Jr. or Wine Spectator magazine are occasionally given special accommodation. In these places, the answers could range from “this is a Cotes de Beaune” to “This is a 92 point Parker-rated wine.”

It’s not just wine shops that have to do battle with the categorization problem. Restaurant wine lists have to deal with it, too. Here, you’re likely to encounter the same range of alternatives (country, region, variety, color), but sometimes there are interesting twists. I first encountered an approach designed to facilitate food and wine pairing at Les Zygomates in the 1990’s when Lorenzo Savona organized his list under categories like “big, bold reds,” and “crisp, dry whites.”

While this approach is relatively common today, it can still raise an eyebrow – especially when the categories aren’t what you’d call self-explanatory. At Kenmore Square’s Island Creek Oyster Bar, the wine list names “Rusty Whites,” which seems clear enough, alongside “Deep Roots,” which is a little harder to get a handle on (Ancient vines? Ancient varietals? Winemakers who never leave the farm?).

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 4.09.21 PM

Wine list at Island Creek Oyster Bar

At Belly Wine Bar at One Kendall Square, owner and somm queen Liz Vilardi’s prodigious imagination is frequently seen off the leash. Categories on her current list include beach shades, driving goggles, and the inviting I want to go there.

In some sort of feedback loop, at least one wine shop known to me has adapted the trick for retail and arranged its shelves to create a progression from light to heavier wines, with the more muscular types farther from the door — possibly to discourage them from making a break for it. As an arrangement it doesn’t depend so much on conceptual compartments as on gradual shadings of temperament.

The way we organize wine in shops and restaurants is one thing, the way we organize them cognitively and in our speech seems to be another matter entirely.

For example, so-called natural wines constitute an important category today, even though it’s not really clear what these are or how we go about deciding which wines deserve the descriptor. The category is a legitimate one, but I’ve had to create sub-species to distinguish among the variations – not to say factions — that populate its ranks. I think of some in the movement as idealists, others as folklorists, primitivists, or cosmics. No doubt other shadings exist and only await a nomenclature.

But hang on a bit. There’s lots more. The technological, terroir, traditional, sacramental, and international wines, for a start. Authentic wines are a category, too, to judge from the literature, not to mention Parkerized wines, celebrity wines, and New Californians. There are organically and biodynamically-farmed wines from properties which are certified by some authority. Or not. Wild yeast-fermented seems important enough to constitute a category.

Say, have you got any vegan-friendly wines? Naked wines? Wines made in clay pots? How about high-latitude chardonnays? Reds that love a chill? Fireside companions? Glou-glou? In my days as wine columnist for the Boston Globe, I was once asked by an editor to write a story on “after-beach whites.”

Even in Les Zyg’s clever taxonomy the identity of each wine was front and center. How gobsmacked were we, then, on a visit to the then week-old restaurant Ribelle in Brookline when we saw that Teresa Paopao had furnished her list with descriptions (“light and pretty, delicate acidity, back-n-forth flavors of citrus-n-mineral”), but never revealed the identities of the wines described? That’s right, unless you press the server for the information or twist your neck around to get a peek at the label while she’s pouring it, you don’t actually know what you’re drinking.

In the Ribelle system, every wine seems to be a category in its own right, different in some however small way from every other wine on the list and, presumably, in the world. Seen from one point of this does away with the classification problem entirely – by just ignoring it. Maybe this is how it should be.

A key element of wine talk these days is the enduring, unchanging character of the land. It thrills us to learn that a family, like that of Marc Kreydenweiss in Andlau, Alsace, has been farming some of the same parcels (and living in the same house!) since the 16th century. The land stands still, and some families stay put, but both winemaking and wine consuming remain restlessly busy activities.

And as long as they do, you’ll have to forgive me if after pouring something at the tasting table, I pause long and thoughtfully over the innocent question: “What kind of wine is this?”

 

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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Coffee Cupping with Stumptown Coffee Roastershttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/coffee-cupping-with-stumptown-coffee-roasters/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/coffee-cupping-with-stumptown-coffee-roasters/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11190 Last month I spent a long weekend in the undisputed coffee capital of America — Seattle. Even though I missed the US Coffee Championships by a few days, I still had plenty of opportunities to geek out a little over the region’s amazing coffee culture. I typically make up the tea-focused half of Team Caffeine here at Continue Reading »

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Stumptown Cupping

Coffee cupping at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Last month I spent a long weekend in the undisputed coffee capital of America — Seattle. Even though I missed the US Coffee Championships by a few days, I still had plenty of opportunities to geek out a little over the region’s amazing coffee culture. I typically make up the tea-focused half of Team Caffeine here at the Cambridge shop, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love coffee, and after sampling the brews of some small, local roasters I was thrilled to stop by the Seattle hub of a Formaggio Kitchen favorite — Portland-Oregon-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

Stumptown has been a major driver of the third-wave craft coffee movement across the U.S. — that push to relate coffee to the world of wine, bringing single origin terroir, small batch fresh roasting and grower-roaster relationships to the fore of coffee consumption. Stumptown is a massive player in U.S. specialty coffee, and for good reason. Their success has allowed them to develop robust systems for consistency and quality across production. We get our Stumptown coffees from their Brooklyn roastery, but they also have roasteries in Los Angeles, Seattle, and back home in Portland.

Serendipitously, I arrived at their Seattle roastery and cafe just in time for it’s weekly coffee cupping — my first formal coffee tasting, and a free chance to taste through four of Stumptown’s most popular single origin coffees! We tasted four coffees: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Chelbessa, Peru Churupampa, Indonesia Sulawesi Toaco Toraja, and Rwanda Huye Mountain.

Cuppings follow an internationally agreed upon structure (or so I was told by the Turkish baristas I met who were in town for the US Coffee Championships!). It’s a four step process, with each step done three separate times to make sure you fully experience the flavor.

First you grind enough of each coffee for three small cups and smell the “dry fragrance.” The scent of the grinds won’t typically be as strong as notes you get in brewed coffee, but it gives you a good foundation as your brain starts building a profile of each one.

Next you pour hot water over the grinds and smell the “wet fragrance” as it steeps (pardon my tea parlance), in this case for ~4 minutes. The wet fragrance should be stronger than the dry fragrance. For me, while the grinds mostly smelled like coffee, the wet fragrance is where I really started to notice the difference between citrus, floral, and earthy notes. These aromas are important because they blend with the taste-receptor reactions on your tongue to create the full flavor experience of the coffee when you drink it.

As the coffee brews, a foamy layer of coffee grinds forms on the top of the cup, something I immediately recognize from my use of a French press at home. This layer traps aromatic compounds released from the beans as they brew, and using a spoon to gently break the surface gives you an explosion of aromas unique to each coffee. This is where many of the coffee’s strongest notes come out.

Stumptown Cupping Part 2

Left: A view of the layer of grinds trapping aromatic compounds beneath the surface; Right: After breaking the layer on the surface, going back through and tasting each coffee. Note the three cups per varietal! Be sure to taste every cup to give yourself a fuller experience of each coffee.

Finally, after carefully observing all these layers of aroma, it’s time to taste! Typically you only taste one tiny spoonful at a time. As is often the case with wine (and with tea), tasting coffee is all about the slurp. Aerating the liquid in your mouth releases more aromas and flavors, so slurping off the spoon is an important step. Also like wine, most tasters spit their sip out, giving you a little more aeration and helping make sure the liquid hits all parts of your tongue so you don’t miss any flavors.

In general, Latin American coffees are said to be more evenly balanced and more chocolaty, Indonesian coffees, which are typically only half washed during post harvest processing, have more earthy fermenty notes, and East African coffees (made where coffee was originally cultivated) are the most light, citrusy, and floral — sometimes almost tea like — with jasmine, bergamot, or muscatel. I found those distinctions to be pretty true, and maybe it’s just because I’m easily influenced, but I really could taste many of the notes on Stumptown’s flavor-profile cards (hibiscus vs. lemon, milk chocolate vs. vanilla, etc. etc.).

If you don’t feel like orchestrating your own cupping, here in the Boston area you can hit up two other popular Formaggio Kitchen coffee roasters, George Howell Coffee (whose coffee we brew in house) and Counter Culture for one of their weekly cuppings!

 

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

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A Refreshing Mother’s Day Sparkler from the Rheingauhttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/refreshing-mothers-day-sparkler-leitz-rheingau-spatburgunder-weissherbst-sekt-brut/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/refreshing-mothers-day-sparkler-leitz-rheingau-spatburgunder-weissherbst-sekt-brut/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11192 This week we’re featuring one of our new favorite wines made by our friend Johannes Leitz in Germany’s Rheingau region. You may already be familiar with Leitz’s delicious Dragonstone Riesling or his perky Eins Zwei Dry, both bright, refreshing, and easy to love. We’ve recently started carrying Leitz’s lovely Rheingau Spätburgunder Weissherbst Sekt Brut. Simply Continue Reading »

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Leitz Rheingau Spatburgunder Weissherbst Sekt Brut

Leitz Rheingau Spatburgunder Weissherbst Sekt Brut

This week we’re featuring one of our new favorite wines made by our friend Johannes Leitz in Germany’s Rheingau region. You may already be familiar with Leitz’s delicious Dragonstone Riesling or his perky Eins Zwei Dry, both bright, refreshing, and easy to love. We’ve recently started carrying Leitz’s lovely Rheingau Spätburgunder Weissherbst Sekt Brut. Simply translated, this long name means a dry, sparkling Pinot Noir from the Rheingau made into white wine. While this fresh Pinot Noir is not completely white, a short three hour maceration on the grape skins lends a barely pink color, and it is perfectly bubbly. The dominant fruit here is deliciously juicy grapefruit, making this a perfect wine to sip on its own before dinner, or with hors d’oeuvres & salads. For Mother’s Day I’m pairing a bottle of this with a big tin of our Bonilla olive oil potato chips!

Available at Formaggio Kitchen South End, or at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge with one day’s notice.

 

Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and Wine Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

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A Taste of History and of Things to Come: Mystic Breweryhttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/a-taste-of-history-and-of-things-to-come-mystic-brewery/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/a-taste-of-history-and-of-things-to-come-mystic-brewery/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11203 This past month, a small crew from Formaggio Kitchen was lucky enough to get a tour of Mystic Brewery from Brian Greenhagen, the founder and owner. At the time of our visit the Chelsea, MA facility was in preparations for a recently announced growth of their saisons and traditional wild ales program, in partnership with Continue Reading »

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Mystic Flor Sauvage

A Preview of Mystic Brewery’s new Wild Ales collaboration with Cambridge Brewing Company

This past month, a small crew from Formaggio Kitchen was lucky enough to get a tour of Mystic Brewery from Brian Greenhagen, the founder and owner. At the time of our visit the Chelsea, MA facility was in preparations for a recently announced growth of their saisons and traditional wild ales program, in partnership with Cambridge Brewing Company. This expansion will quadruple their current barrel aging capabilities, allowing for new possibilities for what their beer has to offer. This exploration is something New England – Boston specifically – is quite accustomed to, considering its important role in setting a foundation for beer in America.

The intertwined history of Boston and beer is as rich and bold as the ales crafted at Mystic’s Chelsea brewery. There are few facilities that honor this history in the modern day, but Mystic is one of them. A contemporarily driven approach to historical preservation is something that Brian takes very seriously. With a degree in biology and a self-adorned degree in New England history, the owner has managed to find ways to nod at the past from the nuances in his beers and aesthetic, from the striking reclaimed wooden beams in the tap room that resemble an 18th century-era publik house to their newly-expanded barrel aged program.

Mystic Brewery Barrels

Barrels aging delicious brews at Mystic Brewery!

Brian and his team have achieved an impressive and growing line of beers. Mystic’s unique charm comes from both a deep respect of the timeless brewing process and an expansive scientific knowledge behind the fermentation needed to achieve this liquid gold. This marriage of knowledge shines brightest in one of Mystic’s Wild Ales, which not only requires the harvesting of yeast – the owner’s childhood backyard being one location – but also the patience and watchful eye needed when dealing with barrel aged brews.

Formaggio Kitchen is excited to see where the new chapter in Mystic will be taken. We look forward to stocking our shelves with new ales in the near future. Cheers!

 

Tyler Willette is a member of the produce, beer, and social media teams at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Wine Made the Oldest Way of Allhttp://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/wine-made-the-oldest-way-of-all/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/wine-made-the-oldest-way-of-all/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 13:19:48 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11233 The hip, cozy watering hole known as Backbar occupies a back room of Journeyman restaurant in Somerville’s Union Square. With its usual team of cocktail jockeys off at a trade event a couple of years ago, then GM Meg Grady-Troia filled the void with a few somms-for-a-day. I was pleased to be asked in. My topic: Continue Reading »

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Cabernet franc grapes ripening in a Massachusetts vineyard

The hip, cozy watering hole known as Backbar occupies a back room of Journeyman restaurant in Somerville’s Union Square. With its usual team of cocktail jockeys off at a trade event a couple of years ago, then GM Meg Grady-Troia filled the void with a few somms-for-a-day. I was pleased to be asked in. My topic: the true field blend.

The opportunity to assemble a dozen or so of these increasingly unusual wines to taste in a single evening seemed irresistible, but pulling together a representative sampling from Massachusetts distributors proved a challenge.

Today field blend can simply refer to a casual, inexpensive, varietally diverse wine, and this is the way most sales people I spoke to understood it. More precisely it indicates wine made from a single plot where multiple varieties grow together and where the fruit is both harvested all at one time and vinified together — surely the earliest form of viticulture.

This approach is distinguished from a more common process in which grapes harvested from different vineyards are fermented together in a ratio determined by the winemaker (for example in Côte-Rôtie where the red grape Syrah is traditionally fermented with a modest percentage of white Viognier grapes). This is called co-fermentation.

There’s generally no indication on a label to indicate when you’re dealing with a true field blend. To find one it makes sense to start in regions where the tradition has always been to combine varietals, either with a view to providing a more consistent experience from vintage to vintage or to mitigate the risks involved with monoculture.

Field blends are surely the most traditional way of making wine and the approach is still quite strong in Portugal, the Languedoc and the southern Rhone Valley, as well as the extreme north and south of Italy. There are apparently still hundreds of such vineyards in California (Ridge Winery’s Geyserville is the product of one). Alsace has several generic wines in this category including edelzwicker and gentil. Vienna has its prototypical café wine: gemischter satz.

Indeed the notion of single varietal winemaking appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, with a few notable exceptions. In Burgundy’s prestige vineyards Pinot Noir was established as the sole official option for fine red wine as early as the fourteenth century, but even there Gamay may join Pinot in a blend known as passetoutgrain — which means something like “let all the grapes through.”

In regions where blending is the norm, the standard practice today is to plant each varietal in a discrete plot, harvest and vinify each separately, then treat the various lots as components in a final assemblage (ah-som-BLAHJ). The approach is one that’s a lot like cooking or maybe perfume-making. You select individual ingredients then combine them in proportions you think will result in a pleasing result.

A true field blend not only requires an interplanted vineyard but a bit of nerve. At a time when almost every winemaker is eager to remind you that his wine is “made in the vineyard,” those willing to let the vineyard itself do the blending are few indeed.

Several true field blends grace the shelves at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge these days. They include Domaine Saladin’s “Cuvée Paul” Côtes du Rhone, Eugenio Rosi’s “Anisos” — a Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Nosiola blend from the Trentino region — and Farmers Jane California Field Red.

Have a field day.

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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Join Us for Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day 2015!http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/join-us-for-raw-milk-cheese-appreciation-day-2015/ http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/join-us-for-raw-milk-cheese-appreciation-day-2015/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:08:34 +0000 http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/?p=11173 “Why Raw Milk?” is a common question at the Formaggio Kitchen cheese counter, and for good reason. Before the advent of pasteurization just over 150 years ago (thanks Louis Pasteur) the world’s cheeses were made exclusively from raw milk. Heating milk to a high temperature (135oF for 30 minutes or 161oF for 30 seconds according to Continue Reading »

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Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day

“Why Raw Milk?” is a common question at the Formaggio Kitchen cheese counter, and for good reason. Before the advent of pasteurization just over 150 years ago (thanks Louis Pasteur) the world’s cheeses were made exclusively from raw milk. Heating milk to a high temperature (135oF for 30 minutes or 161oF for 30 seconds according to US regulations) has proven to stabilize dairy products and prolong shelf life. While this process has the benefit of reducing the risk of certain contaminating pathogens in milk, it also effectively destroys the vast majority of naturally occurring bacteria in raw milk. These beneficial micro- flora and fauna provide a great potential to produce a wide range of complex flavors and aromas through the cheesemaking and aging process. Although cheesemakers using pasteurized milk can compensate for lack of microbial activity with the addition of commercially produced cultures, these amendments can obfuscate the origin and true character of the milk. Raw milk cheesemakers using safe manufacturing practices can transform this rich, wholesome product into something that is truly evocative of the place where it was made.

Next Saturday, April 18th, we are thrilled to celebrate the first annual Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day. Cheesemakers, retailers, and consumers around the world are getting together to share their love for traditionally made cheeses and raise awareness of the gustatory and nutritional benefits of raw milk cheese. We’ll be featuring a number of our favorite raw milk cheesemakers across all of our locations.

 

Suffolk Punch

Suffolk Punch

PARISH HILL CREAMERY, Westminster West, VT
@ Formaggio Kitchen South End on Saturday, April 18th from 11 am to 3 pm

Renowned cheesemaker and consultant Peter Dixon is heralded by some as the “Godfather of Vermont Cheese.” With over 30 years of raw milk cheesemaking under his belt, Peter has helped craft recipes and design facilities for some of our favorite cheesemakers in the Northeast, including Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, Vermont. Today, Peter makes cheese with the the help of his wife Rachel in pastoral southern Vermont, where he focuses on adapting classic Italian DOP (protected origin) cheeses to American terroir, including the Cacciocavallo-style “Suffolk Punch” pictured left. Parish Hill’s latest project is a partnership with Crown Heights Finish, an aging facility that takes his young cheeses to Brooklyn for subterranean urban affinage.

 

Greta's Fair Haven

Greta’s Fair Haven

RUGGLES HILL CREAMERY, Hardwick, MA
@ Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge on Saturday, April 18th from 11 am to 3 pm 

Local engineers and innovators Tricia Smith and Michael Holland began raising goats in Carlisle, MA in 2001 and started making cheese in 2005 as Carlisle Farmstead Cheese. They quickly outgrew their first creamery, and settled on the historic Ruggles Family homestead in Hardwick, MA in 2010. Ever since, they have been producing some of our favorite goat cheeses with a precision and attention to detail that reflects their commitment to sustainability and a true passion for their trade. Their herd of about 16 does are milked by hand and help support production of small-format bloomy-rinded cheeses, each named after one of their goats. Greta’s Fair Haven is Tricia and Michael’s only raw milk cheese, and its delightfully dense, herbaceous paste is clothed in a delicate,
earthy rind.

 

Tekenink Tomme

Tekenink Tomme

ROBINSON FARM, Hardwick, MA
@ Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge on Saturday, April 18th from 11 am to 3 pm

Since 1892, the Robinson Family has been farming in the rolling hills of central Massachusetts. Fifth-generation farmer Ray Robinson and wife Pamela manage a certified organic diversified farm featuring a milking herd of over 40 Holstein, Jersey and Normandy cows. In 2004, the couple decided to expand their operation beyond fluid milk, and began taking classes and experimenting with cheesemaking. Since 2009, they have been making exclusively raw milk, farmstead cheeses, in the French and Swiss Alpine tradition. Our latest offering from Robinson Farm is a grassy, washed-rind wheel called Tekenink (tay-kah-nink) Tomme that has a wonderfully complex finish redolent of horseradish and earth.

 

Ekiola Ardi Gasna

Ekiola Ardi Gasna

FROMAGERIE EKIOLA, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France
Cheese available at all Formaggio Kitchen locations

In the heart of Basque country in the high mountains of the Pyrénées, husband and wife Désiré and Kati Lathayo make some of our favorite Ardi Gasna (Basque for sheep’s cheese) on the planet. At Fromagerie Ekiola (translated as “mountain hut”), the Lathayo family makes Ekiola Ardi Gasna, the only farmstead or fermier cheese we import from the region. The label of fermier indicates that the cheesemaker is sourcing their milk from their animals and aging and marketing their cheeses at the farm. For smaller productions like Fromagerie Ekiola, this ensures optimum quality control and a distinct expression of terroir. Ekiola Ardi Gasna is a perennial staff favorite at Formaggio, and one of the most nuanced raw milk cheeses on our counter.

 

Pecorino Caggiano

Pecorino Caggiano

AZIENDA AGRICOLA CAGGIANO-SUMMO, Basilicata, Italy
Cheeses available at all Formaggio Kitchen locations

In southern Italy, the Caggiano-Summo family raises cows, goats, and sheep and a host of other livestock in the town of Forenza. Michael Caggiano donned his family farm “Il Parco Delle Bontà” (literally translated as the park of goodness) when he founded the operation in 1974. Today, matriarch Maria Caggiano oversees the production of incredible raw milk cheeses, breeding stock, and pork and salami. We offer a selection of Caggiano’s rustic, singular cheeses including on of our favorite Pecorino Stagionato styles, Pecorino di Caggiano. Every wheel we receive differs in size and age (and character), but we embrace all of these delicious variations as the mark of a true artisan producer.

 

Please join us at the shop this Saturday, April 18th where we’ll be celebrating raw milk cheese (as always) and offering samples of our favorites!!

 

Rory Stamp is a classroom instructor, Wine Buyer, and cheese monger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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