At the end of each year, staff members at all three of our shops – in Cambridge, the South End and in New York – fill out a staff survey. We reflect on our year in food, pick our favorites and share memorable moments. Some items are tried-and-true favorites, regularly appearing on the survey. Others are new and exciting products that helped to define and distinguish our year in food. Here are our top ten picks culled from this year’s survey results!
– Top 10 of 2012 –
Pyrénées Brebis – For Formaggio Kitchen employees, 2012 could well have been, “the year of brebis.” Of our brebis selection, one staffer wrote: “every one, every wheel is delicious. They all share that smooth, rich, sweetness that’s so easy to eat!” A second staffer wrote, “they tasted absolutely fantastic this year – and they are my all-time favorite style of cheese.”
Of all our brebis, however, special recognition went to Brebis du Haut-Béarn with one staffer remarking, “the wheel we have on the wall right now is outstanding. Blows me away every time I taste it.” Another chimed in to say, “this cheese seems to keep getting better and better,” while another billed it as, “so delicate, yet satisfying.”
The other sheep milk cheese that staff members singled out was Ekiola Ardi Gasna. One person wrote that it is, “just an outstanding cheese,” adding, “so glad we carry it!” Another billed it as, “such a lovely brebis,” with, “fruity, zesty goodness.” Still another staffer highlighted Ekiola Ardi Gasna (paired with Arraya jams) as their all-time 2012 favorite: “there was a long enough time period when we were nearly out of the jams that when we got them back again it was like Christmas!” More on those jams below…
Marcel Petite Comté – This cheese can be relied upon to appear in our staff survey every year. We have been conducting the survey for four years now and, each year, Marcel Petite Comté has been our number one cheese pick. This year, one staff member wrote: “no matter what mood I am in, Comté is a great choice,” adding, “[Comté] is always a hit when it’s on the sampling table.” Truth.
We sell Marcel Petite Comté at varying ages, ranging between 16 to 24 months throughout the year. At the holidays, however, we get in very special wheels of Comté Grand Cru and Marcel Petite Comté Extra Grand Cru, ranging in age from 30 to 36 months, respectively. This year, Grand Cru (30 months) and the Le Fort (24 months) tied for the same amount of mentions, with two people choosing the Grand Cru as their top product pick regardless of year. The Grand Cru was flagged as, “amazing [at the] end of [a] meal,” or as a component to the, “best fondue.” Meanwhile, one staffer wrote of Le Fort, “I’ve had Comtés before, but this one is just so much more flavorful and complex.” Another person summed it up succinctly: “you can’t beat a good Comté.” Amen to that!
Robiola Enrico – This cheese is a relative newcomer to our cheese line-up – lead cheese buyers for our Cambridge and South End stores respectively, Kurt and David, found this cheese at the end of last year when they attended “Cheese,” the biennial Slow Food festival held in Bra. Since we got our first shipment in the States, it has bowled us over. One cheesemonger summed up what many seemed to be feeling: “this stunner that we found last year has continued to be a special cheese. This cheese stands for everything we are about: small, sustainable production, exclusive, DELICIOUS.” In brief, as a second monger wrote, “[Enrico] is a real producer, making real cheese.” A third staffer added, “this guy is the real deal. The cheese is incredible. Its range of flavors is unmistakable. He’s tiny. He needs our support. And, I love how he calls to make sure a shipment arrived in good condition!” A fourth staffer wrote that the flavors of this cheese, “channel the Platonic ideal of what young goat cheese can be.” Note: the season for this cheese has come to a close but we expect to receive it again, starting in March, 2013.
Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano – Baruffi Farm– As a collective group, staffers here in the shop buy Parmigiano Reggiano regularly and in quantity. We have been sourcing Parmigiano Reggiano from the Cravero family for quite a number of years, but this is the first year we have been getting our parm from two specific farms: San Pietro and Baruffi. Both of them received acclaim in this year’s survey but the Baruffi received perhaps a little extra love from staffers. One person wrote: “it is so good. I love it with pasta. I eat it on its own. The flavors are sweet and complex. One of my new faves.” Another person wrote that Baruffi parm, “helpfully… finish[es] many of my best and most productive days.”
Eduardo’s Roast Chickens – Speaking of finishing the day on a tasty note, staffers on both sides of the river were taking home a lot of Chef Eduardo’s freshly roasted chickens this year. Indeed, in terms of a single house-made product, they topped out our savory list. One staff member wrote that they are the, “best solution [for] dinner and I think it is the tastiest chicken in town.” According to another, Eduardo’s chicken paired with a brebis cheese, “makes [for] the perfect meal (with a glass of wine).” Chef Eduardo prepares a secret rub for his chickens and roasts them in our Cambridge shop, Monday through Friday and on Saturdays in the off-BBQ season.
La Vecchia Dispensa Balsamic Vinegars – This year, staff members refocused their attention on vinegar and La Vecchia Dispensa was a standout in the category. It received props from one person for its, “touch of sweetness,” and a “nice consistency.” That same person regularly used a La Vecchia vinegar on their, “local heirloom tomato salads this summer.” Another staffer wrote of La Vecchia, summarizing a lot of what makes their vinegar so good, “they are exactly the type of producer we love to work with. Uncompromising in quality and tradition, family-run, driven by an interest in quality and staying the same small size rather than growing the business into something bigger.” Still a third staffer wrote: “the amazingly pure and fresh flavor [of La Vecchia’s balsamic vinegar] really caught me off guard. I feel like I had written off balsamic vinegar as being overused. But the EVOO and vinegar [staff] tasting… really opened my eyes to the range of flavors balsamic vinegars can have. After the tasting, I went home and read all about them, and I feel like my perception has completely changed. After tasting real balsamic vinegar, I have a completely new appreciation for its applications.” Both the staff tasting and Tim’s excellent two-part blog post about what defines true Balsamico Tradizionale surely played a role in prodding staffers to revisit balsamic vinegar – with rave reviews.
Jean-Marie Cornille Olive Oils – Like Marcel Petite Comté , Jean-Marie Cornille’s olive oil is a long-time staff favorite. One person wrote of it and Comté Le Fort: “these products continue to be the best. They are kind of like the Muhammad Ali of our shops. The greatest.” Another staffer added that Jean-Marie Cornille olive oil is, “magnificent to finish foods with,” and, “friggin’ awesome on bread, straight-up.”
Beakers & Cream Ice Cream Sandwiches – This year’s clear sweets favorite was Beakers & Cream ice cream sandwiches. One staffer highlighted how the sandwiches are, “beautifully crafted in small batches, using excellent ingredients, with unique combinations of flavors,” adding that that’s why the, “sandwiches [are their] favorite new product this year. Another person wrote of the sandwiches: “Dang these are good. The only item that I begged [for us] NOT to tweet/Facebook about … because I want them all to myself.” We can confirm that’s a true story.
Andrea Hasselbacher is the lady behind these sandwiches, an endeavor which has been years in the making – as she puts it, “years of day dreaming, experimenting with recipes, emails back and forth with friends sharing ideas, and finally something came to fruition.” Where did the name “Beakers & Cream” come from? Andrea originally trained as a pharmacist and decided to quit that line of work to pursue her passion for ice cream – the beakers reference is a little nod to her time spent in the lab. Andrea makes small batches of ice cream using local cream, milk and eggs, sandwiching the results between homemade cookies. Available in our Cambridge location, flavors change regularly so keep your eyes peeled for new, inspired combinations!
Marco Giacosa Pastas – With all the Parmigiano that we toted home, it should come as no surprise that pasta appears on our top ten list too. And, Marco Giacosa pasta was this year’s very clear winner. This artisan, Italian pasta appeared as two people’s top picks for 2012, another person chose Giacosa’s truffle pasta as their all-time favorite product and still more staffers billed it as a “most frequently purchased product.” One person wrote that this, “pasta is delicious – all it needs is olive oil – and it’s beautifully presented.” Another person threw down a challenge to all-comers: “I tend to appreciate items that are all-rounders – great quality, traditional methods, beautiful packaging, fair price and the Marco Giacosa pastas have all of these qualities in spades. Just cook up a batch of the Tagliolini al Tartufo or the Tajarin and tell me you don’t agree.” A third said of the truffle pasta: “it’s so delicious warm with freshly shaved parm and fresh pepper.” And, a fourth summed matters up perfectly – this pasta has, “superb flavor and texture. Just awesome.”
Arraya Jams – Arraya jams were on our top 10 list last year too and this year, these jams continued to hold us in thrall. One staff member wrote, “I love the purity of fruit flavor and the awesome textures, especially of [Arraya’s] apricot jam.” And, of their plum jam, another person wrote that it is, “great with cheese, butter, yogurt – basically any dairy product.” As mentioned above, Arraya jams proved popular too when paired with our brebis selection!
– Honorary Mentions –
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar – Consistently among our favorite cheeses, this cheddar is fast becoming a regular on this survey. Along with our Comté Grand Cru, it was the only item to receive two “top product regardless of year” picks. One person summed up their experience with the cheese as, “Comfort cheese. Snackable. Delicious.” Another added, “put it on apples, in pie crust, eat with beer or wine or jam…a versatile cheese with an addicting flavor.”
Sumac Molasses – For two people, sumac molasses was their “this was the first time I tried it and it blew me away” pick for 2012. And, it also appeared as a 2012 favorite. One person wrote that this new molasses is, “so unique [and] fun to experiment with, [from] salads, [to] dressings, [to] cocktails.” Another staffer wrote, “a little goes a long way but this has an awesome sourness to it with a sweet finish… there’s a lot of potential there.” Props went to our spice buyer, Julia, for sourcing this new product: “I’ve been going to Turkey since 1988 and never saw it in the market. Kudos, Julia [for finding it]!” Super sour but with a hint of sweetness, sumac molasses is a great way to change up fall and winter dishes.
Maraş Pepper – This year, Turkish peppers were back in strength in our survey results. One staffer wrote, “I use [it] on everything.” Another wrote, “I took Valerie’s advice and have been sprinkling [Maraş] on the anchovies I bring home,” adding that it, “lends such a wonderful flavor to everything.”
Orange Olive Oil Cakes – As with Eduardo’s chickens, our fondness for orange olive oil cakes appears to be a cross-river phenomenon with folks in both the South End and Cambridge rhapsodizing over these delicacies, periodically made in both bakeries. One staffer wrote, “these cakes are the perfect texture, light, fluffy, but flavorful and satisfying. They’re a great desert for one, sure to please as a dinner party gift, and inexpensive enough to not drain your wallet.” Another added, “I’d choose them over anything chocolate — that says a lot.” A third wrote specifically of the orange olive oil cakes in our South End shop: “a not too sweet treat that has the most irresistible texture. I love it when they are just being pulled from the oven – golden and moist. I almost like them better without the glaze.” Dang.
Dammann Frères Tea – Julia, also our tea buyer, has done a great job overhauling our tea selection this year. As a result, it is no surprise to see Dammann Frères on this list. One staffer wrote of this French tea house: “their tea is always such amazing quality and I have discovered so many new favorites. Their regionally or garden-focused teas… really highlight the different tea styles available.” That same person wrote of the Yunnan Celeste TGFOP, “this is my go-to tea that I drink at home. I love trying all of the tea that we carry, but I always keep coming back to this tea because it is so round, malty and balanced. SO FREAKING GOOD!” Of their white tea, another staffer lauded its, “delicate citrus flavor,” adding, “the packaging is beautiful.”
Piantagioni Coffee – Here at the shop, we are coffee devotees! A fresh pot is one of the first things Chef Eduardo brews when he gets into our Cambridge shop at 6am. As staffers trickle in, the pot quickly disappears. At home too, we are regular caffeine consumers with Piantagioni coffee topping our list this year. One staffer wrote that it, “makes [their] weekend mornings.” Of Piantagioni’s Yrgalem coffee, another staffer simply wrote, “I love it.”
Rogue Chocolate – Last but not least, we bring it home to Massachusetts and the delicious chocolate of Colin Gasko, founder and chocolate maker behind Rogue Chocolatier. Of Rogue, it was written, “I often will go months without trying this chocolate… but when I do end up trying it again, it makes me realize how talented Colin is. His chocolates (all varieties) are SO impressive. Colin always expresses the bean origin so well while keeping the bar well balanced with a perfect texture. My go-to chocolate when I just want something amazing and delicious.” Another staffer wrote, “I’ve seen a lot of chocolate over the years and Colin’s chocolate is like art but he isn’t fancy about it – the quality is incredible. Just look at his bars and compare it to others we sell. His is simple and perfect. Snap the bar, smell and finally taste the chocolate. Really nothing like it.” Colin’s delicious chocolate bars are available in our Cambridge and New York locations.
That brings our survey results to a close… What have been your favorites of 2012? Any food epiphanies? Cheeses that bowled you over? Let us know what got your taste buds to stand up and take notice!
To see our 2011 results, please click here.