Comté easily claimed the top spot in our 2015 staff picks.
2015 was a tough year in many ways, but our favorite products helped keep us going. The year started off with snow - and lots of it. We all felt some weird sense of schadenfreude when we surpassed the previous record of 108 inches of snowfall in a winter - like we deserved at least that recognition for dealing with mountains of snow that didn't disappear until March!
At least the snow was relatively short-lived compared to the road work being done by the city of Cambridge: digging up streets, redirecting traffic and limiting area parking as they work tirelessly on the Alewife Sewer Separation project. We know it is environmentally important, and that it will all turn out well in the end (and the teams working out there are awesome!), but it certainly made getting here a pain in the neck. More than anything else, we are thankful for all of our customers who have visited us throughout the year despite these challenges and for our staff who made it to work on time to help us deliver great food with great service.
Each year we conduct a staff survey to keep our finger on the pulse of the things we love most about our shops. This post gives you a snapshot of our ten favorite products from 2015.
Comté is hands-down the most popular type of cheese in our shop. Part of the reason is that we carry up to seven different age profiles at any one time, but it is well-earned in any case because this cheese is one of the most deliciously versatile cheeses in the world. You can cook with it, snack on it, pair it with a variety of jams, honeys and wines or include it as part of your favorite cheese board assortment. Comté Grand Cru isn't the oldest of the assortment we sell, but at just over 24 months of age, this cheese offers a densely creamy texture with savory and tropical fruit flavors that make it an exceptional cheese all on its own. To learn more, read Comté: Profiles in Flavor.
We are passionate about the Piedmont region of Italy. Wine, beef, honey, truffles and of course cheese bring us back to the northwest of Italy on a regular basis. The people we have met are consistently passionate and honest about food in a very grounded way. They understand business and marketing very well, but they care most about the products they produce and the people they work with. Our Robiola selection varies throughout the year, but Robiola Incavolata is one of our regulars because both customers and staff have come to love the gooey, creamy goat milk cheese that comes dramatically wrapped in cabbage leaf. This holiday season we had a batch that was just perfect - here's hoping for more of the same with our first delivery of 2016!
The Cellars at Jasper Hill would not be what it is today without Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar would not be what it is without the Cellars. This perfectly orchestrated partnership demonstrates how dairies can develop new markets by working with skilled affineurs (cheese caretakers) and a marketing team with links to pretty much anyone in the cheese business. Simply put, this is a delicious cheese made by and aged by good people doing their part to support local agriculture.
Rodolphe le Meunier sends us regular batches of fresh and aged goat cheeses from various farms in the Loire Valley and beyond but it is his butter that has really grabbed our attention. Yes, the gold foil wrapper is a nice touch, as is the image of a cow decorating the top of each hand-formed piece, but it is the smooth texture and deep yet clean flavor that makes this butter stand apart from any other we've tasted. He works with one dairy in Normandy who uses top quality milk and makes the butter in the old fashioned baratte method (churn). As one staffer put it "It elevates regular toast or potatoes to transcendental."
This was the standout condiment of 2015. This is the perfect accompaniment for the wide selection of French Basque milk cheeses on our cheese wall. The rich, lightly sweet cherry flavor of the jam brings out all of the subtle complexities in our favorite Basque sheep's milk cheeses. Staff members also like to keep this as a pantry staple to be stirred into yogurt or slathered onto hot, buttered toast.
We cut a lot of cheese each day and we slice a lot of meat each day. Over time we begin to understand more clearly what makes some of our products so special. Without question, what makes our Jamón Ibérico so special is the quality of the production and the fact that we remove the bone of each leg by hand. We store the legs on the bone until we are ready to use them - allowing them to age a bit more and develop a deeper flavor.
We get excited by new products all the time - so much so that we can sometimes forget about great products we have been selling for years. From the moment we tasted this mostarda while visiting Macelleria Cecchini in Tuscany, we knew we had to import it for our shops. Since then we have added their Profumo del Chianti and a larger jar of the mostarda. This mostarda is incredible paired with well grilled meats but we find that a touch of the fiery sweet and spicy condiment works beautifully with a piece of our favorite pecorino.
Sometimes we like a product we've found abroad, but are not really sure how well it will do back in the states. We loved these delicate Spanish potato chips fried in olive oil but we had no idea they would be so popular in the US! Since bringing them in, we can't keep them in stock for very long which is perfect as they are best when super fresh. Each batch we order is made just for us and is sent from the factory days after being packed up. For an accompaniment to your favorite deli sandwich or a vehicle for a touch of Crème Fraîche and caviar, these are our go-to chips!
Ours is a staff filled with snack aficionados and this crunchy, sweet, and salty kettle popcorn has captured our hearts in the realm of ultimate snack foods. Once popped, it is immediately coated with sugar and maple syrup that caramelizes slightly from the heat and adds a complexity you just can't get with sugar alone. Each batch is then tossed with more maple syrup and popcorn salt to boost the flavor even more. We try to always keep this in stock in 6 ounce bags, the perfect size to share with one or two people or to eat alone, greedily all at once as most of us tend to prefer.
Eric Parkes got into the chocolate making game just a few years ago and we signed up to get monthly deliveries of his chocolate experiments, learning right along with him about the art of chocolate making. Once he perfected his recipes, we got to begin keeping his chocolate in our shops, allowing staff and customers alike to enjoy a top-notch chocolate fix whenever the craving hit. His bars range from pure 70% dark chocolate to chocolate that has been infused with smokey Lapsang Souchong tea. We're also quite partial to his white chocolate with bourbon-infused nibs!
Do you have a favorite item of 2015 that you'd like to share with us or anything you'd like to see us add in 2016? Let us know in the comments.