Every year, we poll our staff members to hear about their favorite products. The top 10 of 2017 is a mix of housemade specialties, local finds, and direct imports. Julia, General Manager at the Cambridge shop, said of her choices: “I realized that all of my favorites are very simple products, but executed perfectly. You can’t beat simple, perfect food.” Beyond that, what does this list, from Southern cheese dip to heirloom apples, have in common? One staffer said it perfectly: “I picked items that transport my taste buds back to places I love.”
Staff and customers alike have raved about our new housemade scones. At the end of the summer, our beloved kitchen staff member Alan Slone became our head baker. Al came to Formaggio Kitchen after years as a corporate chef and baker; when he was starting in the field, he was one of 12 students in Boston University’s inaugural culinary arts program, studying under Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.
Before he moved from savory to sweet at Formaggio, Al would delight the staff with weekend snacks, such as candied nuts and brittle. And when we tried his rich, pillowy, buttery scones studded with fruit and topped with sanding sugar, we were wowed!
Al makes an assortment of scones daily, such as blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, apricot, fig, tart cherry, and chocolate chip. Usually, he also makes one savory scone, such as cheddar scallion made with Cabot Clothbound or Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar. Sometimes, he’ll make a batch of scones with gluten-free flour, so that no one has to miss out. Snag one right when we open our doors–the scones are still warm!
We recently began importing sweets from Dinette Nationale, Montreal’s only artisanal confectioner. In addition to dainty nougat bars, petite caramels, and cute button-shaped lollipops, we carry two items tied for the staff’s favorite confection. The first: ultra-smooth caramel spread with fleur de sel, impossibly creamy and luscious without being cloying. The second: caramel puffed quinoa clusters made with pumpkin seeds, tamari, and vanilla bean. Staffer Jeremy says of the quinoa clusters, “I love the salty/sweet combination with a nice crunch and unexpected earthiness.” Whether you tend toward classic or unconventional, Dinette Nationale satisfies the sweet tooth. These products are US exclusives!
Scott Farm Apples
Heirloom apples are one of the products we talked about most this year. Located in Dummerston, VT, Scott Farm has been actively cultivating produce since 1791 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Academy Award winning film and John Irving story The Cider House Rules was filmed on location at Scott Farm in 1998. Head Orchardist, Ezekiel Goodband, currently grows over 120 different varieties of Heirloom Apples on the farm.
Some varieties date back to the 16th century. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson often wrote of their love for the perfect balance between sweetness, tartness, and acidity of the “Newtown Pippin.” Henry David Thoreau’s favorite variety was the “Blue Pearmain,” a purplish-blue skin variety that has a firm and dense flesh with tart sweetness. The very sweet and a touch acidic “Lady Apple” was once carried around by flirtatious French and Italian women of the Renaissance, who tucked it inside their bosom and used it to freshen their breath throughout the evening.
Scott Farm avoids spraying their fruit and grows healthy, occasionally blemished, and amazing flavorful fruit. Formaggio Kitchen has been working with Scott Farm for several years and receives about 10 different varieties of apples on a weekly basis through the fall. There are so many to try, and each variety has its own story and specific uses. In the shop, we post descriptions next to each apple variety, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
2017 was, undoubtedly, the year of Pimento Cheese. Formaggio Kitchen pledged all proceeds from Pimento Cheese to our two favorite charities: Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Cellars at Jasper Hill donated all of the cheese used in this delicious spread. All told, we’ll have raised over $10,000 for these causes.
We love eating pimento cheese with Onesto Sea Salt crackers or Bonilla a la Vista potato chips. If you’re feeling adventurous, Torres Jamon Iberico chips, dusted with surprisingly-good porky flavor, make a great pairing. It’s a staff guilty pleasure.
This summer, we welcomed a new charcutier to the shop. Dave Lieberman came to us with a wealth of experience in whole-animal meat programs. Prior to joining Formaggio Kitchen, Dave ran the charcuterie program at Craigie on Main and made patê and sausage at Bondir.
Dave’s housemade pork rillette is our staff pick for best charcuterie of 2017. Dave ups the aromatics during the cooking process for a depth of flavor. For sharper, brighter notes, he finishes the rillette with dijon mustard and a splash of raw oloroso sherry.
Schwerter Senfmuehl is one of the oldest operating traditional mustard mills in Germany. Every aspect of their production favors a delicate depth of flavor. Their 400kg stone mills emit less heat than other milling methods, and they spend five weeks per batch soaking and resting mustard seed. Schwerter works with the finest mustard seed available and through a double-milling process creates smooth yet subtly grainy mustards in a variety of flavors: classic, garlic, Riesling, curry, and honey chili.
The quaint cloth-wrapped tops add a pop of color to gifts, and the large size comes in a handsome reusable crock. This condiment is a perennial staff favorite and a charcuterie-board staple.
Pastaio Via Corta
New to our shelves is Pastaio Via Corta, a producer of beautiful, small-batch dried pastas from nearby Gloucester, MA. Owner Danielle Glantz sources organic, non-GMO, sustainably grown wheat, stone-ground to order from regional farms. The eggs, vegetables, and herbs used in her pastas are sourced locally as well.
From wild nettle casarecce that look like fiddlehead ferns to hearty paccheri with a perfectly al dente bite, Glantz’s rotating pasta varieties continue to delight us. Not only is the quality great, but the rustic shapes and the pretty packaging continue to capture our attention.
Ekiola Ardi Gasna
Cheese buyer and manager Will says: “At a busy cheese counter with over 250 cheeses, this Basque Sheep is a sleeper pick. While most of our older sheep cheeses are robust and pushy, Ekiola has a flavor that is reserved, delicate and mellow. Notes of citrus, lightly zesty. A paste and texture that perfect for me. A must try.”
Ardi Gasna means “sheep cheese” in Basque. This firm cheese comes from Fromagerie Ekiola (translated as “mountain hut”), a small farm in the high mountains of the Pyrénées where the cheese is both made and aged. Discovered by owners Ihsan and Valerie on a trip to the region in 2010, this is exactly the kind of cheese we were hoping to find – made with raw milk and evincing excellent flavor. A true fermier (farmstead) cheese from the region is very rare, and provides a distinct expression of terroir.
June Taylor Fantasia Nectarine Conserve
Fruit preserving maven June Taylor is a British expat working in Berkeley, CA. June works directly with small family farms to source heirloom fruits for her delicious conserves and marmalade. To honor the high quality of her fruit, June uses traditional methods when preserving: cutting the fruits by hand and cooking them in small batches on a stove top, adding a minimal amount of organic sugar and no commercial pectin. Small batches allow a shorter cooking time, which allows the freshness of the fruit to be maintained. These preserves never taste “cooked.”
Fantasia Nectarine is a varietal grown expressly for June to make this conserve. General Manager and Jam Buyer Julia says it is “one of the most flavorful and well-balanced jams [she’s] ever had”–a sentiment echoed by other staff. A selection of June’s conserves are available on our website; for the full selection, stop by our stores.
Housemade Pita Chips
Our pita chips are a catering-platter staple and a snacking addiction. It’s impossible for us to make enough of these. Our kitchen team hand-cuts the chips and tosses them with olive oil, maras pepper, zaatar, salt, and pepper. Trays on trays of crispy, golden pita fill our speed racks in the kitchen. It’s a labor of love. Paired with our kitchen’s tzatziki, beet tzatziki, or hummus, this chips are the perfect party appetizer or grab-and-go snack.
New Year, New Products
After a food-sleuthing business trip to Tokyo, our GM Julia is excited to bring more Japanese products into the shop. And with the new year comes the winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, where we send staff to hunt for the best new products in the gourmet food world. We look forward to what the year has in store, and we’ll report back with our finds!