At the end of each year, staff members at all three of our shops – in Cambridge, the South End of Boston and in New York – fill out a staff survey. We reflect on what we have tasted over the course of the past year – moments where we were surprised (both pleasantly and unpleasantly), new and exciting food experiences, as well as the flavors we found ourselves returning to time and again. We pick our favorites and share memorable moments. Some tried-and-true items appear in our survey results year after year – other items are new and exciting finds from the current year – goodies in this instance that distinguished 2013 from all others. Here are our top ten picks culled from this year’s survey results!
– Top 10 of 2013 –
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Comté Grand Cru – It seems that these two cheeses recur annually at the top of our list. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar rang in as top pick among domestic cheeses while Comté Grand Cru held top spot for imported cheese (eking out one more vote than Cabot for top spot overall). Taking all votes for Comté together (i.e. all the different ages we import, not just the Grand Cru), Marcel Petite Comté blew everything else out of the water, as it has done every year this survey has been conducted. One staffer wrote, “Comté has become such a cornerstone of our cheese selection… it represent[s] the best of what we do.” Another wrote specifically of the Grand Cru: “undeniably triumphant cheese making. Legendary.” A third (and newer staff member) added, “this was my first year working at the store and my first chance to taste this cheese – it totally blew me away.” Of Cabot Clothbound, one staff member wrote that, “it is never not amazing!” A second person chimed in to simply say, “I can’t resist [it]!” And a third wrote with pride about how we ensure a consistently delicious flavor profile: “we are the only shop that goes directly to the Cellars at Jasper Hill to pick our wheels of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. That’s pretty cool.” Amen to that.
Ardèche Jams – These organic, small-batch, handmade preserves are made by Sylvie and Pascal Raunicher at La Ferme de Mazairas in the small town of St. Sylvestre in the region of Ardèche, France. We have imported them for a number of years now and they routinely appear in our staff survey – but this year they surged to the top as a number of staffers had the pleasure of tasting them for the first time. The Raunicher’s tiny farm specializes in organic fruit, using unusual varieties – such as the Reine-Claude plum and Red Peach – varieties that exhibit a great deal of flavor. One staff member wrote in their survey, “Tim [our buyer] has raved about Ardèche jams for years – I sneaked a taste of the strawberry jam – a jar that was opened for a class – and it bowled me over – like strawberries x10 – it made me think of picking strawberries with my father and making jam with my mom. Amazing.” A second staffer summed matters up more succinctly: “the jams made by Ardèche ROCK MY WORLD.”
Julie’s Housemade Sausages – Our house charcutière, Julie, has won many awards and garnered press attention for her meaty delicacies. For us, however, that is only a confirmation of what we already knew – she’s a master of her craft. We thrill with delight when she brings out a new treat for us to try, or she’s experimenting with special, one-off batches for the Formaggio Food Community program. Past years have seen her pâtés and mousses top this list – her duck pastrami is another favorite, as are her pork rillettes and duck confit. This year, staffers mentioned all of the above but were especially vocal about Julie’s sausages. She keeps a rotating selection of fresh sausages in our deli case – but also stocks our freezer section with marvelous little 2-packs and 4-packs that are perfect to whip out of the freezer for a delicious and comforting last-minute winter dinner. You’ll find us sautéing and serving Julie’s chorizo with our tapas, packing her bratwurst into a bun with sauerkraut, using her boudin blanc for hors d’oeuvres, cooking her dogs and sausages on the grill, using loose breakfast sausage in sausage rolls and enjoying classics such as her Sweet Italian and Spicy Italian for dinner with some mashed potatoes. Of her Sweet Italian one staff member rhapsodized, they are, “hearty and well-prepared sausages that I love.” Another chose Julie’s andouille sausage as an all-time house favorite, writing that they’re, “the best I’ve had since visiting Louisiana – perhaps even better.” And of her fennel sausage, a third wrote that they are, “the best. Enough said. Texture. Flavor. Done.”
Alyssa’s Housemade Belgian Waffles – Alyssa is the marvelous Bakery Manager at our Cambridge shop. Last winter, she went on a quest to develop the perfect Belgian waffle recipe – and we think she succeeded. One staff member summed it up in their survey results: “Alyssa changed my opinion of waffles – she has truly developed the perfect recipe.”At first, Alyssa shared her waffles only with fellow staffers and, in response to demand, we begrudgingly conceded she could share them with the wider world as well. Sorry, but we’re still a little sore we can’t hoard them all to ourselves – we’re not usually gluttons but they’re that delicious! One staff member even confessed in their survey, “I’m not really a sweets-for-breakfast person, but [Alyssa’s waffles] are so addictive!” Another staff member attempted to explain why: “[her] waffles are extraordinary: yeasty with a nice chew and crunchy bits of caramelized sugar. You eat them way too fast and wish you’d savored them for the entire day.” Alyssa makes her waffles on occasional Sundays so keep your eyes peeled on our Cambridge Facebook and Twitter accounts for announcements of the next scheduled date!
Biellese Salami – Established in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1925, Salumeria Biellese pre-dated the current artisan renaissance by several decades. In fact, an argument could be made that they were among the original artisans of small-batch Italian-style salami in the Big Apple. The salumeria was started by two men from the northern Italian province of Biella (up near Switzerland) and they set out using the traditional skills and Old World recipes they had brought with them on the journey to the United States. Enthusiasm for Salumeria Biellese has always been robust but, this year, it was their large-format, coarse-style Finocchiona that pushed them to a top spot. One staff member wrote of this fennel-studded salami (with fennel pollen to boot!), “it is the best Biellese product ever.” Another wrote, “although I’m not a huge fennel fan, the balance between meat and spice is perfect, and the fennel pollen gives it an amazing, and unusual, depth of flavor.” Next time you are in – ask for a sample of the Finocchiona – or one of Biellese’s other marvelous salamis such as Rosette de Lyon (a lovely French style salami with red wine and cloves), Petit Jesu (a large format red wine and garlic salami) and Cinghale (a gamey, savory wild boar salami)!
EH Chocolatier Chocolates – A relative newcomer, EH Chocolatier shot to the top of our list immediately upon arrival. This year, enthusiasm only increased as staffers remarked on their phenomenal bonbons, their caramelized white chocolate bars with cocoa nibs, their seasonal peppermint bark and the Coconutty bars that they introduced this September (we’ve eaten so many of them between then and now, we could swear it has been longer!). Of the Coconutty bars, one staffer wrote, “[they] are brilliant – like anything EH does, so well balanced and positively addictive.” Of the white caramelized chocolate bars with cocoa nibs, another wrote, “[it] is unlike any other chocolate bar; not to mention it is my girlfriend’s favorite.” We carry a wide range of treats made by the two magicians behind EH Chocolatier – Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney – if you’re on the lookout for a present perfect for a chocolate lover (or a special treat for yourself!), look no further.
M’hamsa Couscous – This couscous has been steadily gaining momentum over the past few years as more staffers found out about this amazing culinary secret on our shelves. Couscous is made from semolina and is a wonderful small, ball-shaped alternative to grains or pasta for dinner or lunch. As one staff member wrote, “it cooks perfectly every time! You can do so much with it! It even tastes great cold as a salad.” Different brands range in size and M’hamsa is probably at the larger end of the scale, maybe a couple of millimeters across in diameter (when cooked). M’hamsa couscous is ready in the blink of an eye – but also tastes phenomenally delicious – a rare combination that makes it a regular dinner choice for staffers. Choose from among three varieties – regular, whole wheat and regular with dried peppers – mix and match for a tasty, easy evening meal. As one staff member wrote in summary, “it’s awesome!”
Locally-Sourced and Organic California Produce (with a special shout out for Sparrow Arc Farm!) – Wowsers! Did our Cambridge produce team hit it out of the park this year. We were bowled over by what they were doing – from the organic California produce that buyer Emily organized with Veritable Vegetable to be flown in every Wednesday (and now every Friday too!), to the amazing local farms we work with here in New England. There was a special shout out for Sparrow Arc Farm in Unity, ME – for their Fairytale eggplant, their Brussels sprouts (“I love tiny Brussels sprouts, and Sparrow Arc grows ’em good.”) but above all for the amazing Shishito peppers that Matt and Louisa Linehan (the marvelous couple behind the farm) grew this year. Roasted, it is hard to beat Shishitos as a perfect snacking food! Staffers marveled too at the wonderful array of new fruits and vegetables that we enjoyed as a result of Team Produce’s work – from heirloom varietals, to fruits and vegetables on the Slow Food Ark of Taste, our tastebuds were dancing with joy and our senses reveled in the variety and richness of flavor! Of the Fairytale eggplant, one staffer wrote, “another new item in produce, the Fairytale eggplant were super tasty, not to mention gorgeous. While they were simple and delicious to cook at home, I loved it when [Chef] Eduardo roasted them whole for dinner, and I even had the pleasure of having them grilled with miso at Island Creek [Oyster Bar].” Of produce generally, one person penned the following, “it is always such a joy to check in with Emily [produce buyer] after we get our weekly delivery of produce from CA. There is usually something new, unique and delicious she has brought in that is worth tasting and telling all of our customers about.” Another staffer independently seconded those sentiments, writing, “I have been blown away by the amazing array of produce Emily brought in this year and the connections she has forged with farms and farmers that make it all possible. I have learnt a tremendous amount and tried so many new things – a real pleasure!” Keep an eye on our chalkboard out front to see what’s new and delicious in produce throughout the year – and, of course, always feel free to check in with our produce team (as we regularly do) to see what’s new, exciting and especially tasty at the moment!
Tortilleria La Niña Tortilla Chips – These were a breakout item this year – popular with a large number of staffers who were snapping them up to use with salsa and guacamole. That is pretty impressive, particularly considering we only started carrying the chips in October! Made in nearby Everett, MA, La Niña makes their tortillas according to an Old World recipe, using filtered water, limestone, sea salt and 100% non-GMO white corn sourced from a family farm in Illinois. We certainly noticed a difference in taste and think you will too! One staff member wrote of these chips that, “it was the first time I had tasted tortilla chips that incredible outside of when I was living in California, or when I have visited my sister in Arizona. I honestly don’t think there are better tortilla chips anywhere in Boston – or on the East Coast from what I’ve tasted. And they’re made in Everett. Local, small-scale producer – you can’t beat that! And, I love sharing them with customers.” Another staffer added simply, “they’re super delicate and deliciously salty. Love them.”
Dram Apothecary Bitters – These bitters are another new item to the survey results. While we have always enjoyed a nice cocktail, the development of our “cocktail shelf” has seen staffers be more experimental, trying new drinks and playing around with flavors. These bitters played a key role in that experimentation. Dram bitters come to us from Silver Plume, Colorado (Silver Plume – seems perfect for a bitters company somehow!). Shae Whitney, the alchemist behind Dram Apothecary, grew up in Colorado and, from an early age, fell in love with her state’s native plant life. Flash forward to adulthood when she combined that passion with years of experience as a bartender to create the recipes that are at Dram’s core. All of Shae’s bitters are handmade in small batches with Colorado herbs and organically grown fruits, barks and berries. They provide an elegant, fragrant, and well balanced key-note in cocktails – but can also be used in combination with soda water, tea or juices. As one staff member wrote, “[Dram] ingredients are foraged from the wild. They’re good for you and, let’s be honest, they make a darn good cocktail. And Shae is awesome!”
– Honorable Mentions –
I Clivi Wines – One staff member wrote of I Clivi’s Galea Rosso ’05, “no wonder…Gemma [our wine buyer] is pumped about I Clivi wines. Every wine that I try blows me away.” Of I Clivi’s Ribolla Gialla another staffer wrote, “It’s. A. Necessity.” I Clivi wines come to us from the Zanusso family’s small vineyards in Friuli, Italy. They epitomize the kind of winemaker we like to work with – organic, with low yields, little manipulation and a desire to express the terroir of a given region. Most of all, however, we want a wine that tastes amazing and I Clivi ticks all of the boxes!
Robiola Enrico – One staff member wrote in their survey: “robiolas in general are arguably my favorite style of cheese. More than this, the [Robiola Enrico] is a cheese I feel I have a “relationship” with. Each batch we receive seems to be different from the last, and even when we get a batch I’m slightly less bowled over by, I still crave exploring this cheese. The product makes me feel connected to the producer and all his trials and triumphs in all aspects of the cheese-making process. This ‘connectivity’ is what gets me excited about what we do at Formaggio Kitchen.” Robiola Enrico comes to us from a tiny producer in Italy – perhaps one of the smallest cheesemakers we work with. Enrico’s cheeses are a labor of love and passion and it shows. As wine is often said to demonstrate terroir or the expression of a region, we find that Robiola Enrico (in addition to being flavorsome, creamy and delicious), shows the same kind of marvelous expression of place and of Italy’s rich culinary heritage.
Salty Road Taffy – “Best salt water taffy ever. Real flavors, cute packaging, great chew.” That about sums this one up! A new product to our shelves in 2013, it converted some of us from being taffy detractors to taffy enthusiasts. Available in a range of flavors from classic vanilla, to peanut butter and packaged in beautiful, cheery little boxes, you’ll think you’re a child in the 1890’s when candies were handmade with all-natural ingredients and you unrolled every delicious morsel from its own little paper wrapper. Taste that glorious salty crunch and we don’t think you’ll be able to resist a second piece!
Xocolates Aynouse 70% Olive Oil Bar – Xocolates Aynouse is an amazing new chocolate we just began importing from Spain. One staffer wrote, “I think this product wins for being one of the most original we have on our chocolate shelves. I really fell in love with the bite of it, how it’s deconstructed composition allows the sugar cane, olive oil and chocolate to amalgamate while they melt in your mouth. The packaging is also really eye-catching. I’m sure their non-oil-based bars would make great hot chocolate, too.” A little bit about Xocolates Aynouse: Ihsan, owner of Formaggio Kitchen, was introduced to chocolate maker Francisco Javier Rodriguez Perez (aka Xavi) on a recent trip to Spain. Now based in the town of Agramunt (about 75 miles west of Barcelona), Xavi spent many years working for prestigious Spanish chocolatiers. Eventually, he decided to branch out on his own, implementing techniques and philosophies he felt strongly about. His chocolate is made using centuries old Spanish methods (which are based on the even more ancient processes learned by the Spanish in the course of colonizing South America). All of Xavi’s chocolate is stone-ground using a blend of three origins of cacao beans (Africa, Venezuela and Ecuador) with cocoa butter and virgin cane sugar from the island of Réunion. This particular bar – the Xocolata Oli d’Oliva – is 70% and contains a touch of extra virgin olive oil. The final product is a wonderful sensory experience – it has a rough, almost gritty texture due to the stone-grinding but simultaneously melts like butter (or cocoa butter!) in your mouth. Flavor-wise, it is like having double chocolate brownies, a molten chocolate cake, a piece of Devil’s food cake and fudge all packed into one delicious bite – and all that with extraordinary length of flavor and a deep, complex, earthy richness. One first taste, we found ourselves looking at the chocolate thinking, “how can this be possible?”
Organic and Biodynamic Wines – Not only do staff members at Formaggio Kitchen stores love their wine, they’re especially proud of the job that our wine buyers have been doing – both in Cambridge and in the South End. As one South End staffer wrote of wine buyer Julie’s carefully-curated shelves, “I love that I can pull almost any bottle off of our shelves and recommend it wholeheartedly to customers for more than just its flavor profile.” Similarly a Cambridge staff member wrote, “thank you Gemma for introducing me to some of the best wines I have ever tasted, and for cultivating an interest and passion for unadulterated, natural wines from small producers. You have been such an inspiring force in changing the way people think not only about wine, but also about sustainable agriculture as a whole and its ecological importance. Thank you for always pursuing the challenge. This year, the wine department has really shined, and it was Gemma and Jess’ hard work that made it possible. Well done ladies!!!” We second that congratulations (as we plan which bottle we’re going to sample tonight)!
Straus Family Creamery Yogurt – Straus Family Creamery was founded in 1941 by Bill and Ellen Straus. Today, their son Albert carries on the family legacy and the business continues to be both family-owned and run. In 1994, the dairy was certified organic. The Straus family have proven to be trailblazers in this regard – they were, the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi and the first 100% certified organic creamery in the US. Roughly 75 employees at the creamery handle an average of 10,000 gallons of milk per day. The milk is sourced from the Straus dairy and four other organic, family farms in coastal Marin and Sonoma Counties. Many large, stainless steel vats are used to make their European-style yogurt. In terms of process, this means that they heat and culture the yogurt in a slow, vat-set process with no thickeners or stabilizers. The creamery team says that, “unlike other yogurts, which are cooked inside their plastic cups, we incubate our yogurt in stainless-steel vats with four active, live cultures, then pour the cooled yogurt into the pint or quart recyclable cups.” We suspect it is the length of time that the yogurt is allowed to culture – combined with the quality of the milk – that makes it such a rich and delicious flavor experience! One staff member wrote that Straus’ yogurt is, “the only yogurt I’ve ever felt like I might never be able to stop eating.” Many of us are of a similar mind. Flown in every other week with our produce from California, this European-style, yogurt is almost like a more liquid crème fraiche and this past summer found us pouring it over all of the gorgeous fresh fruit and berries our produce team was sourcing – winter now finds us mixing in Ardèche jam or using it for baking!
To see our 2012 results, please click here.