5.) Les Seigneurs de Baux Olive Oil from the South of France
Just arrived in Ann Arbor, this is a limited edition of a very excellent oil we're getting from the folks who make the equally delicious, but very different, Castelas. Like the Frantoio oil from Elvio Olave in Chile, this is a bottling of a single varietal, one of the four that Jean Benoit and Catherine Hugues are growing on their farm in the South of France.
We've been carrying the Castelas for a couple of years now--it's big, green, grassy, alert, and alive--but in all in a sophisticated and stylish way. One of the beauties of good olive oils is that the more you get into them the more you discover how much variety there is to explore. Which is why I'm excited to have this compelling counterpoint to the Castelas--whereas the former is front loaded and very full flavored, the Seignore de Baux is softer, more sensual, gentler, smooth, suave, mouth filling but buttery, delicate, and, again, delicious. Great for fish, vegetables, egg pastas. I love them both equally.
There isn't really enough of Provence's finest to go around. It contributes less than one percent of world production, and France overall accounts for a VERY small segment of the world's production. While I don't know that quantities of Provencal oil will ever grow very much--there's just not enough land and so much more to be gained financially from wine or tourism--there has been very good work to improve the quality of the oil we can get.
The sweetness of the oil makes it particularly interesting to use in the context of desserts. Drizzle it with honey over sections of fresh citrus fruit. It's great on potatoes, delicate greens, and really nice on fish. A special, really good, newly arrived gift for any oil-lover.
6.) Three Amazing (No Joke) Chocolates from Claudio Corallo
Really, really good and really special chocolates made from organic cacao from the feistiest, most determinedly talented cacao fanatic you'll find. Claudio Corallo has been farming cacao on the West African islands of Saõ Tomé e Principé for 20 years now and I truly think his chocolate is about the best around right now. There are a lot more than these three so come by and try them all.
The Raisin d'Etre
Pardon the bad French punning but I needed a catchier name than "Chocolate with raisins soaked in the liqueur of the cocoa pod" that Claudio's used to christen it. The main thing about it is that it's really, really very darned great. I kind of think of it as an artisan, African, organic, chunky bar. It's fat bar of 70-percent cacao chocolate studded with raisins that have been soaked in liquor distilled from cacao pulp. There's a deep wineyness in the dried fruit that blends really well with the liveliness of the cacao. It's an especially time-consuming and difficult chocolate for Claudio to make which makes me extra appreciative of just how deliciously good it is. This is seriously fun chocolate. Don't miss it!
80 Percent Cacao Chocolate Bar with Coarse Sugar Crystals
An amazingly good very dark chocolate bar that's completely at the other end of the spectrum from the smooth, creamy, long-conched European-style chocolates that most of us are so familiar with. Don't get me wrong--those are lovely too. But this bar is something seriously special and exceptionally good. The first bites you get have a bit of delicate crunch from the coarseness of the cacao and the sugar crystals, but then it becomes almost velvety as it melts across the tongue. No vanilla or soy lecithin to get in the way of the flavor of the fine cacao Claudio and crew are crafting. It's dry in the mouth in the way that you'd experience a big red wine, but then remarkably clean and creamy at the end.
A Trio of Terrific Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans
A really great Kraft-colored boxed set that will make a seriously gift for anyone who loves the combination of chocolate and coffee. Claudio has put together three different Arabica coffees that he grows on his own plantation "Nova Moka" on the island of Saõ Tomé. All of the beans are pulled through a pot of 55 percent dark chocolate from Claudio's cacao plantation on the neighboring island of Principé. The set comes with a tasting guide to the chocolate and coffee beans and instructions that will help you set up an educational and flavorful tasting.
7.) A Pair of Cheeses from the Mountains of Germany
I really just happened on these cheeses serendipitously. I met a woman named Birgit Bernhard at one of the 15-plus food shows I go to each year. I stopped at her stand to taste the cheese she was showing and it was clear to me on first taste that these cheeses were pretty darned good but just still too young to make them as amazing as I thought they might be, given more time to mature. I asked Birgit if they had any older cheese I might taste. She apologized and said she didn't. I told her that if she could find some I'd be very interested to try it. Six months later I was shocked, in a good way--to get an email from Birgit telling me that she had those extra-aged cheeses I'd been asking about. A week later the samples arrived as promised, and the cheeses were very seriously outstanding. Just what I'd hoped would happen if we could get them more mature. We bought up a mess of this specially aged cheese. There's not a lot of it though...
Made by hand, using only whole raw cow's milk during the summer months when the cows are up in the mountain pastures eating from unplowed pastures. The cheese makers work with traditional animal rennet (better for flavor development than the non-animal options). Aged for us (as per that whole dialogue above) over a year, it's got a firm texture akin to a Gruyère; its flavor is forward, well balanced, very big, nutty, earthy and complex with a really long big-in-the-nose finish. You might not have known that they even had a crown to begin with, but Birgit calls it the "Crown Jewel of German Alpine cheeses." If you like big flavors and you like mountain cheeses, don't miss this one!!
Or this one either! Aged "herdsman's cheese," is hand made from pasteurized milk that's taken from herds that are grazing in open pastures high up in the mountains farmed (all above 2600 feet). It's flavor is nutty and rich, with a Swiss meets Parmesan flavor, more I'd say like Sbrinz from Switzerland but with a bit of that butterscotchy thing that I really love in super-aged Dutch goudas. Shave in into thin slices and eat with French Mountain bread from the Bakehouse and a good bit of cultured butter. Or eat it after dinner with slices of ripe pear.
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