Photo by adactio/Flickr CC
In honor of Thanksgiving, our Behind the Counter expert shares seven foods he's glad to have.
1.) Gingerbread Coffee Cake
The sour cream coffee cake from the Bakehouse has been our single biggest seller by mail order. But when it comes to sweets this relatively new coffee cake has me smitten. This one's got an exotic little caravan-load of stuff in every cake--Indonesian cinnamon, cloves from the Malacca Islands, lovely long pepper from Bali, real vanilla from Mexico, crystallized and ground ginger from Asia, a bit of brewed coffee from Brazil, Muscovado brown sugar from the island of Mauritius.
All those exotics are blended with a splash of fresh orange juice, lots of butter, flour and fresh eggs, to develop a dark, mysterious, marvelously gingery flavor that seems to appeal to almost all ages and taste preferences. It gets this really thin sheen of a sugar crust on the outside too--sort of like that very first bit of ice crystals that start to form on the lakes early in the autumn (be sure to let the cake breathe for about 20 to 30 minutes after you open its plastic package). Put one of these on your table--holiday or otherwise--and you're pretty much sure to successfully win friends and influence food loving folks in the year to come. I'd be very thankful to get one as a gift any time!
"Growth" for Stichelton will come from other farms in the area that decide to follow in their traditionalist foot steps.2.) Exceptional Olive Oil from Pasolivo
While I write this holiday piece, our shelves are filled with oil that's nearly a year old. That's a not bad thing, mind you. Well-made oils of the sort we buy are going to last upwards of 18 months. Some, made from varietals that have particularly green, peppery flavors (like this one), will last over two years, meaning that what we might buy right now is--if stored properly in the shade and away from excessive heat--easily going to still be good for a solid six to twelve months.
Because I've got the new season's oil (no doubt being pressed as you read this) in my mind, and because Pasolivo oil is excellent both at 11 months OR 11 days out of the press, I'm particularly excited to write about it now. When it comes in, the new Pasolivo oil will be particularly peppery, green, punchy, and powerful. Experience tells me that it will be almost too much so for some folks--there are plenty of people who will far prefer the Pasolivo at a year out, when it's a bit mellower and smoother on the palate. "New" is not universally recognized as better--some of our suppliers won't even let us have their oil until it's had a good six months to soften up.
Of course, what counts most to me is the quality of the oil. Its color is a really beautiful deep emerald green. The aroma is enormous, with that definite fresh cut grass thing that you get with these oils. Personally I'm big on simple ways to use is toast some bread, pour on a bunch of the oil and sprinkle a bit of sea salt. Or pour it liberally on a bowl of hot Martelli spaghetti with maybe some chopped fresh garlic or a little fresh arugula and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano. If you're in the mood for meat, pour some Pasolivo onto a just-cooked steak; the classic dish of Florence is the La Fiorentina, a big T-bone steak grilled rare then dressed with a big green oil like this one and a bit of sea salt.
Although the Pasolivo isn't inexpensive, remember that the oil is the point on any of these dishes so if you can make the mental leap past the cost and pour it on liberally you'll really see how good it is.
3.) Stichelton--A Great Comeback in The British Countryside
Stichelton is a revival of the traditional version of what is probably England's most prestigious cheese--Stilton--made by our friends at Neal's Yard Dairy, who are probably the best-known purveyors of traditional British cheese. Because both Stilton and Neal's Yard have spent many years (nearly three centuries for the cheese; three decades for the Dairy) building their reputations around the UK and the world at large, not much about either is going to go unnoticed by lovers of traditional foods.
The making of Stichelton is the shared effort of Randolph Hodgson, owner of Neal's Yard Dairy in London and Joe Schneider, an American who learned his cheesemaking first in the Netherlands and then in England. The two have partnered with the William and Alison Parente, owners of the Welbeck Estate. Randolph has been talking about how to revive raw milk Stilton ever since the last one was made back in the mid 90s. Why isn't the cheese called Stilton then? Well, although Stilton was always made from raw milk, when the makers filed for name protection in 1996, they set up requirements that all Stilton be made from pasteurized milk. Randolph and Joe decided to call their carefully crafted cheese Stichelton, which is actually the Old Saxon name by which the town of Stilton was originally known.
Although it adds considerably to production times, they use very small amounts (by modern standards) of starter culture and very little rennet, making for a more traditional gentler, creamier and more complexly flavored blue cheese. Production is really very small--they're making a little over a hundred cheeses a week. All the work is done by hand at every level from cutting the curd to ladling it into the forms--although most producers don't do it any more, very gentle hand scooping of the curd is totally critical to the quality of Stilton.
When the milk is all being used and all the cheese made it from it is successfully sold, that's about it. "Growth" for Stichelton will come from other farms in the area that decide to follow in their traditionalist foot steps. They hope to start teaching other makers in the area how to do the work so that over the next 10 or 15 years they can reestablish a solid root system for old time raw milk Stilton. Or, I should say, Stichelton.
4.) What the Fudge? A New Candy Bar is Born
At the top of my list for the fall (or really any other time of the year) are the amazingly good, old-fashioned, full-flavored candy bars that Charlie and the pastry crew make out at the Bakehouse. I love how passionate people get about these things; not surprising, I suppose, because they really are very exceptionally good.
We have one guest who walks two miles to the Deli to a buy a Zzang! bar in order to minimize any calorie gain; another ships them all over the country to her kids; I heard about a professor in Arizona who was brought one for the first time and insisted we should change the name to "Dang!" instead of Zzang! because they were so good. Joe Schneider, the man who makes the very special Stichelton cheese told me when I visited him in England that the Zzang! was "the best candy bar I've ever had in my life."
After three years of eating and enjoying the original Zzang! bar, and a year and a half of enjoying the Cashew Cow, this fall we get to experience the newly released What the Fudge? bar. This one starts with a base of Belgian Callebaut milk chocolate fudge, layered under a homemade Muscovado brown sugar caramel, which is in turn topped with homemade malted milk cream fondant. To finish off the What the Fudge?, the entire thing is covered in 65 percent dark chocolate from Ecuador.
Charlie says, "It's sweet and smooth with a nice milk flavor coming from both the fudge and the fondant. I think it's one of those addictive combinations that keeps you wanting more."
NEXT: Three more foods, from olive oil to chocolate
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