Great Ciao

Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheeses

Matthew Brichford at home with his herd of Jersey, Tarantaise and Normandy cows. Photo Credit:

When I think of Indiana, I think of the Jackson Five, of the Mad-Max-esque landscape of Gary, and of the white-knuckle traffic spilling off of the Chicago expressway.  Lately, we’ve been bringing in some gorgeous cheeses from Indiana that has changed everything I thought I knew about the “Crossroads of America.”  It started a few years ago with some lovely goat cheeses from Capriole Dairy, and now with some seriously delicious farmstead cheeses from Jacobs and Brichford.

While Jacobs and Brichford is a relative newcomer to the cheese scene, their farm dates back to the war of 1812, when their family was allocated land in the Indiana Territory as a survivors benefit for a relative who had died in combat.  Over the next two hundred years, the Brichford family used the land to farm just about everything imaginable.  In 1981, Leslie Jacobs and Matthew Brichford took the reins, and began raising cattle for meat. In 1995, they updated their farm to include a fluid milk dairy, with the hope of one day making cheese.

Over the next few decades, they added heirloom breeds of cattle to the herd (Jersey, Tarantaise and Normandy) all known for excellent milk quality and high butterfat content.  Matthew claims that he is “not a cheesemaker, he’s a farmer who makes cheese.” So when it came time to make cheese, Leslie and Matthew went to France to meet with geneticists, and brought cheesemakers to the farm to develop recipes that would highlight the quality of their milk.  Today they have only 90 milking cows, and only make their exclusively raw-milk cheeses when the cows are grazing on lush spring,​ summer​, and fall​ pasture​s​.  Their ​daughter, Maize, does marketing and sales while their other daughter, Miah, came back home to the farm to help with grazing management.​

Pictured Above: Ameribella Photo Credit:

Can you have a crush on a cheese?  Ameribella, named after their Great-Grandmother America Arabella, is the kind of cheese that makes me weak at the knees.  Ameribella is modeled after Taleggio , the legendary washed-rind stinker from Northern Italy.  Except that I have never had a Taleggio this rich and unctuous, it almost eats more like a full-flavored Reblochon.  The raw, grass-fed milk from heirloom breeds translates into vibrantly butter-yellow paste that contrasts against the smooth pink-orange rind.  Washed-rind cheeses are tricky, and “non-cheesemaker” Matthew Brichford has mastered the style.  While not runny, the paste does pudge out a bit when you cut into the loaf sized rectangle, its assertive mustardy, meaty flavors are balanced by the richness of the milk.  I’m excited to try it a la Wisconsin Limburger style – an open faced sandwich on pumpernickel with course mustard, a thick slab of cheese, and a few slices of raw onion.

Pictured Above: Everton

Lest my excitement for Ameribella runneth over, I’m just as geeked about Everton, their take on an alpine large format cheese, named after a nearby town in Southeast Indiana.  Weighing in at twenty-five pounds, Everton is only about a third the size of a traditional Gruyere or Comte.  That being said, it makes up for its diminutive size with robust flavor.  Everton is a bit sharper than imported gruyeres, with bold overtones of sweet onion and brothy tamari.  As with the Ameribella, the quality of the milk shines through.  The paste is bright yellow, and flecked with those crunchy tyrosine “flavor crystals” that cheese eaters love.  Everton would be a perfect melting cheese for fondue, or any of the myriad of Swiss recipes that highlight melted cheese at its finest.  Or, if you are like me, you could just eat it as is.


Great Ciao Top 10 List for September

Do you ever get asked your favorite thing is, only for your mind to go blank?  I get asked on a daily basis what is new and exciting at Great Ciao, only for the same thing to happen.  With a warehouse full of fancy groceries, and new ones coming in every day, there is just no excuse for that.  So this afternoon I went old school and walked through the warehouse with a whiteboard to brainstorm my top ten list of foods I’m excited about for September.

10. Mozzarella di Bufala
As Minnesotans, we shouldn’t be so eager to usher in fall menus and pumpkin spice everything when we know the weather that lies ahead.  We still have plenty of delicious Mozzarella di Bufala, brought in direct by air-freight from Italy to the 612.

9. Red Boat Fish Sauce
While it may be pungent when tasted solo, Red Boat Fish Sauce is liquid gold, adding a big hit of meaty brothy umami flavor to every dish it touches.  Founder Cuong Pham started a small factory on the tropical island of Phu Quac in 2006.  When the fisherman return to the port, native black anchovies are cleaned, and packed in salt into tropical wood barrels.  The tropical wood barrels impart a vivid fruity sweetness into the fish sauce and soften its intensity.  We have Red Boat Fish Sauce in both retail and foodservice sizes.

8. Maritime Lavender Honey
French lavender honey (a mono-floral honey collected from bees pollinating lavender fields, rather than being lavender infused) is delicious enough, but this version was collected from bees pollinating  lavender off the coast of southern France, which adds a breath of briney ocean air to its perfumed sweetness.  It is every bit as delicious as it is esoteric (and I really dig it.)

7. Pralus Chuao Bars
These tasty chocolate bars just arrived from France, and they are one of our combined favorites.  Chuao is one of Francois Pralus’ most esteemed bars, collected from a single plantation in Venezuala.  We love it for its deep, earthy, cigar-tobacco-y, dried fruit and leather flavor and aroma.  Most of the time we hoard it for ourselves, but we could also sell it to you if you ask nicely.

6. Italian Wild Fennel Pollen
This stuff is the magical fairy dust of the spice kingdom.  Wild fennel pollen is more floral, sweet, and fragrant than fresh fennel fronds.  A little goes a long way, and now that the weather is cooling down (despite my protests) I’m excited to use it on roasted meats and root vegetables.  I also love sprinkling fennel pollen over a slice of Bucheron goat cheese and a drizzle of Acacia honey for a simple but elegant cheese course.

5. Arroyabe Ventresca Tuna Belly
Who knew that canned tuna could be so irresistable? Answer: The Spanish, but they were probably keeping it to themselves.  Ventresca is the belly cut of the small Bonito del Norte breed of Tuna that makes an annual run off the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  The tender fillets are packed in olive oil, and deserve to be sprinkled with good salt and eaten straight out of the can.

4. Great Ciao Signature Balsamic Condiment from Compania del Montale
Three years ago, we set out to develop a signature balsamic with Compania del Montale, a small Acetorium in Modena.  It took countless sample vials, tastings, and transatlantic journeys before we settled on a blend that was finished in Juniper barrels and had a luxurious velvety-thick texture.  This is as good as you can get without breaking the bank for Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.  We have it in both 500ml. foodservice bottles, and in the pretty 250 ml. bottle you see pictured.

3. Unio Muscatel Vinegar
Two vinegars in a row? Well, you can never have enough good vinegar in your arsenal.  Made from Spanish Moscatel grapes, this vinegar has a crisp acidic backbone balanced by candied lemon sweetness, all at once aromatic and complex with lively overtones of melon and honey. Perfect for a vinaigrette, but sweet enough to enjoy with soda water for a refreshing vinegar spritzer.

2. Haricot Soisson
One of the two classic beans used for cassoulet (the other being the more well known Tarbais bean) Soisson beans are much bigger, plumper, and practically beg to be infused with duck fat, sausage, and whatever other meaty tid-bits you can throw their way.  Soisson beans nearly double in size after soaking, and become rich and creamy once cooked.

1. Finally! Local Honeycomb from Ames Farm
We are always looking to find the ingredients our customers request, and local honeycomb has been one of the hardest things to source given the state of our bee population in Minnesota.  Fortunately, Brian at Ames Farm had an awesome year that exceeded his expectations, and we finally have delicious local honeycomb at your beckon call!



Great Ciao – Your Source For Wedding “Cake”

Recently, one of our customers tied the knot, and requested our help in designing his wedding cake (pictured above) made entirely from tiered wheels of cheese. Given cheese’s increasing popularity (fat is back baby!) We get more and more requests for chefs and caterers to do wedding cheese “cakes” for themselves or for their customers.

While 25-30 lbs of artisan cheese doesn’t exactly come cheap, it is surprisingly on par with the cost a professionally decorated wedding cake. For turophiles, these cakes not only support farmers and artisan cheesemakers, they also make for delicious leftovers, given that the guests don’t eat everything. A half wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve in your fridge is a happy way to start a marriage indeed.

I recommend planning for about 3-5 tiers with the top tier being soft and easily cut-able for the bride and groom. Something old (aged) something new (fresh) something unique (washed or smoked or flavored) and something blue is a good rule of thumb. Finish with a few sprigs of greenery and fresh or dried fruit, and you have a gorgeous and unique showstopper.  We are happy to help you make a diverse selection of cheeses for you or your customer’s special day.


Fleur d’America: Jacobsen Flake Sea Salt Now at Great Ciao

Ben Jacobsen’s obsession with salt began when he was finishing his MBA in Copenhagen, and a friend gifted him with a bag of fleur de sel.  Until that point, he had never given much thought to the ubiquitous seasoning.  As a self-professed non-cook, he was amazed by the ability of good crunchy salt to elevate simple pleasures – and used it on everything from fried eggs to hamburgers.  He spent the next few years traveling around the world, amassing an arsenal of hand-made salts from around the world.

When he returned home to Oregon, he was surprised to learn that even though the United States was the leading producer of commercial salt – nobody was making the good stuff.  At the time the food scene in Portland was just taking off, and while the chefs and foodies praised everything local, the finishing salts they used were hailing from across the pond.

Brittany, France is home to Fleur de Sel, where miles of channels through gently sloping marshlands purify and concentrate the salt content before it reaches the salt flats.  As the salt crystallizes under the warm sun, highly trained palladiers gently scoop out the prized crystals of fleur de sel as they form on the surface of the flats.  Which is great; if you live in an area with consistently warm sunny days, and a gentle coastal breeze.  Lacking Brittany’s ideal climate in notoriously damp Oregon, Ben went the route of Maldon, an equally famous finishing salt from the equally drizzly country of Wales.

And so he got to tinkering.  On days that his crabbing excursions left him empty handed, he would lug buckets of saltwater back 90 miles inland to Portland.  Since nobody else was making artisan salts at the time, he had to reverse engineer the process.  He knew that getting to the salt would involve evaporation, and so he would boil the water off on his stove, and wait for his precious crystals to form.  The first batches weren’t the best, but showed enough promise for him to leave his career in the tech industry and seek out a commercial cooking space to begin producing in earnest.

While researching, he learned that he wasn’t the first person to harvest salt from coast of Oregon, Louis and Clark had spent a few months boiling down seawater to crystallized salt in an effort to avoid bland food on the return journey.  Ben’s first step was to source the best quality seawater.  He made test batches of salt sampled from thirty different locations up the coast of Oregon and finally settled on water from Netarts Bay.  The next step was to fine-tune the process.  He began using a variety of filters and processes to remove the minerals responsible for bitter off-flavors, and had stainless evaporation pans custom-made.  The process takes 14 hours to get from salt water to flake salt..

Once Ben fine-tuned the process, it didn’t take long for both local and world renowned chefs to sing his praises: Thomas Keller, Paul Kahan and April Bloomfield are all big fans.  As demand for his product grew, he moved his business from the commercial kitchen space in Portland, to a 3,500 square foot decommissioned oyster farm on Netarts bay.  While the larger space allows him to keep up with demand, his process remains steadfastly low-tech.  A new retail warehouse space in Portland doubles as a event space for visiting chefs to host pop-up dinners featuring his salt.  At Great Ciao we’ve also jumped on the American-made finishing salt bandwagon.  Jacobsen Flake Salt is available in both foodservice and retail sizes.  Ask us for a taste!

Tasting Notes: Jacobsen Flake Salt is clean, bright and a little sweet, with large pyramid shaped crystals and a delicate crunchy texture.  Perfect as a finishing salt for just about everything.


Packed Like Sardines: A Visit to Conservas Ramón Peña

Located on the Atlantic coast of Northwest Spain, Galicia is home to some of finest seafood in the world.  The Port of Vigo is the region’s central fishing port, situated at the intersection between the cool waters of the Cantabrian Sea and the warmer currents pushed up from the Mediterranean, creating an ecosystem brimming with a diverse array of sea-creatures.  In fact, Vigo’s fish market was the inspiration behind Jules Verne’s classic novel, 20,000 League Under the Sea, after he witnessed all of the strange – and sometimes grotesque fish hauled back to shore by the Galician fisherman.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Galicia to visit the region’s many conservas producers.  “Conservas” is the sexy Spanish word for canned food.  Years of civil war taught the Spanish to preserve the best of the season to be sent off with their sons and daughters fighting on the front lines.  Nowadays, conservas is less of a means for survival, and more of an art form.  The very best vegetables (heirloom tomatoes, piquillo peppers, and white asparagus) meats (foie gras, partridge and quail) and of course seafoods are preserved in cans and jars to be enjoyed later among family and friends.

Canning factories dot the hilly landscape around the Port of Vigo.  Where thousands of factories used to operate at full capacity, now only a few hundred are left.  Every morning, the factories send their buyers to the fish market to select from the day’s catch.  Every day the factories churn out cans of tuna, mussels, octopus, and oddities like barnacles, baby eels, and the area’s famous razor clams.  We were packed like sardines (for authenticity’s sake) into a conversion van only slightly narrower than the winding two-lane road that connected each producer.  Once we arrived, we would tour the canning facility, taste through their wares (washed down with a glass of local wine) pile back into the van, and repeat.

By the time we arrived at Conservas Ramón Peña, we had already visited four other conservas factories that day.  I was quickly approaching my limit of seafood – and wine.  After donning our sanitary jumpsuits, hairnets and booties, we were escorted through the kitchen – a feature unique to them.  At Ramón Peña any of the vegetables used in their conservas, are brought in fresh and cut by hand.  Each sauce is cooked to order in small batches by the chef on staff.  The factory was immaculate and serenely quiet, with a dozen or so women neatly cleaning and de-scaling fresh anchovies before layering them by hand into the tins.

While the other producers we visited that day have run together in my memory, the conservas produced by Ramón Peña were exquisite.  The sardines were buttery and plump, the mussels were perfectly cooked in a sauce that was balanced out by a gentle spike of smoky pimenton, nothing tasted artificial or overly fishy.  It didn’t come as a surprise when I learned later that Ramón Peña is one of the most highly regarded producers of Conservas throughout Spain.

Well, it only took a couple of years, but we finally received our first shipment of the good stuff at Great Ciao World Headquarters.  We have a veritable smorgasbord of everything from squid in ink, to razor clams, mussels and cockles.  They make for a perfect bite when you crave something really special (and can’t find baby eels up here in the hinterlands…) We hear some restaurants even serve them straight out of the can!

“Más que Bueno!” Mascarpone from Delitia in Lombardy

While Mascarpone (MAH-scar-pon-ay) has many origin myths, the most colorful stems from the Spanish occupation of Northern Italy in the 1600s.  A Spanish officer tasted the intensely rich thickened cream and exclaimed that it was “Más que Bueno!” (Better than good!)  And the name stuck.

Mascarpone is similar to crème fraîche and clotted cream in texture and flavor, although there are slight differences in it’s production.  Unlike it’s cousins, Mascarpone is made by coagulating heated cream with citric or acidic acid.  The remaining curd is drained, resulting in a thick, almost whipped texture.  Mascarpone is famously used in Tiramisu, but can also be whipped into risotto, or served simply with fresh berries and a dusting of cocoa – just to name a few.

After intensive product testing (read: alternating through spoonfulls of imported and domestic mascarpones) we began sourcing our mascarpone from Delitia in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy.  While most mascarpone is made with the cream of commodity milk production, Delitia uses cream skimmed from the production of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The resulting product is a mascarpone that is light and airy in texture, with an intensely fresh, lactic richness and a delicate finish reminiscent of coconut.  While air-freight mascarpone can be slightly more expensive than its domestic counterparts, it doesn’t have any of the cloying sweetness of some domestically produced versions, making it a blank slate for either sweet or savory applications.

Delitia’s mascarpone is available in 500g tubs, and is kept in stock at Great Ciao World Headquarters.

Like Buttah! The Making of Triple Cream Cheeses…

Back in my retail-cheesemongering days, customers would often request triple-cream cheeses, followed by the declaration, “I only like TRIPLE crème brie.” Which was remarkably similar to the chocophiles who would insist that they, “only eat chocolate over X% cacao!”

For a cheese to be considered “triple-cream” it needs to have a minimum of 75% fat in dry matter.  Double cream cheeses range from 60-74% fat in dry matter.  To obtain this higher fat-content, already rich whole milk is bolstered with cream, creating a decadent texture that is nearly like eating butter.  Before you blanche at the fat content, keep in mind that just as with the percentage of cacao in chocolate – the percentage of fat in dry matter is not telling the whole story in a cheese’s nutritional makeup.

Double and triple cream cheeses tend to be younger (which is also why we can’t bring unpasteurized versions into the United States- but that’s another story.)  As younger cheeses, they have a water content that can reach upward of 50%.  While the fat in dry matter of a triple cream cheese is 75% percent fat in dry matter, the total fat content hovers around only 39%; whereas butter has a total fat content over 80%.  Compare that to Parmigiano Reggiano, which has a much lower water content after being aged for 16 months or longer, but a total fat content of around 30%.  Bite-for-bite, the same size piece of Brillat Savarin on your cracker has only slightly more fat than the same sized piece of an aged Parmigianno Reggiano, Gruyere, or Cheddar.

Double and triple cream cheeses are typically sold frais (fresh) or soft-mold rinded.  Fresh versions are unrinded and can have a dense texture similar to fresh chevre (ex:Regal de Bourgogne aux Raisins or Regal de Bourgogne aux Moutarde.) Or they can be fresh and spreadable like Mascarpone.  The soft mold ripened versions are seen in classic triple-cream cheeses like Brillat Savarin, Explorateur, Delice de Bourgogne, Prince de la Fontaine, and in American newcomers like Nettle Meadow Kunik.  All versions are excellent served as a dessert course with perfectly ripe berries or tropical fruit, and are best washed down with sparkling wines.

The Cheese Stands Alone (or Does it?): Cheese Accoutrements at Great Ciao

As soon as the temperature drops, we see a renewed interest in all things cheese.  Here are a few of our favorite cheese accompaniments for adorning your cheese plates.

Marcona Almonds are a perennial favorite cheese pairing, for when you just a touch of salty crunch to contrast with a cheese’s richness.  The Marcona Almonds we import from Olis are roasted (rather than fried,) salted, and immediately vacuum packed to preserve their flavor and snap.  Added benefit: no oily greasy mess.


Dolci Pensieri Fig Molasses is made by cooking down fresh Calabrian White Dottato figs in a huge copper kettle until they’ve decreased their volume by almost half.  The fruit is separated from the sticky fig syrup and used to make the fig leaf wrapped fig balls that appear at Great Ciao around the holidays.  Fig molasses has a full-bodied smoky sweetness, and tastes just as good atop fresh lactic cheeses as it does with grilled meatss.


Paola Calciolari at Le Tamerici has been making Mostarda (in spite of her pharmaceutical degree) since 1991, and hers are undoubtedly the best we’ve ever tasted.  Mostardas are the most classic (and popularized) cheese accompaniment from the Lombardy region of Italy – fitting considering that the region is also famous for its Taleggio, and Gorgonzola cheeses.  Paola candies thin slices of fruit, which are then preserved in mustard seed oil spiked syrup.  We currently stock her apricot, pear, and fig mostardas.


Turkey Hill Apiary is run by father and daughter team Brad and Corinna, who harvest wildflower honey near their Lakeville, Minnesota home.  Their honey is then aged in either bourbon or rye whiskey barrels to give it the Midas touch.  The boozy aroma of whiskey is right up front, but yields to softer notes of smoke, vanilla, apple and white grape.  These honeys are the perfect companion to salty blue cheeses like Stilton (but are equally tasty when drizzled atop vanilla ice cream.)


Mojave Raisins on the Vine have been one of the not-so-hidden gems of the Great Ciao Warehouse for a few years now.  Farmers in the arid Coachella Valley leave bunches of red flame raisins out to dry on the vine before shipping them to Great Ciao World Headquarters where we sell them by the case or by the pound.

Devodier 24 Month Prosciutto di Parma

Our new 24 “Moon” (720-Day) Prosciutto di Parmas from Devodier are a true knockout!  These prized hams are aged in a deep cellar built over the old bed of the Parma River, with red clay brick walls of an ancient kiln and fir wood frames to hang the hams as they age.  The special atmosphere is controlled by the prosciuttificios who open and close the cellar windows to control the air circulation as needed.  To bear the DOP seal, the hams must be aged a minimum of ten months.  The longer the ham is aged, the more velvety in texture the meat becomes, and the more intense the flavor.  Our new prosciuttos from Devodier make a lovely example of a well-made Parma ham, set apart in its age and craftsmanship from the commodity prosciuttos we have been accustomed to in the United States.  The texture is velvety and supple, to the point that it almost melts in your mouth. The flavor is sweet, porky, fruity and floral, with notes of pineapple and melon, the salt is appparent but not overpowering.

About Prosciutto di Parma: There’s something you can’t deny about the humble marriage of pork and salt.   Hailing from Parma, nestled in Italy’s culinary heartland of Emilia-Romagna, records of dry-cured hams date back to the Roman Empire.  In the mid-1800s when Parma’s ham spread in popularity throughout Italy, Parma’s villages were laid in a way that would increase air-circulation to aid in the ham-curing process.  Prosciutto di Parma is the outcome of the region’s ideal climate, and access to the rare commodity of salt from the saline rich wells of Salsomaggiore.

In the days before refrigeration, Prosciuttificios mastered of the art of aligning the curing process with the seasons.  Pigs fattened off of the summer’s fallen hazelnuts and acorns were slaughtered in late-autumn as the weather turned colder.  The fresh legs of pork were then packed in salt (too much and the ham would be dry and too salty – too little and the ham would spoil), and aged until spring in the cool winter air.  By springtime, the salt had worked its way to the center of the ham and killed off any harmful bacteria.  As the weather warmed up in the spring, so did the hams, beginning the fermentation process responsible for Prosciutto di Parma’s depth of flavor.

Today Prosciutto di Parma is a major industry, with one in every three legs of Italian pork turned into one of Parma’s legendary hams.  In 1963 the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma was founded to protect its’ producers from imitators with less scrupulous standards.  Prosciutto di Parma was one of the first foods to be granted DOP status by the European Union.  Even still, there is a huge variation in quality from one producer’s Prosciutto di Parma to the next.

To Brie or Not to Brie

Often imitated, but never duplicated, Brie is easily the most recognizable French cheese on this side of the pond. In France, Brie is very different from the cheese exported to the United States. AOC Brie de Meaux is named after the city of Meaux, only about 25 miles north of Paris. Brie de Meaux is an artisanally made product; start to finish. The cheese is made from raw milk (this version is still illegal in the United States) with curds being delicately hand ladled in to their molds, and then flipped daily to promote even rind development during the 6 week affinage process. Wheels average around 3kg (6.6lbs) and are 15 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall. The rind should be soft and downy, with a straw-yellow paste. Our artisanal version from Chantal Plasse is gently pasteurized, with a subtle mushroomy aroma and a long buttery finish. After arriving at Great Ciao by air-freight, we consider them to be perfectly ripe after an additional two weeks of aging, meaning that you can still see about a half inch of chalky “cream-line” through the center of the paste.

By comparison, the majority of “Brie” consumed in the US is a cheap, industrial product; produced domestically, or brought over in the refrigerated cargo hold of a ship. The curd is chemically stabilized, to prevent the cheese from ripening during the extended transit times. This means, that the cheese will be just as ripe from the moment it’s packed, to the moment it’s consumed a few months later. Some producers have gone a step further with a process called “ultrafiltration,” which removes all of the water from the milk, resulting in a creamier texture. To expedite the lengthy process of affinage, the rinds are sprayed on, rather than being allowed to develop naturally. Whereas Brie de Meaux takes six to eight weeks to mature, these industrial versions only take two weeks. By adulterating the natural aging process, the resulting product is bland and rubbery. Often to make up for the lack of flavor, producers will increase the level of salt, or add other flavors to the mix. Garlic-dill brie anyone?

To ensure quality, our Brie de Meaux is a pre-order item. Have questions about our air-freight cheese program? Give us a call at 612.521.8725.