Heirloom Grits from Geechie Boy in Red! White! and Blue!

If Southern foods have got you “grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet tater,” then we’ve got the best grits to anchor your plate.  Geechie Boy Mill was founded by Greg and Betsy Johnsman in 2003 on Edisto Island, South Carolina.  After purchasing a 3-acre farm, they salvaged a rare antique mill they found in a barn on their property.  The original intent was for the mill to provide entertainment for the customers and children visiting the family farm store.  After experimenting with heirloom corn varietals and perfecting his craft, Greg’s grits were in such high demand that the vegetable farm took a backseat.  Today the Johnsmans grow, harvest, adn mill all of their grits, flours and heirloom grains, which can be found in some of the best restaurants around the United States.  We’ve been sourcing these legendary grits from Greg at Geechie Boy since 2014, and now in addition to the white grits that sell “faster than a hot knife through butter,” we’ve added some lesser known varieties of red and blue heirloom corn grits.


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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!



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Come Geechie Some Geechie Boy Grits

Last week we recieved a shipment of white hominy grits, bramata (course) yellow polenta, and cornmeal from Geechie Boy Mill in Edisto Island, South Carolina.  Greg and Betsy Johnsman salvaged a rare seventy year old electric mill they found in a barn.  The original intent was for the mill to provide entertainment for the customers and children visiting the family farm store.  After experimenting with heirloom corn varietals and perfecting his craft, Greg’s grits were in such high demand that the vegetable farm took a backseat.  Today Geechie Boy Grits can be found in some of the best restaurants around the United States.  We are excited to introduce them to the Upper Midwest!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, we think the video below will tell you all you need to know about Greg and Betsy’s operation.   Have questions about quantities and pricing?  Give us a call, we love talking about food!


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The Best Little Polenta Mill in Italy

For the Mulino family, making great Polenta is a family affair.  Felice Mulino grew up in Cassano Belbo, a small farming village in Piedmont an hours drive fromTurin.  His first job was carrying grain from his family’s farm, to the town’s hundred year old mill.  In 1955 at the age of 33, word got to him that the miller was going to retire.  Felice seized the opportunity, leaving his family’s farm to purchase the mill from the aging miller.  Today, three generations of the Mulino family work together to produce some of the finest polenta and specialty flours inItaly.

When Felice initially bought the mill, he was one of nine artisan polenta mills in the region.  Today his mill is the last one standing.  The milling is done using two heavy stone wheels that are stacked horizontally on top of one another.  The bottom stone doesn’t move but has a series of grooves that force the corn to slowly work its way out from the center.  The upper stone spins at roughly 150 rotations per minute, which is slow compared to industrial polenta mills that spin at 600 RPM.  The two stones have just enough space between them to cut the grain – rather than smash it.  Once a month the mills have to be disassembled, the stones inspected, and the grooves re-chiseled.  Purely from a mechanical standpoint, its not hard to see why the old-way of milling polenta has been replaced by faster, and cheaper alternatives.  But corn is to polenta what grapes are to wine, and in addition to using a very special mill, the Mulino family starts with only the best raw ingredients.

The Mulinos are best known for their “Otto File” Polenta.  Otto File is an heirloom varietal of corn that is a close relative to whatColumbusbrought back with him from theNew World.  Its name literally translates to “Eight Row” and the kernels are much larger and starchier than the ubiquitous “Yellow Corn #3” that dominates today’s market.  Otto File also takes longer to grow, and has much smaller yields than most corn.  After harvesting, the Mulinos sun dry their corn to bring out its full sweetness.   Felice insists that the Polenta has a fuller flavor when the germ is left intact.  The germ contains the majority the corn’s flavor compounds in the form of oils and proteins.  Leaving the germ intact makes for more flavorful polenta, but it also makes his polenta prime for spoiling if left unrefrigerated.

For the Mulino family, milling polenta is a labor of love that extends to every part of the process.  When you taste this polenta you’ll understand why.  The corn flavor is sublime; it is so sweet you would think sugar was added to it.  The texture is rich and creamy in a way that would be impossible for a quick-cooking polenta to ever attain.  It goes well with a meaty ragu in the winter, and equally well simply garnished with a few beautiful summer tomatoes, a bit of basil, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar in the summer.  Slices of firmer set polenta dredged in dry polenta and fried are always a favorite.

(As a side note:  Good polenta takes longer to cook than its industrial counterpart.  But the length of its cooking time seems to have greatly exaggerated particularly in the Twin Cities region.  The coarse Otto File polenta needs two hours – but not nearly the rumored three or four hour cooking time.”

We have several wonderful grains and flours from Mulino Marino:

  •  Otto File Polenta (coarsely ground) 1K bag
  • Taragna Flour 1K bag (course ground) 70% whole cornmeal, 30% whole buckwheat
  • Buckwheat Flour (fine ground) 1K Bag
  • Chestnut Flour (fine ground) 500g. bag
  • Sapori Antichi Flour (fine ground) 1K bag – Whole wheat flour with four ancient grains: farro, rye, camut, and enkir


Weinzweig, Ari. Zingerman’s guide to good eating : how to choose the best bread, cheeses, olive oil, pasta, chocolate, and much more., pgs. 146-152,Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

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Principato di Lucedio

What is unique about Principato di Lucedio risotto rice?  The name signifies that the rice is not a blend of different rice varietals, as can be the case with many.  Principato di Lucedio, an estate established in the 12th Century guarantees that the product is 100% the named designation.  Risotto rice has high starch content and is considered a medium to short-grain rice.  These types of rice absorb liquids well, while releasing their starch. The three varieties we carry at Great Ciao are: Vialone Nano, Carnaroli and Arborio.

There are as many opinions about risotto as there are people.  Some folks like there to be a little tooth, some people like it to be like soup and some like it to be tight or dry.  Whatever your preference Great Ciao has the rice to help make those desires reality.

  • Vialone Nano – This hybrid rice was created in Veneto during the 1930s and is considered by some to be the best rice for risotto. The rice is shorter and more round than Carnaroli, nano means “dwarf”.  It absorbs a tremendous amount of flavor and generally cooks more quickly than the other varieties.
  • Carnaroli – Called the “King of rices”, this rice is grown in the Novara and Vercelli regions of Northern Italy.  With a longer grain than and a firmer texture than both the Arborio and Vialone Nano, the Carnaroli consistently keeps a firm tooth as it disperses its starch into the risotto.
  • Arborio – Named after the town of Arborio in the Po Valley, the grains of this variety are shorter, rounder and cook to a chewy, creamy texture. The rice makes a nice risotto and is often utilized for rice puddings, cooked with saffron and studded with pistachios or almonds.
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