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New from Valrhona! Azélia 35% Hazelnut Milk Chocolate

Hazelnuts and chocolate – as inseparable a duo as PB&J, Milk and Cookies, Han Solo and Chewbacca… Valrhona’s newest release is the latest cause of our warehouse snacking binges; 35% milk chocolate blended with hazelnuts, for a rich milky texture balanced by intense hazelnut flavor.

Cases are 3 x 3Kg Bags, Valrhona is sold by the whole case for a discount, or by the individual 3kg bag.

Recommended Applications:

  • Mousse
  • Molding
  • Coating
  • Ganache
  • Sauce
  • Ice Cream and Sorbets
  • Chocolate Drink and Beverages
  • Decorations
  • Glaze
  • Crémeux

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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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The Hunt is Over: Tahitian Vanilla Beans at Great Ciao

It took several years of searching, but we’ve finally been able to bring incredibly rare whole Tahitian vanilla beans into Great Ciao World Headquarters…

If you are familiar with vanilla from the Bourbon varietal (which makes up the majority of the world’s vanilla bean supply,) the Tahitian bean will look almost alien.  Tahitian beans are over twice as large as their Bourbon counterparts.  Tahitian beans are plump with moist pulpy interior that is deep amber in color.  In yield testing, the Tahitian varietal contained 11% more seeds and pulp than our Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans.  However, Tahitian vanilla beans are hardly a frugal alternative to the more commonplace Madagascar Bourbon.  The difference in price is due largely to the rarity of the Tahitian Beans.  Tahiti is a small island, with an even smaller vanilla production, and a more industrialized economy that demands a higher labor cost.

In fact, it is best to view them as different ingredients with different uses.  Madagascar Bourbon has the classic “vanilla” aroma: woodsy, lightly floral, and sweet.  Madagascar Bourbon vanilla is best used in dishes where the vanilla is meant to compliment other flavors.  It is exactly the vanilla that you want in order to bring out the best in a chocolate chip cookie.  While Tahitian vanilla contains less of the vanillin chemical compound, the flavor is more delicate and nuanced, with with tropical floral overtones and hints of cherry, licorice, and cinnamon.  Tahitian vanilla is best used in a dish where its delicate flavors will be the highlight of the dish; such as ice cream or panna cotta.

 

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New at Great Ciao: Sustainably grown Vanilla Beans from LAFAZA

Lafaza’s co-founders, Nathaniel and Sarah, hadn’t given too much thought to vanilla until the Peace Corps brought them to the forested northeastern Mananara-Nord region of Madagascar.  Madagascar produces 70-75% of the world’s vanilla crop, but in this remote region, the vanilla growers were so cut off from trade that they had no control over their market destiny.  Collectors working with larger exporters would walk into the villages and dictate the low price they were willing to pay for the crop.  In the two years before Sarah and Nathaniel had arrived, the vanilla market had spiked and then crashed, causing much hardship in the area.  The people suffered, unable to fulfill their basic needs; things we take for granted such as access to clean-running water.  For their Peace Corps mission Nathaniel and Sarah were challenged to help the vanilla growers in their region reach international markets.

Vanilla is an orchid vine that grows in densely forested environments.  A native tutor tree is planted next to the vine and cultivated to have many small branches that the vanilla vine can loop up and around before returning back down to the earth to re-root after each new growth cycle. Mature vanilla vines have ten or twenty loops that are each rooted into the ground.   There are no natural pollinators for vanilla in Madagascar.  Each flower has to be hand-pollinated by a farmer and each flower produces only one bean.  Even the process of hand-pollinating the flowers is an art.  The wrong amount of pressure applied during pollination can lead to a malformed bean.  The vanilla farms are so close to one another that during the flowering season you can hear the growers bragging to one another about how many flowers they have.  The vanilla crop will have to sustain their family for the next year; a bad yield could be disastrous.

The curing process that follows is as important as the cultivation.  A great vanilla bean can be ruined by poor curing.  The beans are laid on a cloth in the sun for two to three hours a day, and then the cloth is rolled up so that the warm beans can sweat overnight.  This process is repeated daily for two to three months.  Teams of women sort through the beans every day, pulling the ones that are fully cured, and sorting by quality.  The beans are then brought inside to dry down on wooden racks until they are perfectly cured.  The A-1 grade of vanilla beans will be sold to customers looking for soft fragrant whole beans for pastry and confectionery applications.  Smaller dryer beans will be sold as manufacturing or extract grade.

Some less scrupulous producers will vacuum pack half-cured vanilla beans to sell for cheap to international markets.  When vanilla beans are packed “wet,” they can become moldy, and the vanillin content of the beans will suffer.  The vanillin compound is the flavor and aroma we associate with vanilla, but good vanilla beans contain 250 active compounds, each contributing to the sublime, nuanced flavor.  Many of these flavor compounds are only brought to fruition during the curing process.

When Sarah and Nathaniel were in Madagascar they lived in a small house just off of the Indian Ocean.  During the vanilla season they would wake up to the smell of vanilla mixing with the salty breeze coming off the ocean.  Nearly everyone has at least a few vanilla vines growing in their front yard, and so vanilla beans were being cured literally right outside their window.   Interestingly enough, vanilla is barely used by locals.  As one farmer told Nathaniel, “Americans love their vanilla, and I love selling it to them.”  The vanilla farmers had assured Nathaniel and Sarah that they had a great product.  But having no background in the vanilla business, they had no idea how good the product was until they sent some samples back to the United States.  Through a contact of Lafaza Co-Founder (and Nathaniel’s brother) James, they were able to get their beans into a blind tasting with a major American chocolate producer.  Their beans were picked as the top choice.  Sarah and Nathaniel exported a hundred kilo (220lbs) pallet of vanilla beans a few months later, which were imported by James in Oakland, CA, and the Lafaza team has been doing it ever since.

When Nathaniel, Sarah, and James looked around at the standing business model for vanilla, they saw that it was not being done in a way that was putting farmers in a central, beneficial or inclusive position.  They thought it would be worthwhile to start a business that fairly rewarded all points of the supply chain.   Their approach to working with the vanilla growers is that they are not only trading with the farmers, but also providing support for sound agroforestry practices and crop diversification.  Their farmers get higher prices for their vanilla, and Nathaniel and Sarah give back to the villages by building libraries, and community centers.

At Great Ciao we are selling Lafaza’s grade A-1 whole beans, as well as their pure ground vanilla bean powder (both pictured above.)  The beans are pliable and aromatic, and are without a doubt some of the finest we’ve worked with.  The pure ground powder is made by taking the driest beans possible and grinding them up.  Much of the vanilla bean’ flavor is in the pod itself, and by using the ground beans you can unlock all of the potential in the beans.  Have questions about the product or pricing?  Give us a call at612.521.8725 – we love talking about food!

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Crema di Nocciola from Piedmont

A few weeks ago our newsletter featured I.G.P. hazelnuts from a new producer in the Piedmont region of Italy.  This week we are happy to announce that we have another trick up our sleeve.  Scott brought back a small jar of Crema di Nocciola (also known as Gianduia, or Nocciolata) from a recent trip to Italy.  Most versions of chocolate-hazelnut spread are sticky sweet, with the hazelnut flavor masked by chocolate.  This one is the best we’ve ever tasted.

Papa dei Boschi is the same producer who grows our hazelnuts in Piedmont.  During our extensive product testing, we discovered that their Crema di Nocciola tastes nearly identical to eating a handful of their toasted hazelnuts with a few pieces of Valrhona’s Jivara lactée.  In all seriousness, it is remarkable how well this crema di nocciola captures the rich toasted nuttiness and the delicate sweetness of I.G.P. Piedmontese hazelnuts.  Or as one of our customers put it, “wow.”

This Crema di Nocciola is available in a 1 kilo food-service size, and in a smaller 250 gram jar for retailers. Please give us a call at 612.521.8725 if you have any questions about pricing or availability.

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New at Great Ciao: Peppermint Patties from Seely Family Mint Farm

 

Sometimes we source products by carefully analyzing which way the wind is blowing in the food industry.  But more often then not, we find products we enjoy eating, and hope y’all like them as much as we do. This is one of those times. Scott came back from a recent trip out west with sweets on the brain.  He found a family farm in Oregon with a reputation for growing fabulous organic, heirloom Black Mitcham Peppermint and native Spearmint.  “They make a peppermint pattie,” he said, “I think they have really great flavor.” When the box arrived today from Oregon, we were eager to assist in the product testing.  Nestled between two disks of Belgian semisweet chocolate is a layer of fondant infused with Seely’s pure peppermint essential oil grown and distilled on their farm.  They are the perfect refreshing treat on one of the last ninety-degree days of the summer – the crisp minty flavor also reminds us that the retail holiday season is just around the corner and stockings will need stuffing…  Leave it to Scott to find the one truly artisanal peppermint pattie producer in the country. We also have a miniscule amount of their pure heirloom peppermint essential oil for professional use, please give us a call at 612-521-8725  if interested.

 From their website:

Located in Clatskanie, Oregon, Seely Family Farm grows, harvests, and prepares the highest quality peppermint and spearmint teas, essential oils and confections in a secluded valley nestled between the coast range and the Columbia River.

The combination of mild coastal climate and dark river bottom soil yield a sweeter, smoother mint of superior flavor and premium quality. Additionally, we harvest only once each summer, when the mint has matured and the flavor components are at their optimum, balanced levels.

Clatskanie Mint in Oregon began in the early 1900’s on Puget Island and worked its way upriver to Clatskanie, Rainier and the Willamette Valley. The lower Columbia was once the largest mint producing area in Oregon. Most of the farms within dike lands along the river raised mint and many of the young people in town held summer jobs in the mint fields hoeing weeds or working the harvest. One common job available at harvest was stomping the mint–as the mint was loaded into the tub, three or four young men stomped the loose mint hay to pack it in the tub. If the mint was not packed tight, it would be too fluffy and the steam would blow right through without changing the oil in the leaves to vapor.

The Seely family began raising mint in the early 1940s in Fargher Lake, Washington, north of Battle Ground. LeRoy and Nettie, along with sons Warren and Harley were among the first in Washington state to plant peppermint for the production of essential oil. These early operations were very labor intensive: pitchforks were used to load the cut mint onto trailers for the trip back to the still. The first year they even used a wood-fired boiler!

Not much has changed over the years when it comes to the way we grow and harvest mint, although some of the more labor-intensive steps are now mechanized. We continue to focus on quality instead of quantity, taking only one harvest off the mint each year. This philosophy means less dependence on commercial agronomic products and more reliance on the natural physiology of the plant and the seasons.

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New: Valrhona Professionals Website

Valrhona recently launched a new website for professionals.  This website is an excellent resource of information for upcoming classes, brochures, spec sheets and certificates.  Of course, if you need something that we do not currently keep in our inventory, you are always welcome to inquire with us about placing a special order.

Something worth forwarding on to your pastry chefs:  Valrhona is offering a new professional development program for pastry chefs called the “En Route” program.  These will be small,  hands on classes of 12 pastry professionals led by one of the Valrhona pastry chefs, we are looking into dates and locations for 2013.  Anyone interested in the En Route program should sign up for Valrhona email newsletter, and let us know if there is a class that interests you.

Check it out! >

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Callebaut Chocolate

In times like these it is nice to say we have new low prices on a product!  Callebaut is a great value; it works well in many applications and is cost effective to boot.  As the authorized distributor for Callebaut in the Midwest, we are able to procure the best price and the highest quality product.

Quality chocolates are determined by many measures: the raw product, the fermentation process, the conching process and the refining process.  Another important determinant is the length of the supply chain and the transparency of that journey.  Many companies buy commodity chocolates and have little concern with the provenance or quality of the product; they are concerned with getting the lowest price and will manipulate whatever they buy to hit their flavor profiles.  The majority of the chocolate we bring from Callebaut is a medium viscosity chocolate though they have a number of different specs available for specialty items, such as ice creams, truffles or ganache.

Knowing your producers and trusting your supply is important with all products, and when you have commodities like chocolate the quality varies dramatically. With Callebaut, one easy way to determine the provenance of your Callebaut is that the domestic comes in a 25# box and the Belgian comes in 22# bags.  The major difference between the domestic and the imported product is the supply chain.  The commodity buyers in the United States are getting a different raw product than they do in Belgium.

Call us for our current lower pricing or if your product is not from Belgium.  Call us for a sample of our imported Callebaut!

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Valrhona Chocolate

Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree, and that it had nourishing, fortifying, and even aphrodisiac qualities. Chocolate may well have all of these attributes, but most importantly it makes you feel good and it tastes good.  Chocolates vary greatly and can present a multiplicity of flavors.  Valrhona does a terrific job of highlighting these flavors with their chocolate.

Valrhona chocolate is made specifically for restaurants, bakeries, and pastry chefs.  Valrhona has a reputation for high quality products that are as easy-to-use as they are distinct.  The unique “feve” shape makes it easy to melt for a variety of uses.  If you are looking for exceptional chocolates, cocoa, or cacao with an endless array of applications—cremeux, ganache, mousses, chocolate cakes, or hot chocolate— chances are that Valrhona has a chocolate to help realize your vision.  With a selection of single -source chocolates:

  1. Ghana,
  2. Dominican Republic,
  3. Ecuador,
  4. Madagascar,
  5. Venezuala

Or blends:

  1. South America
  2. The Caribbean

Valrhona is dedicated to sourcing these cacaos for their quality and for their diverse profiles.

As with most rarefied foods, chocolate pleases all the senses.  When choosing your chocolate look for specific aromas, color, sound (crunchiness, crispness), and always taste.  Smelling the bag of chocolate is a good place to start.  Then breaking the chocolate to see the consistency of the paste and the sound of the snap provide helpful hints too.  On one end of the scale you have the milk chocolates, with soft and muted sound, and on the other end of the scale you have the dark, bitter chocolates with a loud snap and pronounced sharpness.  Colors in the chocolates range from beige, to mahogany, to almost black.  The flavors of these chocolates have a range of intensity regarding the fruit, acidity, spice, and bitterness.  Picking the chocolates for your applications will be fun.

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Valrhona Chocolates

Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree, and that it had nourishing, fortifying, and even aphrodisiac qualities. Chocolate may well have all of these attributes, but most importantly it makes you feel good and it tastes good.  Chocolates vary greatly and can present a multiplicity of flavors.  Valrhona does a terrific job of highlighting these flavors with their chocolate.

Valrhona chocolate is made specifically for restaurants, bakeries, and pastry chefs.  Valrhona has a reputation for high quality products that are as easy-to-use as they are distinct.  The unique “feve” shape makes it easy to melt for a variety of uses.  If you are looking for exceptional chocolates, cocoa, or cacao with an endless array of applications—cremeux, ganache, mousses, chocolate cakes, or hot chocolate— chances are that Valrhona has a chocolate to help realize your vision.  With a selection of single -source chocolates:

  1. Ghana,
  2. Dominican Republic,
  3. Ecuador,
  4. Madagascar,
  5. Venezuala

Or blends:

  1. South America and
  2. The Caribbean

Valrhona is dedicated to sourcing these cacaos for their quality and for their diverse profiles.

As with most rarefied foods, chocolate pleases all the senses.  When choosing your chocolate look for specific aromas, color, sound (crunchiness, crispness), and always taste.  Smelling the bag of chocolate is a good place to start.  Then breaking the chocolate to see the consistency of the paste and the sound of the snap provide helpful hints too.  On one end of the scale you have the milk chocolates, with soft and muted sound, and on the other end of the scale you have the dark, bitter chocolates with a loud snap and pronounced sharpness.  Colors in the chocolates range from beige, to mahogany, to almost black.  The flavors of these chocolates have a range of intensity regarding the fruit, acidity, spice, and bitterness.  Picking the chocolates for your applications will be fun.

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