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Quince and Apple Pear Mostarda

At Great Ciao, we’ve never been keen on the “cheese with stuff in it” genre.  We’d prefer to source the tastiest cheeses, and pair them with delicious accompaniments.  As luck would have it, we have some delicious new “stuff” to put on our favorite cheeses.

Quince and Apple is a small husband and wife owned company dedicated to making small-batch preserves that capture the bounty of the Upper-Midwest.  As Madisonites and natives of the Great Dairy State, each of their preserves are designed around pairing with cheeses, and are made when local fruits are at the height of their short Midwestern growing season.

The newest addition to their lineup of preserves, is a sweet and spicy pear mostarda.  We got a kick out of seeing Matt cook test-batches of mostarda wearing full hazmat regalia to protect himself from the potent mustard oil fumes, but after months of trial and error, he’s concocted a real humdinger.  It has just enough well-balanced zing to brighten up your cheese plate, grilled cheese, or charcuterie board.

From Quince and Apple:

“Inspired by a 15th century recipe, this mostarda is deeply rooted in tradition, while at the same time thoroughly modern, fresh and bright. Our mostarda combines sweet pears and apples with bright fresh lemons and the heat of mustard oil to create a subtle and well-balanced whole.

Mostarda is an Italian condiment, hundreds of years old, that combines preserved fruit with the heat from mustard oil. It is traditionally served as an accompaniment for cheese, charcuterie and cured meats.  We spent 18 months perfecting their ability to make an authentic mostarda that uses true mustard essential oil. Mustard oil is extremely difficult to work with, so most domestic mostardas use only mustard seeds, which lack the distinctive heat seen in Italian mostardas.

Mustard oil heat is different than the spiciness from capsaicin. It is closer to wasabi or horseradish heat and doesn’t get hotter the more you eat. The overall effect is a pleasant medium heat that clears out quickly.  Our favorite pairings are big, bold blues, dense cave-aged cheddars and funky washed-rind cheeses, in addition to a wide range of cured meats. It’s also a great addition to a grilled cheese or hearty sandwich.”

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Boetje’s Mustard Named Grand Champion of World-Wide Mustard Competition

One of the best parts of the job is listening to the the myriad of creative ways our customers pronounce the name of this dutch stone-ground mustard (thankfully, the label now clarifies that it is pronounced “boat-cheese”).  Funny name aside, Boetje’s mustard has been a local chef favorite for years.  Made locally-ish in Rock Island, Illinois, this mustard has the kind of horseradish/wasabi intensity that clears out your sinuses, while still having great depth of flavor and texture.  I personally love it on a BLT (braunschweiger, lettuce, and tomato) sandwich, but I also have the palate of an eighty-year-old man.

Anyways, its always nice to hear when our producers get a little recognition for their hard work and dedication to producing tasty grub.  We just heard through the grapevine that back in April, the nice folks at Boetje’s took home the gold medal in the course-grain mustard category, and then went on to become the Grand Champion of the entire competition at the Annual World-Wide Mustard Competitionhosted by the Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin.  This is the first time in the history of the competition that the top grainy mustard has gone on to win this prestigious award.

Boetje’s Mustard is sold in one gallon tubs for food-service, as well as in 8.5oz. glass retail jars.

 

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These My Jams: Agrimontana Italian Fruit Preserves

I’m kind of a jam freak.  If it can be swirled into unsweetened yogurt, slathered on toast, or paired with cheese, you know I’m there.  Agrimontana’s jams have been on my short-list of favorites since I started working in the wild world of fancy groceries a decade ago.  Founded in 1972 in Piedmont, Italy, Agrimontana has been known to pastry chefs for years as one of the premier sources for candied fruits, and nut pastes (and we stock those too!) However the jams are only found in a handful of boutique specialty food stores around the country.

These preserves are made only when the fruits reach their peak season, using a little bit of lemon juice, and cane sugar from Mauritius.  There are no additional flavors or preservatives.  The end product has wonderful purity of fresh fruit flavor, as well as brilliant colors and textures.  I could (and often do) eat them by the spoonful.  Our first shipment of Agrimontana’s fruit preserves just reached Great Ciao World Headquarters.  We started off with Apricot, Wild Blueberry, Amarene Sour Cherry, Fig, Raspberry, and Strawberry, but many other flavors available by request.

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Red Boat “Chefs Cuvée” Double-Barrel Aged Fish Sauce

“A little bit Southeast Asian, a little bit rock n’ roll…”

We brought in Red Boat Fish Sauce a little over a year ago, at the behest of our friends Bob & Kristen at Valley Cheese and Wine in Henderson, Nevada.  And despite the fact that you can find cheaper versions of fish sauce, Red Boat’s version has quickly become a pantry staple in some of the best kitchens and retail shops around the town.

The new 2015 Chef’s Cuvée was developed by chefs Edward Lee (610 Magnolia in Louisville), Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions in San Francisco), Paul Qui (Qui in Austin) and Bryan Caswell (Reef in Houston), on their 2013 trip to the “Fish Sauce Trail” with Food Republic that took them from Saigon to the island of Phu Quoc where Red Boat Fish sauce is made.  This special selection is aged in Red Boat’s tropical wood barrels, and then aged for an additional eight months in spent Kentucky Bourbon barrels.  The resulting fish sauce is deep ruby red in color with a sweet fruity aroma and lingering notes of smokiness and caramel.  This limited run is available in 375 ml. glass bottles.

PICTURE BY MEGAN FAWN SCHLOW, COURTESY OF RED BOAT FISH SAUCE

 

The Red Boat Story

In Vietnam, 95% of families use fish sauce on a daily basis.  Owner Cuong Pham grew up Saigon where he remembers the vivid sweet brothy flavor that the fish sauce from his Uncle’s factory on Phu Quac brought to his mother’s cooking.  When his family immigrated to the United States during the war, they were disappointed by the fish sauce they found in American markets – if they could find it at all.  While working in San Francisco during the dot-com boom of the nineties, he returned home to Vietnam, to find that many of the traditional fish sauce producers on Phu Quac, including his uncle’s, had gone out of business.

In 2006 he bought and revitalized a small fish sauce factory on the island of Phu Quac, which is known both for its phenomenal fish sauce and for its ample black anchovy population.  Black Anchovies are harvested off the Phu Quoc island archipelago.  When the traditional red wood lacquered boats return to the port, the anchovies are cleaned, and immediately packed with salt into tropical wood barrels.  The tropical wood barrels impart an intense fruity sweetness that we were shocked to find was not from added sugar.

We Currently Stock Red Boat’s Fish Sauce in:

  • 50°N – 50 ml Retail Bottles
  • 40°N – 250 ml Retail Bottles
  • 30°N – 2L Food-Service Jugs
  • Chefs Cuvée 40°N – 375 ml Bottle

N is an industry standard to measure the number of grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce which tells you the protein content and thereby relative strength of the fish sauce.)

Have questions? Give us a call at (612) 521-8725, we love talking about food.

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Small Batch Preserves from Madison-Based Quince & Apple

You can keep your Stilton with ginger and mango, I’ve never really been a fan of the “cheese with stuff in it” genre.  I’d rather find the tastiest cheeses, and pair them with delicious accompaniments.  As luck would have it, we just found some really good “stuff” to put on our favorite cheeses.  Quince and Apple is a small husband and wife owned company dedicated to making small-batch preserves that capture the bounty of the Upper-Midwest.  As major turophiles and natives of the Great Dairy State, each of their preserves are designed around pairing with cheeses, and are made when local fruits are at the height of their short Midewestern growing season (save for citrus and figs) and are stockpiled throughout the year so that you can enjoy perfectly tart door county cherries during our frigid Minnesota winters.

Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld grew up making jam from the fruits his family grew in their backyard.  After managing an organic co-op, getting a culinary degree, and cooking in high-end restaurant kitchens, he started playing around with jams and jellies using unique flavor combinations as gifts for his friends and family.  Demand for his products from a few local specialty food shops led him to rent out a commercial kitchen, and use their living room as warehouse.

It wasn’t long before his side-hustle became a full-time gig.  Clare, who has a dual major in music performance and biology, and also enjoys reading business books for fun, was the perfect left-brained accomplice to Matt’s creative tinkering, and quickly assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer.  Today they’ve outgrown both the commercial kitchen, and their living room, and have their own production space and warehouse in Madison.  Despite their larger facility, every aspect of production is still done entirely by hand, from ladling the jam to labeling the jars!

In a world now saturated with “artisan” products marketed to their “foodie” demographic, sometimes it is hard to find products with substance that goes beyond the marketing guff.  Quince and Apple makes beautiful preserves with fresh, well-balanced flavors using the best ingredients they can find, and a deft hand when it comes to adding sugar or aromatics… and they look nice to boot.

Preserves

We stock all of Quince and Apple’s preserves in retail 6oz jars, sold 12/CS, however all of their flavors are also available in more economical foodservice sizes; give us a call for sizes and pricing.  Quince and Apple also makes a line of superb fruit based syrups for sodas and cocktails.  We are looking forward to selling them soon!

Peach Chamomile – Ripe peaches steep in rich chamomile tea, creating a luscious preserve with notes of maple, brown butter and wildflower honey.Our favorite pairings include aged gouda, washed rind cheeses and creamy blues. Of course a pastry would be delightful too.

Figs and Black Tea – Full-bodied black tea and sweet, delicate figs combine in sultry counterpoint, creating a thoroughly seductive preserve. Spread on a sliced baguette or good cracker with goat cheese and prosciutto.  Spoon over vanilla ice cream for an out-of-the-ordinary dessert.

Raspberry Rose – Ruby raspberries sparkle in this bright preserve.  Lush fruit and floral rose create notes of cherry, punch and lime.  Top a tart or bring a big cheese to life. Try an aged gruyere or bold mimolette.

Orange Marmalade with Lemons – If a preserve can be sunny, this one definitely is. It practically bursts with light and satisfaction and finishes like a sweet summer day.  Spread plain on a piece of toast with real Wisconsin butter.  Add some zest to your cooking by stirring into marinades, vinaigrettes and sauces.

Pear with Honey and Ginger – Fresh from the orchard, ripe pears and crisp apples luxuriate in lush honey and warm grated ginger.  This preserve demands a good pastry – top a croissant, Danish or cider doughnut. Or, stir into your favorite muffin recipe.  Pair with a sharp or bandaged cheddar or a wedge of triple-creme Brie.  This preserve is made with local honey, and local pears and apples when they’re in season!

Shallot Confit with Red Wine – A robust, self-assured preserve with an elegant streak. Bold red wine brightens the deep caramels of slow-cooked shallots.  Pair with blue cheese and sharp cheddar.  Liven up a smoked turkey sandwich or top a steak or grilled chicken.

Tart Cherry and White Tea – Door County tart cherries float in a delicate jelly of jasmine flowers and white tea.  Seductive with a creamy bleu or full-fat soft rind cheese.  Dainty on a shortcake with fresh whipped cream.

Apples and Cranberry – A Thanksgiving favorite, this preserve is a combination of local apples, cranberries, honey, orange zest, ginger and bay leaves.  This preserve pairs with an assortment of meats and cheeses like turkey, pork, or camembert for tart and savory dishes.  Or, mix Apples and Cranberry with hot cider and rum and strain to create a warm cocktail.

 

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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 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.

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This year: Resolve to Use More Fish Sauce

“A fish sauce by any other name would smell as…”

As a lover of both history and food, it really gets my gears turning when I find an intersection of the two.  A beautiful example is the French concept of terroir – the taste of place.  And although it typically is used in conjunction with wine, the principles of terroir can be broadened to all foods.  If anything, it is a marker of culinary anthropology; why people in certain regions made their gustatory decisions.  It blows my mind to think of alpine dairy farmers thousands of miles apart from one another, hundreds of years ago, who made remarkably similar styles of cheese.  But today we’re not talking about cheese – we’re talking about fish sauce.

Fish sauce is the byproduct from making anchovies.  Traditionally, anchovies are made by packing the tiny saltwater fish (bones, scales, and all) between layers of salt, in a barrel and letting them cure for several months.  During that time, the salt leaches the moisture out of the fish through osmosis, and the anchovies are transformed through lactic fermentation into what we commonly call “brown anchovies” (White anchovies, or boquerones are pickled rather than cured.)  After the several month long curing process, the fermented juice that collects at the bottom of the barrell is the fish sauce – or as the ancient Romans called it: garum.

Southeast Asian fish sauces and and Italian Garum Colatura have been made in nearly identical processes for hundreds of years, halfway across the world from one another.  In both cases, the best versions only contain anchovies (or sometimes other fish) and salt.  In both regions, they are used to bolster the flavor of food with their glutamite rich, umami boosting power.

Our Garum Colatura is from Delfino, a small producer on the Italian Island of Capri.  In Italy it is referred to simply as “colatura” which means “to drip.”  The word “garum” is a reference to its ancient ancestor, a pungent Roman fish sauce.  It used to be that every family in Capri had their own barrel of fermenting anchovies for making Garum Colatura.  In Capri, colatura is commonly used on a Christmas day pasta tossed with olive oil, chili flakes, garlic and parsley.  Our Garum Colatura tastes briney and brothy, with a meaty aroma that is unmistakably anchovy.

Fish Sauce is new to our warehouse, and came as a suggestion from our friends Bob and Kristen at Valley Cheese and Wine in Henderson, Nevada.  Owner Cuong grew up Saigon, but immigrated to the United States in his early adulthood.  He tried to emulate the cooking of his homeland, but the fish sauce he found in Asian markets left him with a bad taste in his mouth.  They were far from the full-flavored version he remembered from home, so he set to making his own superior version.  

In 2006 he started a small factory on the tropical island of Phu Quac, which is known for its phenomenal fish sauce.   Black Anchovies are harvested off the Phu Quoc island archipelago.  When they return to the port, the anchovies are cleaned, and packed in salt into tropical wood barrels.  The tropical wood barrels impart a vivid fruity sweetness into the fish sauce that we were shocked to find was not from added sugar (remember: only anchovies and salt.)  We currently stock the 40°N fish sauce from Red Boat.  Degrees N is an industry standard to measure the number of grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce which relates to the protein level.

Click here to watch a video of Red Boat’s fish sauce being made.

Have questions? Give us a call at (612) 521-8725, we love talking about food.

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Kishibori Shoyu – or – Shoyu Think You Know Soy Sauce?

When most people think of soy sauce, they either have a mental image of the plastic packets that are thrown into every bag of takeout Chinese food, or of the Kikkoman bottle with the red cap that can pour out of either side… This was probably a big day for soy sauce bottle innovation.  We’re not slamming Kikkoman, for years they’ve put out a pretty darn good product at a massive industrial scale.  But Kikkoman is to the world of soy sauce, what Cutty Sark is to the world of Scotch Whiskys.  For the money it’s pretty good – but there is better stuff out there.

The best stuff we’ve found is Kishibori Shoyu.  Commodity soy sauce tastes like salt and not much else – but this soy sauce tastes like something you wouldn’t mind eating all on its own.  When you pour it onto a spoon you can see that it has a much higher viscosity than the commercial stuff, along with a beautiful amber hue.  The scent is floral with a nice bit of earthy porcini funk.  Kishibori Shoyu is rich and brothy on the palate, with a saltiness that supports rather than overwhelms its many layers of flavor.  It has a meatiness (read: umami) that’s reminiscent of the crust on a well-seared steak.

Kishibori Shoyu is produced by the Takesan Company which was founded by Yoshiji Takebe in at the turn of the 19th century.  He chose the small island of Shodoshima for his shoyu company not only because of the ideal temperate climate for fermentation, but also for the regions long history of sea salt production.  Today other Shoyu producers have followed suit, and Shodoshima Island has become Japan’s third largest Shoyu producing region.

 The Takesan Company still makes their shoyu artisanally, using only the highest quality whole soybeans, toasted wheat, and artisanal sea salt from the surrounding Seto Inland Sea.  The production of Kishibori Shoyu is similar to that of the legendary Balsamic vinegar, in that the Takesan Company uses American white oak barrels (some of which from when Yoshiji first started the company!)  to age their shoyu.  After the three ingredients go through the “mashing” phase, they are allowed to slowly ferment in the oak barrels for a year.  The slow fermentation process creates organic acids that heighten the flavor of the soy sauce, and eliminate the need for the artificial preservatives and alcohols found in the commercial stuff.  After a year of aging in the oak barrels, Kishibori shoyu is filtered, pasteurized, and bottled.

Because this soy sauce is so special, it should be treated a little bit differently.  We’d recommend using it to finish a dish, or as a great dipping sauce with fresh chives and a bit of extra virgin sesame oil.  It would take the super simple dinner of rice with a fried egg on top to the next level.  While we recognize that the refrigerators of cooks are often overstocked with the condiments of the world – this is another one you shouldn’t have to live without.

(Sold in beautifully wrapped 360 ml. bottles)