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Not Your Average Raisin – Dried Red Globe Grapes from Chile

After months of trekking through mountains of USDA paperwork and FDA clearance, we finally managed to import these fruity little oddities to the great state of Minnesota.  What are they?  Well, we have a hard time calling them raisins…  Instead we’ll call them dried grapes.  Looking for dried plums?  Oh, we have those too…

We found a stall highlighting Chilean dried fruits at the Fancy Food show last year, and were immediately drawn to these plump Red Globe grapes, that looked about as close to the fresh version as possible.  They explained that they used a special low-heat drying process that preserves the integrity of the fruit, both in size and color, and in flavor and nutritional content.  I had to stop myself from eating the entire display.

The texture is crispy on the outside, and chewy and yielding on the inside.  Because Red Globe grapes are a seeded variety, they do have a few small crunchy seeds that would be difficult to pit, but the drying process renders them crunchy, nutty and completely edible.  In flavor, they don’t have any of the mustiness of regular “raisins”, instead they are sugar sweet and juicy with a touch of acidity; just like the real thing, but with a more interesting texture.

We prefer to snack on raw ingredients out of hand and let you the chefs come up with interesting ways to use them.  So far we’ve seen them re-hydrated, used in desserts, and thrown on cheese boards.

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They’re Back! Italian Truffled Dwarf Peaches

There are a few super-obscure products we’ve sourced over the years that have managed to build up a bit of a cult following.  When we can’t get them, their absence can make even the most even-keeled chef cry foul play.  Unfortunately, these weird little fruits have been held up by U.S. Customs for the last several months, but we are pleased as punch to announce their triumphant return to our warehouse!

Anyways, for the uninitiated…

Truffled dwarf peaches have an amazing bright crisp flavor that is both familiar and surprising to your palate.  The familiar sweet and sour pickle is bolstered by just enough truffle to tease your senses.  The size and texture is familiar; crisp like an olive or cornichon, and the size of a caper berry or Cerignola olive.  Because the fruits are picked young they have no pit and are sweet sour rather than salty in flavor.

In the fall, before winter arrives the farmers pick the unripe peaches, so they do not go to waste. Then, they pickle them in vinegar to conserve the peaches and consume them like any other pickle.  Sulpizio Tartufi added a twist to the product by soaking the peaches in sunflower oil and infusing the oil with the essence of white truffle.

These peaches have just enough truffle flavor to let you know that they are a truffled product, but not so much as to over power the dish that you are using it on. They add a pleasant crunch and acidity to any salad, garnish or condiment and at the same time perfume your dish with the pleasant aroma of truffles.  You can chop them into a vitello tonnato, slice them into a salad, serve them in an aphrodisiacal dirty martini, or just eat them whole when the chef isn’t watching… you can think of more uses than we can.

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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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New at Great Ciao! French Juices from Alain Milliat

After a particularly nasty winter, summer has finally arrived in Minnesota.  Our residents have come out of hibernation, and onto the patios of every restaurant in the metro area.  Just as the ice was thawing (a few weeks ago) we brought in some really great juices that Scott had discovered on one of his last trips to France.

Alain Milliat grew up in the French gastronomic capital of Lyon, as the son of a fruit farmer. Today he takes heirloom fruit varieties at their peak of ripeness and preserves them in juice.  His juices have been lauded by some of the world’s highest ranked sommeliers – and we think they are pretty darn tasty too!  What we especially like about his juices is that they capture the flavor and the texture of the fruit, the raspberry nectar is jammy and pulpy, the pear juice is aromatic and creamy with the crisp tannic finish you would expect from biting into the fresh fruit.  The passion fruit nectar is a convenient alternative for home-mixologists unable to use up a foodservice sized container of fruit puree.  Whether you are looking to quench your thirst, or make a killer cocktail, these juices are worth a taste.

Flavors in house (sold in 330ml bottles, 12/CS): Cox Apple, Apricot Nectar, Mango Nectar, Morello Cherry Juice, Passion Fruit Nectar, Summer Pear Nectar, Raspberry Nectar, Wild Strawberry Nectar, White Peach Nectar, Tomato Juice.

Milliat Raspberry Clover Club
Don’t let this pink frothy drink fool you – the venerable Clover Club cocktail dates back to 1910, when industry captains would kick back at the eponymous Philadelphia men’s club to celebrate a job well done.  Milliat’s raspberry nectar is a fresh lively alternative to the original recipe’s call for grenadine, but any of his fruit nectars would make for an interesting variation.

2 oz. London dry gin
1 oz. Raspberry nectar
1/2 oz. lemon juice
one small egg white

Shake well with cracked ice until the egg white has created a frothy foam, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

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The Gospel According to Prunes

How d’Agen Prunes are Taking Back their Geriatric Image

Did your grandparents ever force you to drink a glass of their prune juice?  Mine did.  And I’ll never forget the singularly awful combination of flavors that came with washing down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with… prune juice.  The prunes many of us grew up on, were visceral enough to keep the ubiquitous purple cardboard box from making its way into our adult grocery carts.  But recently, I’ve undergone somewhat of a prune conversion.  It began with our succulent French d’Agen prunes, and was perpetuated when we found our fabulously aromatic D’Agen Plum Seed Oil.

The most famous prune in the world, the pruneau d’Agen, has been a celebrated product of southwest France since at least the 1500s and the Ente plums have been officially protected since 2002 by the European Union.  Agen is a commune in Aquitaine of south-western France.  It lies on the river Garonne 84miles southeast of Bordeaux and is the birthplace of the prune d’Agen.
We get our Pruneau d’Agen from Marc Peyrey, whose small orchard focuses on growing heirloom fruit varietals of the Agen region.  To preserve the moisture and flavors of the prune d’ente, Marc dries the prunes in a special drying oven of his own invention, and partially rehydrates them in their own juice before sealing them in vacuum packs.  His prunes are delicious in savory applications (Duck! Foie gras! Cheese Plates!), as well as in sweeter ones: delicately spiced cakes, ice cream, clafouti.  But here at Great Ciao, we enjoy eating them simply straight out of the bag.

Recently we began sourcing another exceptional prune product – plum seed oil.  Until recently plum seed oil has been relatively unheard of in the states, but its popularity is gaining momentum, particularly with pastry chefs.  Plum seed oil, is the oil made by pressing the pit of the d’Agen plum.  The flavor and aroma are very similar to that of a bitter almond – the almond traditionally used in almond extracts, marzipan and oils.  After trying plum seed oils from several producers, we fell in love with the one from Perles de Gascogne.  Their orchard grows 20,000 prune d’ente and hazelnut trees, and is located 60km from the town of Agen.  Before the oil can be extracted from the fatty kernel, the tough pit has to be cracked, making for a time consuming and labor intensive product.  As with all great oils, their plum seed oil meets the EU’s Extra Virgin standards by being cold pressed, collected on the first pressing, and having an acidity bellow .05%.

The oil is fragrant enough to use in recipes that call for almond extract.  If you are using plum seed oil as a dressing, you might consider tempering it with a more neutral oil.  It would make an excellent dressing for a summer fruit salad, equally sublime drizzled on grilled peaches, or used in any number of cakes and pastries.

 

Here is a recipe that makes use of both the prunes, and their oil – Enjoy!

Far Breton with Prunes d’Agen and Plum Seed Oil

Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

3 large eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon virgin plum seed oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for pan
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pitted pruneaux d’Agen (soaked overnight in Armagnac)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, plum seed oil, butter, vanilla, and salt and blend for 1 minute. Add the flour and pulse until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the blender jar. Chill in the jar for at least three hours and up to one day.

Position rack in the center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line bottom of the pan with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper then dust the pan with flour, tapping out excess.
Blend the batter again until smooth, about 5 seconds. Pour into the prepared cake pan. Drop the prunes evenly into batter. Place cake pan on a baking sheet and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until sides are browned and puffy and knife inserted into center comes out clean.

Cool cake completely on a cooling rack. Loosen cake from the pan by running a knife around the sides. Carefully invert pan onto a piece of wax or parchment paper, remove the pan and peel off parchment round. Place serving plate over cake and invert again. Dust cake with powdered sugar and serve.  (This recipe would be especially delicious with Armagnac scented whipped cream, or crème anglais)

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Truffled Peaches are going to change your life!

From Southern Italy, these peaches have an amazing bright crisp flavor that is both familiar and surprising to your palate.  The familiar sweet sour pickle is bolstered by just enough truffle to tease your senses.  The size and texture is familiar; crisp like an un-pasteurized olive or cornichons, the size of a caper berry or Cerignola olive, but with no pit and with a sweet sour rather than salty flavor.

In the fall, before winter arrives the farmers pick the unripe peaches, so they do not go to waste. Then, they pickle them in vinegar to conserve the peaches and consume them like any other pickle.  Sulpizio Tartufi added a twist to the product by soaking the peaches in sunflower oil and infusing the oil with the essence of white truffle.

These peaches have just enough truffle flavor to let you know that this is a truffled product, but not too much to over power the dish that you are using it on. They add a pleasant crunch and acidity to any salad, garnish or condiment and at the same time perfume your dish with the pleasant aroma of truffles.  You can chop them into a vitello tonnato, slice them into a salad, serve them in an aphrodisiacal dirty martini, eat them whole when the chef isn’t watching… you can think of more uses than we can.

Give this unique product a try!

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Prune d’Ente

These are not your Grandmother’s prunes!

From the Ente plum to the Agen prune, much has to be done to obtain the tender, tasty, juicy delicacy that’s come to be known as the “black gold of Aquitaine”.  The Agen prunes are made from a variety of plums called “Prune d’Ente“, and for export the prunes are also called prune d’Ente.  As with most products at Great Ciao the quality is determined by the details, taste the difference.

The most famous prune in the world, the pruneau d’Agen, has been a celebrated product of southwest France since at least the 1500s and the Ente plums have been officially protected since 2002 by the European Union.  Agen is a commune in Aquitaine of south-western France.  It lies on the river Garonne 84miles southeast of Bordeaux and is the birthplace of the prune d’Agen.

For centuries, prune production was essentially carried out empirically as a cottage industry.  Now even as production has been mechanized, and grafts of the Ente plum can grow in California, there are differences.

How to determine ripeness? Most growers determine the time to harvest by measuring the softness of the fruit, which is linked to sweetness; growers aim to pick when resistance to pressure, applied to the fruit with a penetrometer, falls to between three and four pounds. But in France, growers measure the sweetness directly with a refractometer, looking for 21 degrees Brix — each degree equaling approximately 1 percent sugar — and sometimes achieving much more. (Ripeness often used to be determined by the plums themselves, which fall from the tree as they become ripe. Growers would spread straw on the ground as a cushion to prevent bruising.)

How to pick? Even while most harvesting of the Agen plum orchards is now mechanized, the machines, which shake the trees and catch the fruit, pass four to seven times, as the fruit ripens. In California, similar machines harvest much more aggressively, passing just once to gather all the fruit from the tree.

How to preserve? In California and France mechanical driers reduce the moisture to 21 to 23 percent for keeping.  In a recent innovation that quickly became universal in Agen, the prunes are rehydrated to 35 percent before packaging. This process gives a more luscious consistency, and there’s no longer a need to soak before use. Some prunes are packed with sorbic acid to preserve others are pasteurized at 158 degrees.  The product that we carry at Great Ciao is pasteurized rather than preserved with sorbic acid, giving a slightly darker color and a more concentrated, caramel flavor.

Does it all make a difference? From the climate to the final processing the differences between plums are many, and none are more obvious than the pit in vs. pitted.  Most California prunes are pitted, but only about half the French ones are. Although French technical experts say that last-minute pitting before packaging has no effect on flavor, Jean-Michel Delmas, a grower, farm-union activist, and historian of the pruneau d’Agen says, “a large part of the flavor comes from the presence of the pit. Without it, the plum loses the heart of its aroma.”

Ed Behr, in his periodical The Art of Eating, made a side-by-side comparison of some Agen prunes (pitted, no preservatives) with two California brands (pitted, with preservatives), the Agen were softer and moister, thinner-skinned, sweeter, with slightly fruitier, somewhat stronger flavor and a longer aftertaste.

Give these a try and make your own decision, we think you will like them.

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Les Vergers de Boiron Frozen fruit purees

Les Vergers, translates to the orchards and it is from orchards all over the world that Boiron collects the best fruits at the height of their ripeness.  The fruit is manipulated as little as possible, to seize the optimal flavor. Boiron has perfected the process of flash pasteurization to preserve all the fruit’s natural qualities: fragrance, flavor, color and texture.

The Boiron processes from: sorting, washing, crushing, blanching, sieving, de-aerating, flash pasteurization, deep freezing, and seasoning are all in place to ensure consistent quality.  The ingredients list on these products is short, fruit and sugar.  A number of the purees have no sugar added and Boiron guarantees these purees to have Brix (sugar content by percentage of mass) content between -2° and 2°, for purees with sugar added the Brix content is between -1° and 1°.  The convenience of these ranges is that you, as the customer, can maintain recipes without worrying about inconsistent flavor.

Great Ciao has customers are using this product in all sorts of different ways: in pastry, in confectionary, in savory dishes, and in cocktails.  Whether you are making raspberry ganache, apricot mousse, green apple foam, or a black Cosmopolitan; Boiron products consistently deliver delicious fruit flavors. Click here to see recipes and suggestions at the Boiron website.