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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Carob Honey from Sicily

The Sicilian Black Bee is a species native to the Island, and a descendent of African bees.  The species faced rapid decline in the 1980s in favor of the western honey bee, and would have become extinct had it not been for Sicilian Entomologist named Peter Genduso.  He introduced the Sicilian Black Bee to remote islands where it could repopulate, while dreaming of someday bringing the bee home to Sicily.  His pupil, Charles Amodeo campained for the Slow Food Association to create a Presidium to protect the Sicilian Black Bee – today there are eight beekeepers harvesting honey from the native species in Sicily.

Most people are familiar with carob as a second-rate replacement for chocolate.  Carob trees grow throughout Sicily, and are distinguished by their leathery brown pods.  Mono-floral carob honey is somewhat hard to come by, which is why our carob honey harvested by Sicilian black bees is extra special.  The majority of tree-honeys are aphid honeys, in which bees collect the aphid-dew left behind after aphids digest tree sap (try not to think about it too hard!)  Carob honey is made from the nectar flowing from the flowering carob pods.  It is amber in color, with a dense crystaline texture.   It tastes rich and nearly chocolately (not-unlike carob chips!) and bursts with flavors of warm spices, thyme, and finishes slightly bitter.

We love this honey spooned over cheese, or spread on toast with an ample amount of butter – but surely you could find a more creative use for it.  Need a taste? Give us a call at 612.521.8725, we love talking about food.

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It’s Back: French Lavender Honey

A unique problem we run into when we source truly artisanal products is that if our producer disappears; so does their product.  For years we sourced the best lavender honey we could find from Pierre Cochet.  Pierre was an itinerant beekeeper, travelling with his hives through the lavender dense fields of Provence.  When we got wind of his retirement, it sparked a year long quest for an equivalent (or better) source.

French lavender honey is monofloral, which means that at least 20% of its pollen source comes from one flower.  The best monofloral honeys have upwards of 50-60% pollen content from a single source.  As bees can’t be trained, the beekeeper has to time the hive’s swarm with the desired plant’s flowering season.  While this tradition is more popular in Europe, in Minnesota we are lucky to have beekeepers like Brian from Ames Farm who follow in the same tradition (his honeys are available at Great Ciao.)

Monofloral honeys are typically unpasteurized – the heat required to pasteurize them would destroy the flavor profile and texture the beekeeper worked hard to create.  Because they are raw, these honeys will naturally crystallize.  Often the textural component to a monofloral honey is one of its best assets.  Two of the main components of honey are glucose and fructose.  A honey with mostly fructose, like Italian acacia honey, will remain fluid almost indefinitely.  Lavender honey, composed of mostly glucose; is on the other end of the spectrum.  It crystallizes almost immediately, with a texture similar to buttercream frosting.

After we tasted (and tasted, and tasted) through dozens of iterations of French Lavender honey, we couldn’t choose just one.  The more traditional of the two is from La Cave a Miel (pictured above to the left), a cooperative of beekeepers in the Languedoc-Roussillon department of Southern France.  The texture is dense and smooth, with a bright lemony flavor and a floral lavender aroma.

The second honey we brought in is the Maritime Lavender honey from Gabriel Perronneau, whose family has been producing honey since 1890.  As the name suggests, the Maritime lavender honey is harvested from lavender flowers growing off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  The saltwater in the air imbues the honey with a faint briny, iodine quality.  It was so weird and wonderful that we couldn’t pass it up.

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