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Spanish Piñón (Pine Nuts) from Castilla Leon, Just in Time for Pesto Season!

Pine nuts, Pignoli, Piñón…  Historical records of eating the fruit from pine cones date back to Ancient Rome, but we have likely been painstakingly harvesting the fruit from conifers since we became bipedal.  Pine-nuts are the extraordinarily fragrant “nut” harvested from pine cones that are also, extraordinarily expensive.  While all pine cone producing trees produce “nuts” there are only 18 species that produce an edible seed, these species are found in North America, Europe and in Asia.  European pine-nuts are considered to be superior in flavor and texture to American and Asian pine-nuts, and less expensive Chinese pine-nuts have been linked to “pine-mouth” and actual, nasty condition that makes food taste metallic and bitter for a few days, to a few weeks (lesson: don’t skimp on pine nuts!)  European pine-nuts are long and slender, with a texture that is creamy and rich and a subtle, aromatic flavor.

We import Spanish Piñón from Teresa Mate, a family run operation that has been harvesting pine-nuts from the pine grove forests of “Tierra de Pinares” within the autonomous region of Castilla y León since 1970.  Historically, the region of “Tierra de Pinares” was known for lumber and resin production.  Through centuries of trial and error, the regions lumberjacks also learned the art of curing and harvesting Piñón from the Pinus Pinea trees that produce an especially large variety of piñón with a sweet and aromatic flavor.  While it takes 18 months for most piñón to mature, at Teresa Mate, they wait a full three years to harvest the pine-cones so that they have a higher natural composition of the aromatic resins that give the nuts their sought-after aroma.  Teresa Mate also naturally extracts the pine-nuts by allowing the cones to open naturally under the sun (pictured above) instead of baking or roasting the cones.  The finished piñón are golden in color with an exquisite flavor.

Teresa Mate’s Piñón are available in vacuum packed 1kg bags and are at your beck and call for fresh summer pestos and sweet pignoli cookies!

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Heirloom Chandler Walnuts from Old Dog Ranch

Organically Grown Walnuts from a 5th Generation San Joaquin County Family Farm

This might seem obvious, but after a few years in the business we’ve found that we like working with likable people.  And if they happen to make a great product, well then it’s just gravy.

Founded in 1912, Old Dog Ranch has been in the family for five generations of farming in California’s lush San Joaquin Valley, but was only recently named after the sweet geriatric rescue dogs that call the ranch home.  Mollie is the face of the business at San Francisco’s legendary Ferry Market, where she sells her family’s organic Chandler walnuts, as well as an assortment of seasoned roasted walnuts and nut butters of her own design.  When we complimented Mollie on her beautiful products, she smiled and said something wholly self-effacing: “yeah, my dad’s a really good farmer.”

Chandler walnuts are an older English varietal that were reintroduced to California by the UC Davis School of Agriculture in 2004.  Often, walnuts can be overbearingly high in tannins and have a flavor that is stale-verging-on-rancid.  These, are fresh, low in tannins, and creamy with a fluffy and cloud-like texture.  Our raw walnut halves from Old Dog Ranch are sold by the pound and come in beautiful whole pieces.

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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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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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That’s Amore: Hazelnuts from Piemonte

Champagne, Parmigianno Reggiano, Jamon Iberico… Sometimes a place is so fundamental to the food that it’s not worth reinventing the wheel.  We would say that the same holds true for hazelnuts from the Piedmont region of Italy.

The hazelnut tree indigenous to Piedmont is so delicate that attempts to grow the varietal in the United States have been unsuccessful.  Today, the majority of domestic hazelnuts are grown in Oregon, using the Barcelona varietal, which was brought from Spain to the west coast in the late 1800s.  Oregon produces twice as many tons of hazelnuts every year as Piedmont, though the world leader of hazelnut production is Turkey.  Despite Piedmont’s minuscule production, their hazelnuts still stand their ground with an intense, sweet, hazelnutty flavor. By comparison, hazelnuts from Turkey and Oregon are larger, but also have more bitterness and woody tannins.

On a historical side-note, the Piedmont region’s bountiful hazelnut crop became a thing of legend when a chocolate shortage caused by the Napoleonic wars forced a local confectioner to use hazelnuts to stretch his chocolate supply.  Nocciolata was born; though most people today recognize it as Nutella.

Our Piedmont hazelnuts come peeled and toasted in vacuum packed bags to preserve their freshness.  If you have any questions don’t hesitate to call us at 612.521.8725, we love talking about food!

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New at Great Ciao! Jem Specialty Nut Butters

I’ll be the first to admit that our sample jar of Jem almond butter sat on the tasting table for a few days before I ventured to try it.  At Great Ciao, we are always looking to procure the tastiest grub we can get our hands on, but we often find that products laden with health claims seldom provide the benefit of great flavor to match.  Jem’s nut butters have all of the labels that make us wary – they are: USDA organic, made with sprouted almonds, raw, vegan, non GMO, high in vitamin E, made without processed sugar, made with superfood ingredients, and fair trade to boot.  Fortunately, their nut butters are only exceeded in their nutritional value by their flavor. When I finally tasted the coconut cardamom almond butter, the sample jar mysteriously found its way from the public tasting table to the privacy of my office desk – the jar was gone within a few days.

Business partners Tim Moore, Jen Moore and Nik Rueth initially set out to make raw chocolate bars.  They purchased a stone grinder from India traditionally used for making curry.  The same gentle heat (never exceeding 118°) and long grinding time that draws out the maximum flavor in curry is perfect for slowly grinding cocoa beans, or as they soon discovered: almonds.  With her background as a nutritionist, Jen knew that almonds are one of the healthiest nuts.  Unfortunately, un-sprouted almonds contain enzyme inhibitors that keep us from being able to absorb all of their nutritional value.  The three began experiment using their stone-grinder to make small batches of almond butters, and soon redirected their focus from chocolate to full-time nut butter production.

The twenty-four hour grinding time is unique and yields silky smooth texture.   Each flavor is made with a short ingredient list of the best stuff they can find.  Raw California almonds are soaked in a Himalayan sea salt brine, and are sprouted in-house.  The whole vanilla beans are of the Madagascar Bourbon varietal, and coconut palm sugar is used as an unrefined, low-glycemic sweetener that adds a nutty caramelized flavor.

In addition to their 6oz jars, Jem also makes gallon sized food service tubs by special order – for restaurant or home* use.

*If you like them as much as I do.

Cinnamon Red Maca Almond Butter

The first signature almond butter from Jem, this blend of sprouted almonds, warming cinnamon and energizing raw maca tastes like shopping mall cinnamon buns, with the benefit of making you feel good about yourself afterwards.  Enjoy it stirred into oatmeal, or slathered on crispMinnesotaapples.

Coconut Cardamom Almond Butter

Katie’s favorite – sprouted almonds are slowly ground with shredded coconut, fragrant cardamom, and tropical lucama fruit (which is chocked full of Vitamen B and tastes like sweet potatos and maple syrup.)  Try it on toast with sliced bananas – or straight from the jar on a spoon.

Maqui Camu Super Berry Almond Butter

Jem’s creamy almond butter is blended with two super-berries from Patagonia and theAndes. Loaded with anti-oxidants and nutrients, this fruity spread will have you ready to climb either mountain range – or both depending on how much of it you eat.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Jem’s chocolate hazelnut spread is their singular departure from almond butters, and contains sproutedOregonhazelnuts and cacao nibs for a deep chocolate flavor.  It an be enjoyed as a rectifying counterbalance to vanilla ice cream, or much like their other flavors – on a spoon straight out of the jar.

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