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Salt Rising Bread

20170416_163502Another rare treat hailing from the Amish country in upstate New York. Tasty, cheesy and you’d better toast and add butter to it, if u wanna enjoy it. Salt Rising Bread from one of the three producers I know of. (two of them make it well and this is one)

I ate some on Easter. It came from the Giant Food Mart in Wellsville, NY and it was awesome.

Apparently, it also makes the best grilled cheese, but you have to toast both sides before adding the cheese.

This interesting article is worth reading…




Electric Watercress

It was 9 years ago.  I was working at the Tasty Singapore pavilion at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in NYC. My buddy, Neil and I had some time to take a break and walk around the show for a bit.  Walking around such a large space filled with the best in gourmet and craft food from around the world is an awesome experience.  If you ever get the chance, definitely go to the Fancy Food Show.  Anyway, as we were walking around we came across a micro-green and edible garnish purveyor.  Micro-greens are basically baby versions of herbs and vegetable sprouts that are often used to finish a plate of food in a fancy restaurant (see the micro cilantro used to top off my perfect bite). Well, all of a sudden I hear this exclamatory yelp from Neil.  No sooner do I look up, when he presents me with a tiny flower.  The bud is tightly formed and bright yellow, just like a miniature sunflower, but spherical. It’s the size and shape of a very small marble. He tells me to eat it, and as I take it in my hand I see a menacing look begin to form on his face.  As he starts to grin, I hesitated.  He said, ” No man, it’s fine, it’s totally cool…  It’s like electricity.”

Wait…what? Why would I eat this?  I thought, What is the taste of electricity??

“It’s totally cool.  Just eat it.”

I felt like I was back in middle school being taunted to do something I would surely regret.  But then, what the hell… I popped it in my mouth.

My tongue LIT UP! Neil was right. The only thing I could think of was that I just pressed a 9-volt battery to my tongue.  It tasted…just like ELECTRICITY.  Then I realized that I have had a similar, yet much less intense sensation before.  If you have ever eaten a sichuan peppercorn, that is the sensation.  Slightly tart, almost spicy-hot, but not exactly.  The big differences was that it was like one hundred times more intense, and it was a fresh little bright yellow flower bud.  I remember the guy told me the name of the plant.  I know I asked all about it, and how to get more.  I probably even took the purveyor’s card.  I was really excited to introduce this new find to all my fellow cooks, friends and chefs. Then, we went back to hawking products for the Singapore Trade Commission.

After the show, Neil and I did what any sensible cooks in training do.  We sat at the end of a local restaurant bar, proudly ignorant and most inappropriately, still wearing our chef whites, and proceeded to drink our faces off.  (Here’s a pro-tip for budding culinarians:  if your at a food service establishment or event, and you are not a chef of said establishment or event, you should not be in whites.  And unless you are THE CHEF, or THE OWNER, you should definitely not be in chef garb at the bar.  It’s a real bone-head move) We were a couple of real bone-heads, and of course I remembered the taste sensation produced by that super cool flower garnish about a month later.  Of course, by this time I could not remember anything other than it being yellow and tasting like a battery.  Back then, this was not enough to go on for an image search on the internet, and the instances it came up over the following years were often during cook drink-fests when the subject of weird foods arose.  I would start to describe it, nobody would know what I was talking about, and I would have just enough info to make myself sound like a moron.  I literally brought this up intermittently for years.  Then, I went to Brazil.

I was asked to go to São Paulo to help set up a cheese counter – very exciting stuff – totally exotic place with super weird, yet fascinating foods, especially plants and fish and meats, actually all the food is strange if you are from New Jersey, like me.  Well, there’s all kinds of cool stuff because most of the stuff comes from the garden out the back called, the Amazon Jungle.  One of the coolest things for me while working the counter was enjoying some amazing aged artisan cheeses that were incredibly well crafted and super tasty!  The coolest thing about them is that they were also totally illegal to sell.  Now, I knew the producer and the cheese itself was even pasteurized, not that this necessarily makes them safe, it’s just that the milk treatment was not the issue of legal concern, in this case.  You see, the government of Brazil makes it very challenging to sell cheese across state lines.  These cheeses were produced in Minas Gerais and our market was in São Paulo.  These cheeses were very small production and came from the best milk producing area in the country.  Most of the milk produced in São Paulo is produced on a commodity scale and much of it comes from zebu.  Zebu in Brazil give poor milk, shitty for use in cheesemaking or drinking or really anything.  So, if you want good cheese, you have to go the wink-wink, nudge-nudge route.  The problem I faced was that I had made a commitment to building the most impressive artisan cheese offering in the city, so 2+2= We are going to buy and sell contraband from small producers in Minas Gerais.  Now, the reality is that there are only a couple of other cheese shops in town and they do the same thing.  You come to discover that the laws seem to be more or less a deterrent to moving mass quantities of cheese from outside the state, keeps the commodity producer lobbyists at bay, and the laws don’t seem to be enforced anyway. Well, that justification seemed good enough for me.  This was very good stuff, and I was very excited about it.  The other thing that I was excited about, was CULATELLO DI ZIBELLO P.D.O..  If you don’t know CULATELLO, look it up, find some and eat it.  It’s the crown jewel of Italian cured meats, the Jupiter of the Salumi Pantheon.  Basically, it’s the most prized muscle of the prosciutto, seamed out with just the correct amount of fat cap remaining, seasoned, stuffed into a pig’s bladder, tied, cured and dried. If it’s done best, the texture is like butter and the flavor is like Parmigiano Reggiano DOP.  If it’s done poorly, it tastes like dried out, salty prosciutto.  One thing is for sure, you pay premium prices either way.  We were selling the PDO product from Emilia-Romagna, and unlike in the USA, this stuff was actually legal to sell in São Paulo!  Go figure.  Cheese from a few miles away, contraband. Cured meat from the other side of the planet that isn’t legal at home, NO PROBLEM.  What a strange place, Brazil.

We got the counter ready, and the market open (that’s a story!). In came the first rush of Brazilians, with their mouths drooling and their wallets open!  I decided to work the counter, since I knew the cheeses, wait not really, and I spoke the language, wait not at all, and the counter was set up – I lied before, it wasn’t.  Actually, it just made sense because as little as I had to go on, I was still the only person prepared to actually sell a piece of cheese.  The scales didn’t work right, we had no usable plastic wrap, and most of the cheese was illegal.  I was smiling.  I was excited.  I had knives, a cutting board, paper, tape and a marker.  What else do you need, other than customers, and here they came!  One of the first people I encountered was a small woman with a huge smile and a lot of moxie!  She was very curious about Culatello di Zibello.  I was amazed that anyone in the country even knew what Culatello di Zibello was, and she wanted to taste it.  So, of course, I shaved off a paper thin slice for each of us and we discussed it’s merits.  I sliced her a couple hundred grams, and then we started talking cheese.  She obviously was a gourmet and I was super excited to share some of the tasty aged lactic set ashed goat cheeses made by a skilled woman in Minas Gerais.  We tasted through a few, and she made a couple of purchases.  Then, I introduced her to my friend Fiorenzo and while they had a conversation, the manager of the counter took me aside and said, “Do you know who that is?”

“No”, I said”

He said, “She is a very important chef in Brazil.  Her name is Jodie Foster (that’s not her real name). She owns a number of important restaurants, and has her own television shows!”

I said, “Well she’s really friendly, and she seems to really like shopping for good food, so she’s awesome in my book!”

Then she came back to me, along with Fiorenzo, and asked the manager to take a picture of all of us in front of the counter.  Next, she invited us to dine at her house the next evening.  We both agreed, we exchanged contact info and let her on her way to continue shopping.  The next evening Fiorenzo was not feeling well, and so I decided to go alone.  I hopped in a taxi and we made our way through the city to Chef Jodie Foster’s house (I don’t want to use her real name, but you get to see her picture). When I got there it was like a jungle fantasy house.  She had a rock path leading through her entry way to what looked like a banyan tree growing out of her living room floor.  All around me were one of a kind pieces of native art and crafts.  Her kitchen was appointed with various indigenous cooking implements, some on the stove being used to prepare our meal.  Along with her sous chef, she had prepared a meal for myself and two other guests, a beautiful female friend from Trieste, and a world renowned lighting expert – though he usually does commercial and entertainment design, he designed the lights in her house to follow a scheme which reflected her mood at any given time of day.  I think the mood that evening was fucking awesome jungle tasting menu for four!  The meal started off with a rare roasted palm of a varietal only legally sold to natives, followed by a  her own special feijoada, complete with indigenous rice, hand delivered by the cultivator that morning, and two of her own unique blends of farofa.  We finished with a ganache spoon, with a chocolate straw over an espresso flavored liquor.  And then came the digestive.  She broke out the cachaça.  LET THE PARTY BEGIN!

She said that one was very special and that I should definitely try it because it is infused with the flavor of a very unique herb that will make your palate dance.  Huh, I wonder what she means by that… then I saw the bottle.  Right there, on the label was the word JAMBU and under it was an illustration of a flower I had seen before.  Once I tasted it, I was immediately transported back to that moment, years ago, when I tasted electricity!  It was JAMBU!  I mean, maybe that was what the guy at the Fancy Food Fest called it, I still couldn’t remember, but this was definitely the flower!

We finished the evening and I even went back for another meal. She is an incredible person and if she gives me permission I will add her name.  In the mean time, I hope Jodie Foster doesn’t mind her inclusion in my story.  Everything else is true, and I sure learned the value of being a welcoming salesperson.  If I hadn’t cultivated a wonderful moment at the cheese counter with an enthusiastic attitude toward an interested guest, I would still be yammering on about some unidentified flower bud that tastes like a 9-volt battery, but it’s really good and cool, seriously!


Other uses for Jambu

A Game of Hide the Salami?

So, recently I was perusing the cured meat selection of a market with a very talented salumiere. We chatted about the merits of the products before us, and gossiped about the people who produced them, as you do. At one point, my buddy picks up a product, turns on his smartphone and types in the plant number on the USDA “bug”. The “bug” is the little circular stamp-like icon that indicates the FSIS approved USDA processing plant where that meat product was actually made. The results of this search reminded me that I really hate private labelling.

Now, private labelling is when a product line is given a brand by someone that is not the person who made it. Like a store brand. Hopefully, consumers underatand that A&P did not actually make “America’s Choice” products. Sure, they may have owned part, or eventually all of the business that crafted the given product. But it didn’t start out that way. A&P is a retailer. They are not starting up brick and mortar food production facilities. Maybe they invest in expansion, but the private label started off as its own business at a particular location.²

I like to know where my food comes from, and who made it. Private labelling is practiced with increasing frequency in the food business. It’s an audacious technique that pushes the trust relationship between a customer and a retailer to the shelves, asserting that you should trust them so much that there is no need to think about who made the product. We endorse it, so you should buy it. Private labelling justifies not thinking about the source of our food. Now, it encourages this kind of decision making by usually pricing these items lowest in the category. Is this the motivation? Probably not, but still that’s the result. Sure, the mechanism is that through these relationships between the retailer and the producer, there are commitments made that keep costs at rock bottom, and it is good that the retailer passes on the savings to the customer. However, it’s no accident that the private labelled line of products is marketed as the store brand. We all know the store brand is the least expensive, and it has always been obvious why. The trouble I see is two fold.  First off, it breaks down the transparency in understanding the source of our food, and shifts the power of choice from the consumer to the retailer. But my complaints don’t end there.

As a buyer of artisanal products, I thought it was my duty to exalt the producer. Think about it. Setting up a lemonade stand is easy and cash flow turnaround is relatively quick. Growing a lemon is hard. To start with, the turnaround on your cash is the time it takes to grow a lemon tree and then becomes time it takes to produce a lemon each season. And if you have to set up the stand and grow the lemons, that’s really tough.¹ Many of these producers are either just getting started in business, or are carrying on a long standing family tradition. Some producers are creating artisan products to get out of the commodity food supply side of the business, so they can either aspire to higher principles, or more likely save their family farm. I like these people. They are reaching for the American dream, sometimes in a final attempt not to become pushed aside by our food supply industrial complex overlords. So, yes, I want to recognize them. They are on the front lines of the fight for increased production of wholesome and hand crafted food, over source obscured, pooled, commodity food production. So what happens when a “good” food retailer comes along and says, I will buy a quarter of your yearly production, if I can remove your name and put my company’s label on it instead? Well, many times that producer agrees. My argument is not with the producer. I don’t know their problems, or certainly why they think they need to make such a compromise. My issue is with the obscuring of the source. This private labelling business is stupid. Go ahead, still put your stamp of approval of the package. Make your store brand big and bold. But why obscure the source. On the surface, the retailer is taking credit for an artisan’s craft. Worse, this further disconnects the public from understanding the who, what, and where our food comes from. I feel like there is a lot more to talk about here. I know there are many more points to be made against private labelling, but let’s wrap this up, for now.

When Josh (my buddy’s name is Josh) entered the processing plant number on the bug into his nifty app, we discovered that the producer was not the same as on the package of bacon. In fact, it was the same producer as the bacon being sold right beside it in the same store! Josh did the same with another package of bacon, and it was the same as the only other bacon in the store. To be clear, it appeared as though there were four different producers, making four distinct products, but the store was only actually selling two different bacons! Now, this was not a store brand, but is an example of how private labelling obscures and misrepresents products and their sources. Also, this was happening on the wholesale level, and was passed down to the retail shelf. It makes me wonder how much more often private labelling is being employed than is apparent to the retail consumer. Boy, it seems even the lines of obscurity are becoming obscured!  I am glad there is an app, made by our government no less, that helps to bring clarity to the source of our food, and move the power of choice back toward the hands of the consumer.

Here it is:

Android App

iPhone and iPad App

USDA Plant Number Website Lookup


¹The “Local Honey” stand on the homepage was on the curbside of the house where the honey was produced, in my hometown on West End Ave, right in their own back yard. We are talking about the suburbs of NYC, in New Jersey. I loved that. West End Apiary. How cool!?

²A&P is now bankrupt, and last year Minneapolis based Supervalu acquired the “America’s Choice” brand, further obscuring the source of that given can of green green beans, or package of bacon. Also, the bacon discussed in the beginning was hand crafted, and that retailer was not selling “America’s Choice” products, to be clear.

Title Note: “A Game of Hide the Bacon” just didn’t have the catchy ring I wanted, but I am sure there are plenty of terrible examples of private labelled salami out there.

“‘Nduja” is Not ‘Nduja

Well, I guess we should answer what it is before we consider what it is not, right? Okay, so first of all, what is ‘nduja?  ‘Nduja is spreadable, spicy, fermented, aged and sometimes smoked sausage¹.  ‘Nduja is made from the soft fats and off cuts that typically are not used in the production of other salumi² when a family has processed a hog.  These other salumi include lonza, prosciutto, fiocco, coppa, pancetta, guanciale, spallaccia, a few others including salsiccia, and yes, sopressata and salame.

Not all salumi are typically fermented. ‘Nduja is fermented. You can identify fermentation in a cured meat by the taste of acid.  Acid produced by bacterial activity lowers the ph to the point that pathogens find the meat inhospitable.  It is one way (or in HACCP speak, a critical limit) that salumiere use to help keep the product safe and even shelf stable³ for consumption.* Nduja is cured, but uncooked. This occurs during the aging process, when the sugars in the sausage mix are metabolised by the cultures present, producing lactic acid. When   These can be added, like a powder, they can be present enough in fermented products like wine which can be used to inoculate the sausage mix, or they can be incorporated through a process called back slopping**.

Nduja is spreadable.  That’s an easy one.

‘Nduja is spicy.  Now there is merit to the debate that nduja should only use calabrian chilies.  However, I think that argument does not consider the practicalities of production and somewhat dishonors an essential aspect of Italian cuisine.  Is it practical or efficient to acquire only calabrian chilies for the production of a calabrian style product here in America?  Well, if you want to get down to the nitty gritty, I would say that’s argument is a slippery slope to the conclusion that outside of calabria, or any specific place a traditional product is made, you cannot possibly replicate a dish, or food product, or anything really.  There are components that cannot be replicated, like the air, or the water, or the feed that was given to the animal, or the specific breed of animal, or even the materials used to produce that product.  You have to draw the line somewhere, and for me, they type of chili used should approximate, or improve to your palate, the heat level and balance you aim to achieve.  Also, various types of chilies are now grown in Italy, and certainly in Calabria.  I really like cayenne.  I like it’s balance on the palate, and I like it used in all types of spicy salumi.  Is that wrong?  Maybe we disagree.  That’s good. Everyone should come from a place if informed opinion.  And that’s why I hope there will be various excellent ‘nduja produced in America someday. That is very different from using the term “‘nduja” as a marketing scheme to sell either extra scraps of finished product, or emulsified hot sopressata and ketchup. Such a product is not ‘nduja.

Nduja can be smoked.  That is a point of practicality if you are using smoke in the process of curing, or smoke could simply be your flavor preference.  Regardless of intensity: strong, light, or non-existent, it’s still ‘Nduja to me.

Now, this is basically for home or restaurant production. I don’t know of any artisan retail producer that doesn’t already understand this, but of course you need to source good pork.  Why?  Sure, you could say that we are using off cuts and soft fats, and who really cares about how good the pork is when there’s all that acid and spiciness to obscure the nuanced flavor brought by using good pork?  If that’s your opinion, you are ignorant. Sorry, but first of all you should understand that you cannot achieve good results without good ingredients.  And, as a hobbyist or chef, if you are unwilling to experiment with a quality ingredient that is still less than $9 per pound, then you are in the wrong game, on the wrong side of the isle, and/or simply don’t care enough about animal welfare.  Listen, off cuts are super cheap, even from heritage breeds that are raised humanely.  However, I don’t suggest coming out of the blocks with your first nduja experiment having loaded up on the kidney and liver meat.  It will probably just turn you off the ‘nduja thing, all together.  Get jowl meat, belly meat and supplement with shoulder, but get from a well raised animal.  No need to necessarily source a heritage breed right away, or really at all.  (Although, if you produce for the market, it is likely that you do whole muscle cuts and various other cured pork products that will only be viable in a quality market if they are of quality breeding.  This is because of the percentage of hard fats, the distribution of those fats, and how the flavor of those fats are influenced by what the animal is fed)  So heritage breeds aside, the animal should always be raised and processed humanely and in a clean and economically fair environment.  The goal is to be informed of these aspects of farming and processing so that we can collectively achieve a more wholesome food system.  Relating to the product’s organoleptic qualities, it will taste better if you use humanely treated pork.  When pork is fed crap, your meat will taste like crap, no matter how much chili and salt you use.  If you aren’t sure what it was fed, then you don’t really know the potential for flavor.  When pork is stressed during or before slaughter, the meat becomes exudated due to a depletion of muscle glycogen. This will make your ‘nduja gummy.  Gummy meat always sucks. I probably already have belabored the point, but to finish it off, the more you know about the source, given some knowledge of what you are looking for, you will understand that, like milk†, pork is not pork. (I sense another post just around the corner…)

Lastly, To reiterate what is NOT ‘nduja, nduja is not just a catch all marketing term for meat spread. It is a traditional product that has a long heritage and comes from a specific place in and around Spilinga, in the province of Catanzaro in Calabria  We should make it here in the USA, but we should give a little respect to where it came from by honoring, as best we practically can, how it should be produced.  In the same sense that reducing red wine vinegar and grape must is totally NOT Aceto Balsamico Traditionale, you can not emulsify production scraps with whatever other ingredients, squeeze that into a tube, or jar and call it salumi, let alone ‘Nduja. ‘Nduja is fresh, high quality pork, salt, cultures and chilis, with enough soft fats emulsified so it will still be spreadable once it ages for a few months. In this case, be wary of what you see on the shelf that is labelled “‘nduja”.  Look at the ingredients.  It still may taste delicious to you, but understand that just because it is marketed as “‘nduja”, does not mean it is ‘nduja.

¹In place of sausage, some would insert sopressata, or salami.  In this case I am not.  I have spent years working with both sopressata and salame and one thing I have learned is that though it may be reasonable to throw around labels based on taste or appearance, there are few people that agree on what defines either. So, in this case I am saying sausage. Sausage is ground meat. There are few disagreements on that.  A square is a rectangle, and ‘nduja is sausage

²Salumi is the Italian word for preserved meat.  This can be accomplished by cooking or curing uncooked meat, usually pork.

³Shelf Stable is a term the USDA use to guarantee that a product can be safely held indefinitely at room temp, like on a shelf at 70ºF.

*Another critical limit control is lowering the water activity (aw), otherwise known as the excess water which may be available to support things like pathogens. Kinda how dry, salty or sugary something is, but that’s a very simplified way of understanding the concept. For more info on developing a HACCP plan, go to the FDA: HACCP Principles & Application Guidelines

**Back Slopping is a traditional way of ensuring a consistent cure, and end product, by adding some material from a previous batch to your current batch of sausage mix.  This is not allowed in the USA, and is a sure fire way of having inspectors make you toss your entire inventory.  However, in my opinion it is safe.  Yeah, duh, you have to know what you are doing, but go ahead and try curing something with powdered culture and pink salt without knowing what you are doing and see what happens (Don’t do that! I was being facetious. You could kill someone for crying out loud). Back slopping tastes better for the same reason that Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, Parmigiano Reggiano, and adding yogurt cultures in cheesemaking produces more complex flavors.  You get much more diversity in types of bacteria, which are responsible for a spectrum of flavors.  When the original cultures used in back slopping came from the flora in the air, like in lambic style Belgian beers, you create a consistent result every time which has the flavor characteristics unique to the place where it is, and always has been made.  Terroir, right?

Milk is not “Milk”

Puff it UP!

Cheetos, cheese puffs, funions and Cap’n Crunch! The puffiness of foodstuffs is so commonly associated with childhood nostalgia, and even still a guilty pleasure when we grown ups sneak a treat. However, over the last ten years, three star michelin kitchens have been swapping the omnipresent foams of 2003 for the texturally rigid crunch made available by puffing up various ingredients.

The concept is actually quite similar to foaming. A medium traps bubbles. Nothing magical.  For a foam, you can whip a protein and/or fat emulsion up, trapping air in protein and/or fat in the process, or you can force air out into a proteinaceous liquid. The common denominator is protein. In the case of foams, you need to start with an emulsion (protein, fat, or protein and fat, and or sugars and or minerals, or whatever), but the bubbles are created by YOU. However, when you PUFF something, you need to rely on the action of vapor to create, and basically cook your bubbles.  Foaming and Puffing is the difference between composing and cooking. A foam is a composition. When you puff, you are cooking.  And not just properly cooking, but you also need to prep perfectly. To achieve the ideal bubble inflation calls for the proper technique, as well as timing. Remember, once inflated, the puff is done and there’s no going back. On the molecular level, water turns to vapor and the vapor tries to escape a “net” of protein, creating gelatinous bubbles, and when the trace water left behind evaporates, those bubbles solidify.  The bubbles need to expand without popping or solidifying early. This part is managed by using the proper amount of heat applied for the proper amount of time.

In certain circumstances, a deep fry in oil is employed.  Generally the larger the item, the deeper the trapped water vapor, the lower the temperature of the oil, and the longer you need to achieve maximum expansion. Sometimes, the ingredient being puffed is thin enough that this can be achieved using a microwave. However, because of the uneven nature of microwave heating, large items will often burn in areas before maximum expansion is achieved.  In commercial operations this is achieved not only through the application of heat, but in the lowering of the air pressure surrounding the object to be puffed, either through high pressure extrusion, like in a “Funyun”, or through vacuum chambers, like in an “Aero bar”. In both cases it is the relative changes in temperature and pressure that achieve the puffy, but firm results.

Try this, it’s SUPER easy, is guaranteed to amaze everyone, taste great, and take about 3 minutes total from start to finish:


A quarter inch thick slab of Parmigiano Reggiano rind (or grana or parmesan, but just the rind)


Cut it into sticks about a quarter inch wide.  In a professional kitchen, this is a precise term called a “batonette” cut.

Place it on parchment (use a plate, too, if you like) and place into the microwave for about 1 minute.  You can go longer for lower powered microwaves, or shorter for higher powered microwaves, but shoot for a minute and regardless of any of that stuff, it will still work.

Let them cool (or shape them as soon as they come out, if you have fingers that can handle high heat), and serve.

The best way to complicate this, like in any endeavor, is to overthink it.  Just follow the directions and see what happens.  It doesn’t take that long, the ingredient is inexpensive, and you can learn a lot more through trying it once, then researching it or thinking about it more than a couple of seconds.  Just do it.

It’s the perfect cheese stick for those atkins/paleo/caveman dieters.  No carbs, all protein.  It’s just cheese.

How Funyuns are Made

How to Aerate Chocolate



Why Milk is not “Milk”

Three years ago I was charged with the task of sourcing the highest quality dairy in the Midwest (in terms of “good, clean, and fair”est – maybe you’ve heard that before). I was advised not to take on the task of managing a dairy section by some, but I was excited. I already was going to run the biggest and most badass retail cheese and cured meat counter in the region, and since that region included “America’s Dairy Land” why not add the best dairy to the mix??

Sourcing is an amazing process, and sourcing dairy in the midwest is definitely next level, but I am not writing to discuss the process of sourcing. That’s for another day. I want to talk about how we become ruined for certain foods. How a “food snob” is created, and why that is a good thing.

I am a “food snob”. Well, kind of. I am snobbish only in the sense that I can only appreciate food if it is delicious and/or good for me. Is that vague? Could that apply to anyone? Well, yeah. Anyone who aquires a taste for something they deem better, whether tastier, or healthier, or maybe just prettier than those items they once liked to eat, will gradually learn to dislike the things that came before. Simple syrup is attractive to the palette of a baby, Mrs Butterworth’s tastes more delicious to an adolescent, and grade B Vermont Maple Syrup is probably preferred by those who have been lucky enough to enjoy that. (Certainly, there are Vermonters who are discerning the merits of particular sugar houses at this point – I am looking at you Amanda Gonter!) But one thing is surely the case. No adult human, with any reasonable appreciation for waffles is going to choose to douse them in plain simple syrup, right?

On my first day of being a cheesemonger, my boss told me “You are forever more going to be ruined for cheese”. What he meant was that I was now going to cross a threshold of quality and deliciousness from where there would be no returning. I was taking the metaphorical “red pill” and would no longer be able to appreciate cheese as a normal person might appreciate those gummy cubes of pasteurized baby swiss and commodity cheddar which, for many Americans, lays the foundation of our snack based existence. (I am not going to reference those slices individually wrapped in plastic. The metaphor does not apply for me.  That stuff always sucked, even when I had no reference for taste. Sorry.) I understood exactly what he meant, when he said it. I was used to great ingredients and the taste of excellent food. After all, I had already worked in a couple two star michelin kitchens and had spent my life so far collecting culinary experiences to develop my palette. I didn’t know cheese, though. So I knew he was right, and cracker barrel was not going to cut it for me anymore. You can be “ruined” for “milk”, too. However, everyone who has ever drank wholesome quality milk is also ruined against that generic white liquid called “milk” in the supermarket and the reason is because the know that that is not what they call “milk”.

During the process of sourcing, I travelled around to farms, or had samples sent to me, tasting products from the most well bred, raised, practically coddled cows from the heart of dairy country. My eyes began to open. “Got milk?” meant nothing, and “who’s milk”, “what breeds”, “what feed”, and “what heat treatment” became everything. Or, most things. “How far?” and “what kind of milking?”, “What kind of pasteuring?”, even questions like “Menonite or Amish” somehow became relevant. I wanted to know how the animals lived, as we all should, but I also learned that 100% grass fed is not a fun way to live for a cow, and a little grain not only makes for tastier feed, but also tastier milk. Usually, I preferred to buy non-homogenized, but to drink a big glass of ready-mixed homogenized milk, sans shaking till your arm falls off (100% Jersey, non homogenized sounds good till you pour yourself a tall glass of butter!) is very convenient and if it’s still low temp vat pasteurized, tasted the best while in “chug-mode”. I prefer non-standardization because it gives you a picture of that day’s fat yeild, and overtime, gives you a better inderstanding of seasonal differences in fat vs protein vs water vs lactose changes. Low temp vat pasteurizing, and sometimes being blissfully ignorant to the idea that thermalization is DEFINITELY NOT pasteurization, results in a much tastier and obviously healthier product. Of course, I got my hands on a few gallons of raw milk from those who became friends. These were cheesemakers, though, and as most mongers know, acquiring raw milk from a producer means that you are now truly friends and that kind of gift, is some of the tastiest stuff of all. I should stress that it is not tasty simply because it is not heat treated. It is tasty because you know that this friend loves his animals, feeds them well, is a good steward of his land, operates clean, and appreciates the care that needs to go into the production of his milk. Because everyone worth a damn in the food industry (or any industry) knows that the quality of the raw materials dictates the potential quality for a marketable product.

And that is why “Milk” is not just “Milk” to me.  I found answers to the questions I posed to discern why some milk tasted so much better, and my body felt good, instead of bad after I drank it. I wasn’t alone, either. Customers came to our store to buy the best milk because it tasted better, and they felt better too. I don’t know if “milk” “does a body good” because milk, like any food, is a product that can come from a place (maybe great, maybe not), many places  (probably not great, but could be good), from well kept and fed animals (always great), or mistreated and poorly fed animals (always bad), from nearby (better), or far away (worse), and from one breed, another breed, or many breeds. These factors are the reason why when the news, or an advertisement refers to “milk” as a generic product being either good for you this week, or terrible for you the next, I don’t listen. If you want to know from the media if “Milk” is good for you, then it isn’t. It’s bad for you. First of all, the only two people qualified to tell you if the milk you drink is good for you are the person you buy it from and your doctor. If the person you buy it from doesn’t have an opinion, then that market sucks and the milk probably does, too. Go buy the milk from someone who cares, and they will get you awesome milk that tastes great and is good for your body. And when you see your doctor, mention that since you developed standards by which you started purchasing milk and drinking it, milk doesn’t make you wanna throw up or shit yourself anymore. If he is surprised, that doctor sucks. Go see a doctor that understands that you are what you eat and if you eat crappy milk, you will feel crappy. But if you drink milk that is produced from healthy happy animals, it will make you healthy and happy, too.

Sapore by Fading D Farm

Cheesemaker: Fading D Farm

Location: Salisbury, North Carolina

Farmstead?: Yes

Milk Treatment: Pasteurized

Animal: Water Buffalo

Form: Taleggio

Rind: Washed

Aged at Release: 90 days

Procurement: Retail at Orrman’s Cheese Shop in Raleigh, NC

Herd Size: 40+

Milkers: 18

Curd: Uncooked

Pressed?: No

Parting Words

At the end of May 2016, I left Eataly Chicago to go back to NYC. This was my first opportunity to build a team of marketers from the ground up and introduce a large population to how I think my craft should be practiced. While at the helm, we grew from being responsible for all salumi and cheese sales and production, to sourcing and marketing a full dairy program, expand our cheese production program, initiate retail seasonal antipasti in house production, and also expanded to run our in house fresh pasta and prepared food production and sales. I say this not to brag. Frankly, any leader worth a damn will tell you that it is the talent of a team’s individuals which actually gets any real work done and products produced. A leader’s job is simply to get them to work together so that each individual can shine brightly, and contribute with the least effort to create the best results. In essence, being fulfilled by your job, insteaf of drained by it. We made this the priority EVERYDAY I was in Chicago. Conversely, the lines of hierarchy became a very low priority. These are the seeds that manifest the market family. Family is not just a buzz word. Family is a safe place where everyone’s talents are too important to sideline for the benefit of an individual ego. Now, I do have a big ego, no doubt! But someone has to be the “Dad” and it was a pleasure seeing each person I worked with grow along with our revenue and operational ambitions. Below is the letter I wrote to all the people who called the Eataly Chicago market home, and specifically the teams I lead. David Malzahn, formerly my first in command, took the helm from me, as was always the plan, and I could not have left that family with a better “Dad”. Below my letter, I have listed the names of the rest of our team and still love and miss them all very much…

“Hi Everybody,

As you may know, today is my last day here at Eataly Chicago.  I will continue as a helping hand for Eataly, by assisting in launching  the new store in the Freedom Tower [the store is actually in Tower 4) in downtown NYC, and then on to manage the Eataly SAFO operations at Eataly Boston.  So, feel free to send me a text if you ever have any question you think I may be helpful answering, or (most hopefully) just to say hello.

I have enjoyed building relationships with everyone, and I will miss all of you very much. I love that process of getting to know people at the market.  We work in an incredible market, and the most important component of any market is the people that are there on the floor everyday, creating the culture, the environment, curating the products, buying the products, and in some markets (like ours) even consuming the products at the market.  Every market is it’s own organism, and in order to thrive, that creature must stay vital, and relevant, but just like any person, the market needs love and must love itself.  We the people of the market can help or hurt how our market grows by how we honor commitments, how we honor our product, how we honor our customers, how we honor ourselves, and certainly not least of all , how much we enjoy that process. Good marketers hope never to compromise their relationships, and bad marketers forget that relationships are made with people, not products. You can not appreciate a product without appreciating the person that gave it to you.

I know that sounds a bit sappy, but, if you have come to know me over these past few years, you know that I wouldn’t leave without leaving a part of myself behind.  So, besides unfinished lists, a few cheese books, and maybe a couple hats and aprons, I wanted to leave something key to helping me succeed here at Eataly Chicago, in particular a loving respect for the people on the floor engaging customers, making products, talking about products, and making this market bloom with every new day.

All the Best,

Matt Reilly

Eataly Salumi e Formaggi
312.521.8700 x.436″
Our team, past and at the writing of this letter:
Fritz Gibson (Asst Manager)*
Eric Schack (Asst Manager)*^
Patrick La Flamme (Asst Manager)*^
Benjamin Johnson (Salumi Boss)*^
Amber Consolino (Supervisor and Tournant)^
Matt Spiro (Production Craftsman)*^
Melissa Sykes (Salumi Specialist/Mom)*^
Jennifer Elmer (Mozz Maker/Chef In Residence)*
Anthony Carini (Salumi)
James Kuykendall (Journeyman Cheesemonger)
Emma Botari (Craftswoman Extraordinaire)
Antonio Ramirez (The Heart/Abuelo)*^
Nick Simpson (Cheese and Beer Expert)^
Colin Coyle (Cheesemonger/Team Artist)^
Mike Sack (Cheesemonger/Baker)
Anna Guardalabene (Master Pastaio/Mom)*^
Yesenia Flores (Pastaio/Dairy Maven)*^
Ms. Melinda Wims (Grandma)*^
Keith Stodola (Sous Chef/Big Brother)^
Vincent Tyrrell  (Pastaio/smartest and the youngest, as it goes)^
Edna (Pastaio/Older Sister)*
Brad Jones (Mozz Maker/Craftsman “the Rock of the Lab”)*^
Ryan Williams (Pastaio)*
Steven Spiewak (Master Pastaio/Chef In Residence)*^
David Ellis (Cheesemonger/Mini-Greg)^
Tim Geistlinger(Cheesemonger/Wine Geek)*^
Ryan Fitz-Gibbon (Cheesemonger)^
And the grandchildren (Oldest>Youngest):
Zeniya*^, Etienne*^, Julian*^ and Polly-Anna^
*= Opened our store Dec 2013
^= On team when I left May 2016

To Know Our Food Is To Know Ourselves

This is Rodrigo Duarte. Rodrigo Duarte slaughtered his first pig at age 8 in his hometown in Portugal. He was raised a student of butchery, and when he moved to New Jersey, he practiced his craft carefully, focused on refining and redifining his cultural identity.

The Ironbound section in the city of Newark, where Rodrigo now has a home, store, butchery school and roasting kitchen/smokehouse, is the center of Portuguese Culture in the New York Metropolitan area. Many North Jersey-ans, myself included, make a visit to this area once or twice in their life to enjoy the great seafood restaurants steeped in this relatively unknown culture. Millions more pass through the Ironbound everday via Newark Penn Station, on their way to work in NYC, oblivious to the slice of Iberia that exists only steps from the drudgery of their daily commute. Rodrigo also has a commute.

Everyday, Rodrigo wakes up (much earlier than could seem reasonably humane) walks out the door of his home, and walks half a block down to Pacific Ave to begin his day at his market “Caseiro e Bom”. At first entry, “Caseiro e Bom” appears similar to most latin markets. It has fresh papaya, onions, garlic, canned goods, big bags of rice, and a register counter- pretty typical stuff. As you walk halfway through the store, you become transported. First, a stack of dried cod, next you notice hams hanging from the ceiling as the smell of curing pork, smoke and paprika wafts into your nose. Then something special appears. Behind a pane of glass, prominently, yet practically displayed on two custom stands (designed by Rodrigo himself) are two of the most perfectly beautiful legs of pork you have ever laid eyes on. Also prominently, yet practically displayed on the glass is the price, “3 Year Aged Presunto $399.00 per pound”. This may seem steep, but to be fair, of the two presunto displayed, one is a younger and smoked version which Rodrigo sells for $7 per pound. Rodrigo will tell you that supply is what drives his pricing.
Rodrigo recently won the best ham in America at the Charcuterie Masters Competition for his 3 year Alentejano breed presunto, and he has only 3 left in his inventory. I can tell you that he is more than happy to sample you a taste of his smoked presunto and at $7/lb its a steal. It also shows off his unmatched skill in butchery. The legs dry perfectly evenly, the line between skin and flesh disapears, and the whole ham, super smooth from toe to hip joint, devoid of any cut marks, and a perfectly even amber color is consistent up, down and around the leg. Then he slices a piece for you. It reminds you of speck, but smoother in texture, lighter in color, and nutty-sweet, not salty. This may be the best bargain in artisanal cured meats you will ever come across. Looking into his refrigerated display, first there is morcela (morcilla in Spain, or blood sausage to most Americans), then some dried salame, then you see something that looks like kielbasa, but is labelled Alhiera. What the heck is Alhiera? Well, Rodrigo is more than happy to tell you the story of this 600 year portuguese tradition, started by Portuguese Jews during the inquisition, who could fool thier would be persecutors by proudly opening their doors proclaiming, ” We are butchers making sausage. Jews can’t eat pork. How could we be Jews?” Little did the inquisidores realize that inside those lamb, goat or cattle casings was cooked chicken and bread! This was a sausage that saved a culture. A culture Rodrigon is proud to call his own. You see Rodrigo is very proud of every aspect of his culture, noting his own jewish ancestry, and the fact that if not for this sausage, he may never have been born. Looking above, you see rows of shoulder “Salpicao”, then dried salsicha, slabs of pork jowl and more… long thin dried sausages along with presunto galore, just dangling thick above your head. Ahead you see one of his protégé trimming a secreto, in front of a window displaying pork carcasses, slaughtered to his exacting specifications, on a farm less than 20 miles away where these pigs were raised on forage and free range, again to Rodrigo’s personal standard. He is content to show you that this pig cannot be used for ham because the knufe slipped when the bung was removed and grazed what amounts to a paper cut into the muscle. In the kitchen, this is called finesse, paying attention to the smallest details, always to serve the product better. He brings you into the basement, and you see two chambers filled with presunto hanging in the traditional fashion: Toes up, each hock tied to a loop, each loop draped oved the knots evenly spaced on at least 50 ropes in the ceiling. The light is ultra violet. Each chamber has a double door system to minimize foreign flora. You walk back upstairs, but it doesnt feel like you are in Newark anymore.
The Alentejano is a black iberian hog breed. We may have heard of the famous spanish “pate negra” or “jamon iberico”. Many will tell you this is the pinnacle of pork for curing. The enthusiasts will say that the pinnacle is acheived with “Jamon Ibeeico de Bellota”, which indicates hogs that were finished on a diet of acorns (“bellota”). Then, in your travels you find one or two ham connoisuers who have been to southern portugal. They will tell you that this is where the highest arts and craft of pork transformation is practiced. The key that many of them dont even realize, but of which Rodrigo will enthusiastically inform you, is that the Alentejano breed makes all the difference. Like many important cultural products,the Alentajano is protected by the Portuguese government. Unlike many cultural products, the rules for the protection of this breed are very strict. I mean zero tolerance strict, leaving no room for compromise. As an example, take Jamon de Iberico. The spanish government says that as long as that pig’s mother has 25% sud mediteraneo blood, you can call this Jamon de Iberico.

What is “sus-mediterraneus”?

Sus-mediteraneus is the umbrella term for the black pigs of southern europe surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. These are the cousins of the Sus Scrofa (wild boar) or the descendants of ancient domesticated european wild boars. The muscle structure and intelligence of these pigs, making them choosy in diet and lends their meat best for long curing. The most critical piece to the puzzle being IMF. or inter-muscular fat. IMF is the river system through which flavor travels into the meat. The deeper into the muscle, the more flavorful the cured product is. IMF has the added benefit of coating the muscle fibers to keep the lean portions supple throughout the drying process. If the pig was fed a delicious diet, in the last few months at least, the more IMF, the better. If it was not fed a tasty diet, especially in the last few months, the IMF still plays river, but more like a river polluted with garbage. But, I digress.

Here is how Rodrigo describes the history of the Alentejano breed’s native land, which we believe produces the best meat for curing, in particular “Presunto”:

“…In 27 A.D., the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula was divided into two different areas, Baetica and Lusitania. Little by little, the Mediterranean groves gave rise to Cork oak and Holm oak forests – <<Montado>>….”

These were the lands where over the last 2000 years the Alentejano breed has developed. These Cork oak and Holm oak forests continually drop acorns from the months of March through December.

“…Rich in oleic acid, which is responsible for the fat that melts in the mouth and the unmistakable aromas and tastes, acorns are the key to the excellence and organoleptic quality…”

The animals are allowed full pasture for up to 2 years, running wild eating up acorns till they achieve a weight of nearly 160 kg (over 350 pounds). Each pig can eat up to 25 pounds worth of acorns per day!

Rodrigo told me that one of the tricks used by those who raise the tastiest pigs is to have the water available far away from where the pigs pasture. The pasture is usually located at higher ground, and this causes the pigs to gorge themselves on acorns before they waddle down to have a drink. This repetition of eating and exercise works the nutrition deep into the muscles creating the best IMF.

As the Sus Mediterraneus breeds diversified throughout history, four main breeds were recognized: Negro Lampiño, Negro Entrepelado, Retinto and Raza Andaluza (rubia).

Those races further branched off to become the 7 breeds currently recognized as Iberian Black Pigs: Retinto, Negro entrepelado,Negro lampiño, Mamellado, Rubio, Manchada de Jabugo, and Torbiscal

For the production of Jamon de Iberico DOP, it is only required that the mother of the pig, whose back leg is being cured, be genetically 25% pure Iberico provenance. Each year 14 million Jamon are sold. To achieve this number of legs, it is no surprise that the government has compromised on the quality, resorting to hybrids crossed with Large Blacks or Durocs, mostly. These pig breeds are more closely related to the Celtic breeds of the north, and are great eaten just after slaughter. But they have a watered down potential for long term curing and drying.

This is why the Portuguese people have committed to keeping the name “Alentejano” pure. It cannot be crossed with any other breed and still legally carry that name.

Rodrigo has been procuring 100% Alentejano breed pig meat for years. But in true Portuguese fashion, he needed more control over his ingredients. His life is in Newark now, and he has developed a very close relationship with a farmer who raises and harvests the pigs Rodrigo then butchers and cures. When I visited Caseiro e Bom for the first time, I marvelled at the best ham butchery I have ever seen. This was not good enough, however, for Rodrigo. He noted small nicks in the meat of some of his hams. He then took me to the back cooler wher he had about 5 whole hogs hanging on hooks. Rodrido showed me the butt-hole and said, “See, where they cut out the bung? When they use a knife they cut into the ham. They should use a punch [I assume this is some kind of flesh hole punch] instead of a knife. This would make the ham free from errant cuts.” This was amazing. He speaks with utmost respect of the farm where he gets his product. The farm in Warren, NJ raises only pastured animals, less than 23 miles away from Rodrigo’s shop. Slaughtering is done on site. Apparently Rodrigo had one more point of order for the perfection of his hams, with regard to how they were disemboweled. So, I guess the only other step Rodrigo could do would be to have access to the breeding, and control over the trimming and cleaning techniques used during the slaughteting of 100% pure Alentejano They have 30 acres and lot of acorns on the farm in Warren…

Incidentally, the most expensive hams in the world, according to the “Guiness Book of World Records” the best quality retails at Selfridges for over $2,600, now thats for a 15 pound Albarragena Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Consider that Rodrigo’s hams are the same size, at the current $399/pound price tag, and that indicludes a “hand slicing by the producer” premium. Including bone and trim loss, his hams tally upwards of $5k. I accept that these types of abstract comparisons seem silly and totally unjustified, but I am also very curiois what the market will offer for great hams. I am very excited for the future.

On Sept. 20, 2016 a plane arrived at Newark Airport. On board, was a project that Rodrigo had spent over 5 years on, so far. He conducted tri lateral negotiations between the Portuguese Government, the US government, and his own interests. By signed affidavit to the portuguesee government, Rodrigo procured ten living 100% Porco Alentajano. This means, that due to the strict protection of the breed, and that it had never before left Portugal for breeding urposes, Rodrigo made a legal commitment to the source of his ingredient. If he fails in his duty to steward the breed according to Portuguese standards, or the genes are polluted, Rodrigo goes to prison. He told me, “What if my daughter, or niece gets married in Portugal? If I do the wrong thing with these animals, I will get thrown in prison when I attend the wedding!” The 5 males and 5 femae hogs were immediately sent to quarantine for 30 days, only after having been held for 60 days quarantine prior to leaving Portugal. I cannot confirm the total dollar amount, but I heard the freight costs alone topped $200,000! The twist came while in the evening, just outside the smokehouse, after spending two days attempting to learn the exquisite, mostly seam butchering techniques Rodrigo had honed over the last 35 years. We, the students, most certainly friends, old and new, infulged in two traditionally roasted suckling pig gorge sessions. Rodrigo got an emergency call from the quarantine center. He prepared for bad news, but he quickly smiled. Apparently, two of the pigs got the deed done while in Portuguese quarantine, and one of the sows gave birth to eight piglets! Rodrigo was elated! Suddenly, his face turned and quisically he said, “I wonder if this costs extra?!” Soon, they will be on their way to Dealaman Enterprises Farm to eat nuts and acorns and grubs, and roots of oak trees and someday we will walk into Caseiro e Bom and ask Rodrigo what he has produced with the local ingredients.

A great site for additional information on this breed is http://www.porcopretoalentejano.com/