Sunday, November 13, 2011

Recent Reading

In praise of "lower grade" maple syrup.

12 pasta myths debunked. (Mixes well with my notes on pasta cooking.)

There's a website for everything.

And then there's this, from the annals of totally f*#%ked up:

She sees a nutritionist, who has measured her body’s muscle mass, fat ratio and levels of water retention. He prescribes protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to keep Lima’s energy levels up during this training period. Lima drinks a gallon of water a day. For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes – “no solids”. The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and “just drink normally”. Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely. “No liquids at all so you dry out, sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that,” she says.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Other Merchants...Etsy, darling

I just bought something from an Etsy seller in Hong Kong — which is one of the amazing things about Etsy — and this was the note they included. Obviously English isn't their first language. But there's no way they looked up a translation and got "Darling" unless they wanted to say something that bizarrely intimate, which I think is kind of great.

I also like some of the cards from this seller in Indonesia.

A lot of people bash on Etsy, some of it for good reason. But the way it's created a personal way to sell things internationally is fascinating.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Other Merchants...J. Crew

There are a lot of merchants I learn from, big and small. I'll write about some of them in a new category of posts (click "Other Merchants"). If there are any you think I should know about please shout!

J. Crew

I don't think there's a better clothing mass merchant these days than Mickey Drexler at J. Crew. He's like the Steve Jobs of moderately preppy. His taste, fit and overall merchandising are diabolically good. Their stores are fairly well run, which is saying a lot for a company that has over 200 locations, mostly in malls. Stylistically, Mickey almost never makes a wrong move and, eight years in, he just seems to be getting better. If I had to compete with him I'd be very scared.

I particularly like how he's picking iconic brands both popular (Timex) and somewhat unknown (Loro Piana, the legendary Italian fabric maker) and mixing them in. Sometimes they're sold as an item with a J. Crew twist. Sometimes they're part of a garment. In either case, he doesn't hide them, but he also makes sure you know it's J. Crew that's running the show in how they're included. He also uses facts and education to help sell clothes rather than just trend, which is how I've always tried to sell food.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Recent Reading

Is junk food cheaper than good food? Bittman says no.

The guy who runs Zappos fines his employees for saying the words "Social Media." Also, he loves orders by phone.

The Parking Lot is a documentary on a group of parking lot attendants that turns into a pretty funny take on the metaphysics of the service industry. There are so few films that get anything right about work life. This one does. (For one of my favorites go see Office Space.) It left me wondering, do you need to be a hopeless romantic to enjoy being in service?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nice view, beans. Enjoy it.

Margot, Zingerman's Deli's chocolate maven, is traveling Italy and Sicily with Gioacchino, our source for many Italian foods. She took time away from sweets for this shot: a shipment of lentils from Ustica waiting for a boat to take them to America. Are these beans in for a shock. They're leaving the island where it's 80 degrees, bright white sun, to arrive in Michigan sometime in November where, I promise, they will experience neither of those things. 

The lentils are an old crop on Ustica but new to America. Brad is bringing a batch in for the Culinary Adventure Society shipment this December.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vintage Fruitcake, Ready To Get Dressed


The Vintage Fruitcake packaging is done. It's a vellum wrap over an archival box. The shot of Robert on the car circa 1970 is screened behind the title. I think it looks kinda hot. Thanks, Nicole, Brad and Kristie. 

Robert has sent the cakes so they'll be here next week. Meanwhile, he's finishing up this year's cakes. Here's some orange peel soaking up cognac in his kitchen.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Recipe: Fried Pickle

Earlier this summer I had a long drink with Rick Field of Rick's Picks and he told me how much he'd been loving frying pickles. Why don't we make a Rick's/Zingerman's fried pickle kit? Maybe for the Superbowl? I don't usually trust ideas hatched under such conditions and, for some reason I can't explain, I've never had a fried pickle. So last Friday night we got to work.

A jar of Rick's People's Pickles has about 30 thick-cut slices. We fried all of 'em, save the six his daughters snagged for dinner.

Fried (People's) Pickle Recipe
  1. Lay a paper towel on a plate. Put each slice on the towel and top with another paper towel. Let sit for at least ten minutes. (Reuse the leftover brine. Drop in a peeled hard boiled egg or green beans or some thinly sliced carrots. Refrigerate for a couple days before eating.)
  2. Heat two inches of vegetable oil in a ten or twelve inch pan. We used a  cast iron skillet.
  3. Dust the pickles with flour on each side.
  4. Beat two eggs in a bowl.
  5. Dip the pickle slices in the eggs then roll in cornmeal. We used cornmeal Rick bought in Vermont, but I'm thinking they'd also be good with Marino's Polenta.
  6. Fry for about ten minutes, or until they turn golden brown.
We'd been drinking wine so the timing could be off—watch the color for your cue.  Also, it'd probably be helpful to know what temperature the oil was at but we didn't have a thermometer. (I pretty much suck at recipe development.) We threw some water in and it popped. The first pickle went in and Rick said, "That's a good fry." I took his word for it.

Later he explained, "You don't want to kill the pickle. Too many fried pickles are annihilated. We want to keep it juicy inside." Spoken like a man who's eaten a lot of fried pickles.

Douse 'em with a bit of hot sauce (I like Cholula, though I bet the new Piment d'Espelette hot sauce we just got in would be scrumptious) and eat 'em while they're hot. I thought they were pretty good.

If any of the crew at ZMO—or any other readers—try this, let me know how it turns out. I'm still thinking about it as a gift kit this winter.

A good fry.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Is there something wrong with farmers markets?


Why would someone who makes things worry that there are too many places to sell it?

The answer lies in what makes farmers markets tick. They are limited quantity events that allow farmers to sell food at a premium. 

In general, though you can find lots of exceptions, farmers market food is slightly more expensive than standard grocery store food. I won't get into whether that's good or bad or what's behind it, but from what I've read it seems to be mostly the case. The big deal for farmers, though, isn't that their prices are higher than at Kroger. It's that they get a chance to charge retail prices, period. Usually they are stuck being wholesalers. Selling wholesale, farmers can only charge 50-60% of the price they get to charge at a farmers market. So they're making more profit at the market than they would wholesale.

The prices that farmers get to charge are a big reason why there are so many new markets cropping up. It's classic economics, a lesson taken straight from the upward-sloping supply curve. When prices go up supply increases. In other words, where there's an opportunity to make money, business will follow. It's kind of like how nature abhors a vacuum. Business abhors big profits. Where they exist they will be swallowed whole.

Since farmers can get higher prices at a market than wholesaling more farmers want in on the action, hence more farmers markets. So far the growth in markets hasn't meant an oversupply. But the farmers are right to worry that they might. Textbook economic says that would result in lower prices and lower profits. After all, there are only so many people who can afford—or maybe want to pay?—six dollars a pound for heirloom tomatoes. That's the reason you can find ten farmers markets within a fifteen minute drive of downtown Ann Arbor (pop: 114,000, median income $46,000) but only nine in all of Detroit (pop: 714,000, median income $30,000).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

More Ways to Serve Cheese


What cheeses should you get for a cheese course? 

Until a few years ago I’d answer that question with what I’d learned as an event caterer.  Go with a variety: a young soft cheese, an aged harder cheese, maybe a blue, maybe a goat or sheep’s milk option. Two ounces per person. That is still a safe and delicious way to go.

Spending time with cheese mongers and makers over the last decade, I’ve experienced a few other ways to serve a cheese course that are fun, educational and rather tasty.

Two or three versions of the same cheese aged for different lengths of time. For example, a young and extra-aged Comté. Or three different ages of Gouda. This is also great if you have different vintages of the wine from the same region.

Three goat cheeses: one fresh, one bloomy, one hard as a rock. Three blues. You get the idea. 

Old World, New World
Try two clothbound cheddars, like Cabot from Vermont and Montgomery’s from England. Or a classic Swiss Gruyère and a cheese inspired by it, like Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Gouda from Holland, Gouda from Wisconsin.

One Giant Piece
I don't know exactly why but big cheese is way more fun than small cheese. Splurge for a four pound hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and stab it with the old, weird knife you've had lurking in the drawer for all these years. (Bigger chunks last longer so you can continue to gnaw on it for weeks.)

Cheese as Aperitif
Cheese to start dinner, like the cocktail and cheese hour our parents knew, is a more American way to serve cheese than the formal, end-of-dinner French way. Try kicking the evening off with an unusual pairing, like cheese with a salty anchovy or a couple salt packed capers, where the cheese becomes the sweet part of the experience.

Cheese Dessert
A sliver of Raw Milk Stilton with shards of dark chocolate.  A small marble of aged gouda with a shot of espresso. If you’re serving dessert with sweet syrup, save some and drizzle it on the cheese.

This article appears in Zingerman's upcoming catalog Fall Food Buyer's Guide 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New American Country Ham

The first hogs were brought to America via Virginia, raised on the appropriately named Hog Island in Surry County. Today, Virginia remains a center of American country ham.

To some extent Smithfield ham has become synonymous with Virginia country ham, but that’s more a case of branding than anything else. Smithfield is to Virginia ham as Kleenex is to tissues. They’re the most well known and the biggest. But they’re not the end of the story. There are many small smokehouses that create special hams. And in spite of Smithfield’s recent moves to eliminate confinement operations, commodity hogs remain at the core of their operation.

Sam Edwards’ family has been curing and selling ham from Surry since the 1920s. We’ve been selling it since the 1980s. He makes a classic Virginia ham, the same kind that was favored by Queen Victoria and sent to the French court for several hundred years. It's salted for three or four weeks, hung chilled for another month, smoked in hickory for up to a week at low temperatures,  then hung to age for a year or more. The smoke is key and its part of everything you taste and smell at the smokehouse. Sam's sister used to call it her dad's cologne.

This is classic American country ham. Compared to even the most robust Spanish hams Sam’s cured hogs have a more forward flavor, in part because of the smoke. Italian prosciutto and its American cousins, like Herb Eckhouse's outstanding hams from La Quercia, are even milder still. While it's still a southern tradition to boil country hams like this, there's really no difference between them and the cured hams of Spain and Italy so I like to eat them as they do: sliced thin straight off the ham, served at room temperature. They go well with Virginia Peanuts, apples and a cold beer.

Several years ago Sam made the move to begin curing hams from Berkshire hogs, a breed of pig that is known for its extensive fat marbling and big flavor. Partly this was a practical decision. Berkshire pork had become a hit among chefs. They demanded restaurant cuts like loins and chops. The hams were left looking for a buyer so the price was fair. In part, though, Sam saw this as a way to make his cured ham taste more like what it used to, before pigs had the fat bred out of them to become “the other white meat.” (It's also raised like it used to be, the hogs are not confined and not fed hormones or antibiotics.) Because he's blessed with a marvelously acute funny bone he called the ham "Surry-ano," a play on Jamon Serrano, the most common cured ham in Spain.

When I visited Edwards salting room this summer it was easy to spot the Berkshire hams. They're much bigger than standard breed hams with a thick ring of fat on the haunch. They take smoke better and age longer. Sam started by aging them 400 days. This fall we're going to have a ham aged over two years (its DNA tag is the first picture on this post). Standard breeds would dry out if aged that long, but the fat on the Berkshires keeps them going.

More notes and photos of Sam Edwards smokehouse.
This appears as an article in Zingerman's upcoming Fall Food Guide 2011.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recent Reading

A fascinating look inside 36 people's refrigerators. Read the captions. 

Will that hot dog kill me? More on confusing "natural" nitrate meat labels. (You can read my notes on nitrates here.)

A new food journal from McSweeney's, Peter Meehan and David Chang.

One hell of a bullshit job.

The U.S. military has a $20 billion air conditioning bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's why:
Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125 degree heat require a lot of fuel. To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than “improved goat trails,” Anderson says. He calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Final Art...Iowa White


Ryan's final art for Iowa White, the new pork spread from La Quercia. Coming in the fall catalogs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Final Art...Fall Buyers Guide


Ian's final cover art for the September catalog.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Final Art...Earlybird


Ryan's final cover art for the October catalog.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recent Reading

A new part to the blog: I'll post things I've read recently that I think are worth sharing. Since this is primarily a food entrepreneurial blog most of them will be related to commerce and eating. But not all.

1. How much money would your state earn by taxing sugared sodas at one cent per ounce? Try this calculator. (I checked Michigan's number against the 2011 budget. The tax would earn twice what the state spends on community colleges, five times what it spends on primary education.)

2. Harold McGee on how to make cold-brewed tea or coffee at home. Did you know cold brews contain less caffeine than hot brews? I didn't.

5. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a surprising book of short stories.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Surry, Virgina. July in eastern Virginia, it's 94 degrees, the atmosphere is nearly liquid. Inside Sam Edwards' smokehouse the air is perpetual hickory. The wood perfume leaks out of the concrete smoking chambers and drifts down the halls, entering every orifice of the building. The walls are bronzed by it, the pine ham racks, some decades old, are nearly black. Hours after my visit, hundreds of miles away, I still smell the dark scent on my skin. 

A few pictures from Sam Edwards' smokehouse.

 Sam Edwards III.
Numerical coincidence: he's also the third generation to run his family ham business.

Salted hams stacked on pallets.

They'll salt here for three to four weeks.

The salt makes the floor look like January in Michigan. Sam calls this the "winter room."

Mold is a sign of age. Customers used to request hams with mold still on. Today it's washed off.

Two full pine racks, side by side. Each is about four feet square, six and a half feet high. Once a ham is hung on the rack after salting it spend the rest of its life there—up to two years, sometimes a little more.

The toe end of hoof-on, bone-in Berkshires, aged for over two years. These are the hams I'm ordering for this fall.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heirloom Pork George Foreman

Fancy Food Show summer 2011. Today La Quercia cooked thin slices of rolled pancetta on their George Foreman grill. Pancetta is similar to the cut we use for bacon in America, but it's cured with salt and herbs (rosemary and bay) not salt, sugar and smoke. It's rarely served as is and, in Italy, I'm guessing never  ever off the George Foreman. Too bad—it's tasty.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Horse Chocolates

Fancy Food Show 2011. Katrina at Vosges bought bound books of 1932 Argentinian newspapers. She served samples of her chocolate directly off them on a five hundred pound iron table she got from Buenos Aires. It was the most visually interesting space at the show.