Sep 27, 2008

Just Released: A Cheddar with Seniority

It's "Le Cru du Clocher", a raw-milk Cheddar from Quebec-- and a finalist at the Fine Cheese Festival of Warwick.

Cheese Boutique cures and ages it for ten years, making it their oldest cheese available right now.

This fortunate blogger has had the delight of sampling it with some fruit and crackers and a little red pepper jelly. I bet it would shake a fantastic cheddar sauce, fondue, or soup, or jazz up an omelette, or rock a classic dessert with apples. It may be old, but it's versatile!

Breakfast at The ScotiaBank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

5:30 am Sunday....(I'm still wondering how I managed to wake up).... I'm up early to catch Agim set up a breakfast table as part of representing the Swansea community that came out to support runners at this year's event.

For those that were stationary--- CheeseB had a healthy selection of fruits, and perhaps a not so healthy selection of morning pastries but I for one wasn't going to complain-- I mean the apple danish still has apples in it, right?

At the intersection of Windermere and Lakeshore, the course bends back to the downtown route already completing 12 km and CheeseB was there to greet and cheer them on. Watching the lead olympians was quite a moment of inspiration and amazingly a lack of perspiration. The throngs of runners that followed was an endless wave of colourful and earnest Torontonians all receiving my highest kudos for competing... in the meantime I was encouraging them with a danish in my hand.

Sep 18, 2008

Shouting out El Silencio!!!

Today's post features a very special Olive Oil... naturally, Cheese B has a well-chosen variety, but the one recommended to me was Torres "El Silencio" extra-virgin Picual, from Miguel Torres. Check out the Torres website: Torre Real.

Cheese Boutique is the exclusive importer of this product in Canada. Afrim described it to me as having flavours of mango and papaya, and says the price is actually lower here than in Spain due to export subsidies--he tells me it's one of the best deals in the store, with so much quality for the price. Along with this, I picked up the Torres Cabernet Sauvignon wine vinegar. And to fit with the "Spanish" theme a large wedge of Spanish Manchego Sheep's Cheese:

After bringing home my coveted bottle of special oil, I unscrewed the lid (almost expecting a cork!) and smelled the contents. Lovely fruity aromas wafted to my nose. The taste is delicate and fine, so of course it's best not to use it in high-heat cooking or anything that would mask its qualities, but it's wonderful to have around to add something extra to your recipes. If you are a fan of olive oil I highly recommend giving this one a try. If you are not sure if you are a fan, then I think I know a way for you to become one!

The fuss-free meal I prepared was simply a salad of avocado, figs, red onion and cucumber, some pre-made ravioli, and generous amounts of grated Manchego. I drizzled the oil and vinegar just before serving. Most delicious! The wine vinegar retains a rich wine flavour and sweet acidity, the cheese sparkles with pungent goodness.

In other news, Cheese B was featured in the Toronto Star today.

Featured Ingredients, from Cheese Boutique:

Torres "El Silencio" Extra Virgin Picual olive oil
Torres "La Oscuridad" Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar
Spanish Manchego cheese

Sep 15, 2008

Vignettes -- Sept 13

Kiwi presentation

Zespri Gold and Zespri green

Fred's Bread weekend sampler display

Sep 11, 2008

Produce Produced

For this week's post, I was granted a casual interview with Ralph Newmeister. He's been with the store over eight years with an extensive history in food retail before that.

We talked out on the sunny patio, and he had a few interesting personal stories to share as well,
but this post is about getting inside what he does, what really goes on behind planning these colorful arrays and unusual selections.

The staff have to be trained extensively its at times very hands-on. However, trained and knowledgeable staff are part of what makes that machine work so well.

Every week, he explained, they display something new. Shoppers are not going to walk in and see all the same things week after week. This week for example, they've brought in quince, pomegranate, and fresh dates.

There's a very limited supply of certain items, he explains-- but he will always be sure to get these items because of the long-standing relationship with suppliers. "It's all about rapport" he tells me, "rapport from the wholesaler to the store, from the store to the customer".

He walks the produce section of the store to take inventory, then goes to the wholesale market to source his requirements. First he looks for best size and quality, and considering the price is looked at last. He doesn't look at the sample they might try to show, he looks in the box to really see if it is worth getting. How does he know? He explains it like this: "It must laugh at me, or I won't buy it... if I can't smell it (for instance strawberries), what is the point?"

It also takes an awareness of the seasonal cycles throughout the two hemispheres... at certain times of year from certain places in the world, you will get the best product.

There are ever-bearing Ontario strawberries that will produce up until Thanksgiving. He brings those in, but they have a sort shelf-life, only three days.

Knowledge of farming practices also plays a part in how the product is selected-- lettuce is alive, he explains, keep it alive. Don't pick the crop and pack it up while it still contains field-heat-- it will cook. He informed me of the process used called "hydro-cooling" where the food is-- you guessed it-- cooled with water before it is packed off to the wholesaler. You can tell when they don't let it cool first, he said, the food is wilted like it has been sitting for a week.

Naturally, there is an element of fashion to this-- the latest "it" item, and there are also traditional "old world" products-- things some people didn't know they would ever find in Canada. He tells me a story about an old Russian woman who found the bin of Fingerling potatoes (which Cheese B had twenty years ago, before everyone else) and she scooped them up in her hands and wept. Food has nostalgia, emotion.

There are fads, and there are old-time items, but if there is something of interest and someone else has it, Ralph simply must make sure Cheese B gets it too. Recently it was these particular Heirloom tomatoes-- although there were enough in stock already, he found another kind, beautifully packaged, and had to get some of those too. You know, like when you just have to get another pair of shoes. I guess you could say tomatoes are like shoes, for Ralph.

He gave me a brief tour, right into the storage areas for employees only, where food waits in boxes and crates for its turn out on display. There await the new tomatoes... called "Red Zoo" brand Heritage-- he hands me one to take home.

I asked him what else was in the store that he particularly likes. It depends, he says. He brought me over to some cartons of purple figs-- all beautifully arranged, what he likes to see. Fresh, plump, nice color, fragrant, packaged just right: the best quality. This is what he looks for.

A couple of tricks I learned: the "cleat" the green thing on top of a tomato, should be soft and not too stiff or dried out. And on-vine tomatoes should be five to the cluster to know it is the first pick.

Grapes should be hard, with green, not brown stalks to know they are fresh. Fresh Dates, pictured below in foreground, should be "glassy" in appearance.

List of a few items of interest, found at Cheese B, mentioned by Mr. Newmeister.

Particularly nice abate pears and forelle pears
Several kinds of wild mushrooms
Ontario Artichoke
Ontario ever-bearing strawberries
Fresh dates
Specialty melons
Sweet pimento peppers

Also, he tells me they have gotten a hold of some nice Kiwis-- and this weekend at Cheese B there will be a Kiwi presentation. Of course, this will mean tasting them, and probably cheese too, knowing how things go around that place.

To close off, I would like to thank Mr. Newmeister once again for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me-- very informative, and I bet readers of this blog will think so too!

Sep 4, 2008

Heirloom Tomatoes are Here!

I couldn't help but notice all the shapes and colours of the Heirloom tomatoes at Cheese B yesterday... when tomatoes are good, they are very, very good. Keep those pale, flavourless mass-produced things away from me, I love a real tomato.

Those Big Red Ones, In-Store

There is an article about them from David Lee here in a recent issue of The Globe and Mail, with great tips and what looks like a wonderful recipe (which I must try!).

I selected three tomatoes of varying colours, some basil, and a hefty little brown paper sack of Italian Orzo from the Pasta Room. Then over to the Deli counter for further inspiration.

Got some olives, and was thinking maybe a nice grated hard cheese, but Agim, true to his title as "the Meat Guy", suggested the Lamb Merguez Sausage instead. And a very good suggestion it was-- it made the dish more hearty and, I don't know... exotic (he said "Moroccan"), but cheese would work well if you wanted to keep it vegetarian-friendly.

Tomatoes Pose Vainly, Orzo Reclines in Background

I cut the sausage into pieces and added them to a hot skillet with some olive oil. Nice Lamby fats are released as it sizzles, and as it neared the end of cooking time I added a clove of minced garlic and ground some pepper into that-- it smelled great. So much flavour. I mixed that into the Orzo along with a leeeetle more olive oil. Then combined it with the olives, chopped fresh Basil, lemon juice and salt.

Off the pasta goes into a serving dish.. and now to arrange the Stars of the Show, our colourful Heirlooms, with a garnish of basil, a drizzle of balsamic crema, and pepper.

So... mmmmm

The Orzo was a great backdrop for these ingredients-- a very good quality pasta that retains a nice al dente firmness.

The yellow tomato in particular was my favourite, exceptionally sweet. I think I have to go back and get more... who needs candy?

And so, here is the List of Ingredients (from Cheese Boutique of course!):

Assorted Heirloom Tomatoes
Lamb Merguez Sausages
Rustichella d'Abruzo Italian Orzo Pasta
Deli Olives

Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper