Monthly Archives: March 2017

February Beer Club Boxes

As one of the “romantic languages,” Italian professions of amore, elegant cheeses, hand made pasta, and dark, luscious bottles of wine would be apropos for the month of February. What doesn’t usually come to mind when thinking of Italy is beer. But with all of the skill and artisan attention the Italians give to the production of all their products, it is a shame to not equally consider their craft beer creations!

So this month we are showing a little amore to the underappreciated Italian craft beer scene, as well as to you with this Italian themed box! The items in this box are all imported from Italy, which seems to contradict our “eat local” motto, but sometimes you have to recognize the best of the best when it comes to things like porcini risotto or salted capers! And we know you’ll be feeling the love when you cut into this decadent hunk of truffle cheese…

Birrificio le Baladin IsaacThe first bottle you’ll find in this box hails from the small village of Piozzo in the Piedmont region of Italy. Birrificio le Baladin was started in1996 as a brewpub by the quirky  mastermind Teo Musso. Teo’s mission was to bring the artisanal elegance and craft of the Italian culture to the creation of craft beers that would accompany his other favorite activity of eating food. Isaac is a Belgian inspired witbier that Teo first made in 1997, named after his first son. Like most Italian craft beers, Isaac is bottle conditioned which gives a wonderful complexity to the beer. The scent of fruity citrus and yeast jump off Isaac’s fizzy head. This beer is super refreshing with spicy, herbal dryness, as well as a delicate wheaty malt base. {ABV: 5%}

Almond 22 Brewery Pink Italian Pale Ale: Curiously labeled Pink I.P.A., this pretty in pink bottle is an Italian Pale Ale, not to mistaken for the hop bombs we as Americans have a cult fetish for. Not that hops don’t play a part in this curious Italian creation! Tropical fruit hops show themselves in the form of grapefruit, pineapple, and a slight herbal bitterness. From the micro brewery Almond 22 in Abruzzo (no actual almonds here, the brewery was once the site of the production of ‘confetti di Sulmona’, Italy’s famous sugared almonds), this brew is unfiltered and unpasteurized which gives a long life for the beer to develop more complex flavors in the bottle. The pink peppercorn will certainly pop up as a light spice that balances some sweet malt flavors. {ABV: 6%}

Birrificio Retorto Morning Glory: The last two piccolo (small) beers in this Italian box are from a brewer whose dedication to his craft runs deep from the land in which his ingredients are grown, through brewing, fermentation, and finally to the bottle. Birrificio Retorto comes from the Latin term “wring”, which brewmaster Marcello Ceresa believe evokes the slope of the valleys and rivers that define the province of Piacenza. These two bottles are dubbed Morning Glory, which shines through the fizz with fresh fruity notes of mango and sweet citrus. Classified as an American style Pale Ale, Morning Glory has a decent amount of hoppy grassy bitterness, but the funky earthy palate seems distinctive of its Italian roots. {ABV: 5.6%}

Riseria Campanini Risotto al Funghi PorciniThe intrepid cooks who have prepared risotto know it is, above all, a labor of love—requiring constant attention, nurturing, and, like any real love, no small amount of wine. Though it can seem a daunting task, we promise this, Riseria Campanini’s risotto, is as easy as it gets. Riseria Campanini is a third-generation rice mill where each step of production is personally supervised by an owning family member. Made in the north of Italy just outside Mantua, this risotto ai funghi porcini is comprised of vialone nano rice, a variety greatly prized by chefs for its flavor and consistency. Though traditionally a primo dish (an Italian first course), we think this risotto would be perfection with steak au poivre and a nice bottle of red—perhaps a belated Valentine’s feast is in order?

Azienda Agricola Caravaglio CapersCapers may not be the sexiest ingredient we will ever give you, but they are undoubtedly one of the most versatile. These capperi come from, appropriately enough, Salina Island, specifically the vineyard Azienda Agricola, where they undergo a rigorous process before shipping stateside. Not unlike grape picking, the harvesting schedule for capers necessitates a strict schedule; capers being the buds of a flower, they are harvested precisely eight days after formation, for on the tenth day, they bloom and the berry is lost. Picked in the coolest hours of the day, the capers are then allowed to “rest” for half a day before il matrimonio salino—their marriage to salt. Strangely enough, capers are extremely bitter when eaten fresh; the preserving process brings out the best in them, and they only improve with age. Whether it’s Puttanesca, salsa verde, or Chicken Piccata, we find these little buds improve any dish they meet.

Sottocenere al TartufoPerhaps our most requested cheese, Sottocenere al Tartufo was the only choice for our February box. It has certainly captured the hearts and minds of many of our customers, who come in every week with a certain love-struck look asking simply for “the truffle cheese.” Coated in spices, beech ash, and of course, truffle dust, Sottocenere (meaning literally “under ash”) cuts a striking figure on a cheese plate—one of many reasons we love it so. The cheese itself (cow’s milk) is pleasantly mild, creamy, and slightly sweet, the perfect canvas for the real star here: the black truffle. And just to gild the lily, the cheesemakers saw fit to add truffle slivers to the soft paste for extra decadence. Like a true Italian diva, Sottocenere boldly dominates most pairings so we typically enjoy it all by its lonesome, though we wouldn’t say no to a spoonful of raw honey alongside either.

All descriptions and photos taken by Caley Mahoney.

Call the store at (617) 269-6100, email us at, or ask a staffer for more information on signing yourself or someone you love up for the Beer or Wine of the Month Club! 

Jam Out: A Conversation with Bonnie Shershow

Fruit preserves – the key is in the second word. For us New Englanders – slaves to the seasons – it’s an irresistible treat to get a taste of summer-ripened fruit on your plate in the middle of March. Even as the latest Nor’easter bears down upon us, let each bite remind you that though winter is here (and still coming, apparently) there is a drop of sunshine on the east coast that we can still enjoy – and it comes in different flavors.

Bonnie Shershow, the founder and owner of Bonnie’s Jams, was kind enough to speak to me about her product and how she got her start in the jam business. First of all, it was kind of an accident. How she tells it, Shershow got her start in jam making as her mothers helper, in their California home surrounded by berry bushes and fruit trees. Later in life, Shershow achieved a graduate degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard. She worked managing non-profits, political campaigns, and did marketing. Through it all, she made jam as a hobby, but she never thought it would become a career. Things clicked when Formaggio kitchen started carrying her jams 17 years ago – Shershow says, “At one point, I thought I should be paying them, it was such a thrill to see it on the shelf.”

A Question of pectin…

Many of Bonnie’s Jams have the telltale description “no pectin” on the label. I had no idea what pectin was, but I presumed it was some sort of negative additive. I referred myself to Google, and learned that it was a plant-derived substance with a variety of applications, both in food and medicine. Shershow informs me, “Pectin’s not bad for you – in fact, pectin can be good for you.”

So what’s all the fuss about pectin in jam? It boils down to this (pun intended) – sugar and water.

Let’s say you’re making jam in a pot with a bunch of fruit and sugar, and you add pectin. It is a thickening component – so the jam is ready in maybe a half hour. When Shershow makes her pots of jams, she cooks the fruit down for several hours, adds only a touch of sugar, and no pectin. This does a couple of things. In the first scenario, with the pectin, we had to add a lot of sugar (according to Shershow, some recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of sugar to fruit). The sugar is compensating for the water that is still in the jam – it’s helping it taste yummy. But if you let the jam thicken by cooking it down more, you’re removing the need for both a thickener and extra sugar to compensate for loss of flavor. You’re also subtracting the possibility that the pectin will change the actual flavor of the fruit preserve.

How can pectin change the flavor? Well, because pectin itself is made from fruit. It is found crabapples, citrus peels, and many other fruits. Hence why Shershow avoids using the derivative in most of her products – “I don’t like using it in berries or stone fruit jams. I want the flavor of that particular fruit to be pure; I don’t want it to have a citrus taste.”

On the flip side, Shershow tells me she uses pectin in her Red Pepper Jelly, a delightful product that we can barely keep in stock at AP. Pectin has a place in the Red Pepper Jelly – it’s a more liquid base, and it has vinegar as an ingredient. So, Shershow uses an orange peel based pectin that gels with the red pepper flavor. (Last pun, I promise.)

Finally, we get to the fun part. Shershow and I got to talk pairings, and she gave me some of her favorites. Cheese and meat may be the star of the show for snacking spreads – but accoutrements are the sidekicks that all superheroes need to shine. Jams have a way of elevating a cheese board – they bring taste, differentiating texture, and color to your appetizers. Keep scrolling for some visual inspiration for your next cheese board.

Nuts and honey & Chiriboga blue
The sweet, salty crunch of nuts & honey marries perfectly with a creamy blue. We love the rindless Chiriboga, a Bavarian blue so decadent it’s been made into ice cream. Fair warning – it’s addictive; this pairing should come with a waiver.

Strawberry Rhubarb & Lake’s Edge
If you’re after less of a punch and more of a delicate handshake, try this pairing on for size. Somewhere between creamy and fudgy, Lake’s Edge is an ash ripened goat cheese. Paired with Strawberry Rhubarb jam, it’s spring in a bite.

Peach Ginger & Twig Farm Goat Tomme
This pairing is a double whammy of tang, and I’m not talking chimpanzees. A snap of ginger and stone fruit with a crack of goat will have your palette on its toes.

Black and Blue & Marcel Petit Comte
Juicy berries with one of our favorite French alpine cheeses? Yes please! Kick up this pairing and make a warm tart with the black and blue and shave some Comte on top. Melty.

Fig preserves & literally any cheese
The best part about pairings is that it’s all up to you and your taste. We love Fig preserve with everything from our best selling Cabot Clothbound cheddar to taleggio. You can mix it in with some yogurt, or have it on a slice of toast with Ploughgate butter. Experiment. Find what you love. That’s what it’s all about.

All pictures and words by the author.

Claire Cheney’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Note by the author:
This interview with Claire Cheney from Curio Spice Co. will be the first
in a series of a spotlight on woman owned & operated businesses.

Curio Spice Co. is a tiny spice shop owned by Claire Cheney on Mass Ave in Cambridge. Just down the road from Davis & Porter Squares, it has a sanctuary-esque feeling. An avid traveler and collector of curiosities, Cheney has a way of blending both spices and ambiance. Old fashioned looking instruments, animal skulls, and a copy of the Drunken Botanist frame her spice blend and salt offerings. Curated to be an aromatic experience, each shelf has a row of clear jars so you can see and smell the spices. It’s one thing to talk the talk of being a small sustainable business but she really does walk the walk – 99% of the spices on her shelves are fair trade, organic, and/or from small sustainable farms.

Cheney grew up in Massachusetts and spent an impressionable part of her childhood in a shipbuilding town on the coast of Maine. She credits her first solo-abroad trip to Ghana as one event that spurred her interest in botany. She says, “People don’t have access to western style doctors, so there’s a lot of tribal medicine and using the plants in their environment, and I was curious about that.”

Curiouser and curiouser….

She went on to study at Oberlin, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, where she majored in creative writing and environmental studies. As far as her studies contribution to her business acumen, Cheney attributes more the critical thinking and creative skills she acquired at school with bringing her success than her actual degree. She jokes, “I sometimes will mix it up and say I was a creative studies major, cause it sometimes felt like that. Very, very interdisciplinary.”

At Oberlin, she worked as the Local Foods Coordinator at an 800-person food and living co-op. That meant she traveled to Amish farms in Ohio to source vegetables and eggs direct from the farms. Being a woman, the farmers would not make eye contact when she spoke to them, and would only speak to the male she was working with. Also impactful was her senior thesis on wild foods, which started as a project on the wild blueberry industry in Maine, but expanded wildly. She talks about interviewing Alice Waters as part of her project, who is a proponent of the slow food movement, food activist, and all around badass; as I would talk about meeting Beyonce (but with less hyperventilating). She credits her project as being very beneficial to defining her passion for local, organic, and sustainable food practices. You can tell she’s brought her interests full circle: she informs me of her newest spice blend offering named Herbes de Romance contains wild oregano from her folk’s farm up in Maine.

Cheney’s current business model is fashioned around becoming a certified B Corp, short for benefit corporation. A benefit corporation has a mission statement that goes beyond just profit. Other businesses that have achieved B Corp status include Kickstarter, and Cheney’s friends at the company Susty Party, who sell compostable party supplies. To be certified, you need to create a set of achievable goals to fulfill your mission, which vary depending on the business. Curio Spice Co.’s mission is rooted in environmental responsibility and gender equality.

Cheney points out, “it’s a little bit tricky for consumers, because there’s so much language on packaging. Whether it’s organic, now it’s non-GMO, there’s fair trade, then there’s words like sustainable and natural.” As more and more people are becoming aware, “natural” is often used to make a packaged food seem less processed – that doesn’t mean it’s true. While for-profit corporations only have a responsibility to how they can achieve financial success, B Corps also consider environmental and social factors.

If you look closely at the label, you can see the silhouette of a bear. That, according to Cheney, is because bears are super sniffers. After a little bit of my own research, I discovered bears have a sense of smell seven times greater than that of a bloodhound. That, together with Cheney’s affinity for perfumes gives an inkling as to how much sourcing spices direct has to with picking up scents. “It’s a similar process to spice blending, using your nose and finding cool combinations. I’ve studied some natural perfume and it’s helped develop my sensory abilities.”

Cheney has put those sensory abilities she’s gained to work; she seems to always be going on spice hunting trips, her latest of which being a vanilla quest in Madagascar which you can read about in her new blog post. Her social media accounts certainly capture her passion for spices and are a wonderful way to feel like you’re on an adventure right alongside her. As she says, “I think it makes people enjoy the food more when you have the story behind it.”

As for her spice blends, they are very exact, “down to the gram,” Cheney assures me. Her scales also have to be certified by the city because of weights and measures regulations. When I was considering Curio, and wondering about, of all the things I could ask Cheney, about her cool products and amazing travels, the phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” by Aristotle came briefly to mind. When I asked Cheney if she agreed with that assessment, she said, “That’s what’s cool about blending – and you could say the same about cooking. When you combine certain things and it creates a balance, it transcends all the individual ingredients.”

Some of Claire Cheney’s favorite flavor combinations:
Southeast Asian: lemongrass, makrut lime, and long pepper
Greek & Mediterranean: Oregano, saffron, lemon, and thyme

Find Curio Spices at American Provisions in the spice section.

All photos and article by Hillary Anderson.