AP’s Annual Feats of Strength

Once a summer, our store endures a whirlwind weekend of high-stakes cheese battling, 70-mile bike riding, and gourmet-sample-gorging so intense that we don’t want to look at food for days. For a crew that engages in light cheese battling every week, samples products every other hour, and bikes to work every day, we ought to be pros at this by now. But, as in years before, it proves simultaneously thrilling and exhausting.

All this went down about a week ago, when shop owner Andy and cheese buyer Mike rode their bikes from Boston to the Cape for an MS fundraiser while our other owner Matt partied hard at the 3rd Annual Cheesemonger Invitational, then met up with me at the Mast Brothers Chocolate factory for a tour, before walking the floor at the Fancy Food Show, home to many of our makers for the weekend (main snaps go to the rest of our staff, though, who stayed home to make sure the store didn’t fall apart).

Because it would be more overwhelming than a New Yorker article for me to narrate the antics we got into in detail, here’s a timeline of our 24 hours in the Big Apple—complete with lots of new products you can expect in the shop soon, and way, way too many pictures.

6.29.14, p.m.—Matt attends the CMI after-party, where Eataly’s Emily Acosta has just been crowned the winningest Cheesemonger after a grueling two days of written and taste tests. Many celebratory libations are served, our European cheese-maker friends visiting from Essex keep Matt up way past his bedtime.

6.30.14, 9 a.m.—We meet up at Mast Brothers Chocolate in Williamsburg. Matt is wearing sunglasses, tells me he may have been severely over-served at CMI. We meet Michael & Rick Mast on their way into work. Rick is eating a donut.photo 2-2

Before we can start our tour, we must first don silly hairnets. Thankfully, I was spared documentation wearing mine.photo 3-1

We’re lucky enough to taste the cacao nibs at various stages of the chocolate-making process, although the most food-porn-ready segment happens in a room full of grinding wheels, smoothing the nibs into a velvety rich molten state. This room smells insane.

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Next, we see the moon rocks the melty stuff becomes and witness the aging racks where they sit—a veritable Fort Knox of artisan chocolate. After the stuff is formed into bars and wrapped by an antique robotic machine in the stunning paper Mast has become known for, we taste the full line-up of their single-origin bars.

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10:30 a.m.—Michael Mast sees us out, and we walk with him to the bank, where he is headed to talk about the new shop they’re opening in London. After a ride with a very inept cab driver, we get Matt a life-saving egg sandwich from a bodega and enter the sweet, sweet A/C of the Javits Convention Center.

10:45 a.m.—The States section is up first, where we wind our way through aisles of American vendors, looking for interesting products and familiar faces. We find our first friends at the Big Picture goat caramel booth, where Louisa & Lucas welcome us with open arms and samples of their new caramel flavors—raspberry & rhubarb, dark chocolate & wild mint, and cider honey.

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Next we find the Edwards Ham booth, where we get to hang out with Sam Edwards (who you might remember from our chat with him last year) and taste some of their Jowciale, a smoked & peppered hog jowl akin to the Italian cousin to pancetta, guanciale. photo 5

Bill Creelman of Spindrift Sodas lets us taste his new Ginger Beer, a product from neighboring Charlestown, MA that we can’t wait to bring into the shop. photo 4-1

Another neighbor, Taza Chocolate, shows us their new Amaze-bars, a line of chocolates in flavors like Sea Salt & Almond, Toffee Crunch, & seasonal Peppermint Stick. Keep an eye out for these in the fall. photo 1-2

Our tour of the Massachusetts aisle comes full circle at the Batch Ice Cream table, where our friend Sofi from Olives & Grace is serving up samples beside Batch’s Susie & Veronica, and where we found Leigh from Nella Pasta snacking, too! It’s moments like these that make the Food Show for us—impromptu hangs with our makers make us that much more excited to sell their products and support their livelihood.

vscocam982Rounding out our Mass. visits, we say hello to Bonnie of Bonnie’s Jams, who shows off her new 5oz. jars to us, perfect stocking stuffers that remind us it’s never too early to plan for the holidays.

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Around noon, we make our way down the New York state aisle, visiting with Jomaree & Tobin from Hella Bitters and Elizabeth from Empire Mayo (who convinces us to start selling her Bacon mayo, which you can now find on the shelves at AP). We also chat with Eric Childs (one of the speakers at Edible Institute last month) about homebrew kombucha kits, and spot a home Cider Brewing Kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop that you can expect to see at AP in the fall.

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1 p.m.—On the European floor now, Alberto from Seacrest lures us in with the promise of cheeseboards (and, more importantly, chairs). We taste more cheeses than I can remember, visit with friends from the Cellars at Jasper Hill & Jan’s Crisps, and set ourselves up to meet with the Grillo’s Pickles guys once we’re all back in Boston (lots more to come from that relationship, but you’ll have to wait to see what that’s all about).

1:45 p.m.—We stop by Columbia Cheese to see how CMI-founder Adam Moskowitz is faring after his weekend of curd contests & debauchery. Never worse for wear, this guy tosses us some Pork Slap cans out of their mini-fridge and administers a “Cheese For Life” temporary tat to Matt’s forearm (using pale ale instead of water, of course).

2 p.m.Joe from Vermont Creamery (and former AP staffer) texts us, offering a Heady Topper for a visit. Ah, the magic Fancy Food dreams are made of. On our way over, we bump into Juhl from Essex Cheese, who guest-mongered at our shop last weekend. She is with her band of visiting cheesemakers—José Luis of 1605 Manchego, Philippe from Marcel Petit Comté, and Martin & Betty Koster of L’Amuse Gouda. There are lots of hugs and cheek kisses—we’re going to miss having these guys stateside.

2:30 p.m., We power through our two favorite European importers, tasting organic olive oils, mejillones en escabeche, and gluten-free pasta that surprisingly doesn’t suck. Tipping back cups of fruit vinegar, Matt and I toast to our efficiency this year and head back out to the streets after a food show well-done.

3:30 p.m., Can’t leave without visiting Gotham West Market up the street, per Sofi’s recommendation. Settled at a beautiful bar overlooking 11th Avenue, we order some rosé and a dozen Rhode Island oysters and sit back to watch the World Cup on the big screen. Just when we’re thinking it doesn’t get better than this, we glance down the bar and see our favorite gouda-making couple, Betty & Martin Koster—a food show miracle! We share our oysters, they share their fried potato tapas, and we end our weekend in a dreamy soccer-watching reverie. In this moment, we ignore our sore feet and overwhelmed palates. We are able to forget the sweat and noise of the Manhattan summer day outside.photo 3-2

In these unexpected instances of maker-bonding, we’re reminded of why we attend Fancy Food every year. More important than scoping out new products is getting the chance to relax and have a blast with the folks we spend our year talking to customers about. And after weekends like this, we can’t wait to get back and tell all of you just how awesome they truly are.

 

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