There are a number of reasons we love Ruggles Hill Creamery. If you’ve ever come in right after Michael Holland has dropped off one of their beautifully wrapped cake boxes filled with individually handmade and wrapped goat cheeses, we’ve probably told you, “you need to try this cheese.” I was very familiar with their cheeses, which ones were creamy, which ones were fudgy; the delicate Brother’s Walk, or the cider washed Hanna’s Awashed. But until I drove the hour and a half to the farm at the end of June, I was not yet aware of just how much heart and soul went into making these little lumps of deliciousness.
Behind the charming wood doors at Cricket Creek farm is the home of a herd of around 30 grass-fed Brown Swiss and Jersey cows. Though it wasn’t always so – 60 years ago, the 500-acre farm was home to an industrious 300 milking cows and a large, grain based operation. Between 2001-2004 the Sabot family purchased the land and instituted a more animal friendly and environmentally friendly farm. With assistance from cheese consultant Peter Dixon of Parish Hill creamery, they developed their first cheese recipe for what would become Maggie’s Round.
On the most upper left corner of a map of Massachusetts you’ll find Williamstown – part of the Berkshires, and the home of Cricket Creek farm. Down a long dirt road, past fields of rolling pastures, and a view of the Berkshire mountains in the distance – you may see some cows grazing the fields, and watch out for chickens – there’s a farm open to exploration. Other than cows and chickens, Cricket Creek is also home to a few pigs, named Ophelia and Lady Macbeth.
The Cricket Creek farm store is open to the public from 7am-7pm, 7 days a week. It runs off the honors system, but staff are usually nearby to help, whether they’re working in the office, making cheese, or washing dishes. The store not only houses the artisan cheeses that we at AP know them for, but also: raw milk by the glass jug, Sidehill yogurt, and beef and pork products from the animals they raise.
Teri Rutherford is Operations Manager and comes to the farm by way of an Americorps position that helped her discover her passion for farm managing. She realized she loved the work and connecting to a specific farm would also use her experience with engaging communities, event planning, and outdoor recreation.
“Our mission is to produce nourishing food that honors the animals with respect to the community. We also want to be an example of sustainable small farm viability,” Rutherford said. “Bringing people here allows them to see what we’re doing, see how we’re treating our animals, and see how we’re making our quality food products.”
For fans of the farm that don’t have the resources to make it out to the Berkshires very often, they can track goings-on through Instagram and Facebook. “We have people making trips out to the farm because of seeing us on Instagram, it helps get the word out there and build a fan base and share what we’re doing,” Rutherford said.
However, realities of small farm life can be lost in translation through social media. “We romanticize the farm and therefore other people do that. I think that people understand that farming is hard work but I don’t think that people fully understand the financial struggle that small farmers go through. They see the beautiful pictures of where we are and the animals that are super happy and healthy and we care for them deeply. But we’re on razor thin margins here,” Rutherford adds. “The other aspect is that it’s not all happy animals all the time; there is a lot of death in farming and we don’t post pictures like that.”
For the conscious consumer, these facts are disheartening but it all the more makes us appreciate the sacrifice of the animals and the people who care for them, who milk them, and yes, send them to slaughter. It’s difficult, but it’s part of what makes a farm tick. At Cricket Creek, usually less than half of the herd is for milking, and a lot of their calves end up going for veal. Their cheeses use veal rennet – and have very few other ingredients. A by-product of the cheese-making is whey, which is fed to the pigs. The pigs also act as natural trash eaters, as they also get any cheese and other products that are not quite fit for human consumption. Like most farms, they also compost and spread manure to keep the grass growing so that the cows can keep eating.
To help keep those razor thin profit margins at bay, the cheese makers work year round. In the wintertime, they feed the cows baleage (pronounce bay-ledge), which comes with it’s own quirks in it’s effect on cheese development. Baleage is fermented hay. It makes winter milk higher fat, and lower yield.
Calista Tarnuskas is one of those cheese makers that stays hard at work. She says, “We do have issues with it sometimes in our raw milk cheeses. There’s a lot of variation in the bales, so if you get a bad one it can seriously affect the flavor, or even the smell.” There are ways it can be finessed. Tarnuskas said, “It’s definitely good to make a washed rind cheese or anything that does well with high fat in the winter.”
Tarnuskas has worked as a cheesemaker since 2009, and started her career at another local farm we know and love, Lazy Lady goat farm. “Recipes are like an ongoing endeavor for cheese making,” She said. “We write it all down and have make sheets so I know the lot number of the culture and how much I used – exactly.” She logs the temperature, time, and PH, so she can track the tweaks she makes with the resulting cheese.
Another big draw of the farm is the newly renovated barn that sits right between the beautiful overlook of the mountains and the farm store. Cricket Creek, with the help of a 2014 Kickstarter campaign, got the barn renovated for events and weddings. Though it’s another source of revenue for the farm and it doesn’t magically solve financial struggles, it is helping them to more securely break even.
Cricket Creek farm fills their corner of Massachusetts with community potlucks, letting the public see the daily ins and outs of their operations, and all the work that maintaining a farm requires. It’s hard to explain or pinpoint what makes them do what they do, but it is most soundly a labor of love for all that are involved. The rewards may not manifest themselves in actual riches, but the quality of their cheese is certainly indicative of how much care and heart they put into their operation.
All pictures and words by the author.
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.
When it comes to the products we sell at American Provisions, a lot of the things we love the most aren’t in the “basic needs” category. They’re the video vixens of the food world. Captivating and addicting. Equal parts wonderful and seductive, flavor rich, and unique. To us, there are certain picks that are so essential that we panic when they’re out of stock. They become the ones we call our ride-or-die products.
I posed the question to Matt Thayer, owner of American Provisions, a couple weeks ago. I asked him to give me his ten favorites, his ride-or-dies. Whittling down the many choices was both challenging and tendentious. Some, like Mazi Piri Piri sauce, were obvious. Others, like selecting one favorite wine out of our entire wall, were borderline formidable. This is the list Matt came up with, and his remarks. We also spoke about why he loves working in food, Southie, and the challenges of the food business.
…is delicious. It’s not cheap, it’s 10 bucks for 8 oz of butter – but I think of it as like buying a hunk of cheese – I don’t cook eggs with that butter. I smear it all over bread or we melt it and dip artichokes in it. Just using it as like anything that is a perfect vehicle to just pour the butter into my mouth – as opposed to using it to cook.
Chianti Classico 2012 Castell’in Villa
That was one of the wineries I visited last spring, so I think that theres a personal connection to the wine which resonates with me. I had lunch with the winemaker. I think the first time I tasted it it was sort of an “aha” moment for Sangiovese grape. It made me think of chianti in a different way. It’s real kinda big and dank and earthy for a chianti. They can be a little bit lighter with high acidity and this is one that really made me see the aging potential of Sangiovese grape.
Mazi Piri Piri Sauce
Oh my gosh, this is like ketchup in my house. It goes on everything, from what you would think, like a taco or something like that – to eggs, meat, and more. Last year for the super bowl I did Mazi Piri Piri deep fried wings. That can never leave my fridge, that is very essential. I’ve turned a bunch of my people onto it too. In my neighborhood I have people over for dinner a lot and now they’re all hooked and make me bring them Piri Piri.
Would you say American Provisions today is accurate to your vision when you started the business? In what ways is it different or the same?
I think it’s something that we try really hard to be mindful of. So when we first opened we didn’t sell beer and wine although that was always part of the business plan. And we didn’t sell sandwiches. I had no interest in being a sandwich shop – we were a market, a neighborhood market, a cheese and meat shop.
We quickly transitioned into making sandwiches and that’s become a big revenue source for us, and also a place where we can put our labor. But it’s something that I try very hard not to have our identity become – being a sandwich shop.
As we open up a second location, it’s something again, were trying to be mindful of even though we’ll have a full kitchen and we’ll do sandwiches there, were trying to be a market, and have food as a place in the community. So it’s definitely something that we try and take a step back at times and see if we’re still following this mission and vision for American Provisions. So I do think that it is. And obviously we’ve evolved and our products have evolved which I think is a great thing, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. But I do think we’re sticking to our mission and vision.
Lesbos Feta from Essex St. Cheese co.
This feta is an addiction of mine. Most feta is commodity cheese – you can buy it already crumbled or it’s just a factory cheese that comes from cows milk that isn’t made by a cheesemaker and you can’t taste that it comes from an animal. Ours is 100% sheep and it’s an artisan cheese which most feta isn’t and you can really taste the difference. It’s grassy, it’s salty. I’m a salt freak, and it’s just the right amount of salt I think.
Early bird Crack of Dawn Breakfast Bar
These are a staple for me. It’s my breakfast every morning. It’s my coffee snack at 2 o’ clock every afternoon. I probably have – no hyperbole at all – 15 a week. When they briefly stopped making them, that was a crushing moment for us all.
Curio Supeq Spice – Spicy & Umami Salt
This is a more recent discovery. Curio spice are the type of products that we really like to sell here. She’s a local that who was in the restaurant industry and has bounced around various kitchens – she worked at Flatback coffee and Oleana and was really inspired to follow her passion. She travels and her instagram account is really cool to follow cause she’ll post from, like, Madagascar or somewhere. It’s a unique product, the umami salt. It’s not really overpowering. I use it as a finishing spice. It’s really good on eggs, chicken thighs, and rice. Pretty much everything.
How did you land on Southie as a place to start the business?
Andy and I met bartending in South Boston. We both worked here for a long time. My wife and I lived here for awhile. We had a connection to it. And from a pure business standpoint it felt like there was a need and it fit with what we were trying to do.
How do the challenges of six years ago when you were first starting compare to now?
It was a lot of work to open. At the time it didn’t feel hard. It was different challenges. When we first opened, we honestly talked about, “do you think we’ll need to hire anybody else or can we just do this ourselves?” And then we were busy the first week we opened –not busy like what we know today but we were lucky enough to have people walk through the door. It was just a lot of work, definitely, being a young father at the time and my kid was really young and my wife worked full time. It was hard from a time perspective. It was just different work. We’ve been lucky enough to have some success and we’ve been lucky enough to hire some great people. Now, it’s managing people as opposed to managing ourselves for 15 hours a day.
Crunch Dynasty – Exotic Hot Topping
So this is something I use when I have a meal that is super lame and I don’t have the energy to do anything for it, I throw that on top and that excites the meal – whether it’s just noodles or salad. Just like lettuce with lots of oil and that. It’s really salty; it’s spicy but it’s not overly, ruin your day spicy. At first you don’t even notice the heat then it kind of grows on you. Texturally it’s good too, a key ingredient in there is fried shallots, which to me is like- gimme fried shallots with anything. It really jazzes food up.
Les Moulins Mahjoub M’hamsa Couscous
We’ve sold this product for a long time – I also really like the Les Moulins Mahjoub harissa and the combo of the two of them are really good. I was shocked – often couscous doesn’t have shit for flavoring and so, just cooking that no broth not even salting the water, nothing – just cook it like pasta – and it’s super flavorful and it’s salty and kinda olive oil-y. Textural-ly, it doesn’t get mushy, It holds it’s form, I think because it’s sun dried.
Ortiz Anchovies in Olive Oil
That is an incredibly important staple ingredient in my cupboard. In fact it doesn’t even make it to my cupboard now – it sits on my counter. I have a bowl of kosher salt for cooking, pepper grinder, a couple different olive oils and often the anchovies sit right there. It’s more of an ingredient – it can be eaten by itself or just chopped up and thrown in a salad. But it goes when I’m rendering things. Or just sautéing onions and garlic. Or marinating meat – it goes REALLY really great with lamb or beef. It gives it an earthy richness and when you’re cooking it with other ingredients it doesn’t taste real fishy or anything, it’s just giving you that real umami-ness. It’s sort of like when you cook with fish sauce, and you’re like, “what is that flavor that I’m tasting?” It doesn’t necessarily taste fishy but it gives a depth of flavor.
Nella’s brussel sprout ravioli
I don’t eat it as much now that I don’t close, but when I used to close here – so for the first three years we were open – that was a product I would bring home and eat. It was my lazy dinner meal. It would just be that and good olive oil, salt and pepper, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. It was the type of thing where I would love it when my wife would say “we don’t have anything, bring something to eat home,” and I would know that was a Nella’s night.
What’s your favorite part of owning the shop?
I really love food. That’s something that’s super important to me and thats part of why I opened this store. I think it’s also the store’s place in the community. We intentionally opened in this community. We’re opening a second location, we intentionally are opening in Dorchester and were looking for a long time, years, before settling on that space. We looked at a lot of different places. One thing that we knew was we wanted it to be a place that people could feel a sense of community. I think food is really neat that it does that, whether it’s coming into a neighborhood market or a coffee shop you love or sitting around your dining room table and sharing a potluck. I think food is beautiful in that sense and that is what I love about our place in this community and how we’re approaching the intentionality of opening our second location.
All photos taken by Hillary Anderson.
“Rosé all day” has not only become a popular new expression, a trending hashtag, & a recurring t-shirt logo, but it is also a forceful motto of the warm weather seasons. As soon as April rolled around, the shelves and fridges at American Provisions grew immensely brighter in color — that color is pink. Pink wine has carried a negative connotation for many years, but is now becoming one of the most sought after styles for wine drinkers. This major shift in rosé popularity can be attributed to a rise in rosé quality, a consistent level of affordability for such quality, and the all around versatility and general awesome-ness that is rosé wine.
At American Provisions we are currently carrying 15 different rosés, with an expected half dozen more in the very near future. We are loving the fact that the store is covered in pink wine, so much so that we are becoming pink wine pushers. Haunting memories of cloyingly sweet bottles of white Zinfandel still linger in the minds of customers as they gaze at the rows of pink wines on our shelves. We are determined to wipe away those memories and replace them with a shared love and acceptance of the misunderstood rosé wine. We are here to suggest – nay – INSIST, that you not be blinded by the bright colors, but instead embrace them and join us while we revel in their glory.
Despite all the praise and insistence I have just placed on rosés, I do believe that not all rosés are created equal and therefore not all worthy of our love. We understand the wary approach when it comes to choosing a bottle from the rows of pink wines, which is why we have taken upon ourselves to taste all the rosés in order to safely guide you through your choices. It was a lot of hard work, but here they are, and You’re Welcome.
We will start with France, as it is arguably the most well known and abundant producer of rosé wines:
Domaine le Clos des Lumières 2014: A classic example of a Southern Rhône blend, the Lumières rosé contains Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, & Mourvèdre grapes. This pretty pale salmon rosé is light weight and full of bright strawberry and tangerine flavors. The sunny climate of Southern Rhone shines through this wine with its rich characteristics, as well as subtle notes of wet stone. Pair this bottle with a salad of crunchy greens and ripe tomatoes to get a completely fresh experience.
Couly Dutheil Rene Couly Chinon 2014: The Chinon region of Loire Valley is known for producing mostly red wines made from Cabernet Franc grapes. This rosé is no exception, made of 100% Cab Franc, it boasts a medium body full of red berries, rose petals, & strawberries. This Chinon rosé has a strong personality, but is very approachable with its soft palate and light acidity.
Domaine du Petit Clocher Rosé d’ Anjou 2014: A new bottle to join our shelves is this Loire rosé from the family run vineyards of Petit Clocher. This wine is made from an indigenous grape variety called Grolleau; a variety that is primarily grown in the Loire Valley of France and is almost strictly used for making rosé wines. These deep black berries produce light, elegant bodies with noticeably high acidity, which is why this rosé carries some residual sugar for balance. Now I know what you’re thinking, but this is NOT a sweet wine! It may not be bone dry like some of the other options we carry, but the slight sweetness from the berry fruits only helps to offset the acidity — steering this wine towards the middle of the road as a very balanced option of our rosés.
To transition to domestic wines, we will start with a Provençal style that is made in California:
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé 2014: This wine’s light coloring is owed to a very light pressing of the grapes, which were harvested at the specific maturity for this style — less ripe than necessary for red wines. Elegant and crisp, Bonny Doon’s rosé has a savory acidity with notes of strawberry, mint, and subtle bergamot characteristics. Made with a typical base of red Rhône varieties such as Grenache and Mourvèdre, this rosé is also composed of some traditional white Rhône varieties like Grenache Blanc and Marsanne, which give the wine an unexpected richness. The flying UFO over the vineyards on the label and alien eyes on the screw cap are also unexpected, if you are not familiar with the quirky style of vintner Randall Grahm.
Matthiasson Rose 2014: From a family run vineyard that likes to explore classical styles of wine, we have a unique expression of the California landscape that can easily match its foreign competitors. This creatively labeled bottle holds a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise. A truly elegant wine, this rosé is light bodied with delicate acidity that will perfectly compliment springtime fare. Bright flavors of white peach and grapefruit will quickly seduce you, if the packaging hasn’t already.
Tuck Beckstoffer Hogwash 2013 (soon 2014): Made as a byproduct from a vineyard that mostly produces serious reds, Hogwash is a lighthearted offering for the summer months (specifically those times when it is too hot out to drink heavy reds during a pig roast). From 100% Grenache grapes, this rosé is vibrant and bone dry, with flavors of ripe melon, grapefruit, and wet granite. It is reminiscent of a a light red but seriously refreshing and beautifully concentrated.
Illahe Estate Rose 2014: From a slightly warmer site than most vineyards of the Willamette Valley, the Illahe rosé is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes. At the Illahe estate they whole-cluster press the Tempranillo grapes; a process that is more time consuming, yet produces wines with greater clarity. In this case it has produced a delicate wine with a crisp strawberry palate and a fleshy body that is begging to be paired with tangy goat cheese, like any of the offerings from Twig Farm in Vermont!
Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Rosé 2014: From a bodega more than 100 years old in Rioja, Spain, the Martinez Lacuesta rosé is made of 100% Garnacha. Know also as Grenache from France, this variety of grape originated in Spain and produces fresh, fruity wines. This rosé is lively with a supple medium body. Bright notes of mandarin citrus, strawberries, and roses will happily meet you mouth and liven your taste buds!
Ostatu Rosado 2014: Another offering from Rioja, the Ostatu rosé is a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. This is a very modern variation of a classic Rioja style, made from some of the oldest vines in Ostatu and fermented in stainless steel. A store favorite, the Ostatu rosé is medium bodied, tart, and lively. It runs the gamut for fruit, with notes of red berries, watermelon, cherries, and light citrus. This is one of three offerings we carry from the Ostatu vineyards, and believe us, they are all on point!
Cantine Mucci Valentino Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2014: From Italy’s eastern coast, Cantine Mucci is a vineyard that is run and loved by three generations of the Mucci family in the unique landscape of Abruzzo. This rosé is made from 100% Montepulciano, a dark, luscious grape. The particular method of reducing contact time between the skins and the juice of the Montepulciano grapes, is what gives this wine its lovely cherry-like color, hence the name Cerasuolo, which means cherry in Italian. This method also gives this rosé its bright and fruity (cherry & blackberry) characteristics, which stand out within its soft, full texture.
Colli di Salerno Reale Getis Rosé 2014: The deceivingly dark bottle of the Getis Reale rosé may have some thinking it is a red wine, but it believe us it’s not! This wine pours a beautifully rich orange-y crimson color, releasing a prominent scent of fruit and flowers. The incredibly pillow like texture of this rosé slowly rolls over your tongue, accented by very soft bubbles of carbonation. Made from two indigenous grapes, Piedirosso and Tintore, this wine shows off dark Mediterranean fruit like raspberries and strawberries. If you let it, this wine will hug you warmly like an sweet Italian grandmother.
Next up: Austria!
Schloss Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé 2014: This authentically classy looking bottle comes to us from the vineyards around castle Gobelsburg in Kamptal, Austria. Pouring out a glowing hue of pale coral, this wine has quite a commanding presence for such a light body. The blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent grapes are softly pressed and fermented in a manner that nudges this rosé closer to a white wine style. The fruit presence is minimal, yet there are whiffs of fresh berries and wild cherries beneath loads of bright acidity. This rosé will awaken your senses with its slight tingle of carbonation, as well as thoroughly impress you with its unwavering elegance.
Sattler Zweigelt Rosé 2014: Last but certainly not least,we have a Terry Theise selection from the Burgenland region of Austria. Erich Sattler’s rosé is produced in the traditional saignée method, where after a short period of maceration, the juice is separated from the must and then vinified similar to a white wine. This method produces the vibrant fuchsia color of Sattler’s rosé, as well as giving the wine a fuller body. The Zweigelt grape gives this wine zippy notes of raspberries and wild cherries, as well as herbal flavors like mint. The color of this rosé is so pink it is almost ridiculous, but believe us, the taste will make this a pink drink no one will be embarrassed to sip!
Armed with this new knowledge, we expect you to embrace these colors and make bottles of rosé your summer long companions. Come pick a lucky bottle from our selection or maybe grab a bunch and do what I did on this beautiful Wednesday — rosé all day!
…was the completely appropriate, albeit admittedly corny phrase I shouted to the attendees of Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest, on Saturday, February 28th. Although I was not press coverage for the event, the large camera and flash I was toting around were enough to prompt fellow fest-goers to request pictures of themselves (which I happily obliged).
I have a love/hate relationship with beer festivals. On the one hand, they’re wonderful because you get to try so many beers from talented brewers all in one setting, while mingling with fellow beer lovers. Yet the same applies to why they’re loathsome: you try so many beers in a short period of time that it becomes difficult to remember said beers, therefore diminishing their uniqueness (not to mention the inevitability of a giant hangover the next day). Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest, however, was a different story. As the beer buyer at American Provisions, I got to attend this event as a representative of my store, an individual with a purpose (other than getting smashed at a beer fest). I was there to try new beers from several of the breweries we support, connect on a personal level with these companies, and witness any interesting pairings happening between the beers and cheeses that we love.
And despite what my boss may believe, I did not show up at work with a hangover the next day!
This was the first beer AND cheese event for Drink Craft Beer, so it was very exciting to see so many of AP’s beloved breweries and creameries all under the same roof. Uncertain of where to begin the epic event, I hung back by Toby of Peak Organic, who graciously started me off with a soothing cup of their cask-conditioned Nut Brown Ale. Peak Organic is a killer brewery from Maine, focused on local ingredients and awesome brews. Their line up that night included Hop Noir (a black IPA), Espresso Amber Ale, which was continuously pronounced “X-presso” (much to Toby’s chagrin), and Citrus Saison, a Belgian style saison that invigorated me with the promise of warmer days to come.
Armed with Nut Brown Ale, I set off into the crowd, ready to taste. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wander far to find a familiar face: Al Snape from Far From The Tree Cider was at a nearby booth, sampling up four new cider concoctions that we have been eagerly waiting to try since our visit with them back in January (read about it here!) The new cider offerings were Lust, a cherry cranberry cider; Cord, an oaked maple cider; Juno, a maple ice cider; and Milanowski’s Nightmare, a sour dry-hopped cider. While they were all delicious & seriously unique, Juno stood out with its velvety consistency and intense depth of flavor (check back with us in a few months to see these new products on our shelves).
We were stoked to see more familiar faces in the form of former AP-staffers, Joe Quintero & Erin McIver, at the Vermont Creamery table. Joe left AP to become the New England sales rep for VC, while Erin now works as the marketing coordinator for hip food site BostonChefs.com. This dynamic duo was shelling out samples of Coupole, Cremont, & Bonne Bouche, three of our favorite goat and cow cheeses. According to Erin & Joe, the creameries attending the event each brought 100lbs of cheese for the three sessions of the Drink Craft event (a bit of an over-estimate, in Joe’s opinion). A few other creameries I spoke to had an excess cheese leftover at the end of the night—it seems that Drink Craft Beer was following the Boy Scout motto to always be prepared!
The event was filled to the brim with a wide range of local cheeses. Narragansett Creamery, for example, challenged the norm by serving up a hot sample of their Mediterranean-style grilling cheese. Old classics held strong in the form of aged cheddars from the ladies at Cabot Creamery—they encouraged you to pair these sharp and sweet hunks of cheese with hoppy libations like Wormtown’s Be Hoppy & Notch’s Left of the Dial. The crew at Jasper Hill Cellars pulled out all the stops with an array of cheeses—Alpha Tolman, a nutty Alpine style; Bayley Hazen Blue, one of the best blue cheeses around; and Moses Sleeper, a Vermont take on the classic Brie style. Their table display also provided attendees with an anatomy lesson on the source of all things good: the cow.
My next cheese stop was a very special creamery, Robinson Farm from Hardwick, MA. Raymond & Pamela Robinson were not at the event, but Pamela’s son Ben was there promoting the farm’s cheeses. It was because of Ben (who lives in Southie) that the Robinson’s cheese, Tekenink Tomme, became one of the first cheeses ever to be sold at American Provisions. I was able to chat with Ben and his crew while enjoying samples of Tekenink, Barndance, & Arpeggio—their strong bloomy rind cows milk cheese, which paired especially well with the always wonderful Wunderkind cider from Bantam.
Many more stellar pairings between cheese and beer were formed that night, several of which I don’t remember or was not witness to, but the spirit of the fest makes me believe they existed. Some of the pairings that I do remember were suggested in Drink Craft Beer’s fest guide, while others were born out of mere fate. Otter Creek’s Kind Rye IPA was quite the match against several cheddars in the house, specifically the suggested Grafton Village’s Extra Mature Cheddar. I discovered my own pairing between Notch Brewing’s luscious Černe Pivo (Notch’s founder Chris Lohrig explained to me the name is Czech for “black beer”) and a creamy piece of Berkshire Bloom from Cricket Creek Farm. Over at Idle Hands, I indulged with Triplication—their Abbey style tripel—which provided the perfect amount of spice and fruity flavor to complement the buttery, nutty notes of Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman (and the guys at Idle Hands were kind enough to inform me that a Wild Turkey barrel-aged version of Triplication will be out in a few weeks!)
Now, it was probably around this time in the night that my conversations were becoming less focused, my notes were barely legible, and my camera felt like it gained 20lbs. This is also when my distrust of beer festivals began to surface. Though abundant and delicious, cheese samples can only sustain a fest-goer for so long. Which is why I (and I bet many others at the fest) was psyched to remember that, strategically stationed in the corner of the event, were the stands of KO Pies & Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. The employees of these two companies didn’t need to try very hard to entice buzzed attendees, as each beer sample we consumed made the idea of a savory pie or grilled sandwich seem more and more desirable. The intoxicating smells wafting from Roxy’s grills and the mesmerizing glow from KO Pies’ cases didn’t hurt either.
As claimed before, I did not leave this event completely hammered, despite what usually happens at beer festivals. We can’t say the same for other attendees that night—the crowd increasingly became livelier as the night stretched on, and inhibitions were thrown to the wind with ease. I began to wonder how the inevitable intoxication of fest-goers was being perceived by the very people responsible, the brewers, so I decided to ask them.
The best response I received was from Billy Morrissey, the sales rep for Allagash Brewing. Now, I’d like to believe that Billy and I were equally excited to meet each other—I was extremely excited to learn that he was the reason AP receives specialty Allagash beers, while his excitement might have been directed at the awesomeness that is American Provisions generally, and reminiscing about visits there. I don’t mind taking the credit, though—but I digress.
As streams of drunken attendees pushed past us to sample more beers, Billy explained to me his feelings about their debauchery. He suggested that there was a difference between drunken fools at a festival and beer lovers who are enjoying themselves with their favorite brews. Honest interest and enjoyment of the beers is what was important to Billy. He reminded me that our shared love for craft beers (and artisan cheeses) was what brought us all together. And it is that experience that is so integral to the craft beer world. Cheers to that!
Al & Denise Snape have big ideas. And whether they’re starting an alternative cider company in an already niche market or brewing out-there pumpkin sours, they don’t hesitate to act on these ideas.
The founders of Salem, MA’s Far From The Tree Cider set out on a lark about four years ago—the two quit their day jobs to move to Europe so that Al could study viticulture and oenology—and they’ve been following their guts ever since.
Before the move, Denise was a project manager for a pharmaceutical company (and living in Southie) while Al was in charge of radioactive waste management and disposal for MIT and then GE. “There were barrels, half lives, some similarities between that and all this,” Al said, gesturing towards his chilly cellar full of dozens of cider barrels at Far From The Tree’s headquarters. They operate out of the Ketchum Building on Jackson Street, just a few minutes from Salem’s spooky town center. Their space in the old brick building was previously unoccupied for several years, but before that housed a food packaging & distribution warehouse, a slaughterhouse, and a gym.
“It was a mess when we moved in,” Denise said, showing us around the unheated transitional space that is equal parts storage, cellar, tap room, and living room, “These lights were all falling off the ceiling.” The Snapes hand-scrubbed every concrete surface and wooden beam to reveal a beautiful industrial-antique space, and they’ve had the cooperation of the building owner (who runs a marine construction company) every step of the way.
“Everything we’ve wanted to do, he’s said sure,” Al remarked, sliding open a door between their space and the landlord’s to reveal a fairly huge boat undergoing repairs. “Can we knock that wall down, sure, can we build the first tasting room in Salem, sure.”
But before any of this was a reality, Al & Denise just knew that they both loved wine & beer. And one day, they decided a change of pace could be nice. “We thought, why not get a different perspective for a couple years,” Denise said about their move. So Al sought out the only European wine program taught in English and enrolled, while Denise worked for Novartis and eventually started her own clinical project management company. During the three year program, Al spent school breaks helping out at several wineries across the continent. After stints in Germany’s Mosel Valley and in Bordeaux (where he made a type of sparkling rosé wine with Bordeaux grapes), Al stayed with a family in Champagne who helped plant the seed for Far From The Tree.
“I did a vintage in Champagne where I stayed with a family, where the kids would help and taste the juice,” Al said, “it left a real impression on me. I wanted to go back to where I came from and create something.”
Al & Denise returned from Europe eager to create their own taste of place, though at first they weren’t sure where that place would be. The booming cider culture of Oregon & Washington tempted them toward the west coast, but after spending their first winter back at a beach rental on Plum Island, they became certain that theirs would be an east coast cider company.
The couple chose cider because Al knew he could make a better cider in Massachusetts than he could a wine—in fact, he wrote his dissertation on the uncertainty of growing Reisling grapes in New England. But they didn’t want to make just any cider. In an homage to the ciders they drank in England, the couple decided on a dry cider, fermented entirely in barrels, using 100% juice (apparently, “hard cider” on an ingredient label can mean as little as 49% juice, and it often does).
“We wanted to be different by doing what everyone thinks cider is,” Al said. “We wanted to do it really traditional, the way they would’ve done it 250 years ago.” This mentality is right in keeping with the terroir of Far From The Tree—sitting at the wooden bar in their dusky taproom-in-progress, you can just imagine residents of a much older Salem, sipping a cider a lot like the one Denise & Al are making today.
They also wanted to add something new and interesting to the increasingly crowded cider canon, which they felt was missing a really dry product. Their most basic cider, Roots, is made up of 100% local ingredients, from the Meadowbrook Orchard Cortland & McIntosh apples to the hint of maple syrup, which they source from a couple who do all of their own maple extracting.
“We met them at a Boston Expo,” Al said of this family, who tap every tree on their property in Shelburne Falls, MA themselves. “We buy about a quarter of the syrup they produce.”
Al & Denise had support from the local cider community while putting these pieces of their business in place—Downeast Cider was a huge help, setting Far From The Tree up with Tom, their apple presser. Tom has been pressing apples in Stow, MA for years, and his father pressed apples on the same land before him. To hear Al tell it, their property is impeccably picturesque, like stepping onto a charming rural New England film set.
And on top of their support from the cider community, Al & Denise had very fruitful Craigslist searches—it’s where they found their logo designer, and their super-important barrel sourcer, Bob the Barrel Man. Bob sells used bourbon barrels in Maine, and keeps Far From The Tree’s cellar stocked full of beautiful, flavorful bourbon barrels from Kentucky.
Al envisions using wine barrels for a later batch, but for now he has his hands full with experiments that use the barrels already in the cellar. At the top of the list is a sour cider, though what kind of sour really remains to be seen—he has mapped out the possibilities involving beer-friendly inoculators such as lactobacillus and brettanomyces, has considered using Flemish ale yeast, and even spoke of creating a solera system to facilitate the blending of different ages.
And that’s just the one project. Al also had an ice-cider experiment in the works when we dropped by, inconspicuously disguised as a pile of old pallets outside. Apparently, freezing the juice just until ice crystals start to form will remove some of the water content, giving the finished product a slightly darker color and higher sugar, alcohol, and acidity. They’re also working on something a little more off-dry, with more maple syrup and champagne-like characteristics.
“We want to keep doing crazy new stuff with cider,” Al said. “People have done a lot of cool stuff with beer and I want to take that approach to cider, do some things that haven’t been done before.”
A common beer trend they’re cider-fying soon? Pumpkin, only they’re leaving out all the pumpkin pie spice flavors we typically associate with such brews. This summer, Al & Denise bought 150 organic pumpkins at a nearby farm and roasted them for a cider recipe that is pure squash. It’s fermenting in barrels now, and Al was kind enough to pour us a taste during our visit. Refreshingly original and unlike any fall pumpkin beer on the market, this stuff has more flavors of melon, peach, & apricot than nutmeg, clove, & cinnamon. It tasted, in a word, revolutionary.
With all this innovation within just the world of dry cider, it’s easy to see why Al & Denise are pushing for a more diversified cider portfolio at local craft bars. They’re not looking to be competitive and kick other draft lines out of bars, but rather to add to the selection.
“These places have four or more IPAs on tap, why can’t we have two ciders,” Denise posited, “one sweet, and one dry.”
Growing the Boston cider scene is but one dream of Al & Denise, who seem to be coming up with new ideas every minute. Owning their own orchard some day is a definite goal, or at least using part of an existing orchard to experiment with growing different heirloom apples. While we were standing there talking, Al hatched a plan to create a lower-alcohol cider using coconut water, a cider stout using the pectin drained out of their apple juice before fermentation, and a mock “Chinese” cider full of sake, cherry blossoms, and Szechuan peppercorns (a joke on Big Cider companies, who import most of their apple juice from China).
But all experimental ideas aside, at the core of Al & Denise’s dream is a true terroir of the lush New England landscape—from its forests full of maple sap and orchards flush with apples trees, to the community of small family businesses leaning on each other to succeed. With Far From The Tree, these two have let the land speak for itself. Standing in their chilly taproom, clutching Dunkin Donuts coffees to keep their hands warm and getting starry-eyed about changing the craft cider world, they embody that taste of place completely.
You can pick up any of their four ciders at AP, and stay tuned for new releases coming soon!
Last week we told you about the second half of our day in the Constitution State, drinking sour beers at Two Roads Brewery. Today, we have the daunting task of sharing with you the incredible wealth of knowledge that is Brian Civitello.
We started our day with Brian, on the beautiful rolling hills of Lebanon, Connecticut. Tucked deep in some dense woods, the landscape opens up suddenly to reveal the vast expanse of fall foliage and pastureland of Graywall Farm. Herds of cows were lapping up a drink at a small brook and it was peaceful and quiet—the only sounds we heard were cows grunting lazily, a flock of birds singing on the roof of the barn, and breezes rustling the orange treetops.
This utopia is where Brian keeps the two shipping containers that house the Mystic Cheese Co. Continue reading
In all our local ramblin’, we’ve come across plenty of Western Mass. booths at farmers markets, tons of Rhody produce or Brooklyn condiments, and good lord, the sheer volume of Vermont cheeses.
We’ve noticed a void, though, just beneath our great state. A void that, thankfully, has started to fill up over the past year. So we decided to celebrate the growing food scene in Connecticut by paying a visit to two of our favorite Nutmeg State artisans: Two Roads Brewing and the Mystic Cheese Company.
We had to get some food in our stomachs so we hit up Mystic first (which you can read all about next week). Then we made our way to Two Roads in Stratford, CT, where they were hosting Sourcopia, an event to celebrate the release of three new sour beers (a kriek, gueuze, and balsamic ale). Continue reading
On Saturday night, the store closed early for an all-out after-hours bash, where we introduced some of our favorite local craftspeople to their devoted fanbase in Southie and welcomed some newcomers and out-of-towners to celebrate the artisanal New England scene, too. Continue reading
Each year for the past 3-4 years (no one can seem to remember exactly, maybe due to the boozy nature of the event), Peak & Blue Heron have co-hosted a hoe-down that is pretty much the best. Their annual Hop Harvest began when Peak was looking for more local organic hop farmers to use for their 100% organic beers, and Ellery of Blue Heron had just started experimenting with growing hops for use in her own homebrews. Continue reading
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). Continue reading