Category Archives: Meet the Monger

Shop Talk: Umami, chianti, and Matt, oh my!

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.

Ploughgate butter

…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.

Cheesemongers: a Day in the Ripe

Maura: Grocery

Expertise: resident sweet tooth, all things preserves, heart of soft cheese

You’ve been here longer than the rest of us – why do you continue to love working at AP?
When I first started here, I knew nothing about cheese, wine, or anything. I’ve learned so much and I keep working here because of the people. Matt and Andy, who are the owners of course- working for decent people makes the difference.
We may just be just a grocery store selling expensive foods, but when you’re able to meet the person milking the cows, or harvesting the vegetables, or spending hours hand-packaging preserves or chocolates, you feel good about the things you’re selling. At the end of the day, we’re a community shop; we know our customers and we know the people who craft our products.

What cheese doesn’t get enough love and you think is people should try?
I love all the mystic cheeses, I’m obsessed with them and their story. Also Humble Pie from Woodcock farm – it’s a great cheese and not one people necessarily go straight for.

Jen: Stock & Monger

Expertise: stocking, stocking, stocking; once cleaned the compost bin when no one else wanted to and for that we owe her everything

Can you tell me a bit on what you know about vegetarian cheeses at the shop?
A lot of the soft cheese in the fridge is vegetarian – the Vermont Creamery cheeses, as well as Champlain Valley’s triple cream, and the Vermont Farmstead Lille Bebe. Rennet is the ingredient that puts many cheeses off the menu for vegetarians as it is an animal by-product. The main purpose of the rennet is to stabilize the texture, so you definitely find it in nearly all harder cheeses, but not necessarily all softer cheeses. A lot of vegetarians love cheese, but don’t always eat it because of the rennet, which means they miss out on some great stuff! However, it’s not just vegetarians, some rennet is also derived from pork, making it not kosher. So, I find it very heartening to see that a lot of cheesemakers are looking to other enzymes to stabilize their cheeses, making them more accessible to people with differing dietary preferences/needs.

Do you think shopping at small businesses is a form of activism?
It’s form of community building, which is essential. I love the fact that this small, local business movement has started mainly with food but I’m hoping it will expand to include other goods and services that will provide necessary things to the communities being served. People who want to open their own businesses should definitely do it, but I’d like to see them look to the community’s needs first.

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Caley: Beer & Wine

Expertise: all the hops, all the beers, all the wines, all the grapes

What’s the cheese question you get asked most?
People always ask for sharp cheese but I don’t think they necessarily know what they’re asking for.

Can you speak on how seasonality plays into what we do at AP?
Historically, seasonality used to be more important, because people were cooking and eating the foods that were available at certain times of the year. Nowadays this doesn’t have to be the case, but at AP we think that eating seasonally brings us all closer to nature and to knowing where your food is coming from.

What’s your favorite season and food pairing?
Honestly, I am not great at following seasonal rules. I will drink tart goses and sours in the winter and Belgian strong ales in the summer, which isn’t something I’d necessarily recommend! That being said, drinking dark ales by a fire while it snows outside is pretty awesome. And despite it being somewhat overwhelming, the arrival of rose season in the spring is always exciting.

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Ali: Meat & Coffee

Expertise: charcuterie, inventor of “the Ali” which is just four shots of espresso in a cup and you chug it

How did you get into drinking coffee?
I never used to drink coffee- then I started telemarketing and they told me I had to do something to get my energy up.

Can you recommend an interesting bean?
The Barrington Italian roast – I don’t like dark roast but this one is so dark it’s worth drinking. It’s unique and very, very rich.

Favorite cheese/charcuturie pairing?
I like speck – a smoky, prosciutto style meat. You could try pairing it with Jasper Hill’s Oma, which is a stinky soft cheese. Or if you prefer salami, try it with Calabrese, it’s got a mild spice.

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Hillary: Cheese & Blog

Expertise: pickle taste tester, carb queen, cheese boards

What is the benefit of raw cheese vs not raw?
Raw cheese is made from unpasteurized milk. It doesn’t go through the heating process that may kill harmful bacteria which is the reason some people (like pregnant women) may go for only pasteurized cheeses. However, the bacteria present in raw milk is not all bad. Like eating cultured butter, yogurt, or even drinking kombucha – these cultures can actually bring the product to life. They give it a range and depth of flavor that is fairly unique to raw cheese. Basically, it tastes really good.

What would you say to someone who is intimidated by approaching a cheese counter?
Cheesemongers are always tasting, always learning. There’s very little you could ask that would seem stupid, because we’ve all asked the same questions before. The first step is to tell us anything about what you want in a cheese and we can help! If you don’t know what you want, ask us for a taste of what we like- and if you don’t like that tell us what you don’t like about it. Our goal is for you to be as excited about the cheese you are getting as we are about giving it to you.

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Nadia: Pasta & Frozen

Expertise: pickle b*tch, queen mother of snacks, prepared foods whiz

What’s your ride or die snack?
Grape leaves always – actually I almost upped the order this week just to compensate for the rate at which I eat them.

Same question but cheese.
Stilton aka Stilty – because it’s perfect in every way. I can also get down with some Willoughby. It changes – it’depends what’s in the case and what’s ripe – I wanna eat cheese when it’s best.

So after two years you’re leaving us – can you summarize what this job taught you?
This job has taught me a little bit of everything. I had to learn about beer, cheese, meat, coffee, olive oil, how things are made.
Getting to talk to people who grow things that we buy in the summer was a great experience- Blue Heron and the Urban Farming Institute. It’s amazing to talk to people who are passionate about food.

All photos taken by Hillary Anderson.