Tag Archives: Somerville

Bantam Cider: An Apple a Day…

Tucked on a tiny side street about a five-minute walk from the heart of Somerville’s Union Square is Bantam Cider. Thankfully, signs mark the way in, as it is an industrial-style space that might otherwise shy away the less adventurous. It is here that Bantam conducts their production facility Monday through Friday, churning out unique and delicious ciders that they distribute throughout Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York City, Chicago, and Massachusetts. Lining the outer wall, big steel drums hold huge batches of their flagship ciders, awaiting canning. Oak barrels are pushed against the back wall, aging experimental batches within. A worker precisely handles an interesting filtering device that looks like a bunch of folders in need of filing. But this space isn’t purely production – Bantam is an urban facility, but they also function as a taproom on weekends. Which is why much of that equipment sprawled out in the space by day is on wheels — it gets rolled away to make room for an urban cider oasis.

Manager Christina Bencivenni is my guide, and serves me up a cider in a tulip shaped glass. I choose “Hopped Scrumpy,” due to the description that includes Mosaic, Amarillo, and Centennial hops. Coming from someone who has been more on the cider & sour train as opposed to the hop hype, I find it delicate, refreshing, and palate pleasing. For the last three years, Bencivenni’s been Bantam’s sales manager and has been in the interesting position of seeing not only Bantam grow, but also witnessing the shift in the increasing involvement of women in the micro-brewing workplace. Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva are the founders of Bantam, and according to Bencivenni, “to say they are involved is the biggest understatement of the century.” She goes on to say, “They’re the hardest working women I’ve ever met and they’re pretty inspiring with how dedicated they are to the quality of our product.”

After five days of full-time production and getting product out to distributors who will then get them to the consumers, you’d think they’d want to take a break, right? Nope; at 5 p.m. on Friday when most Bostonites are heading home for some R&R, Bantam is setting up their taproom. They move out the equipment and move in the tables, complete with jars of complimentary pretzels. Guests can grab a draught for $6 or a flight of 5 for $10, and enjoy a free tour while there. I assumed Bencivenni was exaggerating when she said Masterpolo and da Silva “literally live here” but maybe she isn’t so far off.

If you live in Boston and are interested in cider, or know someone who is, you may be able to recognize Bantam’s cans on sight. The sharp design and bright, primary colors draw your eye. It’s simple, but chic. The transition to cans, like many other local producers, was a no-brainer. They’re easily transportable, suffer from less light pollution, and are better for the environment. If you can’t get to the taproom, these are a great option for you to enjoy the cider. But if you can – go growler! Or should I say, growlette -not only are the glass 32 oz bottles adorable, they also have several other uses – water bottles, flower vase, spice storage – the list goes on. Not to mention, these mini growlers open the possibilities to sampling every kind of cider that Bantam offers without fear of waste.Perhaps the best thing about the wide variety of Bantam’s ciders is that you can find a unique cider to pair with almost any of your favorite cheeses. Check out some of our favorites below.

Pairing Possibilities

Wunderkind
Crisp, clean, & bubbly due to sparkling wine yeast and a touch of flower blossom honey.
Pair with: local VT brie Jasper Hill’s Moses Sleeper or french triple cream Delice de Bourgogne

Rojo
Tart and semi-dry fermented with an ale yeast, sour cherries, and black peppercorns.
Pair with: ash ripened goat cheese Ruggles Hill Brother’s Walk

The Americain
Liquid apple pie. Still dry but slightly sweeter than the rest with rose petals, green cardamom, coriander, clove, and cinnamon.
Pair with: Parish Hill’s cider washed Hermit or Daphne’s Snowy Cheddar

Find the three aforementioned ciders on our shelves at AP, or head to the taproom at 55 Merriam St in Somerville for Hopped Scrumpy and more.

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.

AP & The Chocolate Factory, Part 2: Taza Chocolate

The blizzard is behind us, and with it all worries about stockpiling our pantries or digging a car out of the snow before the plows get to it.

But in case you were too busy filling your basket with bread & eggs to notice the chocolate display at every store, fret not—we’re here to remind you of that looming day in February, hopefully before your lady friend does.

As part of our local sweets exploration this month, we stopped by the Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville to stock up on a February’s worth of Mexican chocolate discs & chocolate-drenched nuts, and also to see just how they make their stuff so deliciously grainy and unconventionally addictive.

Cacao nibs ready to be ground into chocolate (Taza sells the shell left behind to farmers for use in mulch and to tea companies, like Brighton-based Mem tea, for use in cocoa-flavored teas)

Cacao nibs ready to be ground into chocolate (Taza sells the shell left behind to farmers for use in mulch and to tea companies, like Brighton-based Mem tea, for use in cocoa-flavored teas)

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AP & The Chocolate Factory, Part 1: EH Chocolatier

After weeks of playoff football that culminated in a sodium explosion of Super Bowl proportions, all of us at the shop are kind of anxious for the sweetness that is Valentine’s Day.

pecan clusters

To really sink our molars into this saccharine holiday, we decided to spend the weeks before Cupid’s arrival visiting our two closest chocolate-making neighbors, Somerville-based EH Chocolatier & Taza Chocolate.

Though the confectioners operate out of the same building (situated right between Inman & Union Squares), our first visit was to EH, the two-year-old love child of Elaine Hsieh & Catharine Sweeney. These two met when a mutual friend commissioned them to craft her wedding cake and deliver it to Cape Cod in the late 90s—before anyone had made this madcap plot into the reality TV cash cow it is now. Continue reading