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Ari's Top 5

Industry without art is brutality. 
—Ananda Coomaraswamy

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Marshall at Deli with Prosciutto di Parma

The Best Prosciutto di Parma You’ll Likely Try This Year

Forty months (yes, that’s over 3 years!) of maturing makes for some magical cured ham

 

Prosciutto di Parma is probably one of THE most famous foods on a very long list of famously flavorful Italian ingredients. But ironically, as wonderful as it is, as much as it’s been written up, exported, and talked about . . . very few folks outside its home region will have ever tasted it at its full flavored and exceptionally fantastic best. I say that because a) it’s true, and b) we have some Prosciutto in-house right now that might be better than anything most Americans will have ever experienced—I’ve been to the region many times and probably tasted a thousand pieces over the last 30-something years . . . but this stuff is blowing my mind!

Like all the Prosciutto di Parma we get at the Deli, this one comes from Giovanni Bianchi and the crew at Pio Tosini in the town of Langhirano, the heartland of Prosciutto production, in the Parma province.

Pio Tosini was founded back in 1905, in the era when Prosciutto di Parma was just beginning to shift out of being something made mostly at home in farmhouse curing rooms, and into the amazing ham we know today. Here in Ann Arbor, Rocco Disderide was in his third year in business in his new building at the corner of Detroit and Kingsley (where a nationally-famous Deli now resides). While Pio Tosini is relatively small as 21st century commercial producers go, it remains an inspiring center of artisan craftsmanship and careful ham curing. Carrying on the family’s intense commitment to quality, Giovanni Bianchi continues to craft amazing cured hams that, like what we have on the counter now, set the standard for Parma ham. As Malcolm Gladwell says, “If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape any future you choose to embark on a reality.”

Not all Prosciutto di Parma is the same—there are significant differences in quality from one of the 150 or so producers to the next. What makes the best ones—like Pio Tosini—so much better? Better pigs, skillful salting, and maturing (Pio Tosini still opens the windows the way it’s been done for so many centuries, so the mountain air contributes properly to the curing. “The town has an excellent microclimate for curing,” Giovanni said. “It is dry and not too foggy in the winter.”). This ham is also cut by hand by the Deli counter crew from the bone—hams with the bone left in continue to develop in flavor (those with the bone removed get "older" but no longer mature). It is an amazing piece of cured pork. A small slice yields more flavor than a pound of a lesser product. A lovely sparkle of salt, rich, intense, and meaty flavors of the cured pork—all that maturing time concentrates the flavors. It’s got an umami flavor that’s so amazing it’s essentially undone me. It’s that good. 

To be clear, older Prosciutto di Parma isn’t always better! Most hams peak at 24 months—this one is an excellent and engaging exception! It’s velvety, red, rich, and remarkable; the perfect (to my palate) salt level—just enough to be a bit prickly on the palate. The aroma is amazing—the pinnacle of what great curing can mean for high-quality raw pork. The intense beauty of what a great aged ham can taste like. While Bellota (acorn-fed) Iberico ham rightly wins raves (it’s incredible), when you eat Parma ham like this you realize that it’s also capable of playing at that same level. It’s seriously show-stopping. 

What do you do with Prosciutto this good? Just eat it. In small slices. The simpler the better. Be sure to put it out at room temperature so the true, full, complex flavors come to the fore. If you want a few accompaniments, a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano would be good—the Parmigiano from the Borgotaro co-op (in the mountains of western Tuscany) is high on my list right now. Maybe some dried pears (we have great ones at the Cream Top Shop) or some hazelnuts (we have wonderful Piemontese hazelnuts at the Deli). A bit of good bread—maybe a fresh loaf of Paesano from the Bakehouse. That’s it. Eat. Savor the moment. And appreciate every moment because, even in Parma, ham like this is not an everyday experience.

40 is the new Delicious!
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Cover of The Italian Table book by Elizabeth Minchilli

A Beautiful New Book from a Longtime Friend

The Italian Table by Elizabeth Minchilli

 

Speaking of great Italian food, check out this fine new book from my good friend, the fabulous food writer, Elizabeth Minchilli. The Italian Table just came out a few weeks ago and it’s already winning rave reviews all over the place. Ina Garten said it’s “a beautiful, romantic and incredibly useful book.” If you like to eat Italian food, if you like good writing and you want some recipes that will allow you to replicate some of the cooking of Italy’s off-the-beaten-path kitchen, this book is for you!

Elizabeth and I first met on a trip of food writers, chefs, and other interesting folks put on by the great non-profit, Oldways Preservation Trust. We can’t quite recall if it was the one to Morocco or to Puglia (where her husband Domenico, to whom she’s dedicated the book, comes from). Or maybe it was the trip to Liguria, the Italian Riviera. Ted Ownby from the Center for Southern Studies at Ole Miss—of which Southern Foodways Alliance, for whom we use Camp Bacon to raise funds) is a section—wisely pointed out once that “origin stories are always disputed,” so I guess our uncertainty fits his framework well.

What’s not in dispute is that a very fine friendship has formed over the last 25 years! Elizabeth and I have met up in dozens of places in Italy and probably eaten a few hundred meals together. Aside from being a great person, aside from the fact that I like her family a lot, aside from the fact that she’s exceedingly skilled in her writing and beyond belief good at social media (just to show you that you don’t have to be under 18 to excel at it), Elizabeth has a very good palate—I always trust her restaurant recommendations. When she says something’s good, it’s good!

The new book is organized around a dozen Italian meals you could put together to host friends or family. “Dinner on a Roman Terrace,” “A Table by the Sea in Positano”—you get the idea. The backstory? Here’s what Elizabeth said in an interview with Forbes: “The idea behind the book was to inspire people to set out on their own to travel to places that they have never been to, with food as their guide. The book is not encyclopedic, but simply relates my own experiences following my own particular appetite. More often than not it has led me to places and people that I never would have encountered if I had stuck to the main roads.” She’s included regional recipes from all over Italy. Foods that Italians really make, local dishes that you won’t find in just “any” cookbook, or in “any” restaurant. “What most Americans should realize is that there is no such thing as ‘Italian’ food,” she said. “There is Neapolitan food, and Sicilian food and Roman food . . . but they are all extremely regional and change not only from region to region, but from city to city and even from village to village. There are countless dishes that are very common to specific places that aren’t even known to the people from the next village over, much less to Americans.” If you want further evidence of Elizabeth’s “insider” insights, check out her app!

My favorite recipes from the book? So far . . . the simple and delicious eggs with anchovies; the grilled romaine salad; Jackie Kennedy’s favorite spaghetti as made on the Amalfi Coast, and the brilliant arugula oil! The book is filled with stories and photos, too! If you—like me—like tasty food (why else would you be reading this, right?), you like Italian food, and you like good writing, you ought to buy Elizabeth’s beautiful new book. (And her other books too! She has 8!) The Italian Table is on the Deli’s retail shelves—and my kitchen counter—right now! Pick up a copy and take your Italian cooking to new heights of regional excellence!

Stop by the Deli for your new go-to Italian cookbook!
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Spice Week Suckling Pig Dinner at Miss Kim on Monday April 15th

Our Spice Trekking friends from Montreal will help host this marvelously spicy meal!


April 15th is, of course, tax day. We know well what that means in our own era. But centuries ago, both in Roman and medieval times in Europe, much of what would have made up a European royal court’s tax base and accumulated wealth might have come from spices. While it’s hard to imagine today, back then a tax on pepper would have meant much more than one on property—spices were probably one of the most valuable products on any market in Europe. Pepper was what Columbus was looking for when he (mistakenly) sailed west from Spain. Stuff like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, were the single best way to impress your in-laws and exhibit one’s wealth in edible form. Pepper, in Roman times, traded for roughly the price of gold!

Fortunately for us, spice prices are far lower than they were 500 years ago. The even better news around these parts is that we have higher quality and more variety of great spices available to us than ever! There are over 50 different spices on the Deli’s shelves right now. Here at Zingerman’s we owe a part of that to our connection with the family de Vienne of Épices de Cru from Montreal. Their small family-owned firm has specialized in the high-quality end of the spice trade for nearly as long as we’ve been doing business at the Deli. Like us, they’re all about finding great producers—folks who can grow and then process at really premium levels. They’re committed to enhancing the well-being of the people who grow them, and they’re willing (and eager) to pay more for what they buy in order to reinforce the value of superior quality product.

This coming week will mark the de Vienne’s fourth annual “Spice Week” visit to Ann Arbor! They are back this year to celebrate the adventures and passion for spices. We love having them come to share stories and their engaging energy with us. And with you! The week will kick off with another of our special Suckling Pig Suppers at Miss Kim. Did you know this series started with a warm feast that Philippe and Ethné hosted for us? We are hosting them in a special edition, with dishes highlighting our favorite spices from Épices de Cru. Some things you can expect to see on the table are Taiwanese-Style Gua Bao’s, MaPo Tofu, Spicy Herb Salad with Coriander, and more!

In an attempt to accommodate all of the pork and spice-focused folks who are Miss Kim fans, we’re going to do two seatings of the special meal—6pm or 8pm feast times.

Get spicy with Miss Kim and our special guests

P.S. The next evening we’ve got even more spicy events

P.P.S. Speaking of pork, spices and special guests, check out this Camp Bacon lunch at Miss Kim!

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Bag of Zingerman's Brazil Full Bloom Coffee

Brazil Full Bloom Coffee

Special new brew from the Coffee Company


We’ve been working with Brazil’s Daterra for over 15 years now—all our espresso comes from them as well as the particularly lovely Brazilian Peaberry and Brazilian Sweet Yellow. While all of those are really good, the Full Bloom is my favorite—the one I could drink daily for a long while! Light/Medium roast; notes of milk chocolate & plum with a rich sweetness.  

Coffee came to Brazil in the 18th century with French settlers/invaders. By the 1820s it was the biggest single crop in the country. By 1840, Brazil was the biggest coffee exporter in the world. Brazil became a Republic on November 15th,1889. Coffee contributed to the industrialization of the country and remains one of the biggest parts of Brazil’s economy today. The Brazilian coffee industry was not, however, a paragon of sound labor or ecological practices. But the folks at Daterra are out to turn that around. They want to produce great coffee, and do business in a really positive, people-friendly and planet-friendly way! Located in the Minas Gerais region, Daterra Farms provides profit sharing, transportation for staff, and health care for their workers and their families. They’re Rain Forest Alliance Certified. They’ve implemented very tight modern systems to maintain quality. They grow at over 3,000 feet above sea level, adding to the complexity of the coffee. These are great people doing great work and producing some of the best coffee in the world!

The Full Bloom is one of Daterra’s special, almost secret, selections. It’s made in very small quantities, starting with coffee “cherries” (the formal name for the coffee fruit) when they’re particularly sweet at the height of the season. The beans start drying on the tree, and are then moved—still in “cherry” form—to the patio, until the fruit is almost dissolved. The drying is finished in the machine to ensure consistent moisture content and stabilization of the beans. The ripe fruit results in some amazing aromatics and really fine flavors—dried plum, dried blueberry, dark raisins, brown sugar . . . it has a clarity that makes it almost wine-like, which is a big part of why I feel like it could drink so much of it! It’s got a really fine clean caramel-fruity finish too, with a nice undertone of vanilla.

I like the Full Bloom best in either a French Press (as per Zingerman's Coffee's Charles Russman’s recommendation) or a pourover, but it’s good right out of the urn as well. Match it with a Townie Brownie or some of that Townie Brownie Cake. Or maybe an Espresso Star cookie. Crazy good with a bit of a Zzang bar! Or nibble on a bit of a light roast, dark chocolate like the really great Rózsavölgyi chocolate bars from Budapest that we have at the Candy Store and the Deli. Or if you’re thinking savory, try it with some of those amazing apricot kernels we have from Afghanistan at the Coffee Company and Deli.

Spring is in Full Bloom at the Coffee Company
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Zingermans Candy Manufactory Fudge Eggs

Fudge Eggs from the Candy Manufactory

Easter Chocolate is in!

 

Taking chocolate Easter eggs to a whole new level. Two flavors—Chocolate Almond Marzipan and Peanut Butter and Jelly. Although we make them for Easter there’s really no reason you can’t eat them any other day as well! They’re pretty darned delicious!

In case you were wondering where the idea of chocolate eggs for Easter originates  . . . (pretty clearly it didn’t come from the Bible). There was no chocolate in the Middle East. The tradition of eating eggs for Easter probably comes from the ancient spring festivals—eggs were a symbol of fertility. Eastern European peoples developed the tradition of painting and decorating eggs centuries ago. Chocolate—cacao to be more specific—arrived in Europe only after, of course, Columbus’ arrival, and then return, from the New World. First records of early, rough chocolate eggs seem to date to the early years of the 19th century. The English took to chocolate eggs with a particular passion. The firm of J.S. Fry introduced them in 1873.

Most chocolate Easter eggs that are sold in the United States today are commercial products. But the Candy Manufactory is bringing back artisan offerings. Charlie Frank, candy master, shares the details: “The chocolate Almond Fudge eggs have the Mandelin premium almond paste from Wasco, California. The PB&J eggs have the St. Laurent peanut butter from Bay City and the Clearbrook Farms seedless red raspberry preserves from Sharonville, Oregon. Both chocolate eggs have the Grasslands browned butter and are mixed by hand. I've already heard from some customers that they've been looking forward to these since last Easter. Easter baskets are available in our Candy Store and can be custom filled with as many fudge eggs one could desire.”

There’s no need to wait for Easter Sunday to start enjoying them! Stick one on your coworker’s desk this week and you’re sure to brighten their day. And while the flavors are worthy of adult confection freaks, kids appreciate high quality too! And, of course, treating yourself to a small taste of a high-quality confectionary is always a nice way to start your day!

Stock up for Easter!

P.S. A bunch of Camp Bacon events are up online now—don’t dally 'cuz they’re gonna sell out!

Bakin’ with Bacon at BAKE!

The Bacon Ball at the Roadhouse – a lovely Calabrian-inspired, pork-laden meal!

Kids’ Bacon Classes at the Deli

and MORE – go to zingermanscampbacon.com for ALL the info!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this enews and you know someone else who might like it, please pass it along. Have questions about Zingerman’s? Write us at info@zingermans.com.
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