Ari's Top 5

“You know what they say
No one's born to hate
We learn it somewhere along the way
Take your broken heart
Turn it into art”

–Courtney Barnett, in her song, “Hopefulness

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Roadhouse Bread sliced on a cutting board with butter

Freshly Milled Rye Makes Roadhouse Bread Even Better

The Bakehouse’s Grain Commission continues to take quality levels ever higher

In Part 1 of the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Better Business, I wrote “The Twelve Natural Laws of Business.” It’s my very strong belief that all thriving, successful organizations—and, really, thriving individuals—are living in harmony with those natural laws. Number eight on the list is “To get to greatness, you’ve got to keep getting better! All the time!” You’ll see that reality with musicians, athletes, professors, teachers, and upper level executives. Everyone that’s achieving at high levels of well-being is working, steadily and successfully, on self-improvement!

One of the things I most admire about the work of all the amazing people who are part of the ZCoB is this same constant, steady drive to make everything we do better! Literally, not a week—barely a day, I’ll bet—goes by that something isn’t improved. This week we’ve got a big one: one of my favorite breads from the Bakehouse just got better!

Although almost every day I come across some customer who’s just discovered it, the Roadhouse bread has been one of my solid Bakehouse favorites for nearly 15 years now. It was actually a favorite of 18th and 19th century New Englanders, too, but for whatever odd reasons of historical trends, completely fell of fashion (as far as I know, we’re the only ones in the country that bake it commercially). Back those hundreds of years ago, it was known as “Rye ‘n’ Indian” or also “Thirded Bread.” Here, we just call it “Roadhouse Bread” since it’s been our “house bread” since we opened in 2003. A mix of organic wheat, rye, and corn, subtly sweetened up with a bit of molasses, it’s really quite excellent. (As you might also already know, I’m a big fan of very dark crusts—the darker the crust, the more the natural sugars in the grain caramelize and the better the bread tastes. I always ask for the darkest loaf on the shelf.)

In the last few weeks, though, this already excellent bread just got better! As part of the Bakehouse’s inspiring and insightful Grain Commission project, we’ve begun milling the rye—from a farm in western Illinois—for the Roadhouse bread right here on Plaza Drive. Does it make a difference? The answer is an absolute yes! Fresh milling, we’ve been learning, leaves the natural nutrients of the grain intact. Studies are showing that this simple act makes an enormous difference in bread’s impact on our bodies. It also improves the flavor and texture. There’s just something a bit more vital, a little bit livelier, a touch lovelier. And the texture seems to hold its moisture a bit longer—I’ve had one at my house for four days, and it still feels alive and well. This new project is a big deal, and we’re just beginning. Amy Emberling, Bakehouse co-managing partner, says, “Milling some of our own grain is one of the most exciting and transformative steps we’ve taken in years. It is going to transform not just our baking but also our relationship to our community.” Watch for way more Bakehouse offerings to transition to being made freshly milled on site in the months and years to come.

What do you do with the Roadhouse bread? Makes super marvelous toast—I love it with either the Creamery’s cream cheese or fresh goat cheese. Try it with the American Fried Bread on page 162 in Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon. Great for a sandwich, of course. If you want some history to serve at Thanksgiving dinner, the Roadhouse bread couldn’t really be more perfect—a blend of European influence and Native American origins, with a touch of the West Indies woven in. Oh yeah, one little known fact is that Roadhouse bread makes super-great croutons! Just cut it into roughly one-inch cubes and fry gently in extra virgin olive oil, turning the cubes regularly, until they’re golden brown. Toss while hot with fine sea salt and a healthy handful of freshly ground, good black pepper. They’re great on salads, but honestly, I often find myself eating them just out of hand at home!

In any case, come by the Bakehouse, Deli, or Roadhouse to try this newly improved loaf! As you can tell, I’ve been loving it. I hope you do, too.

Gift the gift of really good bread
PS: The Roadhouse bread is particularly well suited to shipping! Add some Creamery cheese and a small coffee cake, and you’ve got a great taste of Ann Arbor to send to a loved one any time of year!
Zingerman's Jobs animation

We’re hiring for Seasonal Spots on Our Mail Order Holiday Crew

Looking for good work for the next few months? We can help!

Thinking it might be time to get back into the workforce after retiring? Or maybe to pick up some extra hours for six or eight weeks to pay some of those holiday bills? Want to learn about lean management processes? Interested in getting a taste of the (ever imperfect, but hopefully inspiring) Zingerman’s Community of Businesses culture from the inside out? Curious who it is around the country that orders all the food we ship at the holiday season? Or, maybe more importantly, who gets it? Want to learn the logistics of box packing? Practice your customer service skills on the phone? Or maybe just be part of the crew that sets the Zingerman’s record for the biggest day of box shipping ever?

If the answer to any, some, or even all of those is yes, we can help! We’ve already hired half of our annual holiday crew, but we have the second half still to go—we have a hundred or more spots to fill. Margaret Mead said, “An ideal culture is one that makes a place for every human gift.” Our aspiration is to make Dr. Mead’s directive a reality. Regardless of background, age, previous experience, race, religion…everyone is welcome on this crew! Ours is a culture where everyone who’s interested in working hard and being part of something special, everyone who’s interested in learning, laughing, tasting great food, and getting more of that food out to good people all over the country, can make a meaningful difference!

While economists work to assess mega-trends, the reality of business, to me, is mostly made on the ground, every day, one smile, one kind gesture, one sandwich, one sliver of good goat cheese, one perfectly salted piece of Bay of Fundy salmon at a time. The late, great food writer, Laurie Colwin wrote that, “I was taught in my Introduction to Anthropology [course in college], it is not just the great works of [hu]mankind that make a culture. It is the daily things, like what people eat and how they serve it.” And also, I’ll add, how they sell, pack, check and ship it. Aside from pocketing some positive cash for the next few months, this is a chance to study organizational culture from the inside. People come from all over the world to go to ZingTrain and spend good money for seminars. Both, I will say happily, are solid investments. But working the holiday crew at Mail Order is, in essence, an inside-out opportunity to gain the info that it takes to piece together a culture of your own. Except in this case it’s two months instead of two days, and we pay you instead of you paying us.

If you like to work hard, if you’re into collaboration, good food and positive energy—or if you know someone who fits that bill—one of these holiday slots could be for you!

Work with us!
Cristal peppers sprinkled with black pepper and fleur de sel in a bowl.

Cristal Peppers from the Basque Country

The foie gras of peppers pops up at the Deli

One of the most delicious things at the Deli comes in small, two-inch-tall jar that nearly everyone who walks through the building is likely to miss. And yet, there it is, over on the retail shelves—a short, squat, small glass bottle filled with some of the most wonderful roasted peppers in the world! Assuming that you, like 99.7 percent of the American populace, has never tried Cristal peppers from the Basque Country in Spain, let me plant the seed of exploration here. If you like roasted peppers, you may want to treat yourself to a jar of these deep, dark, red jewels. They aren’t inexpensive, so they’re probably not for everyday eating. But if you’re looking for something to take your day up a few levels, try these. For better or for worse (depending on your perspective) I can, and have, eaten the whole delicious jar in a single sitting!

I actually discovered these for the first time about 15 years ago when I was in, of all places, Australia. I’d never heard of Cristal peppers, even though we’d been buying them for 20 years! Even in Spain, the Cristals are hard to come by. “Everyone makes Piquillos,” one local told me, “But only a few do the Cristal.” Their high cost is, not surprisingly, tied to the rarity of the pepper, and even more especially so, to the labor involved in making them. “When it’s roasted, the flesh is so thin it’s like paper,” my source said. “We use tiny little knives to scrape the skins off.” And it’s a lot of scraping—each little jar contains an entire kilo (over two pounds) of raw red peppers.

Although they come from the same area (Navarre) the Cristal (remember it’s Spanish, so it’s pronounced “kree-STAHL”) is a completely different pepper from the Piquillo. In their fresh state the Cristals are actually larger with four little bumpy points up at the top. After being picked each autumn they’re roasted over beech wood as they have been for many centuries.

To get to the heart of the matter, to my taste, the Cristals are basically the foie gras of the pepper world. They’re so super rich, so delicious. When you take one or two out of the jar to eat, the rest look a bit like a deep-red rose in a bottle. I like to empty the bottle into a white bowl (the better to appreciate their color), sprinkle on a pinch of fleur de sel and some great black pepper and a bit of olive oil (try it with Marques de Valduesa oil from further west in Spain). Put them on slices of toasted Farm bread if you like. Or add to softly scrambled eggs. That’s it. Although I had them served to me in a nice bowl, you could eat them right out of the jar with a loaf of warm Paesano bread alongside. They’re smoky, rich, very buttery, and very good. Something special to grace any table, Spanish or otherwise.

Pick some peppers
A stack of sweet potato fries with a side of spicy mayonnaise.

Curried Sweet Potato Fries at the Roadhouse

A great way to get your dinner going!

The sweet potato fries at the Roadhouse, are, of course, one of the single most popular foods we make. I think we cut about 1,500 pounds of sweet potatoes every single week! If you didn’t know, they come, originally, from the Gullah tradition on the Sea Islands, off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. They’ve been a staple at the restaurant for ages!

Last week, in our regular research into making spiced fries (we’ve had great success with Tellicherry black pepper fries, Cajun fries, cumin fries, and more), we had the thought to try our hugely popular sweet potato fries spiced up with the really great Garam Masala spice blend from our friends at Épices de Cru. Wow. That, it turns out, was a seriously good idea!

The blend is one of the de Vienne family’s long time specialties. And for good reason! It’s terrific. While, as they point out that “there are probably as many versions of this famous Indian blend as there are families in India,” their classic combination contains Indian cumin, black pepper, green cardamom, clove, mace and cassia. It’s killer! It’s also designed to keep you warm. As the de Viennes explain, “Garam Masala is a blend of aromatic spices originally designed to activate heat in our body, a principle that has long been applied in Ayurvedic medicine. Indeed, in Hindi garam means “hot,” whereas masala means “mixture.” It would have been created in northern India, in areas where winter is hitting fiercely and where the need to warm is undeniable.” All of which makes these curried sweet potato fries ideal for impending winter weather!

We grind the blend in the Roadhouse kitchen, so the essential oils and aromatics remain intact! As is true with the on-site milling of the rye at the Bakehouse, fresh grinding does make a difference. Really, all you have to do is smell these curried beauties to know you’re onto something special! The aromas are amazing. Literally, you can savor the scent as soon as they get to your table. Even just running an order of them to the table can give me a spice high! The creamy sweetness of the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, the golden brown of the outside (from the double blanching) goes great with the spicy mayonnaise. Order them on the side with your burger or sandwich, share an order—or two—with your table mates. They’re so good, I’m thinking you could almost justify having them for dessert. Or, maybe just come by on the way home, have a beer and a basket of ‘em and then head on your way!

Come and Garam!
A slice of Pascualino cheese held at the Next Door.

Pascualino Cheese Arrives from Western Spain

A very special sheep’s milk cheese with thousands of years of history behind it

One of the most delicious new arrivals in our Ann Arbor cheese world in the last four or five months, this stuff is superbly marvelous! Delicious! I’ve brought some home three times in the last two weeks, and Tammie and I are still talking about it!

Pretty much everything about this new-to-our-counter offering is intriguing. There’s a solid story and a half in every ounce: an American who became a countess, a two-thousand-year-old estate in Spain’s western region of Extramadura, historical intrigue, a herd of world-famous sheep that yield famously small amounts of very rich milk. Mushroomy, meaty, creamy, sensuous, serious, with a soft, savory finish—while it’s small in size, its flavor is weighty in all the best ways.

The story behind the cheese could well be made into a film. The finca, or farm, has been in the Quintillana family since the 16th century, but was likely built long before that, in Roman times. Up until the middle of the 20th century, the family almost never set foot on it—like so much landed gentry in Spain, they leased the farm to sharecroppers who traveled to Madrid each year to deliver their payments. All that changed when Luis de Figueroa y Perez de Guzman el Bueno, the Count of Romanones, married an American woman named Aline Griffith from the small upstate town of Pearl River, NY in 1947. She’d originally gone to Spain during the war as a spy—part of the OSS, the predecessor of our modern day CIA. Based in Madrid, she handled a small agent network doing decoding work, and also circulating on the Spanish social circuit to report back on the activities of Spanish high society and political goings on. There she met her husband, married and went on to wreak polite havoc with high-end Spanish society. It’s not hard to imagine the scenes—a down-to-earth, smart, feisty American woman challenging the centuries-old protocols of Spanish noble existence.

Over the course of her life, the Countess published seven books, three of which detail her activities as a spy, and one of which (the one I’ve read) talks about her slow but persistent work to restore the Finca at Pascuelete. When she first arrived she was a bit out of her element. The American countess’ curiosity caused more than a bit of a hubbub. Back in those days, let’s just say life in Spain was very different than it is today. Well-dressed women didn’t travel out west, and most certainly not on their own. Wealthy, land-owning families didn’t show up to spend time on their leased lands, but the Countess did exactly that. (For socio-economic context, her social circle over the years included Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Salvador Dali, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.) She immersed herself in the ways of the farm, got to know everyone in the town, and set about making it all an active, viable agricultural venture. She fell in love with the place—“the sky is more heaven than anywhere else,” she writes in her book. But, as is still true today, she quickly found out that it was it wasn’t going to be easy. “I soon realized it was nothing short of a miracle that any farmer manages to make ends meet.”

Thanks to her efforts we have this amazing little sheep cheese to sell you. The milk from the finca is fantastic—fresh, organic, from the farm’s own herd of Merino sheep—limited in supply and big in flavor. It’s not inexpensive—the Merino sheep don’t make much milk—they yield a minuscule 25 liters each (total) over the four months a year that they’re being milked. (By contrast the Lacaune sheep used for Roquefort in France deliver about eight times as much.) A half-pound wheel of the Pascualino takes about a day’s worth of milk from eight to 10 sheep. The Pascualino is modestly aged, you could say, maybe a millennial in the milk world—fresh and vibrant, but not long-aged or Parm-like in texture, but firm enough to stand up to slicing. It’s definitely super delicious. It has an earthy aroma but shockingly gentle and sweet for a sheep’s milk cheese. Its semi-firm texture makes it easy to cut thin slices with a sharp knife. The flavor is, I’ve been saying, fantastic—kind of caramelly, with a bit of vanilla and butterscotch, and delicate sheep undertones. Creamy texture. Lovely finish.

Serve the Pascualino as an appetizer with toasted Country Miche or Roadhouse bread from the Bakehouse that’s been doused with extra virgin olive oil (try it with the Marques de Valduesa oil from the same region). Grate it over pasta or salad. It’s great on a cheese board, of course, or just eaten as a snack. Excellent paired with the California dried pears at the Cream Top Shop (they’re really good!). Before you eat it, take a minute to remember the story, to imagine western Spain and the upstate-New-York-socialite-turned-farmer working to tap the limited but beautiful natural resources of the region.

Don’t be sheepish—get some Pascualino!

PS: Speaking of sheep’s milk and working at Mail Order, Key Helverson on the team out there was re-reading the piece from a month or so ago about the Pecorino cheese aged in walnut leaves, and the recommendation to eat it with fresh pears. “It made me recall, years ago, hearing an old Italian guy say ‘the combination of tastes found in pecorino and pears can end wars’. The time could not be more perfect to serve these up!”


PPS: New pamphlet soon!
“The Art of Business: Why I Want to be an Artist”

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