Ari's Top 5

Hasta que la dignidad se haga costumbre …
(Until dignity becomes a habit …)

—Chilean protest mantra

overhead copy of the book Gift from the Sea on a wood surface

Weaving Dignity
into the Way We Do Service Every Day

Small actions add up
to make a life-altering difference

In 1955, the year before the Hungarian Revolution, Anne Morrow Lindbergh released a small book entitled, Gift from the Sea: An Answer to the Conflicts in Our Lives. It got a surprisingly great response right from the get-go—Gift from the Sea was the biggest-selling non-fiction book in the country that year. In fact, I have a copy from 1955, but it’s already from its 11th printing! Within its first 20 years, Gift from the Sea sold over 5,000,000 copies. In its final chapter, “My Back to the Sea,” Lindbergh describes what was taking place around her. It still resonates now, nearly 70 years later: 

Perhaps we never appreciate the here and now until it is challenged, as it is beginning to be today even in America. And have we not also been awakened to a new sense of the dignity of the individual because of the threats and temptations to him, in our time, to surrender his individuality to the mass—whether it be industry or war or standardization of thought and action? We are now ready for a true appreciation of the value of the here and the now and the individual.

Anne Morrow was born in the spring of 1906 to a father who was a banker for J.P. Morgan and a mother who was a teacher, poet, and activist for the cause of equal education for women. In 1928, she graduated from Smith College with an emphasis on writing. Later she would go on to become the first woman certified to get a license as a glider pilot, served as co-pilot to her famous husband, Charles, and became an accomplished aviator in her own right. In the 1930s, following the headline-grabbing kidnapping and killing of their young son, the Lindberghs moved to Europe. As the Nazis consolidated power, Charles Lindbergh slid into isolationist and pro-German advocacy, and in 1940 Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a 41-page booklet, The Wave of the Future, that supported her husband’s views. Years later, demonstrating that human beings can own the error of their ways and work toward more positive paths, Lindbergh returned to the sort of centered introspection, reflection, and caring humanism she had advocated while in college. Speaking of the booklet in an interview in 1973, she says, “It was a mistake ... It didn't help anybody ... I didn't have the right to write it. I didn't know enough.” Instead, as Lindbergh says in Gift from the Sea, she began to seek “inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony.” As part of that search, she studied sculpture and art history here at Cranbrook in Michigan. In Lindbergh’s obituary in 2001, The New York Times wrote:

By the 1950s Anne was coming to terms with the frustrations of her marriage. She went on another journey, this time alone, to a cottage on Captiva Island and took long walks on the beach, hunting for shells. A book took shape in her mind. Published in 1955, ''Gift From the Sea'' struck a chord. 

Lindbergh’s reflection led her to become an early advocate for environmentalism and a proponent of human dignity. Twenty years after Gift from the Sea was first published, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote an Afterword:

Perhaps the greatest progress, humanly speaking, in these past twenty years, for both women and men, is in the growth of consciousness. … A new consciousness of the dignity and rights of an individual, regardless of race, creed, class or sex. A new consciousness and questioning of the materialistic values of the Western world. A new consciousness of our place in the universe, and a new awareness of the inter-relatedness of all life on our planet.

Speaking of inter-relatedness, while I was working last week on the essay on first-time guests, I had a belated glimpse of the obvious: To do justice to dignity, we will need to actively incorporate it into what we do with service every single day. If dignity, as I’ve been writing over the course of the last ten months, is how we show up in the organizational ecosystem, then it most certainly needs to underlie the way we serve each and every guest we encounter. 

With the kind of growth in consciousness that Anne Morrow Lindbergh has mentioned, I can see now that dignity has always been implicit in our service “recipes.” Without saying the word, dignity is woven into the 3 Steps to Great Service and 5 Steps to Effectively Handling Customer Complaints that are detailed in Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, organizational recipes that we’ve been teaching and (imperfectly) practicing for over 40 years now. And yet, I, at least, have not specifically said anything about dignity as we do this service work. The two are clearly compatible but we haven’t clearly called out the connection. This week I’ve begun the work to weave them together. I believe that both will be better for it. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, “Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back … they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.”

A few days ago, I had the honor of speaking at the University of Michigan Department of Pathology’s annual appreciation dinner. The subject was “Service.” I started by sharing some context, making clear to those in the room—and reminding myself in the process—that service, as we’ve worked to do it here at Zingerman’s, has always been more about dignity than it is about dollars:

Service, for me, for us, is not a transactional act. It’s not a trick we undertake to get people to give us their money. Yes, of course, great service has strategic value. Every day we go out with the belief that we need to re-earn our customer’s trust and make it worthwhile for people to want to spend time and money with us. But really, service is a way of being in the world. I knew little or nothing about service back in 1982. Forty-plus years later, it’s incredibly clear to me that living a life in which dignity-based service is at the core is one of the most effective ways I know to work to make our world a better place to be.

Service, as we see it here, is not some sort of drudgery that we “have to deal with.” It’s not a burden, nor merely a means to a financial end. At times, of course, it’s challenging, but mostly it’s a way we can make a meaningful difference. Service here is an art, a craft, a vocation, something that has the power to change the lives of both the giver and the recipient. Approached in this way—and done in a healthy supportive setting—service can shift from what has all too often been framed as demeaning or exhausting, into an uplifting, regenerative way that we can effectively bring dignity to the world. 

With all that in mind, here’s a look at the six elements I’ve been working with to make a revolution of dignity a daily reality in our organization. I shared them first back in March, writing from a sense of despair after Russia had invaded Ukraine, and I’ve worked on them further in half a dozen essays over the last ten months. What follows is an effort—as much for my own understanding as anything else—to call them out more explicitly and more clearly in the context of giving great service.

Honor the essential humanity of every person we interact with. 

Nearly all large-scale, mass-market organizations say that they’re “committed to giving great service.” But with a small number of exceptions (mostly initiated by individuals who are dedicated to dignity and doing the right thing despite the setting in which they find themselves), that service is generic. It’s polite at best, and at worst, demeaning and dehumanizing. By contrast, dedication to delivering service with a deep sense of dignity calls on us to enter every single interaction mindfully seeking to understand and honor the person who we are serving. As George Saunders says, “Every human being is worthy of attention.”

This idea of paying close attention, honoring the humanity of every person we serve is, I believe, embedded in Step 1 of our 3 Steps: “Figure out what the guest wants.” Attention to dignity pushes me to do that discovery work at ever-deeper levels—levels that the best service providers here have been doing in inspiring ways for decades now, but this new sense of understanding will help me teach, and practice, ever more effectively going forward. Getting to know our guests a bit—where they are from, how they got here, etc. (when appropriate, of course) can make a huge difference. Our work in this sense is to own and encourage everyone’s inherent uniqueness. To listen to their story, to acknowledge their fears and insecurities, and to hear their hopes and dreams. To be sensitive to points of difference, dietary needs, pronoun preferences, religious sensitivities, and more. We all want to be seen and feel heard. To do the right thing to honor their dignity even if it means departing from the day-to-day norms of our work. 

As I usually do when I speak, last week I shared my email address with the team at the Pathology Department. They are clearly committed to doing great service work, and I’m eager to learn more from them in the months and years to come. That learning began a few days later when Executive Administrative Assistant Marie Brady shared this story. It embodies what effective service done with a deep sense of dignity can be. Marie encouraged me to share her story here as well:

I have had several experiences during my time in the department which have reminded me of the importance of the roles of Admins. More often than not, we are the first contact in the department for outside clinicians, patients, or members of the Michigan Medicine community. It is easy to forget our proximity to the “outside” when we are constantly on high alert for the tasks waiting to be completed and the next new task queueing up.

One such instance happened recently, when a gentleman called my line. He hesitantly asked if he reached the anatomic pathology department. I confirmed that he had. His words spilled out in a tumble of emotion and information, then he paused, collected himself, apologized, and asked me how I was doing. When we returned to his reason for calling, he repeated that his mother had passed away on Christmas Eve. He had learned that she wanted to donate her body to science and had been struggling to find the place that would help him fulfill her last wish, which explained his hesitant initial question. His voice broke as he recounted his mother’s request, clearly filled with love and respect for her. I waited for him to finish and explained that while I was not the person with whom he needed to speak, I knew just who that would be. Our conversation ended at the transfer, but I was reminded that there are times in our work that will have nothing to do with the job description for which we were hired, however, they are important, sometimes more so, to those with whom we interact and for ourselves.


Be authentic in all our interactions (without acting out).

Raise your hand if you’ve had an experience as a customer in which the service provider was rotely reciting lines written for them by others. When we as service providers can come to the interaction authentically (and yes, still professionally with freely-chosen positive energy), the chances of our guests having a meaningful experience increase dramatically. As Hanif Abdurraqib, who writes beautifully about dignity, authenticity, race, and rock ‘n’ roll writes, “It is funny how easily the fake can jump out once you've seen the real.”

While being inauthentic may seem easier to some, I think it’s anything but. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.” A revolution of day-to-day dignity in customer service means being real ourselves and giving everyone we work with the opportunity to be real in a meaningful way as well. That sort of authenticity may seem awkward at first, but in the long run, done with grace, it’s energizing and uplifting for all involved.

This appeal for authenticity in service does not, I will add, mean unhelpfully dumping one’s feelings onto others in an inappropriate, boundary-ignoring way. We can, as dignity-focused service providers, find ways to be vulnerable but still remain appropriately professional, and we want to give guests a chance to do the same in a caring and supportive setting. I’ve long since lost track of how many times I have shed tears talking to customers about death and loss, sometimes theirs, sometimes mine; of listening, with dignity, to guests voice very real concerns; to honor their hopes and dreams as we get to work trying to make them a reality. 

Make sure everyone has a meaningful say.

In many service settings, the client/customer/guest has little or no say—or even any real influence—on the way their experience will go. We want to do the opposite; make our service work into a collaboration between equals. As Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Rafeenko says: “We—meaning we human beings—must recognize the fact of co-creation. Truth desires that we be its creators. This is its summons to us.” If we’ve done a good job of honoring the humanity of those we serve, we will be well positioned to create the kind of intelligent, caring interaction in which the guest can give us guidance—perhaps to move more quickly; to tell them a lot about our business, or, where appropriate, to leave them quietly in peace. They may want to eat adventurously, or stick closer to the shoreline of solitude and emotional safety. 

To do this work well requires curiosity. As per our first step to great service, and as I’ve written about extensively in Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, we can do that by being good listeners, and by being willing to alter long-standing norms wherever we can to do things in the way a guest really wants rather than just sticking with the way “we’ve always done it.” We need to find out what our customers would like, and in many cases, help them figure out what they want, or often didn’t even know they wanted until we started to speak. Done well, it reflects what Anne Morrow Lindbergh says:

Two people listening to each other, two shells meeting each other, making one world between them. There are no others in the perfect unity of that instant, no other people or things or interests.

There are countless Zingerman’s stories of staff members taking the initiative to make exceptional service experiences happen. Will Guidara’s new book Unreasonable Hospitality has many examples of this, and most everyone who’s worked in the ZCoB for any length of time will have at least a few of their own to share (ask them next time you’re in). Next week we’ll be driving to deliver a cake an hour away—it’s not something we would normally do, but the recipient’s sister lives overseas and she really wants to get her brother this particular pastry because it has so much emotional significance in their family. We did much the same (and with the same cake) by figuring out how to ship cakes to someone else in Mississippi for a wedding last summer! As we teach, and as my friend Danny Meyer writes, “Policies are nothing more than guidelines to be broken for the benefit of our guests. We’re here to give the guests what they want, period.”

Begin every interaction with positive beliefs.

So many service providers have been trained to believe that customers are a pain in the behind, that guests will be unnecessarily difficult to deal with, and that giving service is a stressful burden we have to undertake to pay our bills. Having learned the belief cycle, I have trained myself to freely choose the opposite. To engage with empathy rather than exasperation. To believe the best, and to work hard to make good things happen. Last Thursday evening, I shared this quote from science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s biography with the folks in the Pathology Department:

To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable of enjoying the good things.

If we approach the relationship with each guest as Asimov describes, with the understanding that new arrivals may be anxious, that some degree of skepticism for those unfamiliar with what we do is not unreasonable, and that we remain determined nonetheless to act from a place of positive beliefs … things are radically more likely to go well. 

Commit to helping everyone get to greatness.

Much of this work is really about helping our guests to get to greatness. If they feel honored, supported, listened to, heard, and cared for, the odds of them coming back and spreading good word of mouth go up significantly. Their lives—and ours—are likely to be better for it, and we get to make a living in the process. John O’Donohue once said, “One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.” Service done with dignity leaves both parties feeling encouraged and uplifted. 

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield tells the story of a radio show he once hosted. A lot of his listeners were incarcerated. One of them reached out and asked him to play some old acoustic blues on the air. Kornfield quickly obliged and dedicated the songs to the gentleman, by name, who’d made the request. Later, the man reached back out to thank Kornfield for his kindness. And, he said, “That’s the first time I’ve heard my name spoken with dignity in years.” We can do this same kind of work, I believe, for our customers (and our coworkers). The energy and the experience are wholly different when we're actively working to get others to greatness rather than just to get their money. 

Create a sense of meaningful equity.

At times, this can be the most sensitive of the six. There are grave and often extreme inequities in our society. While we work to rebalance our ecosystems, we remain dedicated to doing our absolute best to make the guest experience as equitable as possible for all. From our first day in business, it has been absolutely imperative to us that we treat every guest with grace and dignity, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “regardless of race, creed, class or sex.” This holds true whether someone is spending two, two hundred, or two-thousand dollars. 

Society—and many service providers—let biases lead them to look down on those who, to mainstream views, don’t quite “fit.” I prefer to push in the opposite direction; if we’re going to be biased, then let’s be biased in favor of those who might have been excluded. I want us to go well out of our way to help anyone that we have even an inkling might feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or awkward. As physician Paul Farmer, who sadly passed away last month, said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Equity is relevant in pricing, and profit, as well. Businesses need to be profitable to survive. Pricing in ways that make that happen makes sense—a healthy bottom line is like a livable wage for an organization. Conversely, gouging and deception are the inverse of equity and doing business with dignity. In that sense, this work on service reminds us that we are all, always, in the world together. We do our best work when dignity moves in every direction. I often come back to the lyrics of the late singer Gil Scott-Heron:

This is a prayer for everybody
In the world
’Cause without you
And without me
Without love and harmony
Without courage and dignity
What would it mean
To be free?

Henri Nouwen, the Belgian-born American theologian and philosopher, believed that we as human beings are either moving toward hospitality or we are moving toward hostility. That we can choose to make our interactions transactional or, alternatively, we can opt to, as Marie Brady did at the Department of Pathology, turn them into transformational experiences. Learning to do this well, to weave dignity effectively into every customer interaction, takes time, and I, for one, have much more work to do to improve my ability to do it. The six elements of dignity above give me something of a practical checklist to work with—with them in hand I can assess every service interaction with dignity in mind. Practice doesn’t “make perfect,” but it does “make permanent.” As Nouwen wrote, “You don't think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.”

It would be easy for a cynic to dismiss all this work around service as superficial, but I believe it’s the exact opposite. If we do it well, we can be, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, “awakened to a new sense of dignity.” The service we give to someone later this week, done well, with dignity, just might alter their life in the way that Marie Brady did for the gentlemen on the phone that she didn’t even know. If we all treat each guest, all day, every day with this care, who knows how much goodness could be gotten. In the same way that a small bit more salt can radically alter the quality of a loaf of bread, so too can amazing, dignity-based, service cause shifts far, far greater than one would imagine. As the exceptionally insightful historian of Ukraine, Timothy Snyder says,

A tiny bit of courage, a tiny bit of truth, can change history.

Bringing dignity to service settings will sometimes, I’m sure, go unnoticed. It will not, though, go awry. It sets the bar high for all of us. The more we practice, the better we get, the more lives we can impact positively. Dignity-based service doesn’t need to call attention to itself; it just needs to be attentive, appreciative, caring, compassionate, and uplifting. I’m excited to start working on it. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s daughter, Reeve, reflects about her mother’s book, “Underlying all of it is an enormous, sustaining strength.”

More on giving great service

P.S. Looking for more learning about creating a great experience? Check out Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service. We have the service book in Spanish too—Guía De Zingerman’s Para Un Servicio De Excelencia—translated by our long-time customer, Heine Esperon at Babel Linguistics in California. And/or come learn with us for a couple days later this month, on January 30-31, at ZingTrain’s “The Art of Giving Great Service Seminar.”

P.P.S. We now have the Belief Cycle on a T-shirt! It’s a good way to keep the cycle front and center. More than a few times, I’ve used it as an impromptu teaching tool as well.

a stack of 3 ricotta doughnuts, the top one cut in half to reveal the filling

Ricotta Doughnuts

A little bit of Sunday morning joy at the Bakehouse

When I started out this week, I intended to write about one of the wonderful soups we serve at the Bakeshop. However, when I went into the Bakeshop on Sunday morning and looked around, my eyes landed on one of the most joy-evoking things we make: Ricotta Doughnuts. Seriously. Delightful. Deliciously dignified, each one of these doughnuts brings a handful of joy that can brighten my day and maybe yours as well. When you get that bite with sweetened vanilla-scented ricotta … joy with a capital J! As Rollo May writes, “Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of our life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies our fulfilling our natures as human beings.”

The Italian name for these would be castagnole di ricotta. They’re most typical at Carnivale (which starts this year on February 17), but in the spirit of making life more joyful all year long, I like that we make them every Sunday. Italian food writer Ada Boni was a big proponent of ricotta doughnuts. Boni’s book, Italian Regional Cooking, which came out in her later years in 1969, was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought. “There can be no true happiness,” Boni said, “if such an essential part of our daily lives as eating is neglected.” And these delicious doughnuts from the Bakehouse make all that come true. Amy Emberling, long time managing partner at the Bakehouse and one of five members (of which I am one) of the Stewardship Council that now leads our organization (more on this soon), says,

I had the Ricotta doughnuts last Sunday and they were incredible. The texture and flavor of the dough are just outstanding. The cheese is unusual and to me the right level of sweet: Not very.

If you like, you can gild the ricotta-doughnut-lily by simply adding a spoonful of great honey, like the Miele Thun Orange Blossom that I wrote about last week, inside. The Agrimontana Fig Preserves would be really fine, or the eternally excellent American Spoon Early Glow Strawberry. The doughnuts are also delicious if you slide in a square or two of dark chocolate!

This time of year, we all need a bit of added brightness in our days—swing by the Bakehouse on Sunday morning and score a few of these delicious Ricotta Doughnuts. Better still, order a dozen and bring them to an afternoon gathering. Smiles are certain to abound!

More daily specials at the Bakehouse
overhead view of deli platters, one with meats and cheeses, one with crostini, a dish of almonds and a dish of sauce

The Deli’s Annual Winter Catering Promo

Buy one, get one half off

It seems that the weeks after New Year are inspiring catering crews around the ZCoB to have some fun with our offerings. Last week I wrote about the Roadhouse’s Texas-Breakfast-Tacos-and-a-T-Shirt promotion; this week it’s the Deli’s annual Catering BOGO Half-Off promotion. Jenny Santi at the Deli says:

The way it works is simple: For every pickup or delivery Catering order you place for January 1st through February 28th, you get a second one of equal or lesser value half off. The offer is good for all pick­ups or deliveries within January and February 2023, so call and order as many times as you’d like!

There are dozens of really good dishes on the Deli’s catering menu, but here are just a few that get me excited: 

Lex's Roasted Chicken

A few months ago, I wrote about my friend Lex Alexander from North Carolina, and how, 30 years or so ago, he taught me about the process with which we end every meeting—Appreciations. Lex and I didn’t just talk leadership, though. Our conversations also revolved around food and cooking. To this day, we share a passion for great flavors, craft production, and artisan offerings. Like me, and maybe you, Lex likes to cook, and he taught me this dish decades ago. It's great to make at home, AND we love it for catering too. It’s basically a roast chicken cooked atop slices of Bakehouse bread so that the “stuffing” is underneath the bird instead of inside. Pieces of Amish-raised chicken rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and roasted over a bed of sweet onions, celery, fresh lemon, thyme, and the terrific bread from Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Exactly the kind of comfort food so many of us are seeking this time of year. 

Vegetable Tagine

Slowly simmered vegetables and fresh chickpeas. Right now we’re doing the dish with sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and carrots. We season everything with the Tagine Spices from Épices de Cru of Montreal—Ethné and Philippe de Vienne’s beautiful blend of 20 different spices including cumin, coriander seed, ginger, turmeric, mace, long pepper, mint, cardamom, cassia, clove, lavender, rose, nigella, fenugreek, and allspice. The tagine comes with the Mahjoub family’s organic, hand-rolled, sun-dried M’Hamsa Couscous. A magical taste of the North Mediterranean! 

Hungarian Chicken Paprikash

Roasted whole Amish-raised chicken with spicy and sweet Hungarian Paprika, red peppers, and onions, served over Al Dente egg noodles made right here in Michigan and finished with Calder Dairy sour cream. A rich and tasty way to bring a bit of Hungarian tradition to your kitchen. You can also buy one of the Bakehouse’s beautiful Dobos Tortas for dessert. And if you’re really inspired to immerse yourself in Hungarian cooking and culture, consider coming with us to Hungary next New Year’s. (No BOGO on the tour I’m afraid—half the limited number of spots are already sold—but I will buy you a Dobos Torta to celebrate your decision if you sign up and let me know!).

All of these, and then some, make marvelous meals for family get-togethers, Super Bowl parties, business meetings, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, or just about any other time you’re going to eat as a group. Having a meal delivered also makes a great welcome gift to create the kind of super memorable first-time client experiences I wrote about last week.

Questions? Call the Deli Catering crew today at 734-663-3400.

Don't miss this deal
two pieces of toast topped with "Tunisian Pimento Cheese" and fresh herbs

Making "Tunisian Pimento Cheese" in Your Kitchen

Handmade Tunisian Harissa combined with handcrafted Creamery Cream Cheese

Fifteen years or so ago, we did a T-shirt at the Roadhouse to promote our then-new Pimento Cheese. In a bit of one-line visioning, we wrote “Pimento Cheese Capital of the Midwest.” (The T-shirt is a Zingerman’s classic and one of my favorites, and as of last month, you can buy one!) At the time, we were just getting going with Pimento Cheese and hardly anyone in Ann Arbor even knew what it was. Today it’s one of our top-selling items at the Roadhouse and Deli. Mail Order ships it regularly, and the Creamery wholesales it to retailers and restaurants all over the country.

Given that there are many thousands of pimento cheese recipes in the U.S., I started to think about other cultures that have created similar spreads that combine cheese and chiles. They don’t call them “pimento cheese,” but they could. Our long-standing love for Liptauer at the Creamery, I realized, was actually an affinity for what we could well be calling “Hungarian Pimento Cheese.” What follows is a “recipe” for a pimento cheese we aren’t yet selling, but I’m pretty sure we probably ought to be. In the meantime, you can make it at home in a matter of minutes, as I did the other day. It’s incredibly easy to make something so delicious that you might well find yourself, as I have, making it over and over again.

The “Tunisian Pimento Cheese” calls for two world-class ingredients, products that are so special that the choice of brand to be used will, to be clear, make a BIG difference. Each is exceptional. First up is the handmade Cream Cheese from Zingerman’s Creamery. Using milk from the herd of the good folks at Calder Dairy in Carleton, it’s made simply with rennet (to separate solid curd from liquid whey), a bit of added cream, and sea salt. I had some again the other day for the first time in a few months and was reminded anew just how amazingly excellent it is. Creamy, full-flavored, mouth-filling, and a really fine long finish. 

The other ingredient is the traditional Harissa from the Mahjoub family in Tunisia. It’s a family recipe that goes back for generations. Majid Mahjoub shares, “From a very young age, my parents taught me that this recipe comes from very far away. We, the children, learned a lot, but I believe that our parents learned even more, from theirs.” Other than the spices, all of the ingredients in the harissa are grown, organically and sustainably, on the Mahjoub family farm. Three different peppers, all carefully hand seeded and sun-dried; tomatoes handled similarly (the sun-drying makes a big difference); extra virgin olive oil (the one Tammie and I cook with daily at home); with a small bit of garlic, coriander, caraway seed, and some sea salt.

If there is one star of this savory confection, it would probably be the Baklouti pepper. While all chile peppers arrived in Africa only after Columbus’ first encounter with the Americas, over the last few hundred years the Baklouti has become as integral to Tunisian cooking as the Piquillo to the Spanish Basque Country or Paprika to Hungary. It’s named for the town of Bekalta, on the country’s east coast, which, since it’s a port city could well be the place the pepper first made its presence known on Tunisian shores. Large red tapering pods, hot but not mind-blowingly so, and appropriately very flavorful. 

The creamy mildness of the cream cheese is an ideal foil for the spicy complexity of the harissa. Making the spread is about as simple as it gets. I like a ratio of about two parts cream cheese to one part harissa, but you can vary that up or down depending on how intense and how spicy you like your food. Thin with a small bit of extra virgin olive oil. Garnish if you like with some chopped fresh herbs—dill, mint, basil … any or all would be good. Eat and enjoy!

Because both of these products—the Creamery’s Cream Cheese and the Mahjoub’s Harissa—are made very much as they would have been a hundred years ago, what you and I will taste when we try this is much the same as we would have experienced back in 1896 when the Mahjoub family first started to sell the public what they had long been making and eating at home. It’s great as is on crackers. Beautiful on a baked potato. Lovely stuffed under the skin of roasted chicken. Super tasty on a sandwich and it makes a great grilled cheese. You can even use it to toss with pasta. This “Tunisian Pimento Cheese” is spicy, creamy, and, like the original Pimento Cheese, pretty much darned good on everything! It’s also, I’ll warn you, addictive! 

Get your Creamery Cream Cheese
And the Mahjoub Harissa
Or, let us make you some terrific toast
You can find the Cream Cheese at the Creamery, Bakeshop, Deli, and Roadhouse, as well as on The Moulins Mahjoub Harissa is both at the Deli and online for shipping as well.
a black and white photo of a box of Blackthorn salt with a pile of salt in front of it

Blackthorn Sea Salt Flakes from Scotland

An ancient method of salt-making makes a comeback

On the west coast of Scotland, looking out towards the Isle of Aran, is a relatively new artisan business that is reviving an ancient, rarely seen process for making salt. Gregorie Marshall and Malky McKinnon have led this amazing project to build a 26-foot-tall wooden wall that’s thickly overlaid with the sharp-thistled branches of native blackthorn. It looks wild, but it works. Scottish food writer Rosie Morton reckons, “This other-worldly tower of thorns wouldn’t seem out of place in J.K. Rowling’s next yarn.”

This method for salt-making dates back centuries, most likely to Poland. Technically called “graduation towers,” and known more practically as “thorn houses,” they’re large wooden frames packed tightly with thorny branches of blackthorn. Saltwater is pumped up from below and then allowed to trickle down over the branches. The blackthorn, with its thorns and oddly angled small branches, is ideal because it exposes the water more and more to the air, the better to evaporate it. When the water gets to about a 20-percent salt solution, it’s moved into tanks where the process is finished. Thorn houses like these were created in Poland, Austria, and Germany primarily for health benefits—the salt in the air (a “curative aerosol,” one resort called it) was breathed to cure an assortment of ailments, though the salt was sold of course as well.

(The town that’s been at the center of fighting in the Russian attack on Ukraine over the last few days, Soledar, was at one time another of the spots where people would go to take in salt-laced air for their health. Soledar means “gift of salt” in Ukrainian. When there’s no war on, the salt mines are a major tourist attraction. The walls and ceilings of the caves below ground are creatively carved, and there’s even a church under the surface where the Donetsk Symphony Orchestra once played a concert. Today the underground chambers are used by Ukrainian troops to create a safe haven, and the dominant sound is, sadly, mostly that of gunfire and artillery attacks.)

While the Blackthorn folks happily breathe in the salt air, their focus is on the salt itself. In Poland (and Ukraine) the water used is from salt springs, but Blackthorn works only with pure seawater from off the Scottish coast. Salt-making in Scotland goes back thousands of years—salt in ancient times was one of the only preservatives around, highly in demand for meat, fish, and other curing, as well as craft processes like the tanning of leather. At one time, salt-making was dominated by the Scottish royal family and then distributed around the various monasteries. In modern times, most of it has disappeared—by the 19th century, most salt in Scotland was being imported from elsewhere, at which point Gregorie’s great, great grandfather founded the family business, which went on to become the major importer and seller of salt in Scotland. Malky, Gregorie’s business partner, grew up on the Scottish coast, and so has spent his whole life around salt water. “Creating salt from that body of water is something truly special; my ancestors were probably involved with the [salt] pans on this coast.” 

To get what we now know as Blackthorn Sea Salt Flakes going took over twelve years. The entire project is well-aligned with the way we work here:

At Blackthorn, we use 100% west coast sea water and nothing else. There are no illusions: no adding, no seeding, no bleaching, just pure Scottish sea salt. When you taste Blackthorn Salt you taste nature—the sea, the winds and the thorns. 

Gregorie and Malky’s good work is all about flavor, treating the ecosystem with dignity, and emerging with an all-natural salt. Because the mineral content of water is different in different locations, sea salts made from it will taste different in each spot. The Blackthorn is gentle and beautifully subtly sweet. It’s awesome on pretty much anything—like the best extra virgin olive oils, I enjoy it most used as “finishing” salt. Sprinkle it onto salads, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. Excellent on eggs—the contrast of the delicate crunch of the salt with the softness of the eggs is wonderful. 

Like the other beautiful British sea salt that we bring over from Halen Môn in Wales, the Blackthorn forms lovely natural salt pyramids. Just putting a small bowl of the salt onto your dinner table brings a bit of beauty. And as John O’Donohue, who grew up on the opposite side of the Irish Sea once wrote: “The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere.” Blackthorn Scottish Sea Salt is a small, savory, subtle, and uplifting way to make that happen.

Ship some Scottish sea salt to someone special
The Blackthorn Scottish Sea Salt is on the Mail Order site. We’re happy to do local pick-up too—just mark your order accordingly when you order!

Other Things on My Mind


Check out the Dust and Dignity podcast for good music and good messages about positive social change. 

Stephen Burch is an English-born singer-songwriter who lives in Germany and records as The Great Park. He’s remarkably prolific and poetic at the same time; thought-provoking lyrics and beautiful playing. His recent release, Freital II, has a wonderful cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell,” which honors the classic blues musician.


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