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Ari's Top 5

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— Neil Gaiman

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Sliced Beigli on a cutting board

Hungarian Walnut Beigli from the Bakehouse

Addictively excellent pastry in the style of Budapest

Over the last ten years or so, these wonderful walnut beigli have become one of our biggest holiday hits. Staffers ooh and aah when beigli first emerge from the Bakehouse ovens for the season. Some of our most loyal customers talk about it all year—the official opening of beigli season is starting to be a big deal around here!

In Hungary, beigli is a 150-year old tradition—its origins seem to date on the mid-19th century. Today it is, without question, a staple in most every Hungarian home at Christmas. Gabor Banfalvi, who grew up in Hungary and works with managing partner Kristie Brablec to lead the Zingerman’s Food Tour to Budapest, shared that, “Walnut beigli has been a part of my life forever. My mom made it for the Christmas holidays. There was always a massive amount of beigli made and friends also brought over slices of their beiglis to share and we did the same with ours. My mom grew her own walnuts, too, for this and cracked them in the kitchen for entire nights before the actual baking started. I helped her a lot with the walnut collection and cracking.”

If you don’t already know it, beigli (pronounced “bay-glee”) is a yeasted dough rolled up with a filling of crushed walnuts and sugar. The outside has a beautiful sheen to it and a unique, slightly mottled, kind of crackly look to its crust. Inside are swirls of a thick walnut-sugar filling that’s so good, I literally had a hard time not eating more of it. The richness of the butter in the dough and the walnuts on the inside are comforting and compelling at the same time.

Beigli has become a big part of the Bakehouse holiday tradition. Amy Emberling, co-managing partner and co-author (with the other managing partner, Frank Carollo) of Zingerman's Bakehouse, shared: “I love making and eating walnut beigli, but I might actually enjoy the way beigli looks more than anything else (you know that expression of eating with our eyes). It has a rich mahogany exterior with distinctive cracking from the particular egg wash method traditionally used. Each beigli has its own unique and captivating pattern.”

If you’re looking for a little bit of an edge this month, take note that walnuts have long been assigned magical properties. In some parts of Italy, walnuts were believed to keep witches from rising. To be clear, I have nothing against witches—just sharing this bit of folklore that I found in doing my weekly homework! I figure protection is protection though, so maybe it’s time to chuck the rabbit’s foot and start carrying a walnut in your pocket. Or maybe in this case, a slice of walnut beigli—could just be that little extra protection we’d all like to have!

Just one word of sweet warning. Once you get to know beigli, it might be hard to stop. We’ve got at least one good customer who comes in weekly during December to fill her freezer with these things and then works down her inventory by eating a small bit of beigli regularly throughout the course of the coming year. I understand her drive to have it on hand. Really, the flavor is so compelling, it’s hard to not want a slice! A great host(ess) gift, or just something special to bring home to liven up a dark winter night! Sip some good coffee (I’m high on Moka Java right now, brewed in an aeropress) and nibble slowly on a bit of beigli. It’s a beautiful way to start or end your day!

Available at the Bakeshop on Plaza Drive, the Deli and online at zingermans.com

You'll 'beigli' for more!
PS: If you want to make beigli at home, the recipe is on page 144 in the very lovely and super informative Zingerman’s Bakehouse book
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Hungarian chocolate bars

Exceptional Hungarian Chocolate Bars at the Candy Store

The best of Budapest arrives in Ann Arbor

It was in the fall of 2011 that I joined Frank and Amy from the Bakehouse (and also my good friend, food writer Molly Stevens) to make our first trip to Budapest. It was the beginning of an exploration that, seven years later, has made Hungarian baked goods into one of our specialties at the Bakehouse. The walnut beigli I wrote about above, Dobos Torta, Esterházy torte, lángos, rétes, and more are all regular—and popular—offerings!

While we went to Budapest for the baked goods, one day while walking around downtown we happened past this beautiful little jewel of a chocolate shop. The packaging looked so good it was impossible for someone like me not to pursue it further! And, happily, the flavor was as good as the package! Finally, seven years later, it’s out at the Candy Store on Plaza Drive for sale!

The name of the brand, Rózsavölgyi, looks a bit intimidating to an English speaker (as do most Hungarian words). “Rozha-vol-yee” is the closest I can get. In English it means “Valley of the Roses,” which is an evocative, and positively memorable image to stick in your head. More meaningfully, the little artisan shop was started by chocolate maker Katalin Csiszar and her husband Zsolt Szabad in Budapest in 2004. They were the first new chocolatier to start up after the Communist government fell. Katalin does all the chocolate and the packaging design; Zsolt manages the production. Like so many of the chocolates we work with, the Rózsavölgyi folks are operating bean to bar—they have positive relationships with growers in all the producing countries with which they work. Zsolt roasts at the lighter end of the spectrum, so even the darkest of the Rózsavölgyi chocolate is still on the subtler side.

The packaging is exceptional. In the spirit of my most recent publication, “The Art of Business,” this stuff is a superb representation of what I was writing about! Katalin has a degree in Graphic Design and Animation and the packaging has won a number of awards. Honestly, if you like design, it’s worth buying these for that alone. (Guaranteed to have gift recipients excited before they even really know what it is!) That said, even if the packaging was terrible, the chocolate inside is so good it’d be well worth eating no matter what the boxes looked like!

We’ve started with four bars, and I forecast we’ll shortly start to carry even more of them!

My favorite is the 77% dark chocolate spiced with hot Hungarian paprika. Intriguingly, for a history major like me, it features two foods that were unknown in Hungary up until a few centuries ago but today dominate the cuisine. (Remember, chiles, i.e., paprika, and cacao, i.e., chocolate, came from the Western Hemisphere!). You name it, this bar has it. On the chocolate front, it’s dark, complex, delicious. The paprika—which, if poorly done could easily be intrusive—takes it into a whole ‘nother, almost magical world of flavor. Really remarkable. The heat is slow to rise, never dominates, but is definitely distinctive. Spicy, sensual, not too hot, slow, super. I love it!

Then there’s the milk chocolate bar with caramelized lavender. A fascinating, very fine blending of the medieval (lavender) and the modern (finely finished chocolate). Every summer, along the shores of Lake Balaton, beautiful purple fields of lavender burst into bloom. Katalin caramelizes the delicate flowers then blends them into her milk chocolate along with a subtle bit of star anise. Elegantly excellent; delicate and delicious with lovely little crunchy bits of lavender in every bite.

If straight chocolate is more your speed, Rózsavölgyi does that, too. Right now we’ve got a terrific bar with their 75% Mababu—made from Trinitario cacao—one of the higher quality, lower yield varieties that the best chocolate makers always seek out—bought directly from a group of only 60 families doing high-quality organic cocoa farming in Tanzania near Lake Malawi. Buttery, creamy mouthfeel; smooth, deep chocolate flavor.

Last, but definitely not least, they’ve got a bar that’s 95 percent cacao Hacienda Las Trincheras, Venezuela cacao. Very dark—it’s got only a smidgen of sugar! Intense cacao-fruit flavors with a pleasant bit of astringency, just enough sweetness to make it easy to eat. Perfect for those who want to taste their cacao without the intrusion of sugar’s sweetness. This one’s won a number of awards—for lovers of very dark chocolate this one could do the trick!

Gabor Banfalvi, who co-leads our Hungarian food tour, sings Rózsavölgyi’s praises: “We bring about 2000 clients to their shop every year. The owner is a young lady and she started this business from scratch and built a chocolate brand that is now recognized and sold in specialty shops all around the world. They purchase their ingredients, make the chocolate and come up with both the design of the chocolate and the packaging. They do an amazing job and just grew out of nothing in the past decade or so.”

Seriously, whether it’s for casual eating on your own at home or for a gift for one of your chocolate-passionate friends, put this one on your shopping list soon! 

Hungary for Chocolate!
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Rush Creek Reserve Cheese

Wonderfully Unctuous Cheese from Southern Wisconsin

A great sensuous soft cheese from Andy Hatch, the man who also makes the award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Pleasant Ridge is made only when the farm’s herd is out in the pasture, from the spring through to the early autumn. When it gets too cold and wet for the cows to stay outdoors, they’re brought into the barn so the milk can’t be used for Pleasant Ridge. But it’s actually excellent milk. So, six or seven years ago Andy had the idea to turn into it this luscious new offering, and Rush Creek Reserve was born!

Rush Creek is crafted in the style of a Swiss Vacherin Mont D’Or which will likely mean little to most Ann Arborites but might raise high excitement amongst those who know and love fine French and Swiss cheeses. It’s made only in the weeks between September and November, then aged for another 8 weeks or so ‘til this time of year when it arrives! Andy says, “The Rush Creek relies on the sweetness, the texture of the milk and the heaviness of it in the fall and the delicacy of the cheese maker’s touch. As the milk comes into the autumn months, fat goes up, protein goes up, and it gets to be a bit rich for a hard cheese, but it’s perfect for a soft cheese. This type of seasonal calendar has existed for hundreds of years in parts of Europe.”

In the commitment to craft that Andy has demonstrated since day one, all of the curd for the Rush Creek is broken and stirred completely by hand to protect its fragile nature and deliciously delicate flavor. The curd is hand-ladled into forms (just as we do at the Creamery) to further protect it. Rush Creek is a washed rind cheese—thin, slightly sticky rind, wrapped in a wood band and aged for about 8 weeks so that it’s nice and creamy and sort of prototypically unctuous inside. The wood is first inoculated with bacteria in order to start the ripening of the cheese. The washing of the young cheeses is done with a brine solution that’s saved after it’s first used to wash the rinds of the already aging Pleasant Ridge. In doing that, Andy accesses the nuances of the Pleasant Ridge and uses them like a starter culture to enhance the flavors of the Rush Creek.

While it’s difficult to make, Rush Creek is easy to eat. The truth is you could just spoon it out of the rind and eat it as is. I really like to eat it atop just-cooked potatoes, and we should still be able to find some good, locally grown ones out there to steam up. I like the potatoes cooked ‘til they’re really tender, then cracked open. Drop on a bit of butter, some sea salt, a good grind of that Yupanqui black pepper from Ecuador and then spoon on the Rush Creek. I leave the rind behind—just spoon out the creamy center of the cheese. Eat it with a couple good slices of the Country Miche—I buy the big, 2-kilo loaves, hopefully one with an especially dark crust. It’s memorably delicious, maybe even meaningfully romantic—it’s one of the first meals I ever made for Tammie many years ago and she still talks about it!

You can just put Rush Creek out at room temperature with some good bread—the Roadhouse bread (with the rye flour now being milled at the Bakehouse) would be terrific! Rush Creek is pretty darned good with French Fries, too. Nice in an omelet, or melted over roasted root vegetables—parsnip, rutabaga, etc. Because you buy the whole 12-ounce wheel, it’s really a cheese for sharing, which, of course, we’re all about (see Secret #46, The Spirit of Generosity, for more on the subject!)

Writing in The New York Times, famous food writer Florence Fabricant said that Rush Creek is, “fluent and satiny, with a rich, slightly grassy aroma and a mild flavor that hints of smoke and pork.” Seriously, this is a very special, very-limited-edition cheese. We only have it for a few months, so rush—pun intended—on over soon!

The Rush Creek Reserve is available at the Deli and at the Cream Top Shop!

"Rush" over to get this cheese!
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Steak plated with fries and sautéed spinach.

Cal-Fiorentina Steak at the Roadhouse

Dry-aged steak dressed with exceptional new harvest olive oil from Hudson Vineyards!

If you’re up for a really nice steak, if you love great, green, really peppery olive oil, if you want to celebrate Hanukkah in super fine style, or you just want a good meal, the Cal-Fiorentina steak at the Roadhouse could just be your ticket!

To give some context and explain the name, La Fiorentina is the classic steak dish of Florence. Generally, a big T-bone, cooked rare, finished with great Tuscan olive oil. In the never-ending entertainment I get out of playing with words, I combined the La Fiorentina, with the California origins of the oil, and got…Cal-Fiorentina!

The main thing, of course, is that this dish is delicious! It’s definitely on its way to becoming a great December tradition at the Roadhouse—the Hanukkah miracle is actually tied to the arrival of new harvest olive oil (think about it—waiting for more “holy oil” for the Temple? What was given to the priests in every culture was always the first fruits of a harvest. What time of year is olive oil harvested in the northern hemisphere? Add them together and the answer is that the Maccabees were waiting to bring the new harvest olive oil to the Temple to relight the Eternal Light with new harvest oil)!

If you aren’t familiar with new harvest oil—Olio Nuovo in Italian—it’s exceptionally green, delicious and excellent. More polyphenols, more peppery. Olive oil, of course, unlike wine, is at its peak of intensity immediately after being pressed. Even in the bottle—while still super delicious six or sixteen months later—will slowly but surely soften in flavor as the weeks pass. So getting this new harvest olive oil only a week or two after it’s been pressed is a special eating experience that can’t be replicated later in the year. I’m so happy to have this wonderful new harvest olive oil here in Ann Arbor! I’ve been friends with Cristina Salas Porras for a good twenty-five years now. I’m honored and touched to have this great oil crafted by her and her winemaking, farming husband Lee Hudson.

Hudson Vineyards is right across the road from one of our favorite wine suppliers and long-time ZingTrain client, Domaine Carneros (they love open book management), in Napa, a bit south of town on the road that will eventually take you down to San Francisco or over to Sonoma. Lee is originally from Texas, studied horticulture in school and then went to France to learn more about grape growing. Later he got his Master’s in Viticulture and Enology at University of California, Davis. Lee started growing grapes right around the time we started the Deli in the early ‘80s. The property he chose for Domaine Carneros has cool bay breezes and stony volcanic soil which helps his grapes and olives both to achieve excellence. Most of the award-winning grapes he grows are sold to very high-end wineries like Kongsgaard, Kistler, Cakebread, and David Ramey.

In 2004 Hudson Vineyards started producing its own wines. The olives followed a few years later—the 700 or so trees are spread around the farm. All are handpicked to protect their flesh and the oil that’s contained within. It’s made with classic Tuscan varietals making for a really wonderful peppery, green, front forward, fresh-tasting oil—well-suited to the Florentine origins of this dish. Just the sort I love! It’s perfect for the Roadhouse—one of the best American olive oils out there. The flavors are big, bold, meaty and memorable; the agriculture is sustainable, and clearly after all these years, so are the relationships.

And, of course, I don’t want to pass over the main point of the dish which is the actual steak! As it has been for so many years now, the steers for the Roadhouse beef are raised entirely in the pasture. The sides of beef are dry-aged for about five weeks, before being butchered in the Roadhouse kitchen. The steaks are cooked to order over oak wood logs, then finished with the olive oil. And to make the meal even better, they’re served with a side of terrific Tellicherry black pepper fries! A great meal, and a marvelous and historically appropriate way to celebrate Hanukkah! 

'Steak' out a spot at the Roadhouse!
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Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano® and Balsamico

A fabulously fine meal for holidays (or really any time!)

Next week we’ll be hosting Chicago-based chef John Coletta at the Roadhouse for a special dinner featuring Italian rice. The dinner is sold out! But that doesn’t mean you can’t cook your own great Italian rice dish at home. Here’s a risotto recipe that I think is particularly great for this time of year. I learned it while attending the Balsamico festival in Modena many years ago. The recipe uses water rather than broth so as not to overwhelm the gentle flavors of the vinegar and the cheese. The richness of the long-aged vinegar drizzled over top is an ideal sweet and sour foil to the delicacy of the freshly cooked rice.

As per our Parmigiano Reggiano project, different Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses will be better suited to different dishes and to different tastes. For this dish I’m inclined towards the delicate sweetness of the Valserena offering we’ve been purchasing (and selling, and eating!) from the Serra family. Made exclusively from the milk of the farm’s own herd of Brown Cows (which have particularly rich milk), the cheese has been delicious. Delicate, lovely, milky, sweet. Really nice for anything and definitely for this sort of risotto!

Ingredients: 
  • 4 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano (without rind)
  • 1 tablespoon Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, plus a little more for last minute garnish. We have ten different ones at the Deli—come by and taste! 
  • 6 cups water (you may not end up using it all)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coarse sea salt
  • Rind pieces from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving 
  • 1 small onion (about 3/4 cups), peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup Italian rice, preferably Carnaroli —we have plenty in stock! Try the aged Carnaroli in the can (yes, in the can) under the Acquerello at the Deli. It’s excellent! 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper to taste

Procedure: 
  1. Using a small almond-shaped parmesan knife or another small, firm bladed knife, break—don’t cut—the Parmigiano Reggiano into 1/4 inch or so pieces—the pieces should look rough and uneven. Place the cheese pieces into a small bowl and drizzle with a tablespoon of the Balsamico. Toss, cover and set aside to marinate.
  2. Bring the water to a boil. Add the sea salt. If you have some Parmigiano Reggiano rind on hand, put a piece into the water. The Deli sells the rinds at a really good price so stop by and grab some. They’re like soup bones for vegetarians (or even for cheese-loving meat eaters). Reduce heat to a simmer.
  3. Heat the butter or oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté ’til soft and golden. Add the rice, stir well. Sauté for a couple of minutes until the rice is hot and shiny.
  4. Add the wine. Stir ’til the rice has absorbed it. Add 1/2 cup of the hot salted water. Stir until absorbed. Continue adding the water, 1/2 cup at a time, making sure it is absorbed before adding more each time. 
  5. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, about 18 minutes from when it first went into the pan. Add a touch more butter and one last 1/2 cup of water. Stir, yet again, then remove from the heat. Let stand for sixty seconds. Add salt to taste. Serve in warm bowls topped with the vinegar-dressed pieces of Parmigiano, a generous grinding of black pepper, and an additional drizzle of the Balsamico. It’s fine to add additional vinegar if you’re feeling generous. Because it’s so rich, small servings are the way to go with this dish. Serves 3 main courses, or 5 to 6 appetizer portions.

It really is a dish that’s actually easy to make, but marvelously elegant to eat. You might just find it becomes an annual holiday tradition at your house! It’s definitely a dish you will not forget! I can say with certainty that I sure wish I’d grown up having something this luxuriously lovely to eat at our house!!!

Because of the cost of the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, this is a risotto I’d reserve for special occasions. But when you want something exceptional to treat yourself or your guests, this is a great way to go.

Get the ingredients at the Deli!

P.S.: If you don’t want to go to all the trouble of making the actual dish, you could just buy yourself a big piece of Parmigiano Reggiano and a small bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. Let the cheese come to room temperature, break off some nice little wedges, drizzle then with a bit of the Balsamic, eat and enjoy.

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Ari
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