Ari's Top 5

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Vollkornbrot Bread from Zingerman's Bakehouse

New and Improved Vollkornbrot from the Bakehouse

Killer combo with the Creamery’s Cream Cheese

The Bakehouse Grain Commission project—the undertaking of on-site milling of grains at the Bakehouse—has been one of the most inspiring improvements we’ve made in the last year! The difference in flavor in the breads and pastries that use the freshly-milled grain has been remarkable—what was already exceptional has become amazing. You can taste the difference in the Country Miche, Margaret’s Sweet Wheat, our rye breads, the Roadhouse bread, the Funky Chunky Chocolate cookies, and the Michigan Double cookies have all gotten even better by being made partially or exclusively with grain milled right at the Bakehouse.

The German Vollkornbrot is now at the top of that list. As baker Hazim Tugun writes, “Part of the Zingerman’s ethos is ‘constant improvement,’ and we believed this bread could be revised to have improved flavor and texture.” The new and improved Vollkornbrot (which, in German, means simply “whole grain bread”) is made using organic rye that we’re getting from Breslin Farms in Ottawa, Illinois. Ottawa, if you don’t know the town, is about a 90-minute drive southwest from Chicago. Back in the mid-19th century it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate during the 1858 Illinois Senatorial campaign.

More in the moment, Breslin Farms does all kinds of great things—it’s family owned, organic, focused on biodiversity, grows for flavor, and is committed to helping create a healthy local ecosystem. (If you’re interested in any or all of that, they have a great reading list on their website.) The Breslin’s whole rye is stone milled fresh at the Bakehouse. Our mixers take that fresh rye and start a sour from rye chops, sunflower seeds, and more whole grain rye flour—the natural fermentation goes for at least 12 hours. As per German baking tradition, the crew waits 24 hours to allow the loaves to “cure” and set up after the newly-baked bread comes out of the ovens.

While Italian and French country breads get much of the attention here in the U.S., Germany has a long-standing artisan bread tradition. If you go to almost any German town or city you’ll still find artisan bakeries with some incredible, traditional, full-flavored breads—Vollkornbrot like this is one of the staples of everyday German baking and eating. Dense, full flavored and delicious, sliced thinly to make for some marvelous eating. Hailey Schurr at the Bakehouse says, “The flavors are fruity, earthy, maybe a bit spicy and sweet, almost wine-like, rounded out by a pleasant sour.” I’d agree. There’s a complexity, a fantastic depth of flavor that reminds me of roasted coffee, or even hints at the sorts of spiced Christmas breads that are so popular in Central Europe.

What do you do with this very good Vollkornbrot? Eat it! It’s great fresh sliced from the loaf, and equally excellent toasted. My favorite thing, as per the subtitle above, is to spread thin slices of it with the Creamery’s handmade Cream Cheese. The dark deep flavors and dense texture of the bread are a perfect counterpoint to the light, creamy, soft spreadable artisan cream cheese. It’s also excellent with a thick layer of butter. Great for a ham sandwich, though I should make clear that’s a thin, German-style sandwich, not the sort of stuffed, Deli sandwiches we love so much. It’s superb with smoked salmon. If you like things a bit sweeter, try it with the Cream Cheese and maybe a bit of the Tunisian wild mulberry jam we have at the Deli from the Moulins de Mahjoub.

Veneration for Vollkornbrot
Afghan Roasted & Salted Bamyan Sweet Baby Apricot Kernals

Dried Apricot Kernels from Afghanistan

An amazing old fashioned food from a women-focused firm in Kabul

It would be easy to miss these marvelous little orange packets of apricot pits—if you’re at the Deli they’re clipped to the wall on the east side of the “bread box” in the main building. But they’re one of the tastiest, most terrific little additions to our collective Zingerman’s pantry to show up in ages. I like everything about these!

What’s so great about these little toasted and salted sweet-apricot kernels? The project to put these almond kernels out on the market is an effort to get past the violence and create sustainable livelihoods and agriculture.

Apricot trees are native to China. Since Afghanistan lies to the west, sandwiched between Iran and the border with China, the seeds and the trees would have likely been grown there for many thousands of years. We know the country today mostly, unfortunately, because it’s been ravaged by war for so many decades. John O’Donohue wrote that “all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty.” Everything about these is the opposite of the violence and degradation that happens during a war. In fact, the name of the company making them available, Ziba, means “beautiful” in Dari (aka, Afghan Persian language).

Ziba has been set up with the express purpose of helping women in Afghanistan make a sustainable living. The workforce is primarily women in the Kabul factory. It’s just at the beginning but it’s already making a big difference in the lives of many women. Founded 9 years ago by three socially-responsible entrepreneurs who are intent on making a difference. As they themselves state it, “Our mission is simple: to introduce people to the splendors of one of the world’s most inaccessible countries while actively working to improve the lives of its women and rural farmer.” In practice? Skip the middlemen, cut out corruption, source superb, traditional products; support the development of women in business so they can gain independence. While agricultural work is mostly seasonal, they keep folks on board year-round learning English, etc. to make the women’s lives financially viable. Like Shawn Askinosie with his work in chocolate, this isn’t about charity—it’s about independence, good work, care, and beauty.

I will say that if you look up apricot kernels online, you’ll find that bitter apricot kernels can have a high degree of toxicity. BUT… these are sweet apricot kernels which have a different chemical makeup and no toxicity. To the contrary, they have a wealth of health benefits. The folks at Ziba report: “[Our] apricot kernels are definitely not poisonous; in fact, they are considered a superfood. Unlike most apricot kernels around the world, Afghan varieties naturally contain very low levels of amygdalin (B17). Ziba Bamyan Roasted & Salted Baby Apricot Kernels contain the same minimal levels of Amygdalin found in almonds.” While they’re not certified organic, small-scale Afghan farmers don’t use pesticides.

The main thing is that they taste terrific. (You might not have known, but apricot pits like this are the key “secret” flavor that makes Italian Amaretti cookies what they are.) Nutty, almondy, slightly smoky, and slightly sweet, with a beautiful bit of bitter. The dusting of Afghan salt makes them as irresistible as a great American peanut, but with a flavor all their own. Because they aren’t nuts—they’re the pits of sweet Afghan apricots—people with nut allergies can eat them. They’re super versatile—the little packets make them perfect plane food. You can send them with your loved one (or yourself) to school or work. They’re a superb addition to salads. Add ’em to granola or oatmeal. A lovely little addition to the wide mix of artisan foods that make up the Zingerman’s Community!

A new treasure at the Deli
Raclette at the Cream Top Shop

Raclette at the Cream Top Shop

Stay warm and have a marvelous meal at the same time

I can’t say I was really ready for all that snow and cold this past weekend but it is January. And given that we’re not even close to coming out of the winter months, heading over to Plaza Drive to order up a bowlful of these hot potatoes and warm melted cheese is a good way to go!

If you haven’t been to the retail store at the Creamery—the Cream Top Shop—it’s about 100 yards south of the Bakehouse (just to the north of the Coffee Company and the Candy Store) out at what we call Zingerman’s Southside. It’s where we make our fresh Cream Cheese, goat cheeses, gelato, and more! But it’s also a lovely place to grab a sandwich or snack for lunch, a bottle of wine or beer to take home for dinner, or a bit of one of the 40 or 50 American artisan cheeses we sell. We’ve also got a host of great classes about eating cheese, making cheese, pairing cheese and purchasing cheese that you might want to check out. 

To make the Raclette, we’re using one of our favorite American cheeses—the Reading cheese from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont. A semi-firm cheese that’s modeled after a Swiss Raclette, the Reading takes its name from the town Reading, Vermont, where it’s made. Spring Brook is all about sustainable farming and making traditional, local agriculture financially, as well as ecologically, sustainable. They started about a decade ago with their excellent Tarentaise cheese, and they’re actively engaged in getting better on every front. The Reading is made from the raw milk of two local farms with a combined herd of about 40 Jersey cows. Although the Jersey’s milk yields are lower, the milk is richer and known for making particularly tasty cheese. The Reading we’ve got on hand is aged for about four months and has a great creamy texture and nutty flavor with a nice nose. Raclette aside, it’s also delicious on a cheese board, salads, grilled cheese, or added to an omelet.

Raclette means to “scrape” in French. In Switzerland Raclette is one of the best-selling cheeses. And this time of year Raclette is one of the most popular winter meals. For good reason. When it’s really cold out, who would argue with a warming, filling, delicious dinner—or lunch—of great potatoes and melted cheese? I know I wouldn’t! If you go back and re-read the book Heidi, you’ll come across her grandfather preparing a traditional Raclette in front of an open fire. Raclette is very much Valaison soul food, simple comfort food that soothes the spirit, satisfies the taste buds, and much more practically, fills the stomach. And thanks to the crew at the Creamery, we can now have it for lunch every day!

We’re serving Raclette all day at the Cream Top Shop from 9am -7pm every day. We plate it up with the traditional accompaniments: hot potatoes, cornichons, pickled peppers, and onions. It’s a tasty way to eat well and stay warm at the same time!

Warm up at the Cream Top Shop
Tammie's Excellent New Egg Salad

Tammie’s Excellent New Egg Salad

Made with bit of Michigan Wildflower Honey Mustard from American Spoon Foods

As many of you know, Tammie and I cook at home every night. It’s part of what helps me stay centered and grounded. While some people I know see cooking as a burden, I like it—it’s a big reason why I got into the food business!

The other night, she had the thought to make some egg salad with the fresh eggs I’d brought home from the Farmer’s Market that morning.

It came out great—so good, that I decided to share the idea here. A bit of diced celery, some mayonnaise, a good dose of Tellicherry black pepper, and a little sea salt. What made it special (aside from the excellence of the eggs) was the mustard. She used the American Spoon Wildflower Honey Mustard. While many “honey mustards” are sweetened solely with sugar, this stuff is the real thing. Michigan-milled mustard seed, sweetened with a good dose of northern Michigan wildflower honey! While sugar adds only sweetness, old school honey like this adds a whole lot of flavor. The flavor is rounded out with a good bit of apple cider vinegar, a small touch of brown sugar, egg yolks, and butter. The finished mustard is both sweet and modestly hot at the same time which makes it marvelous with anything from turkey, ham, roast beef, cheese sandwiches, or spread on toast.

The whole thing took maybe 20 minutes from start to finish. You could keep it for a day or so but we ate it all that evening. We put the egg salad on toasted slices of Rustic Italian bread from the Bakehouse, but it would be good on any of the Bakehouse breads. I have a feeling the Country Miche would be a marvelous pairing. And the Vollkornbrot would be amazing as well! Sprinkle with a bit of extra black pepper, chopped fresh parsley, or some of the Korean red pepper flakes I love so much.

The perfect honey for this new Egg Salad
A Coffee Company barista holding a bag of Uganda Gibuzale coffee.

Uganda Gibuzale Coffee

Only a few more days to get a taste of this terrific special roast!

Juicy, balanced, and winey with hints of apple, cranberry, the tannins of a good Yunnan black tea, and undertones of fresh figs and dried dates, the Uganda from the Coffee Company has been one of the tastiest brews I’ve tried in a long time. It’s got some great light, toasty notes to it. Maybe a bit of the flavor the sorghum syrup we love to serve with those great buttermilk biscuits at the Roadhouse. It’s super smooth! Definitely the kind of coffee I could drink all day!

Gibuzale is located on the slopes of the extinct volcano at Mt. Elgon, in eastern Uganda. The coffee comes from the remotely-located Gibuzale Washing Station, near the border with Kenya, a few hours’ drive north from the shores of Lake Victoria. The region hosts a National Park with a healthy amount of biodiverse plant and animal life. The abundant amount of rain and volcanic soil contribute to the quality of the coffee. The beans are coming in from small farms, generally 1 to 2 acres, most with under 1,000 trees each, at about 5,000 feet up the mountainsides. All are first washed to remove their natural fruit pulp, then sun-dried for days to concentrate their flavors.

Like I said, the coffee is killer. If you fall for light, but full-flavored brews like I do, this one is for you. Delicious in a pour-over, it’s superb brewed in the syphon pot as well to bring out its sweetness even further. It’s a great pairing with a bowl of that new granola that we have at the Coffee Company. Or also one of the wonderful new einkorn scones from the Bakehouse (also made with freshly milled grain, and dotted with fresh orange zest and dried dates).

You can get the Uganda at the Coffee Company and also at the Deli, Roadhouse, and online. It’s only here for another few days, so don’t delay. Drive over and grab a cup—or better still, a few bags of beans—asap!!

You gotta get the Uganda!
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