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Ari's Top 5

I thought I heard the angels say

Follow the drinking gourd

The stars are in the Heavens

Gonna show you the way

If you follow the drinking gourd.
 

 —“Follow the Drinking Gourd”

The new November-December issue of Zingerman’s News, our print newsletter, is in the shops and in Mail Order boxes. If you haven’t seen one, stop by and get one. Or go to our community pages. I wrote a long piece about my appreciation for the Ann Arbor-Ypsi community. And it also includes info on 30 of my favorite foods for the 2020 holiday season.

With the new closing of restaurant dining rooms in the interest of community safety to minimize the spread of Covid 19, the passing of the RESTAURANTS Act has become even more meaningful and urgent. Saverestaurants.com has the details and easy ways to email Congress. Your support makes a big difference. 

1

Why Mission Statements Matter


Making a quietly powerful and poetic revolution in our daily reality


Here in the middle of the rather mad year of 2020, taking time to talk about Mission Statements might feel a bit . . . frivolous. Why, one might reasonably wonder, spend time on something like that when there are so many other urgent issues at hand? When stress levels are high, why sit down to craft six or seven lines of organizational poetry?

Former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Robert Frost wrote, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Done well, Frost’s framing is what a Mission Statement can do for an organization. And as President John F. Kennedy said in commemoration of the Poet Laureate of Vermont’s passing: 

Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
It’s beautifully said. Kennedy’s words are, I believe, what a meaningful Mission Statement should do for everyone in an organization, each day. But I haven’t always thought this way—30 years ago, I was a skeptic. My beliefs have swung 180 degrees since then. In Part 1 I shared that back before we wrote ours:
I was pretty solidly certain that Mission Statements were little more than a serious waste of time and one more dumb “flavor of the day” thing for businesses to do instead of taking care of their real work. As you’ll see when you read this essay, I now believe that my late-’80s cynicism on the subject was dead wrong, and I’ve since come to see the creation of our Mission Statement as one of the most important things we’ve ever done here. . . . Here at Zingerman’s, I can say with confidence, we’re radically better off for using ours as actively as we do.
The same thing holds true today. Gauri Thergaonkar, a manager at the Deli at the time, who later did a bunch of good work at ZingTrain and has since moved back home to India, had had a whole lot of experience in the corporate world before she started working with us. She told me back then: “I was so burned by the absolute worthlessness of the many Visions, Missions, and Principles I had been exposed to elsewhere, that I had decided that the very concept was worthless.” I’m happy to say Gauri and I were both wrong.

What’s a Mission Statement? There are many ways to define it. For us, it’s the answer to four basic, but incredibly important, questions:

What do we do?

Why do we do it?

Who are we that are doing it?

Who are we doing it for?

What’s the difference between a Mission and a Vision? I could go on at great length, but in brief: A Vision, as we define it, is a much longer detailed description of success at a particular point in time in the future. Our 2020 Vision was 9 pages long. Visions end. Missions though, we’ve always said, are like the North Star. We never get there—but the Mission gives us direction, so that even on the darkest of organizational days, we can keep going in the right direction. It offers clarity on what to do even when there’s no SOP; a way to step into most any situation when we’re struggling. As President Kennedy put it so beautifully, the Mission Statement serves as “a touchstone of our judgment.”

Does the Mission matter? If we want people to think like leaders, if we want our staff to engage and take action, if we want people to feel a sense of purpose . . . then a Mission Statement has a critical role to play.

If you already have an organizational Mission Statement, then the question here would be how well are you all using it? Vic Strecher, longtime friend and professor in the U of M School of Public Health, has done tons of meaningful research over the years on the power of purpose. Of the American workers surveyed in Vic’s research: 

- Only 34% knew their organization’s Mission

- Only 31% believe in it.

- Only 25% believe their coworkers believe in it.

- Only 28% feel like they support the Mission.

- Only 28% feel enabled and authorized to do the work to make it happen.

That’s a bit scary. But I’ll share some tips here on making your Mission Statement matter. If you don’t yet have a Mission Statement, then let me suggest now—yes, November of 2020, the 9th month of the global pandemic‚ just might be a fantastic time for your group to create one. The process we used to write ours here at Zingerman’s is detailed in Secret #5 in Part 1.

What happens if we don’t have a Mission Statement? The same thing that can happen to us as individuals when we have no purpose in our own lives. We can go through the motions, work hard in the day to day, but have a difficult time deciding what to really do. We lose energy, we feel spiritually exhausted, and we gradually grow depressed. Life will continue on apace. But it will likely be lacking. To be clear, if you’re reading this and you’re a long term, high-level leader, you may have internalized your Mission enough that you don't really need to write one down. But for most folks, clarity of Mission makes a big difference. We all want purpose. We all like to know what direction we’re going. While wandering in the woods can be wonderful for a short respite, it’s a more rewarding, calmer experience when you have a compass in your pocket.

Back, many years ago now, before we had a cell phone in our pocket every time we left home, when we didn’t have a map to tell us what to do when we’d gotten lost, people did well to develop what was called a “good sense of direction.” Today, many of us have grown dependent on being able to get detailed directions with the push of a button—so much so that we can often get where we’re going without any sense of how we got there, other than following directions from the voice in GPS. But what if our cell phone freezes and stops working? When that happens, strange as it sounds to say it out loud, I feel the first bits of a panic attack.

Which is what, I would suggest, life is like in many jobs. People are clear on what they’re supposed to do in the day-to-day. They’re trained to take direction, not to think. In settings like that, Mission Statements are just the sort of corporate gobbledygook that got Gauri to be so cynical. As 19th century English anarchist Edward Carpenter wrote so powerfully, “To pass through one’s mortal days . . . like a slave under continual compulsion from others, is not to live; it is only to exist.” But if you encourage staff members to think for themselves, and if you want, as we do here, everyone on staff to learn to think like a leader, then people need to know where they’re going. In a healthy organization, the Mission Statement might make all the difference. It’s a call to all to action, to lead, to learn, to make a positive difference. I’m all about training and clear expectations and effective written procedures. But people still need to know what to do when the playbook is out the window, their phone freezes, or when a customer asks a question no one’s ever asked.

So, what is this elusive, Zingerman’s Mission Statement? I’ll share it here, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s the imperfect one we’ve been working with so meaningfully since we wrote it all the way back in 1992.
We share the Zingerman’s Experience

Selling food that makes you happy

Giving service that makes you smile

In passionate pursuit of our mission

Showing love and care in all our actions

To enrich as many lives as we possibly can.

What does it all mean in day-to-day reality (the only reality that probably really matters)? Here’s what I wrote in Part 1:

The first question—What do we do?—proved the most challenging of the four [for us to figure out], and probably also the most valuable, as well. We started with the obvious answers, like, “We’re a deli—we serve food.” But of course, what we were doing at Zingerman’s was more than just being a deli. . . . After many weeks of meetings and hours of hand wringing, eye rolling, rewriting, and paper shredding, I’m pretty sure it was Paul who suggested that what we really do is deliver an exceptional and unique experience. The group called it the “Zingerman’s Experience.”. . . The food, the service, the atmosphere, the staff, the signs, the information, the fun . . . they all went into making the experience of coming to Zingerman’s something special.

Once we had that first question answered we went on to the other three:

Why do we do it? Because we believe that if we do our jobs well we can leave our community, our staff, and everyone else we work with a little better off than when we got here. And because it’s a rewarding and enjoyable way to make a living.
I’ll add here now, with more understanding, that this “Why” is also known nowadays as “purpose.” We thought it was important way back when. Today, we know it’s critical.
Who are we? We are the people who work here at Zingerman’s. New and old, baker and bread-seller, dishwasher and dreamer, accountant and assistant manager, owner and offsite caterer, sandwich maker and sign maker.

Who are we doing it for? For our guests, for ourselves, for our community, for the folks who make the great foods we work with.
About the time this enews comes out on Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be teaching our orientation class for new staff. Welcome to ZCoB, we call it. In the 2-hour-plus class, we will get to what we at Zingerman’s call the Business Perspective Chart. When we do, I will reference the Mission Statement, reinforce its import to those in the class, and say, as I have for decades now:
If they take only one thing away from this orientation class, it’s the seriousness of that statement—that while we clearly need to do baking, accounting, and sandwich making well, I need them to understand the most important part of our work is to make great experiences happen for literally everyone we come into contact with— customers, coworkers, suppliers, or anyone else we might meet.

This approach is so different from what most staff members have been taught in other jobs that I usually reiterate it two or three times. And you know what? They get it. And you know what else? They go out and do it! I guarantee that the mindset behind the Mission actually alters the way most everyone here looks at their job. When people comment (which they do regularly) that our employees act like owners, the acceptance and internalizing of the Mission among those who work here is one of the main reasons why.

If we use it well, the Mission Statement means that we’re engaging everyone here in the work of bringing great experiences. It’s all of our jobs to do it. And as a I wrote about the Mission Statement in Part 2:

This construct does not leave a lot of room for passivity, and even less so for a victim mentality. While these tendencies do still turn up, the people who evince them generally don’t last long. Most everything we teach is about living actively and collaboratively, all the while mindfully making the business better in the process. That mindset is right there in our Mission Statement (see Secret 5 in Part 1)—everyone here knows that they’re fully responsible for bringing a great Zingerman’s Experience to every customer, co-worker, supplier, and neighbor that we come into contact with.
In Vic Strecher’s extensive research the three most important factors in workplace engagement were, dignity, purpose and autonomy. The Mission, I would suggest, should do all three.

Speaking of dignity, purpose, and autonomy . . . It turns out that the North Star played a big part in the Underground Railroad. As the National Park Service guide to the subject says:
As slave lore tells it, the North Star played a key role in helping slaves to find their way—a beacon to true north and freedom. Escaping slaves could find it by locating the Big Dipper, a well-recognized asterism most visible in the night sky in late winter and spring. As the name implies, its shape resembles a dipping ladle, or drinking gourd. From the gourd’s outline, the North Star could be found by extending a straight line five times the distance from the outermost star of the bowl.
When people trying to get to freedom felt lost in the dark, the “drinking gourd” gave them direction.
The Big Dipper and North Star were referenced in many slave narratives and songs. Follow the Drinking Gourd was a popular African American folksong composed decades after the War and based on these anecdotes that memorialized the significance of these stars.
The old folk song “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” in theory would have come from this attempt to stay on course on the quiet nighttime route to the north and freedom. There are wonderful resources if you want some music and history to keep your kids learning and engaged. For more on the Underground Railroad in Ann Arbor check out this page. And also this one. You’ll see some names that now are mostly known only for streets in town—Geddes, Glazier, and Eber White—that played prominent Underground Railroad roles here. If you find yourself at a loss for what to do with your kids these days, you could do an Underground Railroad driving tour around town.

At the end of the day, it’s not really what I have to say about Mission Statements that matters much. To find out what it means to others who work here, I asked some staff members. I don’t have room to fit everything they sent, but here are a few excerpts. It was interesting to see that as with all good poetry, each person was inspired by a different part, but in the end it engaged all of them in a meaningful way.

Leah Fox at Mail Order shared:
I'm a new employee in the Call Center—finishing up my third week. I am a pianist and music director that would normally have loads of holiday gig work this time of year. I have always had a lot of pride in my music work and in what that art contributes to the world . . . As I learn more about the ZCoB and its place in this community, I see "love and care" not as empty words, but as living values. I have never been treated more respectfully or patiently by colleagues than I have in this job. On the phone, I hear so much love and care from guests who want to send exactly the right thing to people they love, as they will be separated from each other during these holidays because of COVID. . . . So, I am thankful for the clarity of the Mission Statement values. It impacts me and my work because I have the freedom, as an employee, to give guests excellent service, get them precisely what they need, and, hopefully, enrich their lives during this very difficult time for everyone. It allows me to do work that is consistent with my personal values.
Jenny Tubbs who makes Zingerman’s Press work:
I know the Mission is our North Star. It's always helped me to know what my “first job” is: to deliver the Zingerman's Experience (and how). I’ve often told the story of when one of our web team members first came to work here. She recalled you telling her that her job, first and foremost, was to deliver the Zingerman's Experience. Not a web developer, accountant, sandwich maker, artist . . . Keeping that in mind helps cut out the noise, to equalize all our roles, and erase the lines of departments, businesses, jobs, and so on. That's where its power lies if we teach it and live it that way.
Andrea Forbing from Zingerman’s Mail Order:
As I enter into the first few shifts of my 13th holiday season, I reflect back and find myself sticking on the word "ENRICH" in our Mission Statement . . . I think that at Zingerman’s and for myself personally, I resonate with that final line of our Mission the most: "Enriching as many lives as we can." YES. Voila! This is the KEY piece. 

Walking away from ANY exchange—via email, phone, text, or face-to-face, knowing that in SOME manner, I have enriched them. Just like a good loaf of bread—enriched with freshly-milled flour and a whole lot of love.

Brad Hedeman, longtime Marketing Manager at Mail Order
I don't know if I've revisited the Mission Statement lately, but that's only because I don't need much more of a reminder than that first sentence to sum up what we're here to do—that first line is so good, it's all I ever need.
Grace Singleton, Co-Managing Partner at the Deli:
The last two lines stand out—“Love and care in all our actions”—

“Enriching lives” (not just with food, but knowledge and joy) 

“As many as we can”—this reminds us that we enrich and love and care for all (internally and externally). So really, we should expect to not only give, but also get this love, care, and enrichment. Full circle . . . that’s what I love and it is what keeps me going.

Zack Gabanyicz, who’s new to the crew at the Creamery:
I love how our Mission Statement is really an internal tool. It isn’t plastered up one wall and down the other. I don’t even know if it’s posted anywhere other than the ZCoB website.
Michelle Yurcak from Mail Order:
I am only on my second week in ZMO and I have printed the Mission Statement and have it in a 5 x 7 acrylic stand on my desk so I can see it all throughout the day. While I know we sell food, my first impression is that Zingerman's represents the creating of food that makes people happy.
A Mission Statement on its own, out of context—with an unhealthy, low-hope culture, an uncaring staff, and a host of negative beliefs—is like a fancy label on a low-quality chocolate bar. Embarrassing, if you pay attention. Pretty words, but, in practice, pointless. But added into an array of other support systems, thinking tools, training, framing, servant leadership and the like, a Mission Statement is a huge help. It does what Peter Drucker directed us to do half a century ago when he wrote: “The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things.”

The magnitude of what comes from the Mission Statement when it’s used thoughtfully by so many people who continually take daily action—without waiting to ask some sort of mythical permission—is boundless. It gives people cause, it clarifies purpose, it authorizes immediate action, and it alters the balance of kindness in the community. Combined with our asking folks who work here to “break the rules when they are in the way of getting great service to guests” (yes, there are exceptions for safety, sanitation, stealing, and being stoned at work), I’m realizing that living the Mission in meaningful ways is really a revolutionary act. 

University of Pittsburgh professor Mohammed Bamyeh, puts forward three characteristics for what makes a revolution:
a) “decisions made in environments that spontaneously produce the knowledge needed”

b) “new knowledge emerges out of pure presence, which is to say, an unwavering mental focus, that characterizes the revolutionary climate, on the present alone—not the future, the past, the consequences of one’s actions, or any other distracting thought.”

c) “knowledge appeared so intuitively true and immediately accessible, without authorities, leaders, organizations, mediators, or complex intellectual work.”

Our Mission Statement, I’ve realized, does all three every day. Of course, in the same way the Communist countries of Eastern Europe made official statements about democracy—but in practice, never allowed anything of the sort to happen—most corporate Mission Statements merely pay lip service to a staff member’s role and individual liberty inside the organization. But when we offer up a meaningful, heartfelt Mission Statement, and truly turn people loose to live it, that is a revolutionary activity of significant proportion. Because, in the words of modern-day anarchist Howard Ehrlich, “Who will make the anarchist revolution? Everyone. Every day in their daily lives.”

All this is what Gustav Landauer wrote before he was killed by the German Army near the end of the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919: “During revolution, people are filled with spirit that differs completely from those without spirit.” In line with what Peter Drucker wrote 50 years later, Landauer declared that “During revolution, everyone is filled with the spirit that is otherwise reserved for exemplary individuals; everyone is courageous, wild and fanatic and caring and loving at the same time.” Compare that second-to-last line in our Mission Statement: "Showing love and care in all our actions.” Caring and loving. Love and care. Everyone is courageous. Pandemic or no pandemic, I’m honored to work with so many caring, committed people to bring positive experiences to enrich as many lives as we can every single hour of every single day.

Secret #5 in Part 1 details more on Mission Statements.
Both the book and the pamphlet are also available at the Deli, Roadhouse, and Coffee Company.

“The Zeke Bar” from Askinosie Chocolate


A man who will help lead the fight against the pandemic puts his signature on an amazing dark chocolate


When I first wrote about my friend Shawn Askinosie’s new chocolate bar back in 2019, I asked him a few times who “Zeke” was. I vaguely remembered Shawn saying that Zeke Emanuel was a friend who had something to do with science and public health. I thought it was interesting, but it didn’t have much relevance to my daily life. Back then I’d barely even heard the word pandemic. A year later, epidemiologists are in the headlines as heroes more than sports stars. (I’m about ready to start making a line of trading cards featuring folks like Dr. Fauci.) And Zeke Emanuel is about to be named to the list of folks leading the incoming Biden administration’s fight against the pandemic.


Zeke’s formal role for a number of years now has been as the Chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. (Another member of this new team is Vivek Murthy, former surgeon general under President Obama, who interviewed me and wrote about Zingerman’s in his new book, Together, released last spring.) Shawn will probably not be in the new Biden Administration, but there would be good cause to consider him. His full story is told beautifully in his book, Meaningful Work. Every chocolate Shawn has ever sent me over the years has been amazing. This one is no exception.

Here’s what Shawn had to say of cacao and creative collaboration:

In the first 10 minutes of meeting Zeke Emanuel, he said he would like to make a chocolate bar in my factory. I didn't think much about it until he said it about five more times. I said yes on one condition; that he travel to origin with me to gain an understanding of the significance of that part of the process. He agreed, and we met in Madagascar. That was three bars ago. He came up with the recipe, cocoa content—all of it. He roasted the beans, tempered and molded the bars and helped design the packaging. Zeke (the George Plimpton of chocolate?) is a true aficionado and oh, I almost forgot: he's also a globally-recognized bioethicist and healthcare policy expert. This 76% dark chocolate bar comes from super rare Criollo cocoa beans that I sourced from an inspiring 70-year-old cocoa farmer, Leonor, whose family farm is located deep in the Amazon rainforest. This is our second such crop that has been the backdrop of Zeke's bars. I think you'll taste blackberry, butterscotch, and roasted coffee.
Last year, I described the Zeke bar as the essence of great chocolate—a bar that’s hitting the bullseye. Just barely sweet enough to soften the edges of the cacao; beautifully fermented to keep all the flavors in balance; a tiny touch of tannins to anchor the whole thing; clean chocolatey finish. The texture is notably more tender, than most chocolate because of the bean. Criollo, by nature, is lighter, more delicate, and complex. It makes for subtly softer chocolate. For a world class eating experience, pit one of those delicious dates from Rancho Meladuco and stick in a square of chocolate from the Zeke bar. All will still not be fully right with the world but for a few minutes it may feel that way.

Pandemic or no pandemic, public health crisis or no crisis, this is some terrifically tasty chocolate. It’s light, engaging, memorable, juicy, and magical. I’d like to tell you that the Zeke bar could cure coronavirus, but what it will do—if you get one of the limited number of bars we can get ahold of—is keep you grounded as you wait for Zeke, Vivek, and their new teammates to do their work. Eventually, hardly anyone will be discussing what an epidemiologist is, but they will still, I’m sure, be eating great chocolate.

The bar is available at the Candy Store on Plaza Drive. Stop by soon and get one.
3

Caviar Cream Cheese from the Creamery


From the rivers of Uruguay to one of the U.S.’s leading University towns


This is a newly-released cross-continent collaboration by the Creamery and Black River Caviar in Uruguay. In a year where so much focus has gone onto what we can’t do and where we can’t go, adding a schmear of this high quality, handmade caviar cream cheese to your next meal could be a wonderful way to help counter the challenge of the emotional and economic downturns that everyone we know has been working through. Think of it as “caviar comfort food,” and one that won’t completely break the bank! This new Caviar Cream Cheese isn’t inexpensive by everyday eating standards, but by comparison to the cost of caviar alone, it’s eminently affordable. Pairing Black River’s amazing caviar with the Creamery’s world-class handmade Cream Cheese has proven to be a terrific way to get a nice little bit of unexpected luxury into breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Spread it on toasted Bakehouse bagels or Zinglish Muffins. Put it onto slices of the Bakehouse rye bread. Put it on baked potatoes or add it to omelets. Melt a spoonful on a steak for a superb version of surf and turf. I did it at home on a burger! The possibilities are endless!

Black River Caviar—or Esturiones del Rio Negro—has been crafting world-class Oscietra caviar since 1990. They’re a unique combo of farm and producer. Many caviar brands just source caviar and sell under their  own label. But Black River has full traceability on their fish, and their caviars, from their farm on the banks of the Rio Negro. This means the fish don’t live in recirculated (closed) water systems as in most sturgeon farms, but swim in fresh, well-oxygenated water. This allows the fish to live in a cleaner, more natural environment—which means much better caviar!

Once upon a time in Russia, back when Peter the Great was Tsar, caviar was the highly prized prestige product of Russia. Massive amounts of it were eaten by the wealthy; wars were fought over it; controlling caviar sourcing spots was part of Tsarist strategic planning. Black River is a long way from the wealth of St. Petersburg and ancient Muscovy, but they have made sustainable sturgeon fishing and high-quality caviar markedly more accessible to far more people than it was 40 years ago when we opened the Deli. Spread a bit of this eminently affordable luxury on your next Bakehouse bagel and make a morning toast to a better tomorrow!

Available now at the Cream Top Shop on Plaza Drive. And although it’s not listed on the Mail Order site, we’re happy to ship you some. Just call 888-836-6122 and ask, or email us at toni@zingermans.com.

4

Breezy Breakfasts


Brand new cookbooklet from the Bakehouse


Carl Sagan once said, “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic." If you could use a little magic in your mornings right now, then pick up a copy of this wonderful new little breakfast-focused cookbooklet from the Bakehouse! It’s one of a trio—this past summer’s soup-centric, Cup or Bowl?, and the coming soon this year, Fancy Schmancy Holiday Cookies.

Amy Emberling, co-managing partner at the Bakehouse, writes, “[The booklets] blend history, stories, and our dedication to traditional methods and flavorful ingredients with easy-to-follow recipes we’ve developed and refined over the years.” The Bakehouse’s Lindsay-Jean Hard says, “I'm especially excited about Breezy Breakfasts because it's such a collaborative cookbooklet—there are suggestions for toast toppers from employees across the Zingerman's Community of Businesses! I'm also thrilled that we were able to incorporate Corynn Coscia’s stunning photography—wheat porridge has never looked so beautiful.” There are so many great recipes in here it might turn even the most adamant breakfast avoider into an avid early morning eater. There are 11 previously unpublished Bakehouse recipes, such as Sugar Crisp muffins (one of my longtime personal favorites), Patti's Pockets, the Bakehouse’s baked oatmeal, egg strata—plus 20 bread and garnish combinations to elevate your approach to toast!

All three cookbooklets are great gifts for yourself or any engaged reader in your world! Available at the Bakehouse and online at zingermanspress.com.

5

L’Etivaz Cheese at the Deli


A well-aged, hard-to-get mountain cheese from the Swiss Alpage

 

I first stumbled on L’Etivaz in the summer of 1994 on a cheese hunting trip to the Alps with my friends Randolph Hodgson from Neals Yard Dairy and Daphne Zepos. At the time, none of us had ever heard of it. We found it by accident—a sighting of wooden cheese-aging shelves drying in the sun by the side of the road clued us in that we were near a small dairy. We stopped. The story and the details were as great as the cheese.

L'Etivaz is everything I love about great food: a superb sandwich of phenomenal flavor and incredible history. A product that owes its existence to the near-fanatical passion of the people who make it; dairy rebels with a cause, committed to maintaining their heritage. But, above and beyond all else, what makes L'Etivaz more than just a good story is how incredibly good it tastes.

In 1932, while most of the cheese world was choosing industrialization, 76 families who farmed the land around the town of L'Etivaz decided to go in the other direction. In doing so, they turned away from significant government subsidies and made a clear choice for integrity over income. The L'Etivaz makers set up an exceptionally strict code of production, oriented toward preserving tradition and authenticity:  

· The cheese must be crafted completely by hand—no mechanical means of any sort are allowed. 

· The cheesemaking may take place only when the herds are up in the Alpage—the mountain pastures surrounding the village—between 3,500 and 6,500 feet above sea level. This altitude adjustment ensures that the cows are out eating from an amazing array of wild herbs, tiny mountain flowers, and assorted green grasses.

· Each family can make cheese only from the milk of its own herd—no buying of milk is allowed.

· No chemicals can be used at any point in the process, from field to finished cheese.

· The code requires that the heating of the milk may only be done over open wood fires! 

· L'Etivaz may be made only in summer when the cows are grazing outdoors in the mountains.

This year’s cheese comes to us from the dairy of the Zjörien family on an Alp named Tompey overlooking Lake Geneva. From roughly early June to the final days of September, the Zjöriens shift their living quarters to a chalet atop the mountain, where they produce a mere two wheels per day. The cheese we have on hand—with about 16 months of maturing—is so good I could happily eat some every day for the rest of the calendar year! Exceptionally buttery, intense, almost brothy, with just the slightest hint of spice; surprisingly sweet, and not at all salty or bitter; somewhat less fruity than a comparably-aged Gruyère. It fills your mouth with flavor, and finishes with a tiny wisp of wood smoke—the mark of the open wood fires over which it is made.

Supplies are super limited! Don’t miss out!

Available at the Deli! We also have a different production of L’Etivaz online at Mail Order. Or, if you want the Zjörien’s cheese, email toni@zingermans.com and let us know. 

Other things on my mind


Listening: “Not Before Time . . . ​39 Years in the Making” by Irish musician Páraic Mac Donnchadha.

Páraic began playing his music in the early 80s, right around the time we opened the Deli. From its origins in Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas, then back the other way to Ireland, the banjo continues to make amazing music in skilled hands like Paraic’s.

Also, stumbled on this beautiful album by Katie Blount this week. Wow.

Reading: Angel’s Wings by Edward Carpenter, late 19th century British anarchist and gay rights advocate. And also Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber.

Looking ahead for a little online culinary learning for a good cause? Cornman Farms has your number! 

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