Ari's Top 5

Humanity is nature becoming self-conscious.  
— Élisée Reclus

Congrats to the crew at the Roadhouse for being chosen as a national semi-finalist in the James Beard Awards category for Outstanding Service. (Last year the Deli was a finalist in the same category!) Being recognized as one of 20 out of 650,000 restaurants in the U.S. is a wonderful honor for everyone here who works so hard to give great service to guests and colleagues every single day!

Looking ahead, I’ll be speaking in Buffalo on Tuesday evening March 26th and on the morning of Wednesday March 27th. Stop by to say “hi” if you’re in the area!

A loaf of Irish soda bread on a cutting board, with slices next to it.

Irish Brown Soda Bread

The country bread of Ireland emerges from the Bakehouse ovens

I love this bread, its history, and that we make such a great tasting, traditional version of it. And while we have it for the next few weeks I’m gonna eat as much of it as I can! I’m nibbling on it as I write.

While many Americans have heard of Irish Soda bread, few know it well and fewer still have experienced a well-made loaf of traditional Brown Soda bread like this. What’s the backstory? Because Irish wheat flour is so soft, yeast takes too long to get the dough to rise. Baking soda was introduced into Ireland in the 1840s. Surprisingly, to me at least, it came to Ireland from the Americas. Early American cookbook authors like Amelia Simmons in 1796 and Mary Randolph in 1824 had been publishing recipes that called for soda as a leavening agent. They, in turn, had learned it from Native American peoples who used ash from their fires to accomplish the same purpose. The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread says that the first recipe in Ireland was published in 1836, a few years after the farmhouse at Cornman Farms was built.

The recipes for Brown Soda bread aren’t particularly fancy. The Society proclaims proudly: “Flour, Salt, Baking Soda, Buttermilk. Anything else added makes it a ‘Tea Cake!’” The buttermilk in the dough supplies some of the acid that reacts with the soda to start the formation of the tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide that raise the bread. Early soda breads would have been baked over an open hearth, probably in cast iron pans or pots. The cross pattern on the top of the loaf is said to ward off the devil. The four quadrants the cross divides the bread into are said to represent the four kingdoms of Ireland.

The key to the bread’s flavor is the quality of the ingredients. We use whole wheat flour and the oatmeal from the Creedon family at Walton’s Mill in the West Cork town of Macroom. We’ve been serving their incredible Irish stone ground oatmeal for decades at the Deli. Organic oats, toasted slowly for two days, milled with stone, germ retained, with amazing flavor. Their whole-wheat flour is equally special. And it’s critical to the flavor and texture of the bread because of the softness of the Irish whole wheat flour. The grind is much coarser as well, yielding a drastically different texture from the typical whole-wheat flour we’re used to getting here in the States.

The Irish Brown Soda bread is outstanding spread with a lot of butter, with black pepper-smoked salmon from the Deli, and definitely with the Creamery’s Cream Cheese (see below for more on that). It’s fantastic when toasted, too. It’s great with eggs and bacon for breakfast or with jam for afternoon tea. The Irish Brown Soda bread will be available now through March 17th at the Bakehouse, Deli, and Roadhouse.

Only available for a limited time!

P.S. If you want a bit of good Irish music to make the environment right while you eat, check out this Irish artist, and this one!

P.P.S. If you go to Dublin, be sure to visit my friend Aisling Rogerson’s Fumbally Café. And if you get down to Cork, definitely don’t miss anything to do with the Allen family’s work at Ballymaloe.

Fried Chicken, with a side of slaw, at the Roadhouse.

Fried Chicken at the Roadhouse

The comfort food we can barely live without

The other day I was walking down the street by the Deli when a regular guest stopped me to share a thought: “We were down in Nashville for three days. And I gotta tell you, your fried chicken at the Roadhouse is really good! As good or better than the best of what we had down there!” That’s a pretty darned nice compliment coming from someone who travels the U.S. widely and who’d just eaten in what could be considered one of the capitals of Southern culinary prowess. Just to confirm the point, another guest pulled me aside tonight to say pretty much the same thing. The fried chicken is one of the most comforting foods we’ve got in the whole ZCoB.

What makes it so good? For openers, high-quality raw material. At the Roadhouse we use chickens that come from Amish farmers—the birds are just so much more flavorful than the standard commercial chickens on the market. They’re soaked in buttermilk, then dredged in flour that’s seasoned with a good bit of Tellicherry black pepper, salt, and red pepper before frying.

Over the years the fried chicken has become our biggest selling menu item at the Roadhouse. As per our guest’s point, it really is something wonderful. Crunchy outside (I like the crust best when it’s on the darker side), moist and hot inside. Served up with mashed potatoes topped with smoked chicken gravy, it’s a marvelous meal.

For those who don’t yet know, we do make a gluten-free version of the fried-chicken as well (remembering, of course, that the Roadhouse is filled with products that have gluten in them). We use organic Carolina Gold rice flour (see page 2 of the Jan/Feb newsletter to learn more!) from Anson Mills instead of wheat flour, and cook the chicken in the gluten-free fryer. There’s also the amazing and ever more popular Fried Chicken Mac and Cheese—the best of two terrific worlds in one wonderful dish!

One bit of important near-term Roadhouse dining room news:

I share all this in part because a fried chicken craving gone unfulfilled can cause serious complications: From March 18th through 31st the Roadhouse dining room will be closed in order to redo our kitchen floor. As you might have experienced at your house, we’ve been putting this project off for probably a decade now. (The same thing happened with my roof at home.) You know the drill—you patch a little here, you fix a particularly bad spot there, you hope and you apply every ounce of wishful thinking you can to make the issue go away. But eventually reality asserts itself and you realize that you better just bite the bullet and do the work. Which is what—after 18 months of planning—we’re about to do. During the construction, the Roadshow will remain open (the Roadhouse kitchen crew will be cooking over at our Mail Order kitchen space) for a limited selection of offerings! If all goes to plan, we will reopen full bore (with a new kitchen floor) on April 1st! Come in this week and next and eat as much fried chicken as you possibly can so you make it through the next few weeks in good shape!

Get your fill of Roadhouse Fried Chicken!

P.S. If you want to get a full national-sized scoping of what fried chicken is, was, and might well be, check out John T. Edge’s book, Fried Chicken; An American Story. I’m happy to announce here that John T. will be coming to Camp Bacon!! You can hear him at the Main Event on Friday, May 31st, and also hear a different talk he’ll be giving at the Camp Bacon Film Fest on Wednesday evening, May 29th. 

Castillo de Canena Oil from Andalucia

Castillo de Canena oil from Andalucia

First day’s pressing from an award-winning estate

When I was a kid, I used to collect stamps. Some of you might still. One of the big prizes in stamp collecting is what’s known as “first day covers”—a newly released stamp on an envelope postmarked on the very first day the stamp went up for sale. It was a special day when you could score one! This amazing oil is the culinary equivalent of a “first day cover”—extra virgin olive oil from the Castillo de Canena bottled on the very first day of last fall’s olive harvest. Unlike a first day cover, this one is meant to be eaten. Which I’m happy to say is a terrific experience. It’s delicious! Super green. Super great. I’ve been eating it almost non-stop since it came in a few weeks ago!

The oil comes from the farm of Francesco and Rosa Vaño in the town of Canena, in the district of Jaen, in Southern Spain. Written documentation of the family’s ownership of the land dates to 1780. The castle itself was built in the first half of the 16th century. The land lies between two natural parks in the Guadalquiver Valley, running along the Guadiana Menor River so the trees are drawing water naturally in that way. Growing is done using “integrated pest management”—only one step away from full organic certification. Drip irrigation is solar powered. The harvest starts very, very early by typical Spanish standards, meaning high flavor and low yield. The fruit is taken from the tree by hand and the olives are at the press in less than three hours after they leave the trees, minimizing the risk of oxidation, protecting the flavor of the oil that emerges. Once pressed, the oil goes into nitrogen-filled stainless steel tanks in cooled cellars, all of which acts to protect the quality of the oil. Bottling is followed by a quick flush of nitrogen to keep the oil intact after it’s left the estate.

In the spirit of approaching everything creatively, each year’s vintage of the first day of harvest oil at Canena gets a new label specifically designed by a different artist. This year, they’ve asked writer Juan Eslava Galán. I already loved the oil, but looking up Sr. Galan, I’m all the more intrigued. We’ve not yet met, but clearly he and I have a lot in common. He writes, “I still do not know what my true vocation is—if I am a reader, a novelist or a historian. Probably an amalgamation of the three…my dominant interests are history, especially that of ordinary people who do not seem to make history . . . I believe that reading and writing allow us to broaden life, since we cannot extend it, and that, along with music, friendship and love are the forms of relative happiness to which we can aspire those who do not believe in anything else.” Galan has written about 20 books, but in the context of his work here, A Garden Among the Olives seems the obvious one to recommend. His parents, by the way, were also olive growers. His design for the label shows an embossed Roman coin of Imperial Hispania with a bust of Emperor Hadrian.

The Canena oil is made from Picual olives, the predominant variety in the region. Pour it over toasted Paesano bread and you’ll be pretty sure to smile. The flavor is complex, fruity, and buttery at the same time. It’s well-rounded, big but still really balanced. Its aroma is amazing with hints of green apple, and the finish has notes of green grass, green tomato, artichoke, and a tiny touch of sweetness countered by a lovely compelling bitterness. It’s won an array of international awards over the last few years! Limited quantities! A special oil all the way around!

An olive oil fit for emperors and artists both!
Tubs of Zingerman's Creamery Cream Cheese Spread

Zingerman’s Creamery’s Traditional Cream Cheese

Celebrating two decades since the return of handmade cream cheese

As part of the two-day ZingTrain Managing Ourselves seminar—which I taught last week, we do a 45-minute session of comparative tasting. A Zingerman’s product and then a “comparable” commercial one, side by side. The idea is to help enhance mindfulness and awareness of otherwise ignored details in support of the belief that we’ve held since day one in 1982—that you really can taste the difference! This time around we tasted Zzang® candy bars, baguettes from the Bakehouse, coffee from the Coffee Company and Cream Cheese from the Creamery. The difference between the artisan and the commercial, mass-market offering, in all four instances, was massive. But the one that almost all the attendees remarked on most was the cream cheese. They were shocked by the difference. I can see why! Even though I’ve loved what we make for 20 years now, I still forget just how much of a difference there is. Once you get used to the real thing—cream cheese the way it was made 150 years ago—it’s hard to go back to the industrial. I wrote about it in America: The Cookbook, Gabrielle Langholz’s lovely and very large compilation about the wonders of American food.

Cream cheese was the first product we made at the Creamery! When we were having initial discussions, it dawned on me that although at the time (the late 90s) we’d made major improvements to so many of the core ingredients we used every day at the Deli, we were still using the same commercial cream cheese that we’d had since we opened in 1982. In fact, it was basically a slightly better version of the same thing I’d grown up with from the supermarket. The more I thought about it, the incongruity started to really kill me. And that’s how Zingerman’s Traditional Cream Cheese came to be.

Recipes for cream cheese can be found in U.S. cookbooks and newspapers beginning in the mid-18th century. Cream cheese was produced on family farms throughout the country, so quantities made and distributed were typically small. The production process of traditional cream cheese the way we do it at the Creamery is pretty simple. Newly arrived milk is gently pasteurized, then poured into a cheese vat where rennet and active cultures are added to begin flavor development and set up the curd. After a few hours, the newly formed, soft-textured curd is hand-cut with stainless steel knives, then hand-ladled into cloth bags where gravity drains off excess moisture for six or seven hours. After draining, some sea salt and cream are added and carefully mixed into the soft curd.

Twenty years after its emergence from the vats at the Creamery, kids are growing up eating handmade cream cheese from Ann Arbor, Michigan!

What do you do with this super delicious old-school cheese? Obviously, you can put it on the Bakehouse’s terrific bagels. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can put it on a bialy, too! Put it on sandwiches or fold it into an omelet. Really great on the Bakehouse Jewish rye or equally so on the Roadhouse bread. It’s wonderful at parties topped with jam, marmalade, or honey. Bake with it. Eat it with a spoon. Put it on Irish Brown Soda bread. It’s all good! If you’re feeling like having some fun you can make the 1950s classic, “ants on a log”—celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese and topped with raisins.

The Creamery’s handmade Cream Cheese is our Cheese of the Month—on special throughout March!

The original is still the best
P.S. I love the little story that Amy Emberling, one of the managing partners at the Bakehouse, put into the fantastic Zingerman’s Bakehouse book on page 153.
Ji Hye at a suckling pig party at Miss Kim

Suckling Pig Supper #8 at Miss Kim

The funky goodness of fermentation and a bunch of really good pork!

While we’re about to celebrate a solid 37 years of Zingerman’s next week (we first opened the Deli on March 15, 1982), Miss Kim is still in its institutional infancy—it’s just a little over two years since we began our adventure in traditional Korean cooking. One of my favorite parts of these past two years has been the chance to learn from the relentless studying of our partner and chef, Ji Hye Kim, and her mission to bring the traditional regional foods of the little known corners of Korea to Ann Arbor. This coming Monday, March 11th, will be the eighth in our series of monthly Suckling Pig Suppers. I asked Ji Hye for an update and she waxed so poetic that I decided I’d just share her discourse as is:

“I love Korean food. For an obsession, I think I chose pretty well. Digging into Korean food, whether it’s researching old cookbooks or tasting new dishes, is always delicious, engaging, and satisfying. There is so much history and complexity in Korean cuisine, from Buddhist cuisine to regional specialties. But when I cook Korean food, I sometimes marvel at how easy it can be. Local vegetables in season, simply blanched and tossed in some soy sauce, sesame oil and garlic can be just amazing. You can put gochujang on anything and it will be immediately tastier. Add some kimchi to your rice with some butter and seaweed and you’ve got dinner!

A lot of it is because the complex and hard work is already done! The three mother sauces of Korean food—soy sauce, doenjang (soy paste), and gochujang—already carry all the hard work and time it takes for a cook to make a dish complex and amazing. Though they originated in China, soy sauce and soy paste have been produced and enjoyed by Koreans for a really long time. The first documentation of it comes from 4th century wall paintings of fermentation potteries (kind of like a sauerkraut crock, but bigger). There is also a mention of Koreans producing great soy sauce and fermented alcoholic beverages in the Chinese historical text, The Record of Three Kingdoms. Gochujang (chili paste) is relatively newer, with some scholars dating the first documentation in 1433, and by 1740, you can start finding recipes in historic cookbooks.

What’s behind these amazing sauces and kimchi is fermentation. Human beings have been using fermentation since the Neolithic age, preserving the abundance for lean times. Beer and wine, cheese and salami, soy sauces and cultured butter. So many delicious things are fermented, and using them in your cooking is quick and easy. With our March suckling pig dinner, we want to showcase the use of these fermented foods and how easy, approachable and delicious it can be. We will have Tessie Ives Wilson, ACS Certified Cheese Professional, from Zingerman’s Creamery visiting to tell you more about the wonderful world of fermentation, too!”

It’s quite a menu! Click here to see all the delicious details. But just to get you thinking… Suckling Pig with gochujang glaze; Doenjang Soup with Spinach and Soft Tofu; Soy Butter Rice with Toasted Seaweed; General Kim’s Cauliflower with Soy Glaze and Sichuan Spices; Savory Egg Custard with Salted Shrimp and Salted Cod Roe; Fried Potatoes with gochujang and melted cheese; Arugula salad with pickled garlic scape soy vinaigrette; along with a whole array of sauces, pickles, and kimchee. And, of course, the Miss Kim crew will have a bunch of wonderful fermented beverages on hand as well!

If you’re looking to have a memorable and marvelous meal, if you freak out about fine fermented foods, or if you just want to make next Monday into something really special, book a seat at this Suckling Pig Supper ASAP. Seats are limited so don’t delay!

Fermented and fantastic!
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