Featured, Food, Food Artisans

Koeze Cream-Nut Peanut Butter

The Koeze Cream-Nut Peanut Butter factory, 1930.  It doesn't look exactly the same today, but it doesn't look so different, either.

The Koeze Cream-Nut Peanut Butter factory, 1930.
It doesn’t look exactly the same today, but it doesn’t look so different, either.

An oldie and a goodie

The recipe for Cream-Nut Peanut Butter from Koeze (rhymes with Susie) in Grand Rapids, Michigan hasn’t changed since Albertus Koeze started making it in 1925. The equipment is old, too—from the middle of the last century.  Even a lot of the staff have been there for decades. As Martin Andree, vice-president of Koeze puts it, “We’re not new. We’re not improved. We’re making the same product we’ve made all along.”

Koeze peanut butter contains just two ingredients: roasted peanuts and salt.

Since Koeze doesn’t add any sugar (which hides off flavors in the peanuts), they’re choosy about the peanuts they use. There are four basic kinds of peanuts: runner, Spanish, Valencia, and Virginia. At Koeze, they’ve been using a high grade of Virginia peanuts since day one. They’re large, very flavorful, and typically rather expensive so they don’t end up in peanut butter too often. Instead most Virginia peanuts are roasted and sold for snacking (like our Virginia Diner Peanuts).

It wasn’t always this way. Until the 1970s, peanut butter was usually made from a mix of Spanish and Virginia peanuts. But then a new type of runner peanut called the Florunner was introduced, and in a few short years it nearly monopolized the peanut butter market. Florunners were popular with commercial peanut butter makers because they’re very high yielding (read: inexpensive). However, they don’t taste that great. They lack the rich flavor of Virginia peanuts. Today Florunners have fallen out of favor (as a monocrop they quickly became very susceptible to disease), but related runner peanuts are still used to make 99% of commercial peanut butter. To mask the lackluster flavor of the nut, peanut butter makers add a bunch of sugar. This isn’t the only place an added-sugar trick shows up in our food; it’s the same thing with 100% cacao baking chocolate, which usually tastes terrible because it’s typically made with very poor quality cacao. The baker is expected to add a lot of sugar to the crummy chocolate so that the brownies won’t taste horrible.

Koeze peanut butter is made using vintage machines that have been around for generations.

The peanut roaster is an old coffee roaster from the 1940s. Inside the roaster, 300-pound batches of peanuts are turned slowly over a flame, roasting gently until they reach a rich golden-brown color. That’s caramelization—the same thing that makes a crusty end of bread or a seared steak so delicious. It imparts a sweet, roasty flavor to the nuts. It also makes the production space smell incredible, like fresh peanut butter cookies that have just come out of the oven.

Using the old equipment isn’t more efficient; compared to most industrial peanut butter production, which employs very hot ovens and conveyor belts to quickly roast thousands of peanuts every hour, the production at Koeze is fairly slow. But while faster production is less expensive, the savings come at the expense of flavor. That fast, hot, conveyor belt roasting doesn’t give the peanuts much of a chance to develop color—or flavor. A lot of commercial peanut butters add molasses (more sugar!) to hide the product’s shortcomings.

The roaster isn’t the only old piece of equipment; essentially all of the machinery is old enough that if founder Albertus Koeze were to walk into the production area today he’d know how to use it. How do they maintain these antiques? “We make our own parts. And we have a really good mechanic,” Martin told me. “But they were made to last. I have a lot more trouble with the new labeling machine than with any of the old ones.”

Making a batch of peanut butter at Koeze takes three people and zero computers.

One of the most important jobs for these three people is to taste. In spite of years of experience making peanut butter, they still taste every batch. They’re checking to make sure it has the rich, roasted peanut flavor and velvety texture (though it’s still slightly chunky, with small bits of peanuts intentionally left in even in the creamy peanut butter). They make peanut butter frequently enough that it’s usually not more than a few weeks old before it’s shipped out.

Since peanut oil is more likely to separate from the butter the longer it sits around, fresher peanut butter is more likely to be homogenous. Most commercial peanut butters whip in hydrogenated vegetable oils to keep the peanut oil from separating, but in addition to adding trans fats they can also give the peanut butter a gummy texture. Since Koeze doesn’t add those extra oils, it may separate over time. Store it in the fridge to reduce that separation anxiety, and as a bonus, seeing it every time you open the fridge will help you remember you’re never more than a few minutes away from the best PB&J you can imagine.

Vals-favorite

Did we mention that Koeze Cream-Nut Peanut Butter is on sale right now? 


KOEZE CREAM-NUT PEANUT BUTTER
Was $9.50, Now $6

EARLY GLOW STRAWBERRY PRESERVES
Was $12, Now $6

AMERICAN SPOON CHERRY BERRY SPOONFRUIT
Was $10, Now $6

FARM BREAD
Was $8.50, Now $4.25
Featured, Food, Food Artisans

By Popular Demand: Another Tomato Dinner!

Second Cornman Farms Tomato Dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse!

tomatoes_basketYou asked for it! Due to overwhelming demand, we’re adding another Cornman Farms Tomato Dinner on Wednesday, August 27, at 7pm. Here’s your chance to relish the outstanding Cornman Farms succulent heirloom tomato varietals!

This dinner is easily the highlight of the harvest season, and our Cornman Farms Tomato Dinner showcases the best of the farm’s tomato crop. Chef Alex and the farmers have been caring for the tomatoes all through the spring and early summer, and now we get to benefit from their hard work. The tomato bar makes its return: numerous tomatoes varieties, handmade fresh mozzarella, really good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh grown basil. You’ll want to fill your plate as many times as you can! Fresh Cornman Farms beef and pork round out this late summer feast, making it a meal to remember. Spaces for this dinner will likely go as fast as the first, so reserve your seat today!

reserve your seat here


See you soon!

Food, Food Artisans

This Week at Zingerman’s 7/22/14

IMG_4807-2

Intro to Cornman Farms Tour Tonight!

Enjoy a fascinating introduction to Cornman Farms’ rich history, agricultural projects and humane raising of animals. We’ll even throw in a taste of one of our seasonal vegetables! Tuesday, July 22, 5 pm.

reserve your seat here

peach-pie

Summer Pies at Zingerman’s Bakehouse

These summertime favorites are here for a limited time.  Get a taste while you can…

  • Michigan Rhubarb Pie
    Enjoy this sweet tart summer treat for a limited time! We lovingly craft this pie with our flaky all-butter crust and simple filling of fresh Michigan rhubarb and a bit of sugar. When the local rhubarb runs out, this pie will go on vacation.
  • Country Peach Pie
    Just as summery and precious as you imagine- lots of fresh peaches with a bit of sugar and real vanilla bean packed into an all butter crust, topped with a flavorful streusel we make with organic brown sugar, organic rolled oats and browned butter. A staff favorite!
  • Fresh Fruit Tarts
    Fresh berries arranged over vanilla bean pastry cream and a crisp, buttery tart shell made with a hint of fresh citrus. This is what summer tastes like! Each tart is one serving.
  • Sweet Cream Biscuits
    We hand-mix these biscuits so they are moist and fluffy to hold a heap of delicious fruits. Perfect for farmer’s market days. Available individually or in a family six pack.
  • Key Lime Pie
    A creamy tangy filling made with real Key Lime juice and a bit of local sour cream in a graham crust. Try topping it with a bit of of sweetened whipped cream to really put it over the top. Available in small and large sizes.
piedmont-wine-cellar

Michigan Wine and Cheese Tasting at Zingerman’s Creamery

Enjoy the fruit of Michigan vines! Join us at Zingerman’s Creamery on Friday, July 25, 6pm as we taste our way through some of Michigan’s best wines. From deep reds to bright whites, we’ll dive into the basic vinology and what makes our state’s wines unique and delicious. And, of course, we’ll pair these wines with some of our great cheese. Don’t miss it!

reserve your seat here

gelato_and_sorbet_2010_low-resGelato Sundae Sunday at Zingerman’s Creamery

Join us Sunday, July 27, 1pm on the green at Zingerman’s Southside (next to the Bakehouse) for an afternoon of sweet and creamy refreshments! For just $5, you can choose your gelato flavor and toppings to create a custom sundae. We’ll also have face painting and balloon animals for the kids! See you there!

reserve your seat here

Summer Sales at Zingerman’s Mail Order and Zingerman’s Deli

The Deli and Mail Order are having their huge annual Summer Sales, but only until the end of the month! This is serious business. Once a year we take a few dozen of our favorite pantry staples and put them at deeply discounted prices for a few short weeks. This year’s sale continues through July 31st with tons of deep discounts on some of our favorite foods. Stock up and save a bundle!

Next week and Beyond:

Intro to Cornman Farms Tour

Enjoy a fascinating introduction to Cornman Farms’ rich history, agricultural projects and humane raising of animals. We’ll even throw in a taste of one of our seasonal vegetables! Tuesday, July 29, 5 pm.

reserve your seat here


Summer Harvest Dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse

Join us on Tuesday, July 29, 7pm, for the first Cornman Farms dinner of the year at the Roadhouse. This summer harvest menu will be filled with fresh summer vegetables and meats from the farm. Radishes, cucumbers, squash, squash blossom, tomatoes, spinach and potatoes will all be harvested hours before the dinner. Chef Alex has prepared a menu that showcases the vegetables, beef, and pork, but also cooks with each of them in ways you wouldn’t expect. Celebrate the summer harvest with Cornman Farms and Zingerman’s Roadhouse!

reserve your seat here


A Summer Dinner with Central Provisions at Zingerman’s Deli

Two seatings!
On Wednesday, July 30 Zingerman’s Delicatessen hosts another special evening with Central Provisions with guest chefs Abby Olitzky and Steve Hall. Central Provisions is an upcoming restaurant that has been active in the Ann Arbor community the past few years hosting pop-up dinners, teaching cheese classes, and putting on special events. For this summer meal, they will delve into our unique pantry again to feature favorite American foods as well as the seasonal bounty of their favorite local farms. Each dish will be paired with wine that complements and elevates each bite. Please join us for this wonderful dinner celebrating summer flavors and great eating! Sign up now—these dinners sell out fast! (There will be a vegetarian option available, just let us know)

reserve a seat for 6:00pm seating

reserve a seat for 8:30pm seating


1st Sunday Tour at Zingerman’s Creamery

Join our cheese and gelato makers on Sunday, August 3, 2pm for an hour-long adventure as we transform local milk into delicious cheese and gelato. You’ll watch our fresh mozzarella stretched into shape, taste our cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses while our staff explain the cheesemaking process, and sample our delicious fresh gelato. After the tour, make time for tasting our selection of American cheeses and provisions, as well as house made gelatos and sorbets in our cheese shop.

reserve your seat here


The Art of Growing Great Vegetables at Cornman Farms

On Tuesday, August 5, 530pm, take a deeper look at our farming practices. Spend some time with Mark who takes care of all the fruits and vegetables we grow, and learn about the ins and outs of sustainable, responsible agriculture and honoring the local farming community. Take home a bag of something seasonally grown.

reserve your seat here


Farm Feasts at Cornman Farms

You can see it all in your mind. The beautifully restored farmhouse and barn in the verdant setting of a traditional working farm. The classic cocktails and wine. The skilled chef and kitchen staff. The vibrant courses made from fresh produce picked mere hours earlier in the fields a few hundred feet away. Sound like a slice of heaven to you? You’re in luck. Zingerman’s Cornman Farms is celebrating our inaugural event season with a tantalizing schedule of farm dinners. As a guest at our farm dinners, you’ll have to opportunity to enjoy the farm’s produce as it comes into full ripe readiness throughout the summer and autumn. Each dinner will follow the cycle of the crop season, spotlighting the freshest farm ingredients in harvest at that time. If you want to an experience that truly represents the very essence of the “farm-to-table” ideal, these dinners are for you! More information here.
Don’t miss these very special dinners!

See you soon!

Featured, Food, Food Artisans

Why I Love Central Provisions

An appreciation

For those of you Ann Arborites who haven’t heard of Central Provisions yet, take note. Founded by my co-worker Steve Hall and his crazy talented girlfriend Abby Olitzky of Sweet Heather Anne, Central Provisions is what Steve and Abby call a “working larder” which includes part restaurant, part market, and part kitchen. Together they host dinners, cater events, and sell a plethora of homemade items like jams, pickles, and baked goods all with an emphasis on clean, simple flavors and locally sourced ingredients. I’ve had the good fortune of eating a number of meals with this dynamic duo and can say wholeheartedly that it is some of the most exciting food in Ann Arbor right now.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words—especially when it comes to pictures of food—I thought I’d let some of Steve and Abby’s Instagram account do the talking. So, without further ado, here are 10 reasons why I love Central Provisions and why I know you will, too.

10. They know how to put together a dinner party in style.

10. They know how to put together a dinner party in style.

 

9. They have a keen eye for the little details that make a dish extraordinary.

9. They have a keen eye for the little details that make a dish extraordinary.

 

8. They make you want to eat dessert before dinner.

8. They make you want to eat dessert before dinner.

 

7. They (sometimes) deliver catering orders in wagons. Adorable!

7. They (sometimes) deliver catering orders in wagons. Adorable!

 

6. They make vegetables look like works of art.

6. They make vegetables look like works of art.

 

5. They host educational events around the city with other local businesses like Literati and Everyday Wines.

5. They host educational events around the city with other local businesses like Literati and Everyday Wines.

 

4. All of their menus and event posters feature beautiful vintage photographs.

4. All of their menus and event posters feature beautiful vintage photographs.

 

3. They give you creative ideas for all of your farmer’s market purchases.

3. They give you creative ideas for all of your farmer’s market purchases.

 

2. They take biscuits very seriously.

2. They take biscuits very seriously.

and finally…

1. They are two of the coolest people I know, with incredible culinary skills to boot.

1. They are two of the coolest people I know, with incredible culinary skills to boot!

Don’t miss our upcoming Summer Dinner with Central Provisions at Zingerman’s Deli!

Two seatings!

On Wednesday, July 30 Zingerman’s Delicatessen hosts another special evening with Central Provisions and guest chefs Abby Olitzky and Steve Hall. For this summer meal, they will delve into our unique pantry again to feature favorite American foods as well as the seasonal bounty of their favorite local farms. Each dish will be paired with wine that complements and elevates each bite. Please join us for this wonderful dinner celebrating summer flavors and great eating! Sign up now—these dinners sell out fast! (There will be a vegetarian option available, just let us know)

reserve a seat for 6:00pm seating

reserve a seat for 8:30pm seating

See you at the dinner! 

- Maddie

Food, Food Artisans

This Week at Zingerman’s 7/15/14

Tractor-Planting

Intro to Cornman Farms Tour Tonight!

Enjoy a fascinating introduction to Cornman Farms’ rich history, agricultural projects and humane raising of animals. We’ll even throw in a taste of one of our seasonal vegetables! Tuesday, July 15, 5 pm.

reserve your seat here


Afternoon Delight Farm Tour at Cornman Farms

Spend the morning with us this coming Sunday, July 20, 10 am, for an in-depth understanding of what makes Cornman Farms so special. This experience will include a behind the scenes tour of the Farmhouse, Barn, Goat Parlor, and Hoophouse, as well as talks with our Produce and Animal Husbandry Managers, and our events Department. Savor a delicious boxed lunch in our pre-Civil War barn overlooking our gorgeous educational gardens, and depart with a special gift from Cornman Farms.

reserve your seat here

Zingerman's Bakehouse Mississippi Mud Pie

Cake of the Month at Zingerman’s Bakehouse

This month’s cake special is named for a pie – Mississippi Mud Pie!
Sink into a special brownie-like chocolate cake covered in rich dark chocolate ganache, toasted meringue and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Bet you can’t finish a whole slice! Enjoy this cake at room temperature or just a little warm. Your patience will be rewarded. 20% off during the month of July!

summer-sale-featured

Summer Sales at Zingerman’s Mail Order and Zingerman’s Deli

The Deli and Mail Order are having their huge annual Summer Sales! This is serious business. Once a year we take a few dozen of our favorite pantry staples and put them at deeply discounted prices for a few short weeks. This year’s sale continues through July 31st with tons of deep discounts on some of our favorite foods. Stock up and save a bundle!

Next week and Beyond:

Barn-ProfileIntro to Cornman Farms Tour

Enjoy a fascinating introduction to Cornman Farms’ rich history, agricultural projects and humane raising of animals. We’ll even throw in a taste of one of our seasonal vegetables! Tuesday, July 22, 5 pm.

reserve your seat here


Michigan Wine and Cheese Tasting at Zingerman’s Creamery

piedmont-wine-cellar

Enjoy the fruit of Michigan vines! Join us at Zingerman’s Creamery on Friday, July 25, 6pm as we taste our way through some of Michigan’s best wines. From deep reds to bright whites, we’ll dive into the basic vinology and what makes our state’s wines unique and delicious. And, of course, we’ll pair these wines with some of our great cheese. Don’t miss it!

reserve your seat here


gelato-sesaonal-6-packGelato Sundae Sunday at Zingerman’s Creamery

Join us Sunday, July 27, 1pm on the green at Zingerman’s Southside (next to the Bakehouse) for an afternoon of sweet and creamy refreshments! For just $5, you can choose your gelato flavor and toppings to create a custom sundae. We’ll also have face painting and balloon animals for the kids! See you there!

reserve your seat here


PiggiesIntro to Cornman Farms Tour

Enjoy a fascinating introduction to Cornman Farms’ rich history, agricultural projects and humane raising of animals. We’ll even throw in a taste of one of our seasonal vegetables! Tuesday, July 29, 5 pm.

reserve your seat here


Cornman-Logo-colorSummer Harvest Dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse

The first Cornman Farms dinner of the year at the Roadhouse, this summer harvest menu will be filled with fresh summer vegetables and meats from the farm. Radishes, cucumbers, squash, squash blossom, tomatoes, spinach and potatoes will all be harvested hours before the dinner. Chef Alex has prepared a menu that showcases the vegetables, beef, and pork, but also cooks with each of them in ways you wouldn’t expect. Celebrate the summer harvest with Cornman Farms and Zingerman’s Roadhouse!

reserve your seat here


A Summer Dinner with Central Provisions at Zingerman’s Deli

Two seatings!
On Wednesday, July 30 Zingerman’s Delicatessen hosts another special evening with Central Provisions with guest chefs Abby Olitzky and Steve Hall. Central Provisions is an upcoming restaurant that has been active in the Ann Arbor community the past few years hosting pop-up dinners, teaching cheese classes, and putting on special events. For this summer meal, they will delve into our unique pantry again to feature favorite American foods as well as the seasonal bounty of their favorite local farms. Each dish will be paired with wine that complements and elevates each bite. Please join us for this wonderful dinner celebrating summer flavors and great eating! Sign up now—these dinners sell out fast! (There will be a vegetarian option available, just let us know)

reserve a seat for 6:00pm seating

reserve a seat for 8:30pm seating


red-tomato-1Farm Feasts at Cornman Farms

You can see it all in your mind. The beautifully restored farmhouse and barn in the verdant setting of a traditional working farm. The classic cocktails and wine. The skilled chef and kitchen staff. The vibrant courses made from fresh produce picked mere hours earlier in the fields a few hundred feet away. Sound like a slice of heaven to you? You’re in luck. Zingerman’s Cornman Farms is celebrating our inaugural event season with a tantalizing schedule of farm dinners. As a guest at our farm dinners, you’ll have to opportunity to enjoy the farm’s produce as it comes into full ripe readiness throughout the summer and autumn. Each dinner will follow the cycle of the crop season, spotlighting the freshest farm ingredients in harvest at that time. If you want to an experience that truly represents the very essence of the “farm-to-table” ideal, these dinners are for you! More information here. Don’t miss these very special dinners!

See you soon!

Food, Food Artisans

Fantastic Ricotta Cheese at Zingerman’s Creamery

ricotta-cloud-cowBellwether Farms Jersey Cow’s Milk Ricotta 

The food world here has come an enormously long way in the thirty-two years we’ve been in business. Ingredients that for years we could only get by going to Europe—padron peppers, fresh sardines, great naturally-leavened breads, Iberico Bellota ham, etc.—are now routinely part of our work and our eating here at Zingerman’s. In fact, I’m so spoiled that when I go to Europe now I often lament the lack of high quality ingredients. Sure, in the right places you can get great food, but the average offerings even in France and Italy these days more often than not aren’t all that amazing.

That said, there are still a few things that are way better on the other side of the Atlantic. For most of my life, ricotta was one of those things. While there are some very reasonable offerings on the American market made by good people whose work I very much appreciate, I would respectfully say that we haven’t had access to ricotta with the kind of flavor and texture I love so much in Italy.

Here’s what I wrote on the subject many years ago:

Actually I can almost tell you to the day when it was that I had this ricotta revelation. It was the first week of November 1992, right before Bill Clinton defeated George Bush I for president. I was down in Rome to visit the people who make our Pecorino Romano. As we toured the Pecorino production, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of workers stirring a large, steel, steam-shrouded kettle off to one side of the room. A few minutes later they start to slowly scoop out small mounds of soft white cheese from the kettles. These in turn are set softly into a series of small baskets—some white plastic, some natural wicker—sitting alongside each vat.

“What are they doing over there?” I asked my host. “Oh that? That’s ricotta,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. 

We walked over to where the baskets were draining and offered me a taste. It was warm, lighter in the hand than it looked to be. I tasted it and had one of those “aha” eating experiences that stay with me forever. This stuff was incredible. Light, puffy, fluffy, sweet, so delicious that I could have just kept eating it and eating it all day.

For most of the last two decades, one of the best parts of going to Italy was that I got to eat a lot of that sort of really good ricotta. A few years ago, my ricotta fix became easier to fill when Liam Callahan at Bellwether Farms in Petaluma started to make what I could call Italian-quality fresh ricotta.

Long time Bay Area food writer and well-known cheese aficionado Janet Fletcher wrote about Bellwether’s work a while back. “Several years ago, on vacation in Sicily,” she said, “I took a daylong cooking class withAnna Tasca Lanza, the aristocratic proprietor of Regaleali, a venerable wine estate. I still recall one of the pasta dishes she made by tossing wild mustard greens with penne and the fresh sheep’s-milk ricotta made on the premises. When I got home and tried to duplicate it, I didn’t like the results because our domestic ricotta was so different. Sicilian ricotta, thinned with some of the pasta water, produced a creamy sauce with a crème fraîche taste. American ricotta was too sweet and grainy. Recently I made that recipe again, using a new cow’s-milk ricotta from Sonoma County’s Bellwether Farms. The dish tasted almost as if the Marchesa Tasca Lanza herself had made it.”

All of which meant that for the last few years, on my frequent trips to the Bay Area, I would buy up as much of the Bellwether ricotta as I could. A few weeks ago I walked into Zingerman’s Creamery and much to my surprise, just to the left of the beer and wine shelves, was a container of Bellwether ricotta. Turns out we can now get it weekly through a distributor in Chicago. What a totally happy surprise! I’ve bought five containers of it in the last three weeks.

“In Italy,” long time cheesemaker Lino Esposito once explained to me, “we have three types of ricotta. We have the southern ricotta, which is made of sheep’s milk. Then there is the ricotta of the islands—on Sardinia they make a blend of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. And then there is the ricotta of the north, which is made from cow’s milk.” What Janet Fletcher would have had on Sicily is likely the first on Lino’s list. Bellwether’s is the third variety—cow’s milk ricotta made in the style of the north.

Long time specialty food guru Darrell Corti from Sacramento told me years ago that “eating great fresh ricotta is like eating clouds” and I’ll stand by his statement. I could eat the Bellwether ricotta by the spoonful. Actually I do. But it’s also excellent with pretty much everything! On toast, on pasta, in pasta (super great for stuffing ravioli or anything of that sort). Topped with a great honey (the Deli has some amazing ones—try the new blackberry honey that just arrived from the Pacific Northwest) it’s a fabulous dessert! Be great drizzled with that amazing dark cane syrup we’re getting from Charles Poirier in Louisiana. Now that I think about it some of this ricotta, a little Lutenitsa and a few slices of the sesame semolina bread would be a beautiful light lunch.

In 1986 Cindy Callahan was looking for a way to keep the grasses on their pasture trimmed and decided to try using sheep. Great natural grass cutting! The sheep that started as organic lawn mowers were also of course milk providers and soon thereafter she and her son Liam started to make cheese. Four years later Bellwether Farms was the first licensed sheep dairy in the state of California.

“Making ricotta was a natural extension of making aged sheep cheeses,” Liam laid out. “All the creameries we saw in Italy made ricotta with their whey and it made sense for us to do so as well. Once we started making our cow’s milk cheeses I developed our recipe for our Jersey whey ricotta. We take great care in making our ricotta and within the last 18 months added a whole milk Jersey milk ricotta to our lineup.” The latter is the one we have in stock right now.

“Our ricotta gets its flavor and necessary acidity from being cultured rather than adding acid (vinegar, citric acid, etc.).” Liam told me. I think this lets us have the best texture (really difficult to achieve because the Jersey milk is so high in protein) and by far the most flavor of any ricotta out there.” I agree fully.

On ricotta-making days the Callahan crew drives up the road to get the fresh milk. “Our Jersey milk producer milks around 200 cows but we only buy about half of it. They have been there farming for just over 100 years now,” Liam said, “and they still have three generations actively working the farm.” The milk is gently pasteurized and then made into cheese that same day. As with our Creamery’s great goat cheese (I had a one day-old fresh City Goat yesterday that was truly exceptional) it’s done completely by hand. They stir the curd by hand to start the process. When the cultured milk starts to float in the kettle it’s skimmed off and gently placed into the special plastic baskets in which it’s shipped. The handwork isn’t just romantic. It protects the texture and flavor of the delicate curd and it makes a really big difference in the cheese.

Ig Vella (the man known for his incredible California Dry Jack cheese) told me years ago about the days when the family dairy in Sonoma included regular ricotta making in its repertoire. “My uncle was an excellent ricotta maker,” he told me once with obvious pride and a touch of sadness. “In those days you had to keep the Fridays”—the day of the week on which Catholics weren’t allowed to eat meat—”so that was the biggest day’s production. It was fabulous cheese. But the state ruined it when they told us we had to pack the ricotta as soon as it was made. It was never the same from that point on. It just couldn’t drain right.” When his uncle died in 1963, the Vellas stopped making ricotta. The Callahans have fixed this problem by ladling the fresh cheese into perforated plastic baskets that allow the whey to drain while still protecting the cheese inside a shippable, state-approved, plastic-sealed-for-safety package.

This should be a good season for us as ricotta eaters. As Liam explains, “The seasons of the year affect the milk from both the cows and the sheep. In the spring the solids drop but the grassy aromas increase as they are in the fresh grass. The milk from the Jersey cows gets even more yellow color. When the animals are on the fresh grass the curd tends to be a bit softer.”

Elizabeth Minchilli recently wrote about a really nice dish of Tuscan black kale, stemmed, lightly cooked in olive oil with a bit of fresh chopped garlic and salt (when the kale is hot, add a bit of water to wilt it while it’s cooking). When the kale is tender, chop it (the food processor is fine if you pulse, not puree) and add, then chopped fairly fine and mixed with fresh ricotta and grated Pecorino Toscano. Toss it with hot, short pasta. The Baia pac-macs are great as are Martelli maccheroni or Primograno penne lisce.

Another great pasta dish on my ricotta-fixated mind is also from Elizabeth (I told you she’s good!)—pasta with ricotta, zucchini and mint. Start with sliced zucchini cooked slowly for a long time in a lot of good olive oil until they caramelize. Cook pasta really al dente. Take out a bit of the cooking water and mix with a good bit of the Bellwether ricotta. When the pasta is very al dente pull it out of the cooking pot and add to the zucchini. Cook for a minute or two stirring regularly. Add the ricotta-sauce to the pan, stir once or twice to warm it and then pour the whole thing into warm serving bowls. Top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and plenty of ground black pepper.

I’ll leave the last words on this to Liam. “Ricotta is a deceptively simple cheese,” he makes clear. “It really is unfortunate that the industrial versions can still use the name, but isn’t that so often the case?  This cheese holds a place close to my heart because of the many months of trial and error my mom and I spent at our 30-gallon test kettle making batches hoping to unlock the secret to making this with no added acid.  I am sure you have experienced the gratification of seeing something start to work and then become something amazing.  Each time I see the expression on a person’s face the first time they try it I am reminded how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do.”

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