Food, Food Artisans
Val Talks Zingerman’s Gelato
Food, Food Artisans
I scream, you scream, we all scream for gelato!
Gelato is Italy’s version of ice cream. It is to American ice cream what Gucci is to Levi’s. Most Italian towns have at least a few gelaterie, tiny shops that sell nothing but gelato. Big cities will have dozens of them. They’ll usually have at least a dozen flavors prominently displayed, everything from sexed up standards like super dark chocolate to more exotic flavors like Marron Glacé (candied chestnut) or Torrone (nougat). When you pick a flavor, they’ll pile it into a cup or cone using a paddle that looks more like a spatula than a scoop. You eat it with a brightly colored, shovel-shaped spoon that’s as long as a toothpick and as wide as a cheap emery board. But before you pick a flavor and dig in, you have to pick which gelateria to visit.
There are a few factors to pay attention to when choosing a gelateria. Avoid gelato with DayGlo colors. Stay away from gelato mounded six inches above the tub, it probably has tons of stabilizers to help it keep that shape. Don’t go for the spot that has little jars of Nutella or tiny plastic fruits stuck in the gelato to show you which flavor is which. If the menu tells you where ingredients come from, like having IGP hazelnuts from Piedmont or DOP pistachios from Bronte, you might have found a good one. But the best indication of all is a long line—or, since this is Italy, a big, disorganized crowd.
The crowd knows. Those people waiting understand that a particular gelateria makes ice cream with luscious texture and big, bold flavors. And that’s the thing about gelato: when it’s really good the flavors are more direct and pure than American ice cream. The hazelnut tastes like freshly toasted hazelnuts. The strawberry sorbet tastes like fresh, ripe strawberries. I’m sure if Zingerman’s Creamery were tucked away on some narrow, cobbled, Italian alley, it would have a crowd stretching around the corner.
Gelato is made with only four major ingredients so you can’t skimp on any of them and get great flavor.
Zingerman’s gelato maker Josh starts with milk from Calder Dairy, located about an hour down the road from Zingerman’s Creamery in Carleton, Michigan. Calder has a herd of 113 cows that are known by names, not numbers. They’re never given any hormones or subtherapeutic antibiotics. The milk is gently pasteurized and not homogenized, a process that agitates the milk to distribute the cream more evenly rather than allowing it to rise and separate. The result is that Calder produces a richer, creamier, sweeter milk.
To the milk, Josh adds cream from Guernsey Dairy in Northville, Michigan—the same source our Bakehouse uses for the sour cream they stir into every Sourcream Coffeecake. Then he mixes in demerara brown cane sugar. He adds pinch of stabilizer to help the gelato maintain its texture when frozen for a few weeks, and then all that’s left is to add the flavor. And oh, those flavors! His peanut butter gelato is made with Koeze’s atonishing Cream Nut Peanut Butter from Grand Rapids, Michigan. His dulce de leche gelato is made with a super thick and creamy dulce de leche caramel we get direct from Argentina, its home base.
In spite of great variety, Josh’s vanilla gelato is probably my favorite. “Before I started making gelato, I thought vanilla was just white and sweet,” Josh confessed to me the other day. I’d say that’s a pretty apt description of a lot of vanilla ice creams, but not so with Josh’s. He uses Madagascar Bourbon vanilla—and lots of it!—and the result is a rich, earthy, woodsy flavor that lasts and lasts.
What’s the gelato maker’s favorite flavor?
Burnt Sugar. That’s not because it’s the easiest to make—in fact, Josh calls it “a thorough pain in the ass.” He loves it because it takes sugar, one of the three base ingredients of gelato, and transforms it into an entirely different flavor. He starts with white cane sugar and cooks it with water in a big pot. Over the course of an hour, the water boils off, the sugar melts, and then just as it starts to burn he pulls it off the stove and adds additional water to make a syrup and keep it from hardening into a sticky hard caramel mess. “I put on gloves, and I should probably wear goggles too. Then I yell to get people out of the way. It’s so hot that when I add the water it boils upon impact. It’s like this insanely hot exercise of sweating and trying not to get it on your skin while it cools in the sink.” The burnt sugar syrup tastes like the top of a crème brûlée. The gelato flirts with the line between sweet and bitter. It’s sugar utterly transformed, and the end result is super smooth and creamy with an autumn orange-yellow color and a complex, intriguing flavor.
You can find our amazing gelato at Zingerman’s Creamery, and the Zingerman’s Deli Next Door coffeehouse. We can also ship gelato through Zingerman’s Mail Order.
Add some sweetness to the winter chill!
Beer, Wine, Cider, & Mead at Zingerman’s Creamery!
Food, Food Artisans
Your southside connection for fine beverages
Did you know that when you stop into the Zingerman’s Creamery for our award-winning cheese and gelato, you can also pick up your favorite Riesling or IPA? Michigan is lucky to have so many great craft brewers and winemakers, and the Creamery cheese shop carries some of the very best. We’ve got beer from Short’s, Founders, and Oddside, meads from B Nektar, wines from Fenn Valley, and Left Foot Charley, and cider from Vander Mill. We also have a knowledgeable staff that loves the stuff, and will happily guide you to our favorite beverage and cheese pairings!
The Fenn Valley estate is a 240 acre farm located five miles from Lake Michigan, just south of Holland, Michigan. It is a family owned and operated vineyard and winery established in 1973, and their goal has always been to produce world-class wines from grapes grown along the shore of Lake Michigan. Due to their proximity to the Lake, they experience a delicate weather balance referred to as “the Lake Effect.” They’re close enough to enjoy a moderation of winter temperatures and far enough away that the summer months we bring a mild cooling effect. A look at an atlas of the world will show that the major viticultural areas are almost always located near a large body of water that serves to moderate the climate in some manner. California, Washington, Oregon, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, and Michigan all meet this criteria. The wines they make are incredibly approachable, perfect for the dinner table, or a gathering of friends. Here are a couple of their wines we currently carry at the Creamery.
Capriccio – This big, soft, red wine shows the right balance between fruitiness and dryness. A big, jammy, berry fruit flavor with a subtle backbone of tannin, it is designed so you do not have to wait five years to enjoy a great glass of red wine. Serve this wine with chicken, red meats, pastas, and blue cheese.
Meritage – The name (merit+heritage) was coined by a small group of American winemakers to identify handcrafted wines blended from the traditional noble Bordeaux grape varietals. In January, as the winemakers at Fenn Valley were preparing red blends for the coming year, they noted that a blend of these three varieties was superior to any of the wines by themselves. The Cabernet Franc contributes a black cherry fruit flavor, the Cabernet Sauvignon gives a it black pepper quality, while the Merlot brings a light, earthy, fruit character. As expected, no one variety stands out; they all work together to create a harmonious blend of flavors that complement each other. We paired this wine with our Brûléed Manchester and the results were delicious.
Vino Verde – Literally, it means “green wine.” It is made from the Seyval grape variety harvested about two weeks early. The resulting wine is dry, crisp, and refreshing,, with low alcohol and a touch of natural carbonation. It is a fun wine, not to be taken seriously – perfect to serve over ice on a hot summer day. When thinking about cheeses to serve with this wine, think goat. Our Lincoln Log and Little Napoleon cheeses are perfect partners with the Vino Verde.
See you soon!
The Bridgewater Log
Food, Food Artisans
September’s Cheese of the Month is a new take on an old favorite.
This month marks the 12th anniversary of our Bridgewater cheese, so we’re celebrating this event with the launch of the Bridgewater round’s sibling, the Bridgewater Log. This is technically the same cheese, but in a larger two-pound log. The log has less of a cheese to penicillium rind ratio, and it’s more convenient for buying as much or as little as you need. Slice it thick or thin to top crostini, salads or pasta.
The Bridgewater has come a long way since its rather inauspicious beginning and remains, to this day, the only cheese we’ve created purely by mistake. One morning at the original Creamery location in Manchester, MI, we walked into the dairy and discovered three bags of cream cheese curd that we’d missed from the day before. The curd had over-drained and was too dry for cream cheese, so we added some fresh-cracked pepper, formed it into rounds, and covered the surface with the same penicillium used for Brie cheese. Within about ten days, the cheese was covered with the fluffy, white penicillium mold and we had our first batch of Bridgewater.
The next challenge was, “Would anyone like it?” So, I went to the Deli to have the cheese buyer, Carlos Souffront, taste it and give his feedback. Unfortunately he was out of town, so back I went to the creamery. About two weeks later, my daughter asked me why the car smelled funny and that was when I discovered the now-aged Bridgewater in the trunk of my car. I again drove to the Deli and had Carlos taste the cheese (I probably should have mentioned that the cheese rounds had been sitting in my car for two weeks). He really liked the flavor, and we started making Bridgewater that week. We also found a better place to age it.
The Bridgewater remains one of our most popular and versatile cheeses. When young, the paste is velvety and milky, with the earthiness of the fresh cracked Tellicherry pepper and the mushroom flavor of the penicillium rind. When it’s aged well, the cheese becomes more dense and the pepper flavor intensifies, creating a great accent to cooked pasta or served over a summer salad.
The new Bridgewater Log
Help Us Celebrate Ypsi-Arbor Beer Week!
Food, Food Artisans
Stop by Zingerman’s Creamery for samples of great local beers!
Since we started selling beer, wine and mead at our shop at the Zingerman’s Creamery, we’ve met a lot of Michigan’s amazing brewers and tasted a lot of great Michigan beer! We are incredibly lucky to have so many great homegrown brews here in the mitten!
So, we’re helping celebrate the great craft beer culture in Michigan by hosting a series of tastings in conjunction with Ypsi-Arbor Beer Week!
The brewfest lasts August 1-9, and we’ll be giving out samples of great Michigan beer, along with samples of of great cheeses to go with that beer! Stop in for the cheese, stay for the beer!
See you soon!
Fantastic Ricotta Cheese at Zingerman’s Creamery
Food, Food Artisans, ZingLife
Bellwether 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.”
Did Someone Say Pimento Cheese?
by Tracie Wolfe, Zingerman’s Department for People
When I first started working at Zingerman’s 5-1/2 years ago, one of the first things I tasted was the Zingerman’s Creamery pimento cheese. It was a life changing experience to say the least. I had never been a fan of pimentos and had been reluctant to try it, but now I can’t get enough of it. It’s not just the Creamery’s recipe either — the Zingerman’s Deli, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, and Zingerman’s Mail Order versions are just as great.
My favorite part of the cheese has to be the 1-year cheddar. What I love about the Creamery recipe is that there are big chunks of cheese — you can really sink your teeth into them, and it melts in your mouth.
Ok, so the Creamery recommends that the best way to serve their pimento cheese is to spread it over pretzel rolls made at the Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Um, yes… is there another way? Well, there are but the pretzels are my favorite by far. I always get them sliced — they are the perfect bite size way to get the pimento cheese into your mouth. The saltiness of the soft pretzels makes such a unique combination of flavors in your mouth.
Is there any way that you shouldn’t eat pimento cheese? NO. The Roadhouse pimento mac n’ cheese, especially when it is extra caramelized, is like heaven on earth. I actually made this at home and was amazed at how great it came out when I’m not anywhere near a professional cook. I think it’s just so good that you can’t do wrong by it! What else goes with Pimento cheese EVERYTHING. I put it on scrambled eggs, on a bagel, on a burger, on a hot dog… seriously, you can put it on anything. I venture to guess that it would even taste good on chocolate — ha!
Ok, so let’s be honest, all I really need to pair it with is a spoon and I’d be a very happy girl. Thank you Zingerman’s for this amazing, mind-blowing, scrumptious and life-changing recipe!