Ari's Five Foods

5 Foods for the Week of December 15, 2009

In terms of food, as usual there are about 900 great things that I feel like I should write about… .Comte, Manchester from the Creamery, Christmas Cookie Club cookies (and books, signed by Ann Pearlman), Boston Brown Bread, 2 Kilo Caraway ryes, Maras red pepper from Turkey, Crunk Fish (when it’s on special at the Roadhouse), Rwanda coffee, Masia Altet olive oil, Txakoli vinegar (more on this one next week), stollen, wild berry preserves from Serbia, El Rustico chocolate bars and peppermint bark from Askinosie… like I said, I have a lot of stuff on my mind. But since they aren’t going to all fit in below, here are five things to get you going.

More info to come soon.

See you soon!


1. Hand Done Bacon Books

Well, it’s not exactly food, but we are selling them so… books have been on my mind of late and… now they’re in here too. And if there’s a difference between mass market bacon and hand made artisan bacon, then I guess it’s not all that weird that there would be a comparable difference between mass market bacon books and hand made artisan bacon books. Hence the inclusion of this not really edible item here.

I don’t know if you know Sam Valenti, or his little independent music label, Ghostly International. They’re here in Ann Arbor and I learned about them first because Sam and his crew are good regular customers. They went to become good ZingTrain customers as well, and have put into practice a lot of what we teach—they’ve drafted a long term vision for the company, are moving towards implementing open book, etc. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff, both musically, organizationally and in their design too—you might have seen me wearing their t-shirts. You can check out all their work at —really good local label doing innovative things in all areas of their work

Anyways, the other day Sam sent out his email holiday note which included, “As a friend told me the other day: ‘the future of Art is Artists.'” I love that line. One can go on about how the modern world is dumbing everything down, or we can take charge and go out and do things differently and interesting enough so that that people will want to buy the art, or music or food or whatever it is we’re making and selling. While I do buy and read a lot of books, I don’t know a huge amount about the book business, and I’d hardly claim to know the future of the industry. Clearly it’s changing a lot with all the great new technologies out there, and the coming years will be, shall we say, interesting for sure!

But since we’re making and selling our own books, I guess I am now kind of in the book business as more than a consumer, so I’m going with what Sam said: the future of art is with the artists. The future of food is with those of us who make food and the future of food books must well be with those of us who make those too. I’m with Sam, who added to the original quote: “What I think (my friend) meant is that business and hype no longer lead the way. It’s the artists themselves that can once again move the culture.”

Sam’s short statement got me to thinking about the special versions of the bacon book that came out a few months ago. While the book world isn’t exactly identical to what we do with food, there are definitely a lot of similarities. When you look back to the middle of the 20th century there was all this work being done in the food business to create standardization, lower costs, higher consistency, etc. None of those are, of course, inherently bad things—the problem, as we all know, is that most of that “improvement” work was done at the expense of the food and farming; flavor got lost as fast food took over, and then all the not so great things we’re now painfully aware of started to happen—ever less flavorful products, environmental issues, cultural erosion, disconnection from what we were growing and eating, etc. The wisdom of the mass marketplace became that consumers wouldn’t pay for higher quality, upon which basis producers were pushed to make ever more inexpensive stuff, which consumers then bought, behavior which “data demonstrated” meant that people didn’t want really great tasting food for higher prices, etc. etc. You know the story.

Mind you I’m not down on inexpensive eating. But we all know where that spiral led the food world—when you walk down the supermarket aisles there wasn’t anyone there talking to you about what made the stuff on the shelf special. The cashier and the stocker really didn’t know much other than the price of the products. No one was buying a box of Hamburger Helper or Kraft bottled salad dressing and oohing and ahhing about how delicious they were. Convenient, low cost, comfortable for sure. But not exactly compelling in their flavor. Small producers closed, farmers sold their land, seed varieties disappeared,… you can read the rest in Michael Pollan or a hundred other good books on the subject.

Anyways, speaking of reading. Since we’ve been in the book world this year in new ways, I’ve started to pay attention to books more as a professional and not just as a consumer of them. And the more I look around the more the book world is starting to seem a lot like the food world fifty years ago. It’s kind of eerily, culinarily familiar. Everything is about lower cost. In many cases you can just get everything free on line now, which is fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either. But what’s happening in the process sure seems very much akin to what I think happened with food. The nuances, the subtleties, the little extras that made for special stuff all get lost. There’s no room for them in the price structure that the mass-market world imposes. And because low price is all anyone talks about and promotes, people buy low priced products, special stuff gets pushed out further and further to the point where all there is the same stuff everywhere, always identical, all discounted down to where hardly anyone seems to be able to make a living. Artisans go out of business. We all save some money in the short term but the world is blander as a result Seem familiar? Sure sounds like the food world circa 1969 to me.

Anyways, I could be totally wrong about this—I need to think about it more—but it occurred to me when I was down in Chapel Hill last week doing bacon book events at Lantern, 3 Cups and Southern Season—that the work we’re doing with the books is then very much parallel to, if not identical, to what we’ve been doing with traditional food for nearly twenty nine years. I don’t know if the analogy fully holds but here’s the thing: I realized that to value a book only for the words it contains is at least somewhat akin to viewing the food as merely a means to get nutrition. Nothing wrong at all with either. But as much (as you know) I’m pretty into the flavors of great artisan food, the truth is that there’s not really a whole lot of difference in overt nutritional value between mediocre extra virgin olive oil and a great one; between amazing limited edition dark chocolate from Shawn Askinosie and dark chocolate from some so-so, better-than-totally-industrial-but-still-basically-not-super-great producer; or between organic salad greens from Dole and the also organic greens I bought from Garden Works and Tantre Farms at the Farmer’s Market a few days ago.

While the nutritional values are probably much the same, the difference between all those (dynamic?) culinary duos comes really in the complexity of flavor, the enjoyment that I get because the artisan stuff I’m eating tastes so much better, the appreciation I have for the work that Rob and Richard and everyone who works at those farms puts in, the better all around sustainability of spirit, environment and economy that comes with it all. But really if you want to look at this stuff Jetson’s-style—as in, “nutritional needs only”—there’s really not probably a whole heck of a lot of difference. And I realized the other day that it’s not all that different with books than it is with food. I mean more power to everyone at Amazon for making mass-market books available for some miniscule fraction of what they cost at list. I don’t really understand the financial model of how anyone other than the big companies make much money at that and I guess even those aren’t mostly doing all that well either. In fact, I guess I don’t know many authors who make a lot from their books, though I’m sure the top sellers do but they do in everything else in the world too.

Thinking aloud…. it seems like, in hindsight, we and others helped change the way that people look at food; why not change the way they look at food books. So it seems to me that in the same way that food for us here is about way more than just nutrition and price—the really great full, flavored traditional food (and drink) that we make, buy, sell and serve—so too there’s more to a book for me than just the words inside. Everybody of course gets to decide on their own what they want so this isn’t a value judgment or a rant. People who want to read on line or on a Kindle, more power to ‘em—this is just my two cents. Books are cool in part for sure because of what’s inside. I love to learn. But they’re also cool for all the other parts of them. The feel of the book as you hold it in your hand, the way it looks (cover, page layout, typeface, etc), the feel of the paper it’s printed on, etc. To do all that stuff well… well, it costs more than doing it cheaply. The words, themselves, are no different. But the experience of the book most definitely is.

So… Just like I like that there are foods at all different price points and flavor points, why not have books that run that same scale? Find an inexpensive version of X book cheap on line? More power to you. But why not a really great handmade book with a nicer cover, crafted by a book artisan—the book world equivalent of the bakers at the Bakehouse, Charlie at the Candy Manufactory, or all the other hundreds of people inside and outside the ZCoB that make the great food we work with. There are books for reading on the beach and trashing out just like there’s food—people like still like to stop at Dairy Queen for old time’s sake. But there’s also room in the world for hand made ice cream and… hand made books!

So all of this is a long wordy intro to how I’ve been thinking about the special versions of the bacon book we’ve got going. One we did back in the spring—the Anarchist Edition, dedicated to Jan Longone and the late Michigan anarchist, Jo Labadie—was hand-assembled with the cover silk screened on cardboard, an extra recipe, an extra preface, all numbered and signed. We only did 170, all pre-sold and that’s it.

Then we have the “regular” version of the book—printed locally, with a foil stamped old style cover, on better quality paper (it really does feel better when you turn the pages). And when you buy the book at one of the ZCoB businesses you get a special bonus packet with extra recipes, bacon maker trading cards and a few other fun things. While it’s definitely nicer than your average commercial book, it’s definitely nicer, and if a bit more costly at $29.99 apiece, still pretty affordable for anyone who likes bacon and books. Let’s say it’s like a well made, accessible Balsamic—way better than the cheap, sweet, industrial versions that say balsamic on the label, but still pretty accessible.

Now we also have two other special versions out there. For sure they’re not for everybody—you can get the same nutritional value from the regular book and in fact from just making a photocopy of your friend’s copy. But if you want—or want to give—something special, either of these would totally fill the bill.

One is what I guess is called a Cloth Edition. It’s got a really cool handmade cover done by Jean Buescher Bartlett. Like all the artisan food producers we buy from Jean’s got a small artisan company’— Blood Root Press (http:/ has all the details). She teaches classes on old style bookmaking, takes on interns, and makes some pretty amazing stuff. The covers of this edition are pretty darned cool looking and they feel pretty amazing when you hold them in your hand. The central part of the cover, which is the title bit and all that, is done with traditional letterpress, and it’s beveled in to the rest of the front of the book. The covers (front and back) are done with old style, dark red, coated, cloth that’s stretched over what they call archival quality book boards. The corners have the old style black linen cloth on them. The inside text is on that same acid free better quality paper and the binding is done by old style sewing as opposed to the modern quicker gluing. They sell for $95 and there are only 175 of them. Sticking with my Balsamic analogy, this would be like buying a “basic” level Tradizionale—you don’t need it, but it definitely tastes really great. And for someone who appreciates really great things… .

The other version is even more costly, more unique and there are only twenty to be had. Actually less I guess because a few have been sold. The leather version—done up in pigskin of course since it is a bacon book—by John Buller at Bessenberg Bindery. All hand sewn, and pretty amazingly put together. You can check out all their work at Because it’s done by hand this way each cover is a little bit different and each will feel slightly different in the hand as you hold it. The covers are stamped in gold foil. All twenty come in hand made slipcases to protect the book. And they’re also a very cool looking dark yellow. This, I guess would sort of be like buying a gold label, top of the line Tradizionale Balsamic. You definitely don’t need this one, you know it ain’t cheap and there’s not much of it to go around. But there’s no doubt that for those that are interested, you can definitely taste—or in this case, feel—the difference. And while the Balsamic is a lot older than the book, the latter will actually likely last longer—you basically get unlimited uses for your $300!

So hey, does anyone need any of these special versions? No!!!! Does anyone need to buy a bottle of Les Costes olive oil made only from olives that are on trees that were already bearing fruit when Columbus collected his first crew to sail in the unknown West looking for pepper? No!!! but it sure does taste good. Does anyone need an heirloom tomato, hand made loaf of bread, artisan goat cheese or the above-mentioned traditional Balsamics? NO. We just do it because it tastes better, because it helps support good people, because it makes our world a bit better. Same with these books. Nothing wrong with checking it out of the library (I donated a copy of the anarchist edition to the Labadie Collection Rare Book Room at U of M the other day —you can learn more at Aside from Jo Labadie’s interesting politics, check out the man’s mustache—he showed that being an anarchist didn’t mean you couldn’t also have a good sense of style).

So anyways, you’re getting the idea I’m sure. These special versions aren’t for everyone, they aren’t on Amazon, but they are pretty cool things for people (like me) who like really cool books! It’s back to what Sam Valenti said up top. The book world can lament how hard it is (which is true) but it seems like the positive part of the future is to make more interesting books. And then just like we as consumers contributed to dumbing down the food world fifty years ago by constantly looking for cheaper food with longer shelf lives, and then reversed that trend by being willing to freeze our butts off shopping at farmer’s markets, going out of our way and pay more for better tasting traditionally made artisan foods, we can help turn the book world around too by buying nicer books, made by artisan producers and savoring the exceptional quality of their work. Thanks to the design crew here at Zingerman’s, to Jean and John and Jillian (from Zingerman’s Press), to Jean Henry and Jenny Tubbs who tested the recipes so many times) and everyone with a J name and otherwise for helping make this happen.

You can check out details on the websites and on and

2. Better Cashews (And Even Better Ca$Hew Cows To Come)

I’ve learned a fair bit about food over the last thirty years or so. But one of the great things is that there’s so incredibly much more to learn—in the scheme of all there is to know about food I know really next to nothing. Take cashews. I’ve been eating them off and on for most of my adult life. But in honesty other than the fact that they taste good, come from tropical countries, and that they form the basis of one of our tastiest confections, I actually have known next to nothing about ‘em.

Which brings me to three things I now know about cashews that I didn’t know a few weeks ago:

a) How good cashews in general are for you.
b) How particularly good the new cashews are that we’re getting in at the Deli, and
c) How the already really excellent Ca$hew Cows from the Candy Manufactory are soon to be even better when we start using these new cashews.

Ok, first off cashews in general. I haven’t been to visit cashew country yet so I’m hardly sharing any big culinary revelations here. But since I didn’t know most of this, I figured I should share my learning. Cashews are indeed a tropical fruit. They probably originated in Brazil. The name of the fruit in Tupi, the language of the native people, is Acaju. The Portuguese converted that into “caju” and we ended up here with the English “cashew.”

Although we don’t eat it here and I’ve never (YET!) had it, they say the cashew fruit is actually quite tasty, which makes good sense to me, since the same is true of the fruit of the coffee cherry and the cacao pod, both of which I have eaten in their native settings. The nuts (which are of course inside the fruit) were brought out of Brazil by the Portuguese and then taken to other compatible climates in their colonial realm, like Goa and Guinea, and from there they’ve successfully spread all over the tropical world.

You might realize that you’ve probably never seen one of these nuts still in its shell, which is not a bad thing since there are poisons in the cashew’s natural casing. The good news is that once the outer coating has been removed the fruit and the nut inside it are perfectly safe to eat. And happily so, since the cashew’s nutritional resume is really pretty amazing. If even half of what people say about it is true, the cashew could well be the next wonder food.

You can check the nutrition sites on line before you radically alter all of your eating routines, but from what I know it sounds like you might want to craft cashews into your daily diet. They’re high in copper and calcium and they’re a good source of monounsaturated fats. Supposedly eating a lot of them helps you avoid both weight gain and cardiovascular disease. They’re also high in magnesium, which is a big thing for the cardiovascular health. And they’re also high in protein and fiber.

Ok, enough about nutrition. Now for the particular cashews we’ve got coming in. In the same way that the cashew itself sounds like nearly the perfect food, so too the nuts we’re now getting seem to be a nearly ideal product for us from pretty much every angle you could look at them from. Above and beyond all else they taste really good, better than any cashew I’ve ever had. In terms of the story behind the nut, these cashews come from Cholteca, a very poor part of Honduras where both the people and the environment have been badly in need of help for a long time. It’s an area that’s been known primarily for its high poverty rates, high deforestation, and high soil erosion, all topped off of late by hurricanes and droughts.

Cashews came to the region about forty years ago, planted in order to contribute positively to people’s diets and lead the way in reforestation and reducing rates of soil erosion. While the trees did do all three of those, the cashew planting failed to really contribute much change to the average income because most of the nuts were sold to middle men and the farmers who grew them actually added very little to their income. These cashews, however, come from a series of democratically run coops through which the growers are actually getting a good rate for their crops. The farmer’s also get paid close to half in advance to help them through the off-season’s annual cash flow challenges (as in you only harvest once a year but you have to live the rest of the year while you’re waiting for the next harvest). The nuts are grown without artificial pesticides, which is helping the environment and the health of the growers; organic certification is in the works.

Roasted in the shell in adobe ovens, then cracked with a wooden hammer so that the nut can be removed. We get them unsalted. As Frank said when we got the samples, “It’s the first time I’ve tried an unsalted cashew that actually tasted really good on its own.” I agree totally. They’re great to eat just as they are. Put ‘em on salads, pasta, garnish for soups… they’d be great chopped on autumn squash dishes and although I haven’t done it yet probably could be really good with fish – either dredging to make a crust after pan frying or coarsely chopped and tossed into a sauté pan with say scallops and maybe. . . a bit of brown butter or a touch of citrus? Definitely a nice touch for any number of curries, and they’d be great with yogurt and honey. And of course, you could just eat them out of hand for a snack, especially given that long list of healthy things to do with them. Probably be good to add to the Bakehouse’s already excellent hand done, darkly toasted granola too.

If you’re by the Deli, ask for a taste—the flavor of these new Honduran cashews is really pretty darned impressive. To state, the obvious, they’re pretty nutty, but also buttery though not overly so… slightly meaty maybe—someone on the retail line said they taste a bit like bacon. Interestingly they’re not oily at all. Not salty at all. Really, they’re just really, really good.

Well, there is one more thing to say which is that these really good, better then we’ve ever had access to around Ann Arbor at least cashews are now also in the cashew cows. Which are taking this already extremely excellent candy bar up a notch. I’ve been working on a whole long essay on the Candy Manufactory and the candy bars but in the moment… (if you want the whole draft, I’d be very happy to send it your way.)

Anyways, I have to think that most folks around here have had a Ca$hew Cow. If you haven’t, I’d recommend it—it’s a pretty amazing candy bar. As the name correctly implies, this bar is based on lots of cashews. It’s got a milk chocolate base of cashew butter, toasted cashews, and handmade cashew brittle, then blended with just a bit of puffed rice. The whole thing is dipped into that same dark Ecuadorian chocolate that goes on the other Zzang bars. You get a really nice texture, a touch of crunch from the rice, and a really nice modest, wide, mouth-filling flavor that never strikes me as overly sweet. In the coming weeks—as soon as we get the Candy Manufactory’s shipment in— we’ll be upgrading the Cows to include these new, especially excellent cashews.

The Ca$hew Cow upgrade, by the way, is a good example of our belief that over time we can make everything better. I mean we’ve gotten pretty much nothing but compliments on these candy bars for about as long as we’ve been making them so it’s great to have the chance to move up a notch to these cashews.

3. Rustichella Fettucine – Better Pasta Tastes Way Better!

I really can’t quite explain why one cut of pasta from a particular producer tastes better than others varieties made by the same people. It’s certainly true too that the same cut of pasta, say spaghetti—will taste very different if you try it from four different—all good—producers. In the case of the great Italian pastificii that we buy from—Martelli, Rustichella, Morelli, Cavalieri, Latini—everything they do is pretty much guaranteed to be very, very good, but, that said, I sill like certain shapes more from specific suppliers. Of course, as you know, these folks are all at the top of the artisan pasta world, and I’ve not had anything other than really good from any of them over the years. But that said there are still certain cuts that I love more than others from the same folks. For spaghetti and maccheroni I still swear by Martelli; I really like the Morelli paccheri (the ones that have a bit of the bran left in). Down in Puglia Benedetto Cavalieri makes really good wagon wheels, a shape I don’t normally go for but for some reason theirs are just very darned delicious.

For fettuccine though, I always go with the ones from Rustichella d’Abruzzo. Of late, I’ve been going with it a lot more than I ever have, and I’ve been doing it with ever more rewarding results. I think most everyone here knows the Rustichella brand. A lot of people just call it, “the one in the brown bag.” We’ve been selling Rustichella since the first days it started coming over to the States in significant quantities, which was back in the early 90s.

While American export is a fairly recent thing, the business itself goes back to 1924, when Gaetano Sergiacomo (the grandfather of the current owner, Gianluigi Peduzzi) started up in the Abbruzzese town of Penne. Today they make probably three-dozen shapes of pasta, and we carry quite a few of them. While I like, literally, all of their products, the fettuccine are really my favorite. The difference between their fettuccine and any other one I’ve had is pretty phenomenal.

While there are many smaller subtleties at work, there are three very big factors that set Rustichella (or Martelli and the makers I’ve mentioned above) apart from all the other 900 brands on the market.

a) Bronze dies

While the basic process of machine extrusion through bronze dies dates to the late 19th century, most all big producers today have long since left the bronze behind and bought the easier to use, longer lasting Teflon. Not so Rustichella (or Martelli, Morelli or the others we sell). Bronze dies not only cost more to buy and also—because they’re softer and hence break down more quickly—have to be replaced bronze dies for the most popular cuts at Rustichella have to be replaced annually. For the other forms, it’s every two to five years. It’s not an inexpensive way to make maccheroni—each die costs about $1000 each, and remember, you have to have a different die for each cut. The bronze makes a really big difference in the pasta quality. You can both see it and feel it long before you put the noodles into the boiling water. The surface is much, much rougher, which means that it cooks better and absorbs a bit of the sauce as it’s meant to do, instead of the slick, Teflonic surface of industrial pasta, from which the sauce runs off quickly to pool up at the bottom of one’s bowl.

b) Better grain

In this case, it’s 100 percent durum semolina, a good deal of which, though not all, comes from the Abruzzo and the neighboring Molise. To do the slower, older style drying that Rustichella does (see below) actually requires the use of a higher protein wheat which costs quite a bit more than standard stuff—higher temperature commercial drying actually allows big producers to get away with using cheaper, lower protein grain. So if you think it through traditional producers pay more on both ends on this one—they spend more to buy semolina from higher protein wheat and then spend even more money and time to extrude and dry (see below) the dough as they do.

The results are of course way better, but not quickly visible to the casual observer who looks at two packages, sees a nice old style label on each and a price three or four times higher for artisanal pasta. It sounds screwy really—but the truth is that taking the lower cost, high industrial method actually allows the big producers the “luxury” of significant additional cost savings by being able to get away with lower protein semolina!

You’ll notice the difference in wheat quality when you cook the pasta—with low end grain in commercial pasta the starch will run right out of the noodles when they hit the water, which means its harder to get a good al dente pasta. I don’t mean you don’t get any starch coming from the better pasta because of course you do. But most of the starch in, say Rustichella, stays in the pasta not in the water in the pot, contributing to its infinitely better cooked texture.

Rustichella works with one of the smallest mills left in Italy. They do like a 1/5th of what the bigger mills will knock out. A few hours south of the pastificio in Puglia, they specialize in the sort of special, custom type work that Rustichella requires. A big percentage of what they do is organic. They have their own land where they grow grain as well so they have their hands and their own money in the wheat as well. Not that one really needs to know but in case you get tested in a trivia game, it takes 167 kilos of grain to yield 100 kilos of high quality semolina.

c) Slower Drying

Huge differences in drying times and techniques only exacerbate the difference pasta makers get from the extrusion and grain quality. Commercial producers dry long cuts in like 7 hours, short cuts in 3 to 4.” By contrast, Rustichella takes two full days for the long cuts, 1 ½ days for short cuts at 30°C.

There are basically three stages to the drying.

1. Incartamento – this is where the drying work creates a natural crust on the outside of the still soft pasta. In the old days—pre-1930s probably this was done by putting racks of fresh pasta out into the direct sunlight.

2. Rinvenimento – this second stage allows the pasta to “recover” from its initial experience of drying. In the old days, the drying racks were put into a room that was about 40 degrees cooler than it had been in the incartamento stage, which had often been outside (Southern Italy is not Ann Arbor so it can be pretty hot out in the sun much of the year). In the old days pasta at this stage was always stored as close to the floor as possible, or in cool cellars, where the lower temperature and higher humidity slightly softened the crust.

3. Essicazzione definitiva — This “final drying,” stage was usually done in shaded areas, often courtyards or attics, where the pasta was gradually dried most all of the rest of the way through. For long pastas like linguine or fettuccine, this was particularly challenging—the pasta had to be alternately moved between warmer and cooler temperatures to get the drying just right. As with ham curing, the process could be managed by moving the pasta racks from one room to the next, or also by opening or closing windows to catch the proper breezes.

A hundred years ago these three stages might have taken anywhere from a few weeks, on up to a couple of months depending on the time of the year; the drying was faster in the summer, longer in the spring and fall. In most areas it wasn’t done at all in the winter because there wasn’t enough sun. Today it’s done at Rustichella over a couple of days, in drying chambers that still move the noodles through the three stages above. While the two days may seem like nothing compared to two months, take note that all the commercial producers are working the drying in a matter of hours at far higher heat. The heat basically bakes the pasta and makes it brittle. It breaks up more when you cook it, and, even more importantly, it really short circuits the fermentation process which is at the heart of the production of traditional pasta secche.

In fact, judging by the look alone (seen through the cello window of a package), it’s actually counterintuitive. Higher temperature drying yields a darker color in the pasta, which one would reasonably assume to be a richer and better product. That thinking would, however, be entirely incorrect. The darker color actually is NOT desirable and is sign that what you’re going to be eating is generally going to be less flavorful. Additionally, a 1987 Italian study found that the high temperature drying also destroys most of the pasta’s nutritional value. Sample some al dente Rustichella fettuccine and you’ll never go back to the supermarket stuff, no matter how well known and less costly the mass market brands might be.

The drying is also essential to the flavor of the finished pasta. While most people assume that spaghetti is merely just grain and water mixed, shaped and then dried, one of the keys to its flavor is that well-made pasta is actually a fermented product. Longer gentle drying allows for more effective slower fermentation, which, just as it does with cheese making, bread baking, conversion of wine to vinegar or just about every other traditional food, means fuller flavor. You can’t see it, but you can very definitely taste it.

On top of all this, there’s what’s called the equalization period. “In industry,” Gianluigi explained, “it comes out at 95°C. And then they must chill it in a cooler before packaging because they don’t wait for the pasta to cool. It won’t work otherwise.” The result of the industrial process is, again, a brittle and not very flavorful pasta that probably looks just fine inside its fancy box or nicely labeled bag. But to get great flavor and texture the newly dried pasta must be allowed to come back to room temperature very slowly. At Rustichella, by contrast, the pasta comes down from the already low drying temperature of about 32°C over a period of twelve hours or so. Equalization protects the flavor and the texture and makes it possible to get the great al dente texture that one wants.

The difference between pasta artisan like Rustichella (or Martelli, etc.) and the rest of the mass-market stuff though comes out big time when you cook it. The slightly chewy texture, wheaty aroma and full flavor of well made artisan pasta makes me realize every time what classic Italian cooks always say—the point of the pasta dish is always the pasta itself, not the sauce, which is actually secondary.

Interestingly with the artisan pasta like Rustichella the flavor actually improves after its been cooked and cooled! “If you taste now,” Gianluigi said last summer, pointing to two bowls of pasta that we’d tried hot a bit earlier, “after ten minutes the taste of our product is like bread. The DeCecco,” he added pointing to his far better known competition, “will taste like flour.” Since coming home I’ve tried this taste test and been amazed by how accurate he was. While I’d never thought of cold leftover pasta as being anything other than passé, Gianluigi is right on—a day or two after being cooked and cooled Rustichella brought back to room temperature actually tastes terrific.

With the pasta being the main point of the dish, it’s extra important to not over cook it. How al dente you do it is of course up to you, but I’ll say that over the years I’ve come to cook it ever more lightly, an in very al dente! In Italy, traditionally the further south you went the more al dente it was cooked. (Old northern recipes often weren’t that far off of the seemingly crazy Colonial era American recommendations to cook maccherone for an hour or more.) Really leaving a nice chewy center to the pasta really makes for a much more flavorful dish. Rolando Beremendi, the long time importer of Rustichella says he likes “a little crack” in the pasta still. Be sure to salt the cooking water well too—cooking the pasta without salt is akin to eating unsalted potatoes or unsalted bread.

One of the classic sauces of the Abruzzo is a tomato ragu with lamb, which is ideal for this time of year. You can find recipes on line I’m sure. I looked to Joyce Goldstein’s book, “Italian Slow and Savory,” which, like all her work, is a good reference for traditional recipes. It’s a pretty basic sauce that counts on long cooking. Slowly sauté some chopped pancetta (or you could use lardo too). Keep the heat moderate so you don’t brown it. Add a little chopped onion with a bit of fresh rosemary and cook that in the pork fat. Add some ground lamb and brown it slowly. Add a glass of white wine and cook slowly still ‘til it’s absorbed. Add some chopped tomatoes—this time of year from a can and a bit of tomato paste and cook slowly for a long time. You’ll want to use the juice from the tomatoes or a bit of additional water because you’re then going to cover it and simmer it at low temperature for like 2 hours. For most of us then, this is going to be a day-off dish.

The most typical pasta of the Abruzzo for this sauce would be chittara, which we get from Rustichella. Despite my traditionalist obsession I’ve been so partial to the fettuccine (and also to Rustichella linguine) that I’ve been using those. The main thing is good lamb – I’ve used the Hannewald’s ground lamb or you can buy a piece of shoulder and chop it at home—and slow cooking to meld the flavors. I also like to do that thing of finishing the pasta in the sauce. So cook it very al dente, drain and then toss it into the sauce and cook, tossing regularly for a couple minutes. Serve with grated pecorino (we have a whole bunch of good ones, from the sharper, slightly saltier Pecorino Romano to one of my favorites, the Tuscan pecorino aged in walnut leaves).

(If you want to do a reasonable shortcut you could brown the lamb and then simmer it some of the bottled Rustichella tomato sauce. The sauces are quite good—they’re actually Gianluigi’s mother’s recipes. I’d add a bit of water and some white wine to allow for longer simmering.)

(As I was researching all the old pasta making techniques and reading again but sun drying, it dawned on me that we actually still do have access to a sun-dried pasta—the M’hamsa couscous from the Mahjoubs. As in the old days it’s still dried in the sun, for about seven days. And it’s still made seasonally—only in August when the sun is at its height. I can’t say that the couscous is as incredible as it is just because of the sun drying. But I’m sure it contributes. As with the Rustichella the grain contributes greatly—the wheat that they grow organically on the Mahjoub’s farm. Because the pasta is hand rolled there are no bronze dies involved. Regardless it’s very, very good!

4. Old Style Spaghetti – the Power of a Pork Rind and a Really Simple Way to Make Something Special

From all my readings of the old ways of pasta, a very simple cooking technique that date to medieval times caught my attention. Because it’s both historically rooted, is so easy to make most any time you want, and because it tastes so good, I figured I could put it in here. Easy to build into your regular eating routines, especially when you’re in a hurry.

All you have to do is stick a piece of pork rind or pancetta into your pasta cooking water. It really does give the pasta a nice bit of added flavor, and it as it did five hundred years ago and still today, can be done for very little cost. It’s great way to use up ham bones or prosciutto rinds.

Cook the pasta very al dente, drain and quickly dress with some olive oil and grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese. In the old days in Naples they ate the spaghetti with their hands but you can use a fork if you like. To me this is what fast food could be all about. Takes almost no time at all but when you sue great pasta, great cheese, etc. it tastes fantastic!

5. Raye’s Yellow Mustard from Maine

Given all the really great goings on in the food world these days, something as seemingly simple as mustard would be easy to miss. A mention of “regular old yellow mustard” probably would initiate as much notice as snow flurries here in Ann Arbor this week—we see ‘em but they’re so much the norm that we’d probably pay next to no attention. But given that we work so hard around here not to miss too much that has to do with good food and given that we serve as many corned beef and pastrami sandwiches as we do, not to mention all those (ground-fresh-daily-from-Niman-Ranch beef) burgers we grill up at the Roadhouse, taking yellow mustard for granted would be… not a really smart thing to do, if you know what I mean. Attention to detail—unglamorous as it so often is—is where it’s at. Which is why, if you—like me in years past—have every fallen prey to the understandable but inaccurate assumption that all yellow mustard is sort of, kind of, pretty much, mostly the same—you should definitely reach for a bottle of Raye’s.

You won’t be shocked, I suppose to discover that we’ve tracked down a yellow mustard that’s made some of the most mustard-passionate people in the country—the folks at Raye’s in the tiny town of Eastport, Maine. (Thanks to Bill Wallo and Rick at the Deli for doing so much groundwork on it a while back.) I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve still never been to Maine but one day soon I’m gonna get there. When I do, I’m going to be going a ways out of my way to get to Raye’s, because if you look at the map, you’ll see pretty quickly Eastport isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere either of us is likely to driving in the next few years. Even from famous Maine high spots like Bar Harbor and Portland it’s a long ways to go—Eastport looks to be almost as far north up the coast as one could go without actually crossing the border into Canada; as per its name it’s actually the easternmost city in the U.S.

In fact, Raye’s seems like, for me at least, the number one reason to really make the trip. The town has fewer than 2000 people in it so it’s not all that likely you’ll be going to visit friends or relatives either. The “town” is actually made up of four islands—maybe I’ll market it as the “Venice of the Northeast,” and we’ll say that mustard making is to Eastport but glass-blowing might be to the city of the canals. Regardless of reputation, Raye’s is the only traditional stone mustard mill left in the U.S., and as Karen Raye, who runs it along with Kevin Raye, said, “It’s probably the only one left in the Western Hemisphere.” The mill was built 109 years ago, back at the turn of the previous century, by her husband’s great-great uncle, J.W. While the original Mr. Raye might wig out over cell phones and the Internet if he were to reappear here at the end of 2009, it sounds like he’d likely be pretty at home if he were to go back to work at Raye’s next Wednesday. “If he were here today,” Karen told me, “he’d see the mill pretty much as it was working when he built it. We’re still using the original stones,” she said, referring to the eight, 2000-pound, quartz wheels that were quarried, carved and carted over from France in 1900.

The mustard making process today, as it did in J.W.’s world, starts with whole mustard seed. By contrast, most other commercial mustards nowadays start with already processed mustard powder. And, as you already know, Raye’s work is all based on cold stone milling of that mustard seed (same simple, old fashioned approach one would want to have with any other good quality milling of corn, oats, etc.) As the seed passes through each of the four set of stones the resulting paste gets ever creamier, which explains why the finished product you and I get out of the Raye’s jar is so smooth. To protect the cold milled seed, the Raye’s use cold water from their 400–foot well—same idea as mixing the bread dough out at the Bakehouse. Cooler water takes longer but protects the flavor of the seed. (Most all commercial producers today use heat in the production process to speed production and increase yields.) The mustard is then allowed to age for a few weeks before it gets packed up.

If you haven’t ‘til now paid attention to the Raye’s yellow mustard it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate it. You really can taste the difference. If you doubt me just try a spoonful of it next to some standard supermarket offering from, say, French’s. Commercial yellow mustard, to me, consistently tastes remarkably thin and watery compared to the Raye’s. I doubt I’d have complained about the latter if I weren’t paying attention, but tasting the two side by side, the different is pretty darned distinctive. The Raye’s really is darned creamy, with a mellow but mouth filling flavor that… I want to describe as “exceptionally yellow” which is a rather silly thing to say but it’s what comes to mind, and now that I’ve written it down… I think I’ll stick with it because it kind of gets the idea across. Really as a I think about it “yellow mustard” is so much a part of American eating that almost a primary flavor in its own right. And if that’s the case, then the Rayes really are the folks whose product would be the paradigm.

To get the taste of the Raye’s in context, head to the Deli for a #81 (with corned beef) or Don’s Rhythm and Blues (with pastrami), to the Roadhouse for some South Carolina (yellow!) mustard barbecue or just ask for a side of it to go with your sandwich or burger. And of course you can buy a jar or two to take home whenever you’re in the mood.

5 Other Things to Know

1. Creamery cheeses are tasting better and better and better. Congrats to everyone out there for all the good work to make milk quality, production technique, maturing methods, etc. ever better. And welcome back Aubrey (a new show for the TV food network?) from England where she spent a week training on cheesemaking. The stuff she learned is already being put into practice. Taste any of the cheeses and check it out!

2. Coffee space is open and ready to brew the beans of your choice. A couple hundred yards up the walk from the Bakeshop (and about half that many from the Creamery) there’s lots of pourover coffee to be had and plenty of parking. If it were me, I’d order the Rwanda or the Mexican in a pourover—both have been great.

3. Tis the season for shipping gelato. Seriously gelato is now on the top of my regular gifts to send list—it’s really great, far better than what most people around the country can get, it ships super well in the winter, and almost as many people like ice cream as candy. Details at

4. Doing the book events in Chapel Hill last week and having all the talented folks at Lantern ( and 3 Cups ( (where April McGreger, who’s mentioned in the book, actually came to cook), the two recipes that drew the most raves were the Roadhouse’s Grits And Bits Waffles and the Bacon and Chocolate Gravy over biscuits. If you’re doing any brunch entertaining, I’ll highly recommend both. You can of course order either or both at the Roadhouse for breakfast every day if you’re not in the mood for cooking.

Speaking of bacon… let’s see, there are so many good ones in right now. But if I had to pick two for my personal list this week (and it’ll be different next week), I’m going with Allan Benton’s from eastern Tennessee and then with the Hungarian Double Smoked served raw.

5. Speaking of raw, the Deli has a really amazing array of dry cured hams. If you’re into it, head that way and ask for tastes—Newsom’s from Kentucky, Edwards from Virginia, the Iberico from Spain,… all (and then some) have really been amazingly good! See this issue of Zingerman’s News for more on the merits of putting ham boards out for your holiday entertaining.