Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holiday Shopping Eats: Union Square Market

Did you wake up today, look at your calendar and realize it was already December 15th? Holiday shopping done? Didn't think so. Don't fret. You actually have two full weekends to shop. That does not mean you should put it off until next weekend.

One of my favorite spots to pick up some gifts is the Holiday Market in Union Square. Maybe it is my German heritage, but I get excited when I see the tents going up. I always do well finding gifts there for family and friends. The good folks who run it have made the experience of shopping there even better this year by stepping up the food and drink options at the market. It makes sense in these hand crafted, food driven times. And as we all know, shopping, especially during this time of year, can be draining. The Union Square Market is stocked with delicious pick-me-ups. From meatballs at Mighty Balls to crepes at Bar Suzette and dumplings from Hong Kong Street Cart, there is something for everyone. Here are my highlights so far. I will update the list as I sample more.

Toby's Estate Coffee - The Australian coffee maker with an outpost in Brooklyn brings its excellent coffee and espresso drinks to the market. As the sun sets and the temperature drops along with your stamina a nice espresso or macchiato is the perfect pick me up.

Toby's Estate -

Toby's Estate macchiato

La Sonrisa Empanadas - The ideal food for shopping at an outdoor market is something that is hand held, not to messy, warm (in the cold weather) and delicious. La Sonrisa Empanadas fit the bill perfectly. Hand sized pockets of warm, chewy dough with a crisp skin are filled with a variety of fillings. I had the Pulled Pork and the Coconut Curry Chicken. The Pulled Pork was deeply flavorful with a rich mix of spices and bell peppers. The Coconut Curry was lightly sweet and spicy with a relatively mild hand on the curry. I went with some chipotle mayo on the side. Hot sauce is available as well. These are the best empanadas I have had in some time.

La Sonrisa Empanadas -

Mayhem & Stout slow braised sandwiches - Do you like a nice sandwich? How about one with slow braised meat? Mayhem & Stout is for you. The menu is a "build your own" board. Pick a meat, pick a sauce, pick an add on. Simple. The sandwiches are available in half (really a bun) and whole (a hero roll). I had never tried Mayhem & Stout so I asked the gentleman running the booth what he would recommend. After considering for a moment he replied, "Pork shoulder, Golden BBQ sauce and pickled onion." "Done," I said. Now, being the smart boy I am, I asked what his second choice would be. "Brisket, Dragon Sauce (Asian BBQ) and spicy slaw." "Great. I will take a half sandwich of both," I said definitively.

Two home runs. Both meats were juicy, tender and falling apart. The bun is a perfect vehicle for the sandwiches. Nice crumb, flavorful and stands up to the fillings without falling apart. The pork is nicely seasoned. The Golden BBQ sauce is rich and spicy and slightly creamy with a hint of mayonnaise. The pickled onion adds a nice sour bite. The brisket with Dragon Sauce and Spicy slaw eats like an Asian riff on a classic BBQ brisket sandwich and is just straight delicious. I cant wait to get back and try more combinations.

Mayhem & Stout -

King's County Jerky Co. - Brooklyn based (of course) King's County Jerky Co makes beef jerky with grass fed beef. If you want to make the case as to why hand crafted, "artisinal" food with the best local products actually makes a difference, start with this jerky. Anyone who has eaten the mass-produced stuff you get in gas stations and 7-11s will be stunned. King's county jerky is lean, slightly moist and exploding with flavor. No artificial ingredients. Just beef and spices. It comes in three flavors; Original, Korean BBQ and Sichuan Ginger. I am partial to the Koren BBQ. At $10 for 2 ounces it is pricier than your convenience store brand but, as they say, you get what you pay for. King's County Beef Jerky is a great portable treat and very tasty way to get a quick hit of protein.

King's County Jerky Co. -

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Wisconsin: a cheese lover's paradise, part 1 - Chalet Cheese Co-op

Thanks to the good folks at the Milk Marketing Board of Wisconsin and I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days in Wisconsin touring the state and meeting some of its top cheese makers. When the trip was first proposed to me I was intrigued but did not have particularly high expectations. I figured there was no way a trip that involved eating and writing about cheese in Wisconsin could be bad. I just didn't realize how good a trip that involved eating and writing about cheese in Wisconsin could be.

I knew Wisconsin was the dairy capitol of America. I had been to the Mars Cheese Castle. To be honest, I was expecting some nice cheddar in the shape of a football or Wisconsin. I was not expecting the diversity of cheese Wisconsin's cheesemakers have to offer. I was not expecting the care and quality the cheesemakers bring to their products. And I was not expecting to have one of the best cheeses I have ever eaten in my life there (more on that one later).

In addition to the cheese makers I met, I also met two distillers and a brewer. They are all making top notch products with great care and pride. There is a lot happening in the Badger State for food and drinks fans. Let's start with a classic.

Myron Olsen, Master Cheesemaker, Chalet Cheese Co-op

This is Myron Olsen. He is the Master Cheesemaker at Chalet Cheese Cooperative. If you pictured in your head a Wisconsin cheesemaker, Myron is what you would come up with. He is a big bear of a man with a tremendous mustache, a classic Wisconsin accent and is one of the loveliest guys you could ever meet.

Chalet Cheese Cooperative

Chalet Cheese has been in business since 1885. It started as a co-op of family farms and remains one today. There are 21 family farms in the co-op and they are all with 20 miles of Chalet Cheese in Green County Wisconsin. They deliver fresh whole milk to Chalet Cheese daily.

Prices at Chalet Cheese

Chalet Cheese makes a number of award winning cheeses like Baby Swiss and German Brick, but their big claim to fame is Limburger. Chalet Cheese is the only maker of Limburger in the United States and Myron Olsen is the only Master Cheesemaker in Wisconsin certified in Limburger. Chalet Cheese has been propagating their strain of bacteria used in their Limburger for 100 years. You want an example of a national treasure, Chalet Cheese's Limburger is it.

Hand stamp for the Limburger

Myron and the folks at chalet cheese make cheese seven days a week. The following is a quick photo tour of Chalet Cheese Cooperative. I hope it gives you a feel for the place:

The vats for stirring the milk, bacteria and rennet.

"Knives" used for cutting the curds.

Myron checking the curds

Forming the curds

Weights for pressing the curds

Curing the Limburger by washing it with bacteria

Ripening the Limburger

Marching orders from Myron

In case you are making the Swiss cheese.

Myron checking the Swiss.

Taking a core sample of Swiss cheese.

Sampling Chalet Cheese Cooperative's wares.

Touring Chalet Cheese Cooperative helps you understand why the people of Wisconsin take so much pride in being the nation's cheese capitol. Generations of families have been been raising dairy cows and making cheese. It is a way of life and they take great care and great pride in what they do. Chalet Cheese Co-op is not new. It is not "sexy." It is not on the radar of the "foodie movement." What it is is a classic Wisconsin cheesemaker that has been making really good cheese for over 100 years. This is what they do in Wisconsin. I consider myself lucky that I got to see it, and taste it, first hand.

Chalet Cheese Cooperative, Monroe, WI  (608) 325-4343

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A little something for everyone: The Meadow

What if I told you I was going to to open a shop selling some of the finest crafted chocolate from around the world? "Sounds like a delicious idea," you would say. And I am also going to have variety of finishing salts for sale as well. "Interesting," you would say, nodding your head. And flowers. I am going to sell flowers. "OK," you respond, not quite as sure of my idea. What if I told you I was also going to sell a deep selection of cocktail bitters? "What are you talking about?" is the only response that comes to mind.

Now, what if I told you someone had this exact idea and went through with it? You would be as skeptical as I was when I saw this sign:

I walked into The Meadow a skeptic. I left a big fan. The store is the brainchild of Mark and Jennifer Bitterman (great name and, funny enough, no relation to Bittermens Bitters, which they sell). The original store opened in 2006 in Portland, OR (now it starts to make sense). The New York City store opened in 2010 in Greenwich Village where Mark grew up. The New York store is divided into sections. Chocolate takes up the left wall of the shop. Salt takes up the right wall and part of the front window. Bitters are in the back. A large table runs through the middle of the store, dividing it in two. The table holds the flowers. It is a beautiful store.

First, the chocolate. The chocolate is arranged by maker, dark and milk, single origin and flavors. It is a chocolate lover's dream.

You can browse.




Once you have finished being mesmerized by the chocolate wall you can turn your attention to the salt wall. The finishing salts take up the entire wall on the right side of the store. They are in large glass containers that show off a surprising array of colors.

All of the salts can be tasted and they are sold in glass jars of various sizes. If you are not up on the remarkable diversity of finishing salts (I certainly wasn't) the Meadow will be an education.

The Meadow also carries Himalayan Salt Blocks in various shapes and sizes, including bowls and platters. They offer a unique way to serve food with a platter that adds taste and texture to the food.

By now you have walked around and noticed the bounty of flowers smack dab in the middle of the store. The flowers for sale are gorgeous and more than an after thought. Every inch of The Meadow has been well curated.

With its array of fine chocolate, finishing salts and flowers The Meadow is the perfect place to pick up a hostess (or host) gift, especially nice this time of year as the holiday parties kick into high gear.

All this makes The Meadow a worthy stop. But it is the last item of focus for the store that puts it over the top for me. There is a quirk in New York's (and possibly else-where's) liquor laws that does not allow liquor stores to sell cocktail bitters. I believe they are considered mixers, which is nuts, and thus while you can get two parts of a Manhattan at your liquor store, you cannot get your bitters there. Maybe this wasn't a big deal when the only bitters people knew were Angostura Bitters and they would pick some up along with some maraschino cherries at the supermarket. But with the resurgence of the cocktail here in New York, and across the country, one bottle of bitters wont do.

I am a cocktail enthusiast, and I am always searching for new and interesting liquors and bitters. The Meadow may be the Holy Grail for the home mixologist. 

The Meadow has the largest and deepest selection of cocktail bitters I have ever seen (if you know of a deeper one, please let me know). They carry Fee Brothers, Angostura, Paychauds,  Bittermen's and most of the leading lights you may be familiar with as well as bitters from the US and the UK that I was unfamiliar with. 

Berg & Hauck, Bob's, Robert Lambert and Bitter End are just a few of the other brands on offer. And the really beautiful part is that every single one is available for tasting.

I could spend an hour just trying and talking about the bitters at The Meadow. I almost did. In fact I picked up a bottle of Bittermens Burlesque Bitters after a taste and it has been spicing up my Manhattans ever since.

The Meadow also carries a few well chosen cookbooks and kitchen utensils. The store in Portland carries wine as well (again with that NY liquor law). If you like chocolate, salt, flowers or bitters, swinging by the meadow is a must. If you like more than one of those things? You get the idea. And just in case you were wondering what to get me for Christmas (or Hanukkah)......

The Meadow -

New York - 523 Hudson Street

Portland, OR - 3731 N Mississippi Avenue