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Meats and Poultry

Cutting-Edge Craft and Creative Cuisine Come Together at D.C.-Area’s Urban Butcher

 

By Lucas Witman

UrbanButcher2-RNWhen a guest walks into Urban Butcher, a co-located restaurant and specialty meats shop in Silver Springs, Md., he or she is greeted by a giant glass wall revealing the store’s expansive meat cellar. Customers marvel at loins of pork, sides of beef, salamis and more, all hanging prominently, begging to be admired. It is immediately clear that the owners of any shop where aging meat is displayed as if it were fine art are deeply passionate about the craft of butchery. And listening to Head Butcher Matt Levere discuss his love of the craft, it is impossible not to become infected with a similar appreciation for the skill and creativity that go into producing gourmet specialty meats.

“It’s so much fun as a butcher and as a chef – learning and creating,” said Levere. “When you’re putting these things out to customers and coming up with brand new items, it’s an experience for them as well.”

Started just a few short months ago in December 2013, Urban Butcher has quickly made a name for itself as the place to go in the Washington, D.C.-area for expertly crafted raw meat and charcuterie. However, it is the fact that Urban Butcher operates simultaneously as a butcher shop, a retail space and a full-service restaurant, that makes this space particularly unique.

In terms of drawing in customers, Urban Butcher benefits from the fact that it brings in both restaurant guests and grocery shoppers. However, very often, guests who come in to eat at the restaurant end up leaving with a filled grocery bag. And those who come in to pick up a steak end up sticking around for a gourmet meal. This is because, as the restaurant utilizes the meats directly from the butcher case, impressed dinner guests are encouraged to take the product home to experiment with in their own kitchens. And for shoppers seen marveling at the butcher shop offerings, the store offers to take the product into the restaurant’s kitchen where it can be immediately cooked up and served for dinner.

From a logistical standpoint, Levere argues that there is a unique benefit to operating a retail shop in conjunction with a restaurant. At Urban Butcher, product moves fast and is continually replenished. “It’s awesome, because we can sell our products in the retail case and also in the restaurant. Everything we butcher goes right into the menu,” Levere said. “Everything is always fresh … It’s nice to see that aspect of it. It helps move product.”

For Levere, who has worked in restaurant kitchens and grocery store meat departments, he finds his work at Urban Butcher, which combines elements of both positions, as particularly rewarding. This is because, for him, when a chef and a butcher work together, they can create magic. “I think it’s a great relationship between the chef and I, because I know how to butcher so well. I know meat like the back of my hand and that’s what I specialize in. Here’s a guy that has been cooking for his entire life. And he knows that like the back of his hand,” he said. For Levere, butchery is truly an artform. And by combining his technical expertise with the chef’s creative vision, Urban Butcher is able to offer its customers something they would never find anywhere else.

The specialty meats offered at Urban Butcher are endless, and the store is constantly adding innovative new products to its meat cases. There is hickory-smoked bacon, handmade salami, pâté, prosciutto, sausage and marinated chicken. The store produces a broad selection of authentic European charcuterie, including lomo, bresola, filleto and more. And the shop’s 30-day aged beef short loin and aged ribeyes are cut to order, allowing the customer to choose the precise thickness that best meets his or her needs.

One standout among Urban Butcher’s offerings is a unique Greek sausage called loukanika. Levere argues that if one is to try only a single product from the store’s meat case, it is that one. “The loukanika is outstanding,” he said. “It’s a spicy lamb salami with flavors of fennel and orange zest. You get the fennel and then you get the orange immediately. And then right at the end the cayenne pepper hits your tongue. It’s a really nice experience.”

Urban Butcher focuses on sourcing all of its meat from local farms, including Autumn Olive Farms in Virginia, Creek View Farms in West Virginia, Piemonte Farms in Maryland and Shenandoah Meat Co-op in the Shenandoah Valley. For Levere, the quality of the animals is immediately apparent in the butchered product. “The quality is incredibly better than anything we can get anywhere else. The supermarket does not compare. The flavor is so much better. The customer can really tell the difference between the massively bred animals compared to the small batch animals,” he said. In addition, because the animals are all pasture-raised by small farmers, customers can feel confident that the salamis they are snacking on are made from animals that led stress-free lives.

Although currently enjoying its first year in operation, Urban Butcher has big plans for its future life. The store is currently expanding into local farmers markets, bringing its products to shoppers all over the D.C. area. In addition, Levere said the store also has plans to expand physically, eventually opening up a new, larger butcher production area.

For those who think a steak is a steak and a salami is a salami, Urban Butcher works to show its customers that a great deal of craft is involved in producing these items. When a skilled butcher and a skilled chef are involved, an animal can be transformed in any number of ways. According to Levere, “If you really understand the animal and what it has to offer, the possibilities are endless.”

 

 

British Food Producers Winning American Tastes #SFFS14

By Lorrie Baumann

The British government settled its own controversy about the sanitation of cheeses aged on wood a decade ago, and government regulators there have come down on the side of permitting cheese makers to age their cheeses as they think best, says the Right Honorable Owen Paterson, British Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. “It should be the cheese manufacturers who decide what to do. They’ve got a long history,” he said. “We believe very strongly that people should be responsible for their own production systems. What counts is the outcome.”

The outcomes that count should be that food should be safe to eat and it should taste good, and the British government has decided that the way to achieve that is to let the experts who are making the products decide how to get to that goal, and the government learned that through its own missteps in trying to regulate cheese production methods, he said. “Cheese is not suited to being produced on plastic. It sweats,” he said. “It’s a natural product, and it sweats.”

Paterson stopped in to promote British food at the Summer Fancy Food Show on his way to a meeting with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with whom he’s negotiating a trade agreement that he says he’s “mad keen” to get through as a step in opening up the American market to more food imports from the European Union. He says that British food producers are well positioned to capitalize on access to the American market. Americans ar already enthusiastic about British products and are already purchasing $3.5 billion/year worth of British food products — about 10 percent of British food exports. British food production is a $170 billion/year industry that employs just under 4 million people. “It’s by far the most innovated food sector in Europe,” Paterson said. As an example of how fast British food production is growing, he points to Walkers, which has gone from a small family bakery with 16 employees baking shortbread cookies to a large enterprise that currently employs 1,600 people in a business that’s based primarily on exports. And shortbread isn’t the only Scottish product that’s enjoying the world’s good opinion, he said. “The French drink more Scotch whisky in a month than the French drink French cognac in a year,” he said. “We’ve got more varieties of cheese than the French have.”

The British dairy industry has been deregulated and is poised for growth at a time when world demand for dairy products is growing hugely, Paterson said. “We’re ideally placed to take advantage of it,” he said. “I opened the world’s largest fresh milk dairy inn Aylesbury last week.” Britain is home to the only USDA cheese producer in Europe, which introduced the Kingdom brand of cheddar cheese in the U.S. late last year. The milk in Kingdom Cheddar comes from a small group of organic family farmers in South-West England, where cheddar cheesemaking first began in the 12th century. “We use old-world artisan techniques, conducted under today’s exacting organic standards, which makes for an exceptional product,” said Nicola Turner, Export and Marketing Director at the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo,) the largest organic dairy farmers’ co-operative in the UK. OMSCo manages the production of Kingdom Cheddar.

Paterson recommends the Kingdom Cheddar along with other British cheeses, which are made with a long history of cheese production, very modern plants with rigorous production standards and a great deal of innovation in presenting new varieties and flavors of cheeses onto the market, he said. “These guys are really motoring, and there’s potentially a huge market.”

Along with cheese, Paterson aims to provide new opportunities for British meat exports into the U.S. Americans are ready to eat British beef again, he said. “They love eating British beef when they come to London,” he said. Britain has the landscape and the beef breeds, including the Aberdeen Angus, to export high-quality grass-fed beef to an American public that will welcome it, he said. And after he’s gotten beef coming to America, his next step will be to follow up with lamb. “There are a lot of Americans of Scottish descent who are being prevented from exercising their ancestral right to eat haggis,” he said.

 

 

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine Introduces New Picnics

 

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine kicks off its 10th anniversary season with new picnics, sandwiches and salads, plus small production wine and beer pairings that have all been thoughtfully selected and created to celebrate summer in Chicago. Pastoral’s new summer offerings are available at all three store locations and also include cheese and charcuterie plates-to-go, plus a selection of handcrafted sides, sodas, locally made sweets, confections and accompaniments which can all be enjoyed on-the-go or at Pastoral’s al fresco dining patios open now throughout the season. Pastoral’s picnic offerings are ideal for two people to share, and designed with Chicago’s summer concert season and outdoor festivals in mind.

Pastoral 1“This summer marks Pastoral’s 10th anniversary in business, and we took this milestone as a chance to create our favorite summer menu to date—picnics, sandwiches, salads, cheese plates, drink pairings and more that showcase some of Pastoral’s most delicious offerings and favorite culinary producers that have worked with us since we opened in 2004,” said Greg O’Neill, Co-founder and Co-proprietor of Pastoral and Bar Pastoral. “Every menu item reflects our commitment to bring customers the best small production and specialty products available from the most wonderful and talented culinary producers near and far. We want guests to taste this effort in every bite and sip from Pastoral this summer.”

Pastoral’s new picnics are designed for two people to enjoy together, and all include a wine or beer pairing recommendation from Pastoral’s team of experts. New picnics include:

Decadent Picnic (Heirloom Tamworth Prosciutto (Iowa), indulgent Brillat Savarin triple crème (FR – cow), smooth and seasonal Snowfields (Wis. – raw cow), rich and complex 5-Year Gouda (NL – cow), pate de fruits Jugglers (Ill.), rich and fair trade Madecasse Mini Bar (MG), handmade caramels from Katherine Anne Confections (Ill.), plus soft and delicious cookies house-made at Pastoral);

Bavarian Picnic (tangy house-made pimento cheese featuring two Wisconsin cheddars (cow), fresh and creamy Quark (Wis. – cow), Alsatian-style Saucisson d’Alsace salami (Ore.), La Fournette Bakery’s original recipe soft Bretzel (Ill.), plus Pastoral’s house-made toastettes, pickled cauliflower and grainy mustard);

Francophile Picnic (country-style Pig and Fig Terrine (Ind.), buttery Spring Brook Raclette (Vt. – raw, cow), herbed Prairie Fruits Farm chevre (Ill. – goat), fruity and bright Zingerman’s Manchester (Mich. – cow), single varietal Ames Mini Honey (Minn.), Pastoral’s house-made artichoke tapenade, cornichons and grainy mustard);

Pastoral 2Quesophile Picnic (buttery Spring Brook Raclette (Vt. – cow, raw), Pecorino Fioretto (IT – sheep), tangy Clock Shadow Creamery chevre (Wis. – goat), Salemville Blue (Wis. – cow), smooth and seasonal Snowfields (Wis. – cow, raw), traditional and award-winning 1655 Gruyere (SZ – cow, raw), Pastoral’s own house-made spiced almonds and fig preserves);

Taste of the Midwest Picnic (Borsellino Salami (Iowa.), silky smooth Mortadella from Smoking Goose (Ind.), creamy and slightly funky Aged Widmer’s Brick (Wis. – cow), subtly smoky Marieke Smoked Cumin Gouda (Wisc. – cow, raw), tangy Clock Shadow Creamery chevre (Wis. – goat), shallot confit and dried Michigan cherries);

Carnivore’s Feast Picnic (dry-cured Salametti (Calif.), spice-cured aged Coppa (N.Y.), intense and rich Jamon Serrano (SP), silky smooth Mortadella (Ind.), Pastoral’s house-made pimento cheese featuring two Wisconsin cheddars (cow), cornichons, pickled vegetables and grainy mustard);

Grand Picnic (smooth and silky Prosciutto San Daniele (IT), Dodge City Salume from Smoking Goose Meatery (Ind.), fruity and complex Prairie Breeze (Iowa – cow), buttery and rich Brabander Gouda (NL – goat), bold and nutty Maxx Extra (SZ – cow, raw), smooth and lemony Driftless (Wisc. – sheep), single varietal Ames Mini Honey (Minn.), sweet and salty Effie’s Mini Oatcakes (Mass.), Pastoral’s house-made spiced almonds and a duo of handmade truffles from Chicago’s own Katherine Anne Confections.

Vegetarian options are available for select Pastoral picnics. All picnics are $39.99 with the exception of the Grand Picnic which is $69.99 and features some of Pastoral’s most indulgent products.

All Pastoral’s picnics are eco-friendly with biodegradable packaging including plates and utensils made from potato starch, recyclable paper bags and napkins. Additionally, many of Pastoral’s wines, beers, ciders and spirits focus on organic, biodynamic or sustainably produced selections that are both food- and earth-friendly.

The Pastoral team is available to help customers pair a bottle of small production wine, craft beer or cider with their picnics from the shop’s thoughtfully-selected collection of wines, beers, ciders and spirits. Pastoral’s beverage director, Mark Wrobel, has selected his favorite bottles for summer 2014, most of which feature a screw top or champagne-style stopper⎯no corkscrew required⎯making these selections ideal for summer concert and festival season.

 

Columbus Foods and Harris Ranch Announce Joint Venture to Expand Deli Meat Production

Building on last month’s announcement of a $28 million dollar investment in its Bayfront facility, to increase manufacturing capacity for its slow-cured salame, Columbus Foods has expanded its deli meat production capabilities through a new partnership with industry leader Harris Ranch. Family-owned and located in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, Harris Ranch has been producing superior meats for more than 50 years. To ensure consistency and quality during the transition, the two manufacturers spent more than a year planning, testing and duplicating Columbus’ time-tested consumer favorite deli meat recipes within this new modern facility.

“Like Columbus, Harris Ranch is dedicated to producing the highest quality products with the utmost dedication to food safety,” said David Wood, Chairman and CEO of Harris Ranch Beef Company. “This is a good fit for both of our companies – and the synergies between Harris Ranch and Columbus will ensure a seamless production transition.”

Significant investment between both companies of more than $10 million dollars was made to ensure the implementation of a state of the art deli meat processing facility to support this venture. The current layout was built to produce an initial volume production of 25 million pounds of deli meat cooking and processing, but can be expanded to another 50 million pounds of capacity with minimal disruption to operations.

“Columbus’ deli cooking facility in South San Francisco is landlocked and necessitated we find a solution to provide for capacity expansion on our branded deli meat growth,” said Timothy Fallon, CEO and President at Columbus Foods. “By partnering with Harris Ranch we’re well-positioned to continue to provide the quality and taste that consumers and our retail customers expect from Columbus and meet continued growth in the coming years.”

Pata Negra to Introduce Imperial White Chorizo at Fancy Food Show

ImperialPata Negra LLC will offer a taste of chorizo as it was made during an era in Spain before red peppers arrived from the new world in the 16th century. This Imperial Vela Blanco chorizo is dry-cured and features a gourmet mixture of premium American pork meat, garlic and other hand-selected spices. Because the chorizo is made without paprika, it features a milder taste and cooler color than the more common, crimson red chorizos – like Imperial’s Vela Mild and Vela Hot. 
“We want to bring chorizo making in all its authenticity to the United States,” says General Manager of Pata Negra LLC, Ignacio Saez de Ibarra. “Our most recent creation takes chorizo making back to a time before paprika was available in Spain, producing a dry cured sausage that lends a milder taste for charcuterie enthusiasts everywhere. ”

The Imperial line is carefully crafted under the guidance of master chorizo-maker Dr. Antonio Libran, a veterinarian expert with more than 30 years of experience in the food and Spanish cured meats industries. The team sources premium American pork meat, the world’s best Spanish paprika and only the finest hand-selected spices. Each features a lengthy, dry-curing process to ensure all natural ingredients season slowly to lend each chub the authentic flair and flavor of old Spain. This Spanish artisan technique produces a signature bouquet and texture not found in mass-produced chorizo varieties, both domestic and imported.

imperial-chorizoThe Imperial brand was introduced in 2013 and is crafted by a group of Spanish entrepreneurs who came to the United States to produce authentic, dry-cured chorizo that with each bite exudes the flair and flavor of old Spain.
Visit Pata Negra in booth #2320 during the Summer Fancy Food Show.

Kretschmar Announces Super-Premium ‘Master’s Cut’ Deli Meat Line

Kretschmar® Premium Deli Meats & Cheeses has just launched Kretschmar Master’s Cut, a line of super-premium bulk deli items. The line features unique flavors of turkey, ham and chicken that use the highest quality, cleanest ingredients. It is available at deli counters across the country.

Kretschmar Master’s Cut Deli Meats feature sweet, smoky, savory and robust flavors, which were inspired by consumer culinary trends.  Flavors include Sweet Smoked Ham, Black Pepper & Jalapeno Ham, Sweet Molasses Ham, Mesquite & Bourbon Turkey Breast, Santa Fe Turkey Breast, Sun Dried Tomato Turkey Breast, Cajun Style Turkey Breast, Pastrami Seasoned Turkey Breast and Chipotle Barbeque Chicken.  All products are gluten free, and contain no added MSG, added nitrites or nitrates or added hormones. Each product also meets criteria for a heart-healthy food, as certified by the American Heart Association.

“We are extremely excited about the launch of Kretschmar Master’s Cut,” said Michael Sargent, brand manager for Kretschmar. “Its unique flavors and unparalleled quality have raised the bar for premium deli meats.”

For the product launch, Kretschmar enlisted Certified Master Chef Brian Beland as a brand ambassador. Chef Beland received his Certified Master Chef accreditation from the American Culinary Federation in 2010 following an eight-day cooking exam at the Culinary Institute of AmericaHyde Park, N.Y. He is currently the Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage at the Country Club of Detroit and is also a Chef Instructor at Schoolcraft College in Michigan.

As a brand ambassador, Chef Beland created five original recipes using Kretschmar Master’s Cut and will make appearances on behalf of Kretschmar throughout 2014 at trade shows, public relations events, and consumer events. Additionally, Kretschmar will execute a sweepstakes in which consumers can enter for a chance to win a trip for two to The Culinary Institute of Americain Napa Valley where Chef Beland will give them a personal cooking tutorial.

“I’m thrilled to share with everyone Kretschmar’s newest product line, Master’s Cut,” said Certified Master Chef Brian Beland. “Its wide array of flavors and quality ingredients provide tons of possibilities in the kitchen.  I’ve really enjoyed cooking with the meats and developing new recipes for Kretschmar. I know that consumers will appreciate its versatility and top-notch taste in their recipes as well.”

For more information on Kretschmar Master’s Cut, Chef Brian Beland, or to view new Kretschmar Master’s Cut recipes, log onto www.kretschmardeli.com and find the company on Facebook at Facebook.com/Kretschmardeli.

Salumi from Creminelli Fine Meats #NRAShow

It’s not hard to find the specialty food products at the National Restaurant Association Show #NRAShow when they bring along their collection of sofi Awards and set them out on the shelf in their display. That alone says something about the respect in which the sofi Award is held by all those foodies who know how to find the sure sign of the very best. Around the company’s sofi statuettes, Creminelli Fine Meats is displaying its line of artisan salami, all made in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the climate is ideal for curing meats, says Andy Dallas, the company’s Regional Sales Manager for the central U.S. The company was started in Salt Lake City by Christian Creminelli, who is originally from Biella, Italy. He’ll be bringing the entire line to the Summer Fancy Food Show, where you’ll be able to see them in booth # 668. Here at the National Restaurant Association Show, find Creminelli in booth #3679 in the South Hall.

Nicky Farms Game and Specialty Meats Now Offered in New Seasons Markets

Nicky USA’s line of specialty meat and high quality game is now available at New Season’s Market under the “Nicky Farms” label. Elk, venison, locally raised rabbit, wild boar, goat, buffalo and a variety of game birds will now be available at all 13 New Seasons locations.

Since 1990 Nicky USA’s game and specialty meats have been featured at the best restaurants in the Northwest. With expanded distribution to New Season’s Market, home cooks will now have access to their unique offerings.

“Consumers are becoming more adventurous in their home kitchens,” says Nicky USA President Geoff Latham. “They want more than beef, chicken and pork, and we are growing to meet those demands.”

Game has historically been a mainstay of the American diet, and Nicky USA is excited to put game back on the center of the plate. Nicky USA has long worked to educate the public about its specialty meats through its annual culinary event, Wild About Game, and via its farm in Aurora, Ore., where the company currently raises rabbits, quail and goats for the Nicky Farms line.

Nicky Farms game birds and meats can be found in a variety of cuts in the freezer section, or behind the meat counter at New Seasons markets. The full line of offerings includes: rabbit, poussin, game hen, quail, Muscovy duck, pekin duck, venison, elk, wild boar, goat, and buffalo.

About Nicky USA

Founded in 1990, Nicky USA is the Northwest’s leading butcher and distributor of game birds and meats. The Portland-based company has forged relationships with local and international ranchers, as well as James Beard Award-winning chefs in an effort to make game a mainstay of specialty markets and fine restaurants. Nicky USA offers a specialty line of products called Nicky Farms, featuring Northwest raised rabbit, quail, elk, fallow venison, water buffalo, emu and American bison. With the recent purchase of a 30.9-acre farm in Aurora, Ore, owner Geoff Latham is now able to raise game for Nicky USA, host friends and customers, and guide hunts. Aside from selling meat and wild game, Nicky USA hosts Wild About Game – this year on September 7, 2014 – an annual Iron Chef-style cooking competition and festival promoting sustainably raised game birds and meats. Nicky USA recently opened a second location in Seattle, and orders can be made through nickyusa.com or by calling 1.800.469.4162. For more information, call Nicky USA at 503-234-4263 or visit www.nickyusa.com. Follow NickyUSA on Twitter and Facebook.

Haute up the Barbecue with Premium Meats

A cookout doesn’t really need much to make it a great time – some primal instinct reacts to the aroma and flavor of charcoal grilling and suddenly everything tastes good.   But to truly elevate the experience D’Artagnan, the nation’s leading purveyor of all-natural and organic poultry and game, free-range and antibiotic- and hormone-free meats, recommends trading up in quality with premium meats for the ultimate backyard fete.

  • wagyu burgersKobe-Style Wagyu Beef Patties ($11.99/two patties / 8 ounces each) Made with 100 percent Kobe beef, these patties owe their incomparably buttery texture and exquisite flavor to high marbling and the perfect lean/fat ratio of  80/20. Once you’ve taken this step up it will be hard to take a step back.
  • buffalo burgerBuffalo Burgers ($10.99 / 8 ounces) Sweeter, richer and leaner than beef, pork, turkey and even chicken, buffalo burgers are deeply flavorful. A source of great protein, iron and other nutrients, buffalo makes for a tasty, good-for-you burger alternative.
  • beef hot dogUncured Beef and Duck Hot Dogs ($6.99 & $9.99/ 8 ounces) Hot dogs become “haute dogs” when they are 100 percent natural, made without artificial flavors or other ingredients, and contain no nitrates, nitrites or preservatives.  D’Artagnan’s Uncured Duck Hot Dogs are made with flavorful Pekin duck meat and provide a dog with flair for the true foodie.  The Uncured Beef Hot Dogs are reassuringly natural and high quality, containing none of the “mystery ingredients” that have given ordinary dogs a bad name.
  • buffalo ribeyeBuffalo Ribeye Steak ($21.99/8 ounces) These steaks are slightly sweet, lean, dense and a bit gamey for a satisfying taste.  100 percent pasture-raised buffalo with access to grain and hay and no hormones or antibiotics.  The steaks are also gluten-free, high in protein, lower in fat cholesterol and calories compared to beef.

 

Benz’s Gourmet: Adding Flavor to Tradition

 

By Lorrie Baumann

As Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern are fond of pointing out to their television audiences, you can learn a lot about a society by tasting its food. Case in point: the Orthodox Jewish community in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. If you find yourself in Crown Heights, or even if you are just wondering about kosher food, Benz’s Food Products will be happy to serve up an education in what it means to be both “kosher” and “gourmet.”

WEB_140225_LT_BenzsGourmet_44Benz’s Gourmet, the brick and mortar shop that is the retail face of the family-owned kosher grocer, opened 11 years ago in Crown Heights, a neighborhood that has since become known as a case study in gentrification. As rising real estate prices have forced middle class families out of Manhattan, they have fled in large numbers to Brooklyn neighborhoods served by an efficient public transportation system that provides easy access to the island. The population shift has generated the concerns and conflicts characteristic of any rapid cultural change.

For Benz’s Gourmet, the changes in the neighborhood have created an opportunity to serve both the neighborhood’s native Orthodox Jewish residents and ex-Manhattanites with gourmet foods that meet the strictest of kosher requirements but also the educated tastes of adventurous eaters. Aside from a few staples that are carried as convenience items, every item in Benz’s Gourmet must pass both tests: it must meet the strictest of kosher standards, and it must be a gourmet product.

WEB_140225_LT_BenzsGourmet_71“If you’re looking for a gourmet dulce de leche that’s strictly kosher, you come to Benz’s. If you’re looking for a kosher goat yogurt, Benz’s carries it. If you’re looking for truffles, Benz’s carries it. We also offer a large assortment of imported cheeses, imported olives and beers. Of course, all strictly kosher,” said Dobi Raskin, the daughter in the family that owns and operates Benz’s. Dobi does some of pretty much everything that has to be done in the store and the wholesale operation that stands behind it. “Just because you’re kosher and Orthodox doesn’t mean you don’t want a truffle mac and cheese. Just because you keep kosher shouldn’t mean that you don’t get to taste the finer things in life.”

The business was started in 1976 by Dobi Raskin’s father, Benz Raskin. Benz is still active in the business along with Dobi’s mother and her three brothers.

Benz started out making classic frozen gefilte fish logs, distinguished from competing products by the high quality of a product made with only fresh fish and fresh produce when other companies were making it with frozen fish. “We started really small, making small batches,” Dobi says. At first, the product was sold only to local families, with Benz delivering it himself in a little red pickup truck. “We’re in Brooklyn, the home of many Orthodox Jews,” Dobi says. “We ourselves are Orthodox Jews.”

As the Benz’s gefilte fish became more popular, Benz started selling it wholesale to institutional buyers serving the Orthodox community. He then began adding more groceries to his product line. Today, the business sells groceries through the Internet as well as in a brick-and-mortar store, and the company’s patriarch has become a mascot for the neighborhood. The shop is only about 20 feet by 100 feet, so it’s not hard to find him when he is there. “Our hearts are bigger than our store,” Dobi says. “He’s sort of an icon. People come in just to say hello to him. He loves it.”

WEB_140225_LT_BenzsGourmet_48Benz started the business because he saw that the people in his neighborhood were becoming more interested in some of the gourmet food products that they were hearing about from the Food Network and other influences. They wanted to try the new specialty foods, but they were not interested in abandoning religious requirements for how food is to be raised, processed and served. “That’s where Benz saw the need,” Dobi says. “It requires a lot more research and care to make sure that the products are up to the kosher standards of the community, since there are many different kosher certifications. If there’s a product with a kosher certification you don’t recognize, you have to do due diligence to make sure that it’s something we can carry … Just because something has a symbol doesn’t mean that it’s going to fly with us.”

Benz’s now carries a wide variety of refrigerated and frozen products, dry products and other specialty groceries, all with the endorsement of rabbinic authorities that it has been produced according to strict kosher law. Dobi does a great deal of the research herself to be sure that each product meets the company’s standards. “It’s quite astonishing how much time it takes to establish that a product is kosher, and if so, under which certification,” she says. “That’s what makes us unique, that we take the time.”

WEB_140225_LT_BenzsGourmet_54When customers ask for an item that’s not in the shop’s stock, Dobi seeks out suppliers who can provide a kosher gourmet product. “If you’re looking for strictly kosher goat yogurt, Benz’s will find it and bring it in. If it’s a popular item, it becomes a regular. We’ll stock it,” she says. “If it’s available on the market, we’ll try to bring it in for you.”

Finding a gourmet item with the proper kosher certification can be a challenge, and Dobi is particularly proud that she was able to find truffle products in response to a customer request. She now gets them from an Israeli company that sources them in Europe, and Benz’s now offers minced truffles, truffle sea salt and even truffle oil. “We were able to bring in the product line. That was a good one,” Dobi says. “You keep the customer happy. They keep you happy. It’s a nice cycle.”

In their eagerness to try new gourmet products, Benz’s customers have not forgotten the traditional foods they grew up with. The company still sells its classic frozen gefilte fish logs and still takes great pride in offering a gourmet product that meets customers’ dietary needs. “The fresh fish and fresh produce that goes into the product put it a step above its competitors, Dobi says. “Just because we eat gefilte fish doesn’t mean it has to taste like cardboard.”

Benz’s also imports trays of herring from Europe and offers them both in the tray and in almost 30 different preparations that combine the herring with ingredients like wasabi, scallions, jalapeños and habanero peppers. Some customers like to buy the herring already prepared, and some like to buy the plain filets and take them home to experiment with new flavor combinations. Either way, Benz’s is ready to serve.

“Our herring filets are probably the best on the market. The quality just can’t be beat. It’s just nice, buttery, good texture,” Dobi says. The herring filets are, like Dobi herself, named after Benz’s mother, so customers come into the shop and ask for Dobis. “I’m pretty famous now, I guess,” she says.

The Dobi case is a popular gathering spot for the community as they come into the store to shop for Sabbath meals, and the various preparations for the herring have become a running topic of discussion among the Orthodox community, where you can often tell which synagogue an individual attended last week by what kind of herring they’re talking about, Dobi says.

“People are expanding their horizons. The market is so vast and there are so many options that people are able to eat a gourmet diet and still adhere to the strict kosher requirements,” says Dobi. “There’s a young community here that’s blossoming that wants the better things in life, and we appreciate that we’re able to offer it to them.”