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Good Food Awards Announces Finalists

The Good Food Awards program has announced 263 finalists for 2016 from 1,937 entries. Representing 13 categories, from cider to confections to pantry, finalists such as Tennessee Reserve Pecan Sorghum Butter, California Country Miso, Georgia Green Peanut Oil and New York Pitorro Shine– a Puerto Rican-style moonshine – exemplify the country’s diverse and deep-rooted food traditions. Beyond distinguishing themselves by receiving top scores from the 215 judges, all finalists passed a rigorous vetting to confirm they met specific Good Food Awards standards around environmentally sound agriculture practices, good animal husbandry, transparency, and responsible relationships throughout the supply chain.
The winners will be announced Friday, January 15, 2016, at a gala Awards Ceremony at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, followed by two more days of celebration. Medals will be bestowed by renowned chef and activist Alice Waters and organics pioneer Nell Newman, tipping their hats to these exceptional food producers. A reception with the winning food and drink will follow the ceremony, offering both regional ‘tasting plates’ and small bites created by local chefs. A limited number of tickets are available for the ceremony and reception ($120 here). The father of the food movement, Slow Food Founder Carlo Petrini, will travel from Italy to deliver the opening remarks. On playing this special role he notes: “I am thrilled to be invited to set the tone for this extraordinary evening, which gathers together the best of America’s agricultural bounty. In every corner of the world, Slow Food is fighting to defend small scale, quality food production, and initiatives like this deeply reinforce the movement in the United States. Agriculture that is good, fair and in harmony with our environment is the only hope we have for the future of our food, and by extension, for ourselves. I am overjoyed to return to San Francisco, a city I love which has played a vital role in shaping the Slow Food movement in the USA. The opportunity to see how far America has come in producing food in harmony with this amazing land makes me all the more excited.”

On Saturday, January 16, the 30,000 square foot Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason Center will transform into the Good Food Mercantile, one-of-a-kind, intimate ‘un-trade show’ where both winners and members of the Good Food Merchants Guild – exemplary food crafters meeting the same sustainability criteria – exhibit their full line of wares to 400 industry buyers and media. The Good Food Awards Marketplace rounds out the weekend on Sunday, January 17. The general public is invited to come meet the winners, taste and buy their winning food and drink (including bottles of beer, cider and spirits not licensed for sale in California, but permitted this year within the federally-owned historic landmark of Fort Mason Center). Proudly welcoming the winners, and also selling to the public, will be the local farmers and food trucks of the Fort Mason Center Farmers Market. Tickets to the Good Food Awards Marketplace are $5, with a $20 Early Access pass (with welcome gift).

The Good Food Awards are supported by the Good Food Retailers Collaborative, the presenting sponsor for two years running. Composed of 13 of the country’s top independently owned retailers from Chicago to Oakland to Ann Arbor, they are committed to supporting America’s great food producers in their own communities and across the country. Joining them is a vibrant group of key supporters, including six-time premier sponsors Williams-Sonoma and Bi-Rite Market; and lead sponsors Dominic Phillips Event Marketing, Impact HUB Bay Area, Veritable Vegetable, BCV Architects and Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.

Details of all events and tickets can be found here, and the full list of finalists here.

Drop in for a Fresh Welcome at Urban Radish

 

By Lorrie Baumann

Urban Radish is a little like Cheers, the bar in the television show that ran in its original release from 1982 to 1983 – it’s that place “where everybody knows your name,” says General Manager and Head Buyer MacKenzie Aivazis, who is also the daughter of Owners Michael Aivazis and Keri Johnson. The store in Los Angeles’ Downtown Arts District was designed around the idea that shoppers would be visiting daily rather than weekly. “We designed the store for urbanites,” Aivazis said. “That means that the focus is on the freshness of the ingredients. Our customers are aware that we’re meeting with local farmers several times a week to buy the freshest produce. Customers are aware that when they see produce in our store, they know it was on the farm a day or two ago.”

“Sausages from the meat department have been made that week if not that day,” she continued. “There is a sense of community. I know my customers. I have the same customers who come in every day. I know what’s going on in their lives…. We strive for that. It really is what makes the store special, in my opinion.”

Urban Radish’s neighborhood is in the process of redeveloping from an urban-blighted industrial area into a mixed-use neighborhood with manufacturing, high-occupancy residential and retail uses. Over the next two years, the neighborhood’s population is expected to triple. “Just two blocks after Skid Row ends, you have this really high-end community that’s developing here,” Aivazis said. As a result, the people who’ve moved into the new residential developments tend to be affluent Gen Xers who value transparency about their food sources and prefer fresh locally-sourced food when it’s available. “During lunch, there’s a lot of manufacturing surrounding the store, so we get a very, very hip crew that comes through, all in their 20s and 30s who are very avant-garde, what most people would identify as a hipster. It depends on whether they’re working in the area or actually live here,” Aivazis said. “They’re urban couples and singletons. When they have babies here, they tend to move away, which makes sense because there are not a lot of amenities for children here.”

The redeveloping nature of the neighborhood means that the store is unable to offer its customers free WiFi, since the infrastructure in the area doesn’t allow enough bandwidth for that yet. Despite that, Urban Radish has a customer following who are engaged with each other and with the store, and they’ve made Urban Radish into a local hang-out spot. The store encourages that with a range of high-quality prepared foods as well as weekly live music sessions. It’s a great event, a great time. All the regulars come and we turn on the grill for a full dinner, and we usually have someone come in and sample wine,” Aivazis said. “That speaks to the community that we try to create for people who are our customers and people who are not our customers…. There are peple who are interested in this area and who come down here just to see what’s going on down here. I believe that this area will draw people who are interested in food. Our mission is to inspire that foodie in everybody. Sometimes you just have to put it in front of them.”

 

 

 

Study Finds Menu Labels Fail to Reduce Calorie Consumption

Some six years out from New York City’s attempt to curb the obesity epidemic by mandating calorie counts in chain restaurants, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have found that calorie labels, on their own, have not reduced the overall number of calories that consumers of fast food order and presumably eat.

In a report to be published in the November issue of the journal Health Affairs, the NYU Langone team describes its analysis of information gathered from 7,699 fast-food diners in New York City and nearby New Jersey cities.

The study, in which researchers compared food orders in places with and without calorie counts, is believed to be the first long-term analysis of the effects of menu labeling in the United States. Researchers say it also offers early evidence of its possible impact as the federal government prepares to introduce the policy nationwide in December 2016 as part of its Affordable Care Act.

Researchers found that the average number of calories bought by patrons at each sitting between January 2013 and June 2014 was statistically the same as those in a similar survey of 1,068 fast-food diners in 2008, when New York City initially imposed menu labeling. Diners were surveyed at major fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s.

Calorie counts in the 2013-2014 analysis averaged between 804 and 839 per meal at menu-labeled restaurants, and between 802 and 857 per meal at non-labeled eateries; whereas, they averaged 783 per meal for labeled restaurants and 756 per meal for non-labeled restaurants shortly after the policy was introduced.

For the surveys, diners entering the fast-food restaurant were asked to return their itemized receipt to research assistants and answer some follow-up questions in person in exchange for two dollars.

“Our study suggests that menu labeling, in particular at fast-food restaurants, will not on its own lead to any lasting reductions in calories consumed,” says study senior investigator Brian Elbel, PhD.

Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, says that while it is important to acknowledge the limitations of the menu-labeling policy by itself, a combination of policies, such as marketing regulations or price subsidies for healthy foods, may have a positive impact on the nation’s obesity epidemic.

There is still cause for optimism, he says, because the current and previous studies show at least some awareness of the bloated calorie counts in most fast food. “People are at least reading the information, some are even using it,” says Elbel, pointing out that among the study results from 2008, some 51 percent of survey respondents reported noticing the calorie counts, and 12 percent claimed that it influenced them to choose a lower-calorie item, even if it did not reduce overall caloric intake.

However, the number of people paying attention to the calorie counts diminishes over time. Elbel notes that at the start of the 2013 study, 45 percent of survey respondents said they noticed the calorie counts, a decrease from 2008 levels. As the study continued, this number dropped six months later to 41 percent and dropped again in 2014, to 37 percent, in the last set of surveys.

An estimated third of adult Americans are obese (with a body mass index of 30 or more), and that number is expected to rise to 42 percent by 2030, among the highest of any country in the developed world, he says.

Elbel says continued and closer monitoring of the impact of menu labeling should also boost success rates by showing more clearly where, for whom, and what kind of labeling shows the most promise. Potentially, he says, “labels may yet work at non-fast-food, family-style restaurant chains, or for specific groups of people with a greater need than most to consume fewer calories and eat more healthily. We will have to wait and see, while continuing to monitor and analyze the policy’s impact.”

Discover De La Rosa at KosherFest 2015

De La Rosa Real Foods & Vineyards, maker of Mediterranean-inspired Kosher, natural, organic and non-GMO foods, will introduce exciting new additions to its product line at KosherFest in Secaucus, New Jersey.

In addition to a full line of natural and organic extra virgin olive oils, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, organic vinegars from Italy, organic tahini sesame butters, premium quality varietal wines made with 100 percent organic grapes, and other “Always Kosher, Always Non-GMO” products, De La Rosa will debut:

  • Organic Date Jam
  • Organic Date Syrup
  • Organic Date Honey
  • Organic Date Hazelnut Jam
  • Organic Gluten-Free Sesame Flour
  • Organic Stevia – Liquid and Granules
  • Grappa made with 100 percent organic grapes.

Visit in booth #351 November 10-11, 2015. For wholesale inquiries, contact Simcha Lewis, Business Development, by calling 718.333.0333 or emailing info@delarosa613.com.

Herbicide Proliferation and Cancer Link Enough Reason to Require GMO Labeling, Says Advocate

 

By Lorrie Baumann

 

The real reason to be concerned about genetically engineered crops is not food safety. Rather it’s the increased use of the herbicide glyphosate that’s made possible, and perhaps even inevitable, by these crops, according to Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of the advocacy organization Just Label It! as well as Chairman and former President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm.

Read expert opinion about the food safety implications of GMOs here.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was called “probably carcinogenic to humans” in May by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization. In the same report, IARC classified the insecticides malathion and diazinon as probably carcinogenic to humans and the insecticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The report notes limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer with evidence from studies of exposures in the U.S., Canada and Sweden published since 2001. “In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals,” the report notes.

That report prompted the French government to ban sales of glyphosate to consumers, and retailers in Germany have begun voluntarily pulling products containing glyphosate from their shelves, according to Chemical & Engineering News. Monsanto has asked Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy to convene a panel of experts to review the IARC report and points to a statement by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, which says it’s too soon to say what the IARC report means because there are a number of long-term studies of the effects of glyphosate on mice and rats that were not considered by IARC. “IARC received and purposefully disregarded dozens of scientific studies – specifically genetic toxicity studies – that support the conclusion glyphosate is not a human health risk,” says a statement issued by Monsanto. “IARC’s classification is inconsistent with the numerous multi-year, comprehensive assessments conducted by hundreds of scientists from countries worldwide who are responsible for ensuring public safety.”

The suspicion that there might be a link between glyphosate and cancer as well as increased use of herbicides on American crops due to the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds should be enough reason to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically-modified ingredients, Hirshberg said. “The reality is, how can you say that GMOs are safe when there’s a direct correlation to herbicide use,” he said. “I have not said a word about whether GMOs are safe to eat or not. We don’t bother going there.” Hirshberg made the remarks during Natural Products Expo East, held September 16-19 in Baltimore.

“Though poll after poll has shown that more than 90 percent of consumers want labeling, there is no consistent answer about why people are concerned about GMOs,” he said. “In a civil society, we would let people know, and then let them find out.”

Hirshberg noted that in the 19 years since the first genetically engineered corn was introduced into the marketplace with the promise of crops with higher yields and greater drought-resistance, farmers have seen much different results. “There’s no evidence that there’s been higher yields in corn and soybeans versus non-genetically engineered crops. There’s no evidence that non-genetically engineered varieties have evolved any faster or any slower than genetically engineered crops,” he said.

He pointed out that use of glyphosate by American farmers has grown greatly because genetically engineered crops are designed to withstand the effects of the herbicide, which means that the herbicide can now be applied throughout the growing season. “Glyphosate is now the most-used agrichemical in our country,” he said.

Increased use of glyphosate and other herbicides has led to the evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds that have become a nuisance to American farmers, according to Hirshberg. “Today, more than 61.2 million acres of U.S. farmland are infested with weeds resistant to Roundup,” he said.

In response, farmers are being encouraged to use a solution of a stronger herbicide, 2,4-D, which is a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War, according to Hirshberg. “You have the foxes guarding the henhouse telling us what is and isn’t harmful,” he said. “That was effective for one season, but now we have 2,4-D-resistant weeds being developed. We’re using more and more of this stuff and getting less and less results…. Farmers are becoming more and more dependent on this herbicide treadmill without seeing any effect.”

Glyphosate is commonly found in the air and in rain and streams in Iowa and Mississippi, said environmental scientist Paul Capel, Research Team Leader for the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program, who spoke by telephone a few days after Hirshberg’s presentation at NPEE. His team measured the incidence of glyphosate in air and rainwater samples in both Iowa, where glyphosate is primarily used on corn and soybean crops, and in Mississippi, where glyphosate is used on a wider range of crops and in non-agricultural areas throughout the growing season. The analyses found glyphosate in the air in weekly samples taken in Mississippi during the growing season from April through October 86 percent of the time in 2007 and 100 percent of the time in 2008. Glyphosate was found in Mississippi rainwater samples 73 percent of the time in 2007 and 68 percent of the time in 2008.

For rainwater, the USGS team found glyphosate in the water in 73 percent of the samples in 2007 and 68 percent in 2008 in Mississippi. In Iowa, the team found glyphosate in 71 percent of the samples in 2007 and 63 percent of the samples in 2008. Capel was also involved in a 2004 study in Indiana that found glyphosate present in rain water 92 percent of the time.

Despite the chemical’s presence in air and rainwater, there’s little evidence at this point that glyphosate is a danger to groundwater supplies. Studies have shown that glyphosate is rarely detected in shallow groundwater, Capel said. He noted that glyphosate is typically applied by spraying from an airplane or from mechanized equipment near the ground, and as it’s sprayed, some fraction of the chemical enters the air directly, it never makes it to the ground. Of the chemical that does make it to the ground, some will be tied up in the soil, and thus unavailable to percolate into the groundwater.

While Capel’s USGS research documents that glyphosate is frequently found in rivers, streams and the air in areas where it’s heavily used on farm fields, the jury is still out on what that means about the health risk to humans, which depends both on level of exposure and how bioreactive the chemical is, according to Capel. “We’re trying to document environmental concentration off of the farm fields,” he said. “This is the exposure part of the health risk.”

He noted that scientists have associated glyphosate exposure with a number of different health issues, including autism, cancer and kidney disease. “Most of these studies are still under debate,” he said. “There’s not a clear linkage between exposure and some sort of detrimental end point…. These are questions that still need to be asked.”

Banning the chemical is not an immediate solution to this problem, according to Hirshberg. “The simple reality is, with fire retardants for an example, it’s been a 30-year fight. You need epidemiological research. You need deep pockets for lobbyists,” he said.

His organization is advocating in favor of mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs, which he believes would create consumer pressure on manufacturers to exclude GMOs from their products. If farmers couldn’t sell their genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops, they’d revert to conventional crops that can’t withstand glyphosate’s effects, so they wouldn’t spray so much glyphosate, he reasons.

His immediate objective on the way to that larger goal is to stop passage of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July with the expectation that it would face a tougher fight in the Senate. The bill allows for voluntary labeling of GMO ingredients but prohibits states from requiring mandatory labeling. Opponents of the bill typically refer to it as the DARK Act, which stands for “Denying Americans the Right to Know.”

“Our mission is not just to stop this bill,” Hirshberg said. “Our mission is to get mandatory labeling…. The real critical societal question is if we’re going to be a society that’s satisfied with labeling the absence, or are we going to say what’s in it…. The reality is we vote every time we shop, and unless we have information, we can’t vote…. The other side has spent over $100 million denying your right to know. What are they hiding?”

 

Authentic Italian Food at a Fair Price from Cibo California

 

By Lorrie Baumann

 

Just as California’s Silicon Valley has a justly deserved worldwide reputation as a center of excellence in computing and information technology, Italy has a “Food Valley” with an equally deserved worldwide reputation, according to Massimo Cannas.

Cannas is an Italian-American food importer and broker who’s a familiar figure in the exhibit halls of the Fancy Food Shows, particularly in the Italian food areas, as well as throughout the entire specialty food industry. He founded specialty food brokerage MAXCO International in 1995 and has clients across the country. Now, he’s expanding his enterprises with the founding of Cibo California, a new specialty food import business based in southern California. Federico Pavoncelli is the company’s Co-Founder and Executive Vice President. “I am so proud that he has joined the company and shares its vision,” Cannas says. “He is a great person that I respect very much.”

As President and CEO of Cibo California, Cannas plans to source a wide selection of authentic Italian food specialties and import them into the U.S. He and his partners, all first-generation Italian-Americans who speak Italian as their native language, will use their knowledge of Italian culinaria as well as their Italian language skills and their ability to navigate the culture to bring authentic Italian specialty food products to an American public that’s eager to taste them, Cannas says. “Thanks to my relationships with the food producers, I have had the opportunity to find products from suppliers who have opened every door to me,” he says. “My face is known there, and I have had the chance to explain what the company is about..

The Italian foods that most Americans are already familiar with are but a small sampling of the range of authentic and delicious products that are being produced for commercial sale in Italy today, according to Cannas. Over the past 30 years or so, the Italian specialty foods industry has developed from a few large companies that made products characteristic of the owners’ culinary traditions. For years, those companies dominated the export market to the U.S., leaving many Americans with the impression that once they’d tasted, and come to love, those products, they knew all there was to know about Italian food.

But Italy is a country, not with a few basic recipes for foods that the entire country has in common, but with a multitude of intensely local culinary traditions, Cannas says. As he speaks, the Italian-accented words begin to tumble over themselves as they rush to explain why this is important to American consumers. “When you drive for 10 miles in Italy, you find yourself every 10 miles in a new Italy. Nothing is similar to what you tasted 10 miles ago. In Italy, we have dialects. Every 10 miles, there is a different dialect. Everyone speaks Italian, but between neighbors, they speak local dialects. With that, the varieties of wine are different. The kind of bread is different. The pasta, the soup, the meat, the fish, the cured meats, the cheese, the extra virgin olive oil, the wine, the mineral water, the cookies, they’re all different. This is why Italy is so very interesting to the food lover. It’s always a discovery, day after day.”

“For an example, recently I found a producer who makes what I consider the very best hand-made breadsticks,” he continues. “We drove for six hours in the rain and wind to arrive for a visit with this artisan that produces these breadsticks, which are very unique. It’s a family-owned company, and after a couple of hours, they have granted us the exclusive right for distribution in the U.S. Now it’s up to us to translate this to the American consumers and to restaurants, but we are positive that we are going to be successful…. Americans today are excited to discover these new things coming from Italy. It’s no longer spaghetti and meatballs and pizza. There are specialty foods from every region to be discovered here. This is what we are trying to do. This is exactly why Cibo California is excited to discover for all of our customers and for everyone who loves food and who loves Italy.”

For more information, visit www.cibocalifornia.com or call Cibo California at 949.427.5555. To place orders, call 800.991.5199.

 

Meat Alternative Appeals to Mainstream Consumers

 

By Dan Wilkins

 

Chilli_Quorn_TacosMeat alternative Quorn, the market leader in the U.S. natural foods channel, is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance for a product line whose protein comes from fungi. “The specific type of fungi allows the mimicking of the taste of real meat with much better health benefits,” says Sanjay Panchal, General Manager of Quorn Foods USA. The Mycoprotein in Quorn products is a complete protein that’s naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber, according to Panchal. “It has as much protein as an egg, as much fiber as broccoli,” he said.

The products contain no soy or GMOs, and the protein source is also environmentally friendly, with a carbon and water footprint that’s about 90 percent less than beef and 75 percent less than chicken, Panchal said. “In addition to the great health benefits and environmental benefits, our food just tastes amazing,” he said. “I’ve got three sons, age 9, 7 and 3, and we, probably once or twice a week, we replace their chicken nuggets with Quorn nuggets, and they Hoover them.”

Five products in the Quorn line are gluten free: Grounds, a product that substitutes for crumbled ground meat; Chik’n Tenders; Chik’n Cutlet, Turk’y Roast and Bacon Style Slices. “It gives folks looking for a gluten-free option another opportunity to use a food like ours in their recipes to satisfy their specific dietary restrictions,” Panchal said.

Quorn appeals to consumers who want to eat less meat but also want both convenience and the flexibility to adapt recipes that already work for them. “Our food doesn’t just attract vegetarians,” he added. “What you’ll find is people like our family who are complete carnivores, but if they’re looking for a way to reduce the meat in their diet, for whatever reason, this appeals. The appeal of a meat alternative, and Quorn specifically, is very broad and broadening…. Our growth rate year to date is 29 percent in sales versus a year ago and growing across all channels. We’re really pleased with our performance.”

The product line includes options like Grounds that will work for the consumer who has the time and the desire to cook meals like spaghetti Bolognese from scratch but also includes heat and eat options like Jalapeno and Three Cheese Stuffed Chik’n Cutlets for the consumer who values speed and convenience. “It’s really easy to prepare on weeknights. It’s basically straight out of the freezer and into the pan or the oven,” Panchal said. “With the nuggets, it’s 10 minutes to eating it…. With the Grounds, you mix it with a little water, taco seasoning and cheese and make it into a quesadilla. It’s a really simple food to make, and that’s why we like it as a family.”

Quorn products retail for $3.69 to $4.99 every day, depending on the retailer, for a package that serves four people. Quorn is distributed nationally.

 

Cheesemongers with Passion and Panache

 

By Lorrie Baumann

Conner Pelcher

I met Connor Pelcher, a Wholesale Account Manager for Murray’s Cheese, one morning over breakfast during the American Cheese Society’s Cheese Camp, after my attention was drawn to him by one of his co-workers who asked him if he was wearing his flamingo socks. He reared back in his chair and raised his leg above the table to demonstrate that, yes, the flamingo socks were sur les pieds.

I missed seeing the matching flamingo shirt that he’d also bought after he’d run out of shirts during his stay at Cheese Camp. “I went to the mall, saw a flamingo shirt, and then I saw the flamingo socks,” he says. “As a salesperson, I like to dress in a way that people will remember. The better dressed you are, the more visually impactful you are. That might help people think about me when they have a question about cheese.”

Pelcher started his career in the food industry as an escape from the reality that a college graduate with a degree in English has when realizing the limited options for turning that degree into a well-paid career. “Anyone who has a degree in English can tell you the feeling of fear you get when you get handed that diploma,” he says. “That fear led me back to Vermont, where I grew up.”

Back in Vermont, he began exploring a passion for cooking and applied to the New England Culinary Institute. “I got a call the same week to say they loved my essay and were looking for people who were passionate and who were looking for a second career,” he says. After graduation from culinary school, he moved to New York and began moving up the ladder in white-tablecloth restaurants until he found himself the general manager of a restaurant and two bars in the East Village, and it dawned on him that he was having more to do with spreadsheets and personnel rosters than with actual food. “I took a step away from that and thought about where I could focus myself,” he says. “I had always been obsessed about beer and wine and cheese, so I sent a resume to Murray’s. I went in and got myself hired as a junior sales person.”

He still remembers what he said in that interview, he says. He mentioned “that cheese with the ash.” Humboldt Fog? the interviewer asked, and he agreed that, yes, that’s the one he had in mind. “It was laughable. Now I could talk to you for an hour about my favorite cheeses.”

He’s now been at Murray’s for two years, has become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional and he’s now teaching some of the classes he attended to learn about cheese. Pelcher says he’s more excited now than he was when he started the job. “At Cheese Camp, I got to meet some cheese celebrities. I got to taste a million things that I never even would have known about,” he says. “The panels were incredible – some of the brightest minds, a confluence of some of the best thinkers that the cheese world has to offer. To be allowed to ask questions of them, to have four people that you deeply respect and that you read about answering a question for you…. Someday I’d like to be on one of those panels and to have people look up at me and applaud.”

Chad Farmer-Davis

Chad Farmer Davis, a Kroger Enterprise Set-up Specialist who opens Murray’s Cheese Shops inside partner stores across the country, also remembers the job interview that led to his career in cheese. He’s from Illinois, and he’d never even seen a cheese shop when he applied six years ago for what was supposed to be just a summer job. “I said I was an expert. I ate Kraft every day,” he says. “That was my entire cheese knowledge six years ago – Kraft and Velveeta.”

Much as he loves eating good cheeses now, his favorite part of his job is working with the people he meets as he travels the country, “training new cheese people and spreading the word on curd.” “There are literally so many crazy people in cheese culture. These are people that you tend to be attracted to,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was so focused on Star Wars. When I grew up, it transferred to cheese.”

When he trains new cheesemongers who aren’t yet as obsessed as he is with cheese, he likes to point out that talking about cheese is an easy way to start a conversation with a stranger. “There are so many kinds of people, but most people love cheese, and you can definitely bond with people over cheese. You can start a conversation about cheese, and it leads to, oh, I made a new friend,” he says. “You can meet a lot of new and interesting people, and it makes you a better person because you’re learning so much about other people.”

Like Pelcher, Farmer-Davis’ was once one of those liberal arts graduates willing to think for food. Now, he’s become one willing to spend the rest of his career thinking about food. “This is now a permanent career – one I thought I’d never have,” he says. “It was something that took me by surprise. I fell in love with it the very first day. I’m definitely not going to walk away from it, ever. It’s something that I love to do, and it makes my life extremely interesting.”

Jill Davis

Like Pelcher, Cheesemaster and ACS Certified-Cheese Professional Jill Davis started out as a chef. She now works for Kroger at a new Murray’s Cheese Shop inside a Decatur, Georgia store, but before she joined Kroger, she was working for KitchenAid, teaching cooking classes and offering demonstrations to show kitchenware retailers how to use KitchenAid appliances. Before that, she’d worked at Sur Le Table teaching classes in cooking and knife skills, and she’s spent five years as a chocolatier. She intends for Kroger to be her last employer before she retires.

She came to work for Kroger after KitchenAid closed its Atlanta facility. “I’d been a long-time customer of Murray’s and got an email that said, ‘Coming Soon to Atlanta,” she says. “I called directly to New York.”

A Murray’s staffer in New York put her in touch with the Kroger hiring manager in Atlanta, who interviewed her for five minutes and then handed her an airline ticket to leave the next day for training in New York. “I got the whole Murray’s tour and then came back here and directly became a cheesemonger and in charge of the shop,” she says.

Murray’s is extremely thorough in training, not only about cheese, but about merchandising and the product itself. There are product sheets on every single thing you sell: name of the farmer, name of the cheesemaker, nutritional information, some factoids to help you remember it. You need to have all of this information before you even begin a demo, plus all of this information is on every single sign, which also contains pairings and information on pronunciation,” she continues. “They also bring in their people to teach you the proper way, the Murray’s way, of cutting each cheese within each family of cheeses and how they’re merchandised and displayed.”

Her new shop has about 100 different cheeses, an olive and antipasti bar, a case of charcuterie, pickles, jams and chocolates. Crackers sit on top of he cheese cases. While most of the cheese is cut to order, there are also some grab-and-go precuts because many of the Kroger stores are open 24 hours a day and some customers choose not to interact with the cheesemonger.

For me, it’s all about the cheese. I like talking to my customers every day. I want to have customers, people who come in and ask for me and say they’re having people over and want to know what to serve,” she says. “Everything – the bottom line – is customer service. It’s not all about the cheese; it’s all about the customer.”

 

Discover the Magic of Miso

If there’s one “secret” ingredient that can enhance your favorite recipes, miso just might be it. It’s a soybean paste fermented with rice, barley or other grains. Miso adds umami or savory notes to food, and is a staple ingredient in Japan. In Japanese cooking, miso has long been prized for its salty, complex flavor as well as its nutrition benefits. Miso includes probiotics (naturally occurring live bacteria in cultured and fermented foods) that are good for the digestive system, and is a high-protein food (approximately 2 grams of protein per 1 tablespoon). It’s also versatile, not only because of the way it enhances other ingredients, but also because it comes in a variety of colors, flavors and textures, each with its own uses in cooking.

White (shiro) miso has the sweetest flavor of the miso types and is made with soybeans and rice. Of the three types, it is fermented for the shortest length of time. Despite its name, the color is actually pale yellow. The mild flavor makes it a natural choice for salad dressings, and it adds salty and savory notes to soup.

Yellow (shinshu) miso is darker than white miso, and is fermented longer. It is made by fermenting soybeans with barley and adds a nutty flavor to foods. It’s often used in soups, and works well for light marinades. Use instead of butter when mashing potatoes to achieve a richer flavor and to reduce the need for added salt. Whisk or blend yellow miso with sesame oil and mirin (rice wine) for an Asian-inspired tofu marinade.

Red (aka) miso, is the saltiest version, and has the most depth and boldness of flavor because it has been fermented the longest time. Its flavor complements meats and other robust foods.

Miso is made by combining cooked soybeans, sea salt, grains and a starter culture. It is fermented for a few months, or up to a few years. Depending on how long the soybeans are fermented and which grains are used, the flavor and color vary. In general, the darker the miso paste, the more intense the flavor. Here are some ways you can discover the magic of miso for yourself:

Mix miso with condiments such as butter or mayonnaise to add depth and dimension to the flavor of sandwiches and snacks. Enhance the flavor of soups (prepared or homemade) by adding a little white or yellow miso. Add a small dab of red miso to meat glazes. Experiment with desserts by stirring a teaspoon or two of miso into chocolate cake batter.

The Soyfoods Council offers recipes for salads, soups, and entrees that demonstrate the flavor range and versatility of miso. Entrée ideas include Miso-Marinated Salmon with Edamame Soy Stir Fry and Sirloin Steak with Black Soybean Salsa and Miso Orange Sauce.  The orange sauce recipe combines raw sugar, rice vinegar, orange juice, white miso, mirin (rice wine), butter and achiote powder. The miso marinade for salmon features white miso, mirin, tamari (similar to soy sauce) and cayenne pepper. Other recipe suggestions include soups such as Creamy Kale Miso Soup, featuring yellow miso, tofu and low sodium vegetable broth, and Miso Chicken Soup with Snow Peas and Tofu with ginger and miso paste flavoring the stock.

Talenti Gelato Celebrates the Season with Traditional Flavors

Talenti Gelato is bringing back three seasonal favorites:

  • For the pumpkin flavor fanatic, Pumpkin Pie blends brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin and then adds real pie crust pieces for a delicious take on a holiday treat.
  • Want a beverage and dessert in one? Meet Old World Eggnog, which is a rich and creamy interpretation of the traditional holiday drink, with fresh egg yolks, pure vanilla extract and fragrant nutmeg.
  • And last but certainly not least is Peppermint Bark, an indulgent gelato that combines semisweet Belgian Callebaut chocolate with a smooth and refreshing peppermint base.

The flavors are available nationwide for a limited time only starting mid-October at a suggested retail price of $4.99-$5.99, so consumers can enjoy and indulge while supplies last.

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