Supreme bounty of wholesome holiday happiness in the cheeses, meats, olive oils, and chocolates at Caputo’s Market1 Comment Published by les December 6th, 2010 in Business News, Chocolate, Communication, Community Dialogue, Cuisine, Customer Service, Salt Lake City, SLC, Tourism.
Spending dollars wisely during the holiday season carries renewed economic significance, especially for supporting local business. Specifically, the gift of food – especially when it comes from independent producers and makers who are as passionate about nurturing the sustainability of their farms and suppliers as they are about providing wholesome nutritious goods exceptional in quality and surprisingly reasonable in price – becomes a memorable gesture.
Today’s heroes of the food industry give consumers the capacity to add a meaningful touch of wholesome happiness and satisfaction to the holidays – if not to bring back a sense of humanity and sanity to the whole season.
The premiere stop in Salt Lake City for that precise experience is found in abundant examples at Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli. From phenomenal cheese selections that are heightened for taste impact by virtue of aging in the store’s cheese cave to meats and salamis from local and European producers and olive oils and chocolates, the potential gift selections become endless.
The following products are just a small yet highly indicative sampling of what is available (or has become recently available) at both locations – downtown and the 15th and 15th store. Furthermore, for example, customers will readily observe that cheeses at Caputo’s retail at reasonable prices coming in significantly lower than what might be available at other stores in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. And, these stores do not practice the affinage capabilities that Caputo’s employees have worked continuously to perfect.
Let’s start with cheese:
From the French Pyrenees come several selections made by Onetik that can pair well with quite a variety of wines, including some rustic Red varietals. Chabrin is a firm, sweet cheese made from goat’s milk with quite refined notes hinting at hazelnut, fig, and olive. Its yellowish rind is thick and the pâte is ivory colored with a smooth texture that comes out deliciously creamy once it has been aged, as it has at Caputo’s.
The Ossau-Iraty, also produced by Onetik, is similar in some fundamental characteristics except that it is made from sheep’s milk. The name refers to two rivers in the French Basque region which gives the spectacular terroir distinction to these cheeses, including a Tome de Vache Basque. These Onetik selections range in price from $17.95 to $23.95 per pound but note that even small quantities of these intensely flavored cheeses go a long way.
Scoparolo is a surprisingly good find that assuredly will be a crowd pleaser. Not perhaps as complex as a Castelmagno, it nevertheless is memorable – whether served alone with crusty bread and a glass of wine or paired with Creminelli salami and fire-roasted artichoke hearts. Like a well-aged Pecorino, this cheese has that characteristic slightly nutty taste and, at $16.95 a pound, it’s worth considering purchasing a pound of it because it will go fast at the table.
The Gourmino Gruyere ($19.95 per pound) from Switzerland has won first place in the World Cheese Championships but one does not need to be a trained judge or aficionado to see why this product’s toasted, nutty and floral notes work equally well alone on a cheese plate or melted for a recipe. A cooperative group of Brown Swiss cow dairy farmers – some with herds as few as five animals – transport their raw milk twice daily to a certified cheese maker. The 80-pound wheels are aged first locally and then at a larger facility in Langnau until they mature at nine to twelve months. Caputo says the cheese is especially noted for its low acidity and salt content.
One of the hallmarks of Caputo’s cheese offerings is the growing presence of European cheeses made by producers who are relative newcomers but who have expertly adapted practices that are at least hundreds of years old. A Fontina ($18.95 per pound) from the Italian Alpine producer Fromagerie La Haut Val d’Ayas is like the Gruyere noted above, perfect alone or incorporated in a recipe. Opened in 2002, the cooperative works with 65 local farmers and uses more than 2 million liters of milk annually to produce some 18,000 pounds of cheese.
An outstanding new generation example comes in Edwin’s Munster, made by the youngish Edwin Berchtold from Schwarzenberg, Austria, who crashes through the conventional boundaries and specializes in soft cheeses despite the fact that they’re not traditional in his bailiwick. However, keep in mind that this is not like any Munster you might have had.
This original gem, at the astoundingly good price of $11.95 per pound, is a sumptuously plump small round with a crosshatched brine-washed rind that remains mild in flavor. The pâte is wonderfully earthy and it retains the elements of the fresh sweet milk cream. Try this with an Epic Brewing Company beer.
In Europe, young and old cheese makers alike never cease to make new culinary delights. Case in point: Muffieno ($25.95 per pound) which comes from Italy’s fabled Piedmonte region, the home of Toma Piemontese, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola. For nearly a century now, a cooperative of dairy farmers in Novara, adhering strictly to agricultural traditions, has produced milk of unsurpassed quality transformed into these memorable cheeses.
The Muffieno embodies all of the great characteristics of a Toma Piemontese but develops a subtle marbling in the course of its aging which can be anywhere from two to four months. This is a complex cheese with herbal scents, the spicy blue dell’erborinatura, and a pâte that reminds you this is not to be confused with any blue cheese you may have encountered.
Juni is another Piedmont example of a new product based on the familiar Toma Brusca – which literally translates as “acid cheese.” The cheese is made by a family which operates a dairy in the Alpine valley town of Biella and which purchases milk from at least three dozen farmers in the area. With a Toma Brusca, the milk is allowed to stand for a few hours until the acidity rises and starts to coagulate the milk so that the cheese-making process can begin.
In this case, the cheese is infused with juniper berries and one can easily see the tiny dark specks of these gin-scented morsels. Juni ($16.95 per pound) comes off as a photo-ready rustic cheese with an abundant covering of mold on the rind. The taste is a complex yet wonderfully controlled array of mineral, mushrooms, gin scent, and buttery salt.
Before leaving cheeses, one must acknowledge the amazing farmstead version of Mahon Reserva ($20.95 per pound) that comes from Menorca, Spain. This cheese, which apparently is shipped with hand-written notes not even scribbled in the most legible manner, imparts an unforgettable taste that indicates this is the representation of centuries-old cheesemaking traditions.
Aged for a year, this cow’s milk cheese has a sharp, intense flavor with an indescribably natural crumbly texture. The rind – rubbed with Spanish paprika and oil – caps the unpretentious yet rich elements that define this cheese. Think Epic Brewing Company beers or a Spanish red wine with this cheese.
As for meats, again the selection is too broad and diverse to begin to give even a modicum of justice in description, but there are a couple of highlights worth exploring for the holiday season. Caputo’s carries the famed Pata Negra ham as well as the much more reasonably priced American version from Iowa that comes surprisingly close in taste and texture to the real deal.
However, the store now carries several products from Dehesa Cordobesa in Spain, which makes pure-bred Ibérico meats from the same pigs that would be used to produce Pata Negra but are raised by a cooperative of farmers.
The distinction is significant because while EU and Spanish law only requires that only 50 percent to 75 percent of the pig must be Ibérico bred in order to use Ibérico in the name, Dehesa Cordobesa mandates that all of its meat products use all Ibérico pigs. The cooperative maintains a huge acorn oak tree forest in the Pedroches Valley in Cordoba.
The pigs feed on cereal grains in the summer and the intensely sweet Holm Oak acorns during the fall and winter. This whole cycle of natural feeding for the free-roaming pigs means the meat achieves a wonderful marbling and exceptional taste that comes through in the various pork and pork tenderloin products.
For the customer, this means the experience of eating Ibérico pork products can be had at prices 40 percent to 60 percent lower than the Pata Negra ham and, again, a little bit can go a long way.
Of course, no holiday shopping suggestions at Caputo’s could continue without mentioning the salamis and meats being produced by Cristiano Creminelli, the outstanding craftsman from Italy who has redefined the practice of charcuterie here in Utah with impressive results.
And, recently he has added several new salami varieties including Musica (Salame della Musica) a regional specialty made in the same area as Juni cheese which was discussed earlier. This is an energetically bold salami because it has the surprise addition of pork liver and clove spices which really does give the sense of a hearty liver pâté.
Also, Salame Americano nods toward the classic American contribution of pork chops and applesauce as well as the locally grown herd of free-range purebred Berkshire hogs that feed on apples from a Utah orchard. One also gets the unmistakable yet balanced notes of cinammon.
And, by popular demand, Creminelli has produced his White Truffle Salami again this holiday season. The preparation is similar to that of the Tartufo Handcrafted Italian Salami with Black Truffle which won the sofi Silver Finalist Award for Outstanding New Product of 2008 and Outstanding Meat in 2009. However, instead of using black summer truffles, Cristiano threw restraint to the wind and used the most revered of the truffle family, the Alba White Truffle or Tuber magnatum with its distinctive and world-renowned qualities. The salami comes in an attractive gift box that echoes the authenticity of food artisanship.
And, Caputo’s takes the sales of olive oil with the meticulous seriousness of making sure customers are getting the authentic and appropriate product. Like wine, olive oil’s quality is predicated on the year of production. “We’re always re-evaluating our selections every year,” Matt says. “It isn’t surprising to see a particular producer disappear from the shelf after a disappointing harvest year only to return in another when the standard has been regained.” At press time, Italian makers are into this year’s olive oil production and American consumers will see the results for the first time somewhere between now and February.
Among the many selections, widely noted for their quality by major trade groups and international councils, include the Frescobaldi Laudemio, an estate-produced oil from the Chianti Ruffina hills, which sells for $44.95 for a half-liter. Always rated exceptional, this Tuscan oil often is ranked atop the region by Wine Spectator editors.
Perhaps the most remarkable for several reasons is Viola, solid proof that the lowest possible percentage of oleic acid content does matter in the quality and use of an oil given its potential longevity, always a critical factor in terms of taste. Viola has been recognized with Italy’s national prize for olive oil production. Even a couple of drops can bring forward a new dimension to a simple cheese. Caputo’s imports Viola directly and offers it at $34.95 for a half-liter bottle.
Cheeses, meats, and oils are undoubtedly a great hallmark of Caputo’s, but the family’s chocolate program has expanded to an incredible range of diverse products that represent nearly all of the world’s most critically respected chocolate makers. One would be tested to find any other location in the Intermountain West region that offers a similar range.
However, one, in particular, deserves special mention. Utahns are indeed especially blessed to experience Christopher Blue’s hand-made chocolates in which every drop and every ingredient is naturally sourced, right down to the color of his confectionary masterpieces. And, while Blue has smashed through the barriers of innovation and conventionalities in the San Francisco metropolitan area, he has continued a relationship with Caputo’s that, indeed, is the envy of any serious chocolate connoisseur.
Today, his chocolates are found in only five places in the United States: two locations in Berkeley, one in Mill Valley (California), one in Lincoln, Nebraska (his hometown), and Caputo’s
Previously in this blog, I have chronicled the extraordinary dedication of this young man to the most exemplary principles of making truly great food products. Always willing to push and push the boundaries in terms of improvement, he manages to produce the previously unimaginable in a form that is singular in taste and complexity.
He’ll slow roast sugar pie pumpkins adding the traditional natural spices and a touch of white chocolate that embodies the experience of eating a holiday pumpkin pie in a satisfying confection. Sunflower seeds are blended into sunflower butter and layered with freshly-made orange marmalade in a heart-shaped chocolate confection. Peppermint is no ordinary treat in a Blue creation. He steeps fresh peppermint leaves in cream, blends it with white chocolate, and encases it in dark chocolate.
The most astounding aspect of his chocolates is the ever-so-intricate fragile outer chocolate shell layer and how it holds beautifully within a satisfying serving of one of his exceptional fillings.
Most significantly, he has accomplished this by making his chocolates quite affordable for customers. Forget the pretenders (e.g. Godiva). Even a stocking stuffer of Blue’s chocolates adds the right accent to the holidays. Blue always makes his chocolates according to what is available in fresh form for the season.
Boxed assortments are available in plenty of affordable sizes, ranging in quantities from five to 10 and from 16 to 24 and up to 50. At two dollars per piece, Blue’s chocolates are as affordable if not even more so than many of the best-known — and way inferior — mass-produced name brands. And, to wit, all of his packaging follows the same rigorous set of environmentally-sustainable principles.
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