Olio Nuovo è arrivato

This week we received our annual shipment of Olio Nuovo from Italy.  Olio Nuovo is the fresh new olive oil of the season, pressed just a few weeks ago between mid-October and Thanksgiving.  This super fresh oil is quite intense, a little cloudy, bold and peppery.

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In the northern hemisphere olive harvests happen in autumn, typically sometime between late September and December.  If you live here in the San Francisco Bay Area you may have noticed folks harvesting olives in the parks and along the sidewalks as olive trees have become more popular as foliage here over the years.  So each year as the year comes to a close the fresh oil is pressed and stored for shipment later in the new year. Typically we start to see the new season oils in the late spring and early summer of the next year. This time is necessary for the oil to settle and mellow a bit, and for the previous years oil to sell through.  Often the oil may be filtered and either bottled or kept in the tank until time for packaging and shipment.

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Olio Nuovo is not allowed to sit and mellow.  It is the freshest, brightest expression of the olive fruit; unfiltered, cloudy, with bits of olives and leaves, and bursting with flavor and aroma.  Olio Nuovo is meant to be consumed quickly, and if you lived in Italy you might pour it over everything for the next couple of months – raw veggies, slow cooked beans, grilled meats, mozzarella, ice cream, pasta, and toasted bread with a pinch of salt.

We have 3 Olio Nuovi from Italy this year:

Tenuta de Capezzana from Tuscany – Beautiful lime green color, scents of green apples and fresh-cut grass. Lovely, velvety texture with a very full, clean flavor of olives, green tea and a delightful peppery finish. A mouthful.

Filippo Contini Bonacossi comments on the 2012 Capezzana Harvest:  “I am very satisfied with the quality of this year’s oil; it has not been this good in years!  The olives appear beautiful, with good pulp, and a level of anticipated maturation, in fact, the ripening began in early October”.

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Olio Verde from Sicily (made from San Francisco’s favorite Castelvetrano Olive) – Dark olive, sage leaf, almost military green color with strong golden highlights, full of Sicilian sunshine. Rich notes of freshly cut grass, artichokes, tomato skin and aromas of banana peel. Strong olive fruit and white pepper flavors. Rich, velvety texture enfolds a well-balanced spiciness which kicks back at the end. OUR BEST VALUE!

Frescobaldi Laudemio from Tuscany – Absynthe, vibrant esmerald deep green.  Rich aromas of artichoke, leafy greens, asparagus and black pepper, as when present in a frantoio when the oil is being pressed. Flavors of freshly sliced artichokes with a noticeable bitter spicy finish typical of Tuscany which will awaken all your tastebuds. 

Lamberto Frescobaldi says about the 2012 harvest: 2012: what a great year for Laudemio! I don’t recall such a vibrant, rich aromatic Laudemio . For our great wines, we look for low yields instead for a great Laudemio we hope for a generous crop of olives . The reason is simple: a considerable amount of olives makes them mature more slowly and remain smaller, thus the aromas are more concentrate and the colour is greener.  We had the right amount of rain in Spring and early Summer, then a terrifically hot dry summer. From October onwards we monitored the olives and we started picking on the 20th, almost the same date as of last 3 years. Picking and pressing within few hours is one of the secrets of our quality.

A side note…  About 10 years ago I was in Italy with a group of friends staying in an old farmhouse on the Capezzana property situated between olive trees and vineyards near Carmignano, outside Firenze.  One morning I awoke to the sound of tractors and excited Italians – the olive harvest was happening outside my window.  I watched as multiple generations of the family spread out large nets below the trees, and shook the trees vigorously forcing the olives to fall to the ground.  I thought to myself simultaneously – wow, how cool, and oh boy, that’s a lot of work!  Unfortunately, it was our last day in Italy and I never had an opportunity to know more about those olives… I always think of that day when we receive our Nuovo Olio.

Now’s the time to get a bottle of Olio Nuovo as we will sell out quickly.  The Frescobaldi Laudemio comes in a nice gift box perfect as a stocking stuffer!

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Rancho Gordo Beans

We just received a shipment of dried beans from Rancho Gordo in Napa.  On Saturday I cooked a package of Rancho Gordo Flageolet beans at the store and sampled them throughout the afternoon.  The recipe/technique was dead simple – just soaked them overnight, and the next day I cooked them at a soft boil/simmer for about an hour.  Simply seasoned with red onion, bayleaf, and a little dried Italian seasoning we had available.  Once tender, I seasoned them with salt, a good dash of sherry vinegar, and a little Cappezzana nuovo olive oil we had on hand.  At home I might have seasoned them further with Pancetta, or maybe even serving them with Confit Duck Leg.

In addition to dried beans, we also received dried hominy, popping corn, and New Mexico chile powder from Rancho Gordo.  I was so inspired by the beans we prepared on Saturday that I brought home a bag of dried hominy to cook for my Sunday dinner at home the next day.  When I was a kid we ate hominy regularly.  Where I’m from it’s quite common, but in our house the hominy was always from a can.  My dad liked to cook it with lots of butter (margarine actually), and I liked to mix it in my mashed potatoes 🙂  Initially I was thinking to make Posole, or maybe a green chile stew with hominy, but I ended up making a “kitchen sink” hominy stew instead.

I soaked the hominy in water before going to bed.  Like many dried grains, it plumped overnight to about double.  The next morning I drained the water, and added fresh water to the pot.  I brought the hominy to a boil, and lowered the heat all the way and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  The hominy doubled in size again, and became soft yet chewy in texture.  To make the stew, I browned a couple of slices of Pancetta we had in the fridge, and sweated chopped white onion with a crushed garlic clove, mexican oregano, thyme, and bayleaf.  I deglazed with white wine, and filled the pan with chopped kale, coarse chopped carrots and fingerling potatoes, a bone in chicken leg quarter, the cooked hominy, and topped it with stock.  After about an hour of gentle simmering I removed the chicken and bay leaf, shredded the chicken and returned it to the pot, and seasoned the stock with salt, cayenne, and sherry vinegar.  Oh, and I chopped a little cilantro for garnish in the bowl at serving.  We ate the stew with bread, and Manchego cheese.  It was delicious.  Leftovers will be even better!

Hominy Stew

  • 1/2 cup dried hominy
  • white onion
  • kale
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • bone in chicken thigh(s) or breast(s)
  • mexican oregano
  • thyme
  • bayleaf
  • cayenne pepper
  • stock – veggie, chicken, veal – it’s all good
  • options – pancetta or bacon to build the base; cilantro, parsley, or chives for garnish

Enjoy!

-Ray

Valentine’s Day

Sensual and sensational, Valentine’s Day is a cheese lovers holiday. Here’s the set up – you and your sweetheart alone by the fire, a platter of cheese, a bottle of bubbly, Chocolate Strawberries – you get the picture!

Here are a few of our favorite Valentine’s Day Cheese in stock this weekend:
La Tur – Creamy and rich Italian Cow, Goat, and Sheep blend to match with Strawberries and Champagne
Tomme du Chevre du Grandmere – Grandma’s Traditional Goat “Cheese Cake”. Simply scrumptious in a Frisée salad, or matched with Sour Orange Preserves
Tasmanian Signature Camembert – A new selection at the Plus. Sweet and creamy. Perfect for licking off fingers
St. Agur Blue – Cream enriched blue from France. Sweet and grassy. Match with a sticky dessert wine.
Pyrenees Brebis – Southern French Sheep cheese. Toasted hazelnut praline flavors to match with Spanish Jamon Iberico Ham.
Saenkanter 3 Yr Aged Gouda – Salted toffee and caramel notes. Match with a rich Zinfandel or Port and Dark Chocolate.

Maybe you’ve got Champagne wishes and Caviar dreams for this Valentine’s Day. We have a full selection of Champagne and Sparkling wines to compliment our Tsar Nicholai California Farm Raised Caviar. And don’t forget the smoked Salmon, Crème Fraîche, and Buckwheat Blini to serve with your Caviar.

For all you chocoholics out there – we saw you coming! In addition to fabulous Red Velvet hearts, we’re stocking all your favorite dark chocolate bars including our latest addition of Amano Chocolate from Utah. And we’ll also make our own Chocolate Dipped Longstem Strawberries this Friday and Saturday.

And don’t forget the Roses! Paul Robertson will deliver fresh Longstem Roses, Tulips, and more to the store just for you this Valentine’s Day!

Tsar Nicoulai Caviar – San Francisco’s Original Sustainable Caviar

Caviar is the classic New Year’s Eve indulgence.  Paired with tart and rich crème fraiche, smoked fish, and delicious bubbly, we can think of no finer way to finish 2008 and welcome 2009!

For decades San Francisco’s own Tsar Nicoulai has been supplying the finest restaurants and retailers with their award winning farm raised California Estate Osetra Caviar.  Tsar Nicoulai were the first to develop California farm raised Caviar, and continue to produce and import the world’s finest Caviar.

Traditionally, Caviar was produced in Russia, Iran, and Romania along the Caspian and Black Seas.  Overfishing, heavily polluted waters, and brazen illegal poaching there have resulted in lowering the quality of imported Caviar while drastically increasing the costs.

Contrastly, California farm raised Caviar is produced locally in the Sierra mountain range of Northern California under strict guidelines and attention to detail.  The resulting Caviar is superior in its clean fresh flavor, affordability, and sustainability.

Here’s a brief description of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar we have in stock for you this New Year’s Eve:

California Select Estate Osetra Caviar

Medium to large sized eggs.  Golden tawny brown to platinum color.

California Estate Osetra Caviar

Medium sized eggs.  Dark black/brown color.  Sweet, nutty and creamy.

American Paddlefish Sturgeon Caviar

Small eggs.  Steel gray color.  Fresh sea-breeze flavor.

We recommend serving Tsar Nicoulai Caviar well chilled in the simplest manner – either on buttered toast points, or a buckwheat blini (pancake) with a dollop of creme fraiche, and a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne.

Enjoy!

Il Nuovo Olio d’Oliva è Arrivato!

The new Olive Oil harvest has arrived at Cheese Plus

Recently we featured fresh and lively Beaujolais Nouveau wine from France – the young, just pressed and fermented first wine of the season.  Today I’m going to introduce you to Olio Nuovo d’Oliva – the first pressed Olive Oil of the season, which has just arrived at Cheese Plus.

Olives ripen and mature late in the year, and are typically harvested in late autumn.  To celebrate the harvest, the freshly pressed olive oil is made available on a limited basis.  More typically the olive oil that was harvested and produced just 3 – 6 weeks ago is allowed to settle and mellow; waiting for shipment to the market sometime in the springtime of the new year.  So most of the oil available today was actually harvested in the late autumn of 2007.

The Olio Nuovo (or Novello as it’s known in Southern Italy) is vibrant green in color, with a thick silky texture, and the unmistakable aroma of freshly cut grass; and spicy black pepper, sweet fennel, bright green apple, artichoke and olive leaf flavors.  Olio Nouvo is the most intense and full flavored olive oil available.   Pour this green elixir over your best bread – I like the Acme Bakery Long Italian loaf or their not-so-well-known Upstairs Bread we offer.  For cooking I recommend serving this as a finishing oil on flavorful cold weather roasts, risotto, pasta, and green vegetables.

We have a very limited supply of Olio Nuovo d’Oliva from Capezzana and Laudemio (Tuscany), and Olio Verde (Sicily), so call us today to secure your bottles.  And remember – Olio Nuovo is a great holiday gift for any foodie on your list!

The Five Senses

Cheese Plus Style

The dictionary tells us our senses are the physical means by which all living things see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Kind of boring, huh?  It doesn’t need to be,  so let’s spice it up a bit and celebrate the sensual side of food. Here are a few of our favorites to ignite your senses this Valentine’s Day!

Sight

What could more lovely than a great selection of artisanal cheese from around the globe.  When putting together a cheese board for Valentine’s Day we suggest you keep it simple with 3 cheeses and an accompaniment such as French Rose Petal Jam or Robert Lambert’s California Quince Paste.  Stop by and have a taste or our favorites this week.  We’re here to help you create a memorable Valentine’s Day cheese board.

Smell

Truffles, Truffles, Truffles!  We’re talking about that funky little wrinkled fungus the pigs root out from under the ground.  The aroma is an intoxicating and complex experience that’s difficult to describe.  You either get it or you don’t – we do, and we’ve got plenty to go around.  Try our selection of truffled foods including Ritrovo’s Truffle and Salt, Truffle Tremor Goat Cheese, Truffle Cacciatore Salame, Truffled Pasta and Sauce, Truffle Butter, Truffled Oil and so much more!

Touch (Texture)

Caviar and Creme Fraiche immediately come to mind.  We simply adore the gentle pop of Tsar Nicoulai California Osetra Caviar on the roof of our mouths followed by the creamy swoosh of sweet and tangy creme fraiche.  How ’bout a glass of French Champagne to complement?

Sound

What could be better than the explosive sound of opening a bottle of Champagne?  Could you imagine opening a bottle of champagne with a bottle opener? What’s the fun in that?  That magic POP! is half the fun and universally regarded as the beginning of a great experience.  Our choice for Valentine’s Day is Agrapart Les 7 Crus Brut Blanc de Blancs.  Made with 100% Chardonnay this wine is clean and bright showing great elegance and finesse.

Taste

Chocolate is synonymous with Valentine’s Day and we couldn’t agree more.  From creamy white chocolate to astringent extra dark we love it all!  One of the greatest things about chocolate is how a little bite can provide a ton of flavor.  We recommend the local favorite Charles Chocolates Valentine’s Box filled with with Raspberry, Passion Fruit, and Mojito ganache-filled heart-shaped chocolates.  We’ll also be creating our own Dark Chocolate covered longstem Strawberries this Valentine’s Day.  Available Wednesday the 13th and Thursday the 14th only.

Fondue

Traditional Winter Warmer

A classic dish for cold weather and good times, Fondue is a great winter warmer. Like so many enduring food traditions, Fondue’s history is based on frugality and survival. Bits of leftover cheese and wine were melted together and bread was used to extend this hearty mixture. Today, Fondue makes a great entertaining centerpiece, and your choices for ingredients are bountiful.

While you can fashion your Fondue in the traditional Alpine style, or branch out into Tex-Mex or Asian flavors, a few basic rules must be followed: First and foremost – use the best natural cheese. Second, keep a keen eye on the temperature of your cheese – too hot and it will be stringy and dry; not hot enough and you’ll be stirring all night long. Third rule – Have a good time. Fondue is a simple formula, so let’s get cooking!

Here’s our master recipe for Fondue.

For 6 people you will need approximately 3 lbs of cheese (12 cups) grated and dusted with a little cornstarch. You will also need approximately 2 cups of dry white wine, Vermouth or other alcoholic beverage. You’ll serve the Fondue with crusty bread, pickled cornichon and pearl onions, bits of prosciutto, ham or salame, steamed vegetables, and crisp apples. Spice it up if you like with a little dry mustard, grated nutmeg, a clove of garlic, or a splash of truffle oil – let your creativity flow.

Serve crisp dry wine such as Apremont from the Savoie region of France, Chardonnay (not too oaky) or Sauvignon Blanc, crisp Apple Cider, light Pilsner Beer, or refreshing sparkling wine to help wash it all down. For dessert a little fresh fruit or sorbet will complete the meal wonderfully.

The technique is straightforward. Using a standard fondue set with a fire candle or canned heat gel let the wine heat for a few minutes. Slowly add handfuls of your cheese while stirring. Once the cheese starts melting add a little more cheese continuously until it’s smooth. If your mixture is too wet, just wait a few minutes, if too dry add a little more wine. This process will take about 10 – 15 minutes and then it’s time to dig in.

When the Fondue is cooked away and all but gone you’ll find a crisp layer of cheese at the bottom, this is called La Religieuse, or The Nun and is a wonderful delicacy to be saved for the most special person at the table. Enjoy!

A traditional Alpine Fondue typically includes at least 2 cheeses; Emmentaler and Gruyère. Emmentaler is the classic “Swiss” cheese with plenty of well-formed eyes (holes) in its body. Made in wheels of approximately 200 lbs, Emmentaler is mellow and nutty and provides nice texture for Fondue. Emmentaler, like many traditional European cheeses is always made with raw milk. Gruyère is a more complex cheese, also raw milk, and fashioned into 70 lb wheels. Gruyère adds more piquant flavor and rich creaminess to the recipe.

Branching out from the basic recipe you will find many more regional recipes using more cheeses, or simply focusing on the favorite cheese of the area. Here are a few choices to consider:

Vacherin Fribourgeois – A creamy and full flavored raw milk cheese from West Central Switzerland. Mix a little in for an earthy mushroom-y character.

Appenzellar – A relative of Gruyère made with raw milk from Northeastern Switzerland. Washed in white wine and Swiss mountain herbs this cheese lends a bit of spice and brightness.

Fontina Val d’Aosta – From Northern Italy. This raw milk cheese is closely related to Raclette. It has a mellow earthy flavor and melts wonderfully.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve – A raw milk farmstead cheese from Wisconsin based on the style of Beaufort from France. Pleasant Ridge is only made during the spring and summer when the grasses are on the prairie. This cheese adds a nice buttery character with plenty of meaty flavor.

Raclette – We offer Raclette from France and Switzerland, and also a French goat’s milk version. All have a smooth texture and a little spiciness. You can use Raclette in Fondue or in a dish also known as Raclette.

We also offer a variety of Gruyère cheeses from France, Switzerland, and right here at home, too:

L’Etivaz – An AOC protected raw milk Gruyère from the French corner of Southwestern Switzerland. Made in the strictest and most time honored method from only 80 farms during the months of May to October, this is Gruyère as it was made over 100 years ago. Full flavored with gorgeous fruity complexity and generous meatiness.

Comté Sainte Antoine – Comté is Gruyère’s French sibling. Generally regarded as lighter and more fruity than Swiss Gruyère, Comté is subtle yet complex with a wonderful aroma of the green pastures it calls home. Raw milk.

Le Gruyère Reserve – Our best selling Gruyère from Switzerland. Made from farmer cooperatives and aged up to 1 year for full on meaty flavor and a smooth texture. Raw milk.

Sur Choix Gruyère – From farm cooperative dairies of Wisconsin comes this pasteurized Gruyère. We like this 1 year aged cheese for its full flavor and traditional character.

At Cheese Plus we’ll help you with your favorite Fondue recipe. We’re stocked with all the trimmings you’ll need for a great Fondue night. We can shred your cheeses, and we offer Fondue pots and Raclette grills for sale and rental, too.