To Our Customers:
The month of March 2011 will go down in history. Filled with tragedy and uncertainty, it will be remembered. I spent most of the month traveling; first to FOODEX in Tokyo, Japan, then back home and some days in Italy. I was in Japan with my friend Narsai David for this remarkable food show in Tokyo and we left Japan the Monday of the week of the earthquake.
Italy is always pleasant, but maddening. My visits to producers will be put on our web site in the coming weeks. I am constantly asked for suggestions about Italy, which I am pleased to give. But one thing to avoid at all costs is the national airline, ALITALIA. Whatever you do, DO NOT to use this carrier. Disgraceful in its service, using it vitiates whatever pleasant memories one has of Italy. It deserves to just disappear.
With the coming of spring, renewal and pleasant weather, I hope that the items on this newsletter will tempt and satisfy you. They are very good.
In Italy when the COLOMBA arrives in stores, you know it is spring since the aromatic sweet bread made in the shape of a flying dove (colomba) takes over from the Christmas bread, PANETTONE. Just as it has for for several years now, our COLOMBA shipment has arrived from the LOISON bakery just outside of Vicenza, in Italy’s Veneto.
COLOMBA is a cake type bread with candied peel and either hazelnut or almond topping. Its shape, in the form of a flying dove, comes from the legends attached to this bread. One dates from 572, when the Lombard king Alboino entered the city of Pavia on Easter. As a peace offering, he was given a cake in this dove shape. There are other similar legends. The dove shaped cake, COLOMBA, is the Italian Easter treat.
Having just returned from Costabissara, the home of the LOISON bakery, I have seen the care and quality that go into the production of the LOISON products. From the creation of the mother sponge for leavening, to the ingredients, the shaping and baking, Loison is exemplary in its production techniques. Then there is the packaging: designed by Dario Loison’s wife Sonia, it changes every year.
Enjoyed as dessert for Easter lunch or dinner, dunked into your morning “caffelatte” (coffee with milk), or enjoyed just as a snack while the weather is warming up, a LOISON COLOMBA just springs into your mouth!
COLOMBA MANDARINO 1000g with Sicilian mandarini di Ciaculli and almonds. $33.79 each (#2700)
COLOMBA NOCCIOLATA PESCA 1000g with candied peach pieces and hazelnuts. $33.79 each (#2701)
COLOMBA CLASSICA 750g with candied orange peel and almonds. $24.29 each (#2702)
CHALONE CHENIN BLANC 2007 Estate Grown (Original Vines)
It is not well known, but once I was in the wine producing business. In 1965, I met Dick Graff who was going to University of California, Davis, and was just beginning his career in wine. He was planning to make wine at a closed winery in the wild hillsides of southern Monterey County at Soledad. The winery was CHALONE VINEYARDS, and Corti Brothers held a tasting of the previous vintage of wine produced there--1960. We sold a nice amount of wine; Dick said that his intent was to resurrect the property and produce the 1966 vintage. I went down with him after the tasting to see this place since the wines had great character and flavor, and at five years old were in remarkable shape. (Bottles of the 1960 vintage opened a few years ago were still in remarkable shape.)
Dick had warned me that the conditions at Chalone were primitive: no electricity except for a generator, no water except for the well which could be pumped if the generator worked, but the place was enchantingly special. And so it was. I became a partner in Chalone. My sister Illa was the financial backer for the 1966 vintage and also part of the work force as were my father and brother. Dick and I conned my sister out of $600.00 which was the working capital by selling her the estimated production of Chardonnay of one barrel at the then unheard of price of $10 per gallon “sur souche,” still on the vine, as was traditional in France with wine merchants buying a grower’s crop before it was harvested. The vineyard was planted to chenin blanc, pinot blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir. This dry farmed vineyard had originally been planted by a certain Bill Silvear about 1919 on a limestone ridge, midway up the Pinnacles range on the east side of the Salinas valley. Chalone has a special soil and microclimate.
Temperatures drop precipitously in the afternoon, and from what at, say, noon, was a warm, sunny high 90s temperature, by 3pm, fog covered the place and it was chilly. When we offered the 1960 wines, there was chenin blanc, pinot blanc, and chardonnay. Over the years, Chalone has gone on to become very famous. I had dropped out as a partner in 1969, but the wines always held a fascination for me. Just recently, I was shown the 2007 vintage Chenin Blanc made from the original vines on the property. It has that very special Chalone scent and flavor that I remembered from my first encounter in 1966. The wine was for sale, and so I asked how much there was and bought the lot. The total production was 9 barriques producing 2,735 bottles.
This is a serious wine with a very special character, unequaled by any other Chenin Blanc in California or anywhere else--dry, with bracing acidity, and a scent reminiscent of certain “gunflint”scents of sauvignon blanc and a minerally mouth feel which turns almost chalky, but still remains fruity and fresh. This is probably the best example I know of of a wine that speaks to what it is and where it comes from. If there is any wine in California with a sense of “terroir” it is this CHALONE CHENIN BLANC 2007.
I recommend it to you as a white to be served not very cold, cellar temperature is fine, since it is a serious wine worthy of attention. It is also a little masterpiece.
I GREPPI DI SILLI TUSCAN HONEY
I was introduced to these honeys seeing them at Marco Mugelli’s Torre Bianca oil mill where the GREPPI DI SILLI olives are milled for oil. This was during the first week of December, 2010. Tuscany has always had a tradition of honey, especially in the countryside of Chianti Classico, but it is rarely exported. The different types of honey were intriguing, since most of them were new to me. The ones I selected are chestnut, wild cardoon, corbezzolo or strawberry tree, wild blackberry, ivy, and Ailanthus or Chinese tree of heaven. They were all very distinctive and unusual, just the thing for our customers.
GREPPI DI SILLI is an agricultural property producing olives, grapes, honey, and agriturism. It is located just south of Mercatale Val di Pesa and just north of Montefiridolfi, almost in the heart of Chianti Classico. The property has been in the hands of the Alfani family since 1934, when the sharecropping family bought a small property to farm directly. Its name, GREPPI, means the escarpements of the terraces used for cultivation. When you have terraced vineyards, for example, the vines are on the flat top side, the angled sides, which form the terrace, are the “greppi.”
Bee cultivation and subsequent honey production have always been a tradition at Greppi di Silli. For the Tuscan peasants, honey was the traditional sweetener, white sugar being extremely expensive. Bee cultivation is also used as a index to the bio-conditioning of the area. Where there are bees, there is little contamination since bees are very susceptible to contamination of various types. And without bees, where would we be? As Einstein said, “If bees were to disappear from the earth, mankind would have only three or four years of life left.” How correct he was in this statement. California is just now beginning to realize this precarious bee situation with regard to California agriculture.
Honey is made up principally of monosaccharide sugars such as fructose and glucose. The different balance between one or the other with lowering of temperature will produce honey’s crystallization or not. Fructose rich honey tends to remain liquid longer than glucose rich honey which crystallizes relatively quickly. This is perfectly natural and indicates the authenticity of the honey. To re-liquify crystallized honey, just put the jar into a pan with hot water and it liquefies. All single origin honey is distinguishable by its color, granularity, and flavor. Besides its breakfast use, honey in Tuscany is used with cheese. Following, I’ve given some suggestions.
MIELE di CASTAGNO (Chestnut Honey) 250g $12.99 (#2704)
MIELE di CARDO Wild Cardoon or Thistle Honey 250g $13.79 (#2705)
MIELE di CORBEZZOLO Strawberry Tree Honey 250g $16.79 (#2706) $90.00
MIELE di ROVO Wild Blackberry Honey 250g $16.79 (#2707) $90.00
MIELE di EDERA Ivy Honey 250g $13.79 (#2708) $74.00
MIELE di AILANTO Tree of Heaven Honey 125g $11.19 (#2709)
NEW EXTRA VIRGIN OILS FROM THE DIFFICULT YEAR OF 2010
Throughout the Mediterranean basin, 2010 will be remembered as an exceptionally difficult harvest. Rain at harvest and the previous cool summer gave rise to terrible problems just picking the fruit. It would not ripen and then was difficult to pick with the ground sopping wet. If a producer did make exceptional oil, it was because of dint of labor, not luck, as oftentimes happens. Even in California the same problems existed. A cool spring and summer set the crop back, and rain hindered picking. Then came a spate of cold weather, freezing fruit in some areas and not others. Luckily, the cold dissipated and a lot of fruit was saved by the rain. To a point, unexplicable! Here is what I have selected from Italy, Spain, and California for now. These are exceptional oils. There will be others coming.
TORRE BIANCA, San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tuscany
TORRE BIANCA FRANTOIO 250 ml$23.69 (#2710)
FRANTOIO GROVE, Gilroy, California $19.99 375ml (#2716) $215.00 case/12 (#2716C)
LINGHAM’S SWEET AND SPICY HOT SAUCE: It should
be a staple in your kitchen
As far as I know, Corti Brothers has the only stock of this product in the US. For some reason, the importer does not sell it, but we had a stock imported for Corti Brothers. The LINGHAM’S products in their characteristic yellow labeled bottles are products which should be a staple in every well stocked pantry. The SWEET AND SPICY is moderately hot, with a very nice balance of sweetness and punch. With warm weather coming, this is a delightful ingredient in deviled eggs for example or a simple added touch to grilled meats, brushed on halfway through grilling. Used in a good mayonnaise (Best Foods/Hellman’s) it will color it and punch up flavor for use as a drizzle on sliced fresh tomatoes. It is necessary with corned beef hash and makes scrambled eggs, well, less pedestrian.
LINGHAM’S SWEET and SPICY HOT SAUCE $3.99 12.5oz (#2717) $43.00 case of 12 (#2717C)
SMOKED BASMATI RICE: Unusual and unusually good
Smoked rice, you say? Yes, this is a product which has its origins in Persian cuisine. Produced in Germany by a company that ships basmati rice, already a scented variety, the long grain rice is smoked over beech wood which gives it a very gentle scent that compliments the already characteristic scent/flavor of basmati. Basmati is a rice which has the unusual quality of elongating without widening. The grains of rice become almost an inch in length with a fluffy texture.
If you enjoy eating plain rice as an alternative accompaniment to meats, SMOKED BASMATI will satisfy both your taste for rice and your taste for something exotic. Just plainly boiled, or cooked in a rice cooker, be sure to make some for leftovers. It is wonderful in an Elizabeth David recipe for a first course: Rice with egg.
The recipe is simplicity itself. Take as many eggs as diners. Boil the eggs for 4 minutes, so the yolks remain liquid. Cool them in cold water and then shell carefully. Halfway fill individual ramekins or souffle dishes previously buttered and dusted with grated Parmigiano with leftover cold rice. Place the shelled egg on top of the rice. Drizzle a tablespoon of clarified butter and a sprinkle of Parmigiano on the egg and rice. Put into a shallow pan with enough boiling water to come up halfway to the dishes. Cover and steam for 5 minutes. Remove carefully and set before the diners. A grind of good pepper or piment d’Espelette will do no harm.
SMOKED BASMATI RICE 1 pound bags $3.99 (#2718) $21.00 case of 6 (#2718C)
GOAN CUISINE MESCUT FOR HAM: Apple, Carrot, and Mango
GOAN CUISINE is the name of a producer of condiments in Perth, Western Australia. The city of Goa in Western India is the first western settlement on the subcontinent. Goan cooking reflects its native foods and its gifts from the New World brought by the Portuguese. One of its characteristic condiments which fit very nicely with western dishes are the MESCUTS. We have three: APPLE, CARROT, and MANGO.
In order to produce these so that the main ingredient does not fall apart, but remains whole and resembles its natural state, the pieces are first salted to draw out moisture, rinsed, then cooked with spices, notably mustard seed. The name “mescut” comes from the Hindi “cuti” meaning “made up of small pieces.” These mescut are spicy but not fiery. They would make a delicious accompaniment to Easter ham for example, or to any cold meat when you want to set off the meat without adding a sauce. The APPLE MESCUT is made from tart Granny Smith apples, the MANGO MESCUT from crisp, green mangoes, and the CARROT MESCUT, from, well, carrots, cooked, but that remain nicely crunchy.
SHOYU AND SOME OF ITS STYLES
O-SHOYU, better known to us as soy sauce, has taken on a life of its own in this country. Fusion cuisine has made it almost a necessity. Even barbeque sauce needs it. Corti Brothers has two which are particularly important since they represent two similar but different styles. One is TAMARI, the other is SAISHIKOMI or KANRO.
TAMARI is a soy sauce brewed over a long time made only from soybeans, salt and water, then aged. SAISHIKOMI is double fermented soy sauce where the water part of production is replaced with an already brewed soy sauce. I believe we are the only suppliers of Kanro shoyu in this country.
Our importation of TAMARI is OWARINO TAMARI from Marumata Shouten, established in 1834, in Taketoya, Chita county, Aichi prefecture, just south of Nagoya. Owari is the old name for the northern part of the prefecture. Thus, this tamari is “Owari no tamari” or the “tamari of Owari.”
Produced only from Japanese grown soybeans and natural sea salt, slowly aged for three years in cedar casks, it is very thick, with a sweetish, smokey, meaty full flavor. Very well balanced, it is not very salty tasting, but has a thick body and deep flavor. It does not have added alcohol for stability and should be kept refrigerated once opened.
A lot of our customers are almost addicted to this tamari which has many uses in Western cuisines where it produces that elusive character called “umami.”
KANRO SHOYU is the rarest form of soy sauce. It originated in Yanai city of Yamaguchi prefecture. Even in Japan it is not well known. It has a thick, intense deep, creamy character, less persistent that normal soy sauce. It is much prized in Kyoto cuisine and for use with sushi and sashimi. Its other name is “sweet dew.”
OWARINO TAMARI, Marumata Shouten $19.99 360ml bottle (#2723)
YANAI KANRO SHOYU, Mituboshi $14.89 300ml bottle ( #2724)
REGULATION OLIVE OIL TASTING GLASSES:
The ASSAGGIAOLIO blue glass
Every craft has its special utensils. In olive oil tasting it is the ASSAGGIAOLIO, a special flat bottomed, 2 ½ inch high, blue colored glass. Required since July 1991 by EU regulations, it is the tasting glass for all panel tasting sessions held in member oil producing countries. The objective is for this flat bottomed glass to be held in the palm of the taster’s hand, to be warmed slightly by the hand. (Olive oil should be tasted at about body temperature.)
The glass is colored blue to obscure the natural color of the oil being tasted, so as not to influence the taster by its color. (In professional oil tasting, color does not play a role at all. Only aroma and flavor do.)
With its squat, 2 ½ inch high, incurving rim shape, the glass is stable and not easily tipped over and easily holds the 15 ml of oil necessary for tasting. You can have these very special tasting glasses for your own tastings just by ordering them from Corti Brothers. If you want to be professional about oil, then the ASSAGGIAOLIO glass is a must.
ASSAGGIAOLIO GLASS $13.49 each+tax (#2725) $145.00 case of 12+tax (#2725C)
CORTI BROTHERS H.P.O. 2008 Perfect for enjoying with your Colomba
Our own label light table wine from Oregon, H.P.O., is produced from Early Muscat, a varietal invented at UC Davis by professor Harold Olmo, whose initials form the wine’s name. Early Muscat was created crossing muscat of Alexandria and an Hungarian variety called Queen of the Vineyard. In Oregon is has found a perfect habitat and we buy it there from Silvan Ridge winery.
Pale in color, very scented with heady muscat aroma, low alcohol and a bit of fizz, this is a wonderful accompaniment to your Easter COLOMBA or just as a wine for anytime drinking. Now with two years in bottle, the flavor and aroma have melded to form a delicious whole, unequaled by other muscat varieties. H.P.O. 2008 is a perfect spring wine and you should enjoy it at its peak.
A WONDERFUL PORTUGUESE RED WINE:
CASA FERREIRINHA RESERVA
This Douro red wine is the product of the firm of A.A.Ferreira, the noted port shipper. Its origin begins as the red wine BARCA VELHA, produced by Ferreira. Barca Velha is possibly the greatest red wine made in Portugal and is the creation of Ferreira’s late winemaker Fernando Nicoulau de Almeida from grapes grown in the Douro region. This wine and Australia’s Grange were born at the same time, after a visit to Bordeaux by their respective creators.
Much like vintage port, Barca Velha is sold only from time to time. The produced wine is bottled aged and then after repeated tastings, finally released. If it is not released as Barca Velha, it becomes FERREIRINHA RESERVA.
Sourced from vineyards both for power and finesse, FERREIRINHA RESERVA shows what can be done with exceptional wine making. But it still takes time to get it right. Both of these vintages show the very deep color, marvelous aroma, and amalgam of flavors that made the Douro famous for its wine in the first place, before the creation of port. These are very serious wines that belong in every wine lover’s cellar. If you enjoy wine guessing games, these are perfect wines to decant and serve blind to friends who will probably not guess where they come from. At least for the first time.
The name Ferreirinha, the diminutive of Ferreira, honors Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, the great lady of the Douro, much loved in the area, who was responsible for the firm’s fortunes in the late 19th century.
A VERY GOOD DEAL ON 2000 VINTAGE PORT: BROADBENT 2000
Spring and summer are not exactly what you call vintage port seasons. But when you have a charming wine like the BROADBENT 2000 VINTAGE PORTO, seasons really do not much matter. Now ten years old, this very dark colored, scented and aromatic flavored vintage port is delicious for drinking in the coolish night hours of spring and summer. With a wine this good, why can’t vintage port be enjoyed now also?
Produced by Dirk van der Niepoort, for the father and son team of Bartholomew and Michael Broadbent, the latter of Christie’s Wine Department fame, 70 year old vines of tinta amarella, tinta roriz and touriga nacional produced a really lovely wine in the Niepoort rich, opulent style of vintage port. This is a truly delicious wine that can be enjoyed with firm cheeses like Gruyère, aged Cheddar or Gouda or the classic combination of mature Stilton and celery ribs.
If you really want to experience what goes with vintage port, please ask for one of our Savouries booklets. In it there are wonderful recipes for perfect hot accompaniments to vintage port. We have bought a quantity of BROADBENT 2000 and at our special price, you cannot afford not to have some in your cellar. In fact, if you don’t drink it now, you can still drink it in the fall and winter. (We previously offered this wine at $47.99 the bottle.)
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