We had a whole extra day last month and it still feels like I was just barely talking about Valentine’s Day. Time has flown and our desire for new cravings have arrived. On to brighter and warmer days with treats to match. We’re getting excited about some classic ingredients this month that helped shape my early years on the market floor at Caputo’s and a brand new artisan salami maker that we can’t get enough of. Here’s what we’re taking home to nibble on all month:
OLIVES: Cassees des Baux
Our olive bar attracts many an addict. If you love olives, you likely have fond feelings about these ones. Casses des Baux come to us from France’s epicenter of olive production and fandom. Provence is the home of all things olive, and these are some of the very best. Green olives, most often Grossane, are harvested early, cracked, and brined with both fennel and lemon. The result is an incredibly aromatic, herbaceous olive with the perfect balance of sweetness from the fennel and acidic bitterness from the lemon and olive. Casses des Baux are less crisp than other French green olives, but flavor mingled with the slightly more tender texture make these perfect for snacking and cocktails. The added bonus here is that these are incredibly easy to pit at home to throw into salads and entrees. Even those friends of ours who don’t consider themselves olive fans can be won over by these.
CHARCUTERIE: Pata Negra
There are very few things in this world that are as transcendent as Pata Negra, or Jamon Iberico. According to Spain’s Denominación de Origen rules for protection of this item, only Iberian black hooved pigs may be used to produce Pata Negra. After weaning, this special breed is left to feed freely on acorns, grass, herbs, and roost across the Iberian Dehesa in Spain. The mix of genetics, feed, and process of curing the legs make this one of the most coveted charcuterie items worldwide. The fat melts like butter on your tongue while the muscle offers a savory, complex flavor that is only made better by the melty fat encasing it. There may not be any better meat experience for me, and I daresay many would agree with me. Serve thin slices alone to enjoy the very best and most delicate, complex flavors. While using this in any cooking application would surely be wonderful, I don’t want to risk missing any of the delicate flavor by combining it with anything else.
CHEESE: Raschera D’Alpeggio
We talk often about the European Union’s protection of many food items across the continent. Wines, liquors, cheese, salumi, even things like lentils and lavender are protected by each country. The benefit of this for us is that each item bearing these seals of protection ensure what we are buying is an authentically made artisan product that an entire country stands behind for both taste and quality. The Slow Food Movement took a step even further than this by creating the Ark of Taste Catalog. Items selected to the catalog are recognized to promote the preservation of endangered food products. These items must be sustainably produced, unique, and part of a small ecoregion of production. The catalog includes over 800 items from 50 different countries.
Raschera is one of these items both protected by the Italian government and part of the Ark of Taste selection. Raschera, named after a nearby lake, is made from raw cow’s milk in Cuneo, Piedmont. Curds are formed into rounded square molds and aged a minimum of one month on wooden shelves. To be called Raschera d’alpeggio, the cheese must be made in the summer months(June-August) at an elevation over 900 meters. The resulting cheese is satisfyingly salty and tangy with an elastic textured paste and a more savory, sharp taste than other aged cheeses of the region. I love pairing this Piedmontese wines like Arneis, Barbera, and Barolo. Enjoying this cheese helps support a centuries old tradition that deserves to last many more generations. I can’t think of a tastier way to support the cause.