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Ba-Tampte Half Sours

11 Mar

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Ba-Tampte Half Sours

A food review by Daniel B.

Brooklyn is a modern pickle mecca. McClure’s and Brooklyn Brine may get the spotlight as they bring new life into this New York classic. But Ba-Tampte has been making some amazing pickles for over fifty years, the old fashioned way: fermentation.

Most pickles found on the shelf of a grocery store don’t deserve to bear the name. Clausen’s refrigerator kosher dill spears take the shortcut of starting with vinegar and then adding “natural flavor”. Vlasic’s shelf stable zesty dill spears take that sacrilege and go a step further by adding yellow #5.

Ba-Tampte uses no vinegar in their “original brine” half-sours or garlic dills. These start off as Kirby cucumbers that are transformed into pickles naturally using salt, water and spices. As a fermented pickle they require refrigeration. And because of this and their lack of vinegar, Ba-Tampte’s pickles retain a lot of crunch.

Both of these pickles are magnificent, but I have a newfound appreciation for the half-sour.

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For a long time the half-sour was a mystery to me. In the bowlfuls of pickles dropped off on the deli table the half-sours were easy to see. They were the bright green ones that barely tasted like a pickle at all.

Trips to the deli were about big bold flavors of pastrami, rye bread, deli mustard, and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. The half-sour just couldn’t compete. The full-sour was another matter entirely. In a meal that was laden with glorious glistening fat, the intensely sour pickle shocked the taste buds back into action. And while the stomach might have been whimpering at the thought of another beefy bite, after a nibble of pickle the mouth demanded some soothing pastrami.

It’s not uncommon when learning to appreciate a form that the neophyte is attracted to bigger more bombastic flavors. In wine the battle cry is big reds. In cheese its big blues or stinky washed rinds. In spirits it’s big Scotches. But as tastes grow and mature, people begin to notice more nuances and appreciate more subtle graces. So wine lovers find pinot noir. Cheese aficionados may turn onto the grassy undertones of a Saint-Nectaire. And seasoned spirit sippers will discover the wide world of cognacs (if they are lucky).

The same held true for me and pickles.

At first I held disdain for the half-sour because of how little it tasted like pickle. But then I realized how little the full-sours tasted like cucumber. This was a small but important change of perspective that allowed me to appreciate the half-sour in a whole new light. Not all that dissimilar to enjoying a Beaujolais nouveau.

Tasting that point where a fresh cucumber has just crossed the line into something else entirely is actually pretty exciting. It’s even more exciting now in March when the hope of spring is in the air, yet even the first wild ramps are still countless weeks away.

There’s a rumor I have yet to confirm, but it does make some intuitive sense. Since the Ba-Tampte half-sours are fermented, even though they are refrigerated, the pickles can continue to develop a little bit in the jar. So the rumor suggests that jars with clear brine and non-bulging lids the youngest of the half-sours, providing more of that fresh cucumber experience. The flip side of that is if the brine is cloudy and the lid of the jar has a slight bulge, than the pickles will be a bit more sour than just half.

However, I can confirm that Ba-Tampte does indeed mean “Tasty”. The name is Yiddish, and I suppose it could also mean “Delicious” But Yiddish can be an imprecise language. Not all that different from the imprecise nature of a half-sour.

Regardless, it’s a damn fine pickle. And it’s amazing that such a thing can be found in grocery stores across most of the United States. I wish I could say the same thing about pastrami.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

Fruited Rye Bread from Hawthorne Valley Farm

4 Mar

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Fruited Rye Bread from Hawthorne Valley Farm

A food review by Daniel B.

What is more basic to human sustenance and nutrition than bread? Yet if one scans the bread aisle of any major supermarket, the loaves on the shelves are filled with high fructose corn syrup, refined grains, dough softeners, and a host of other ingredients that make it more science project than wholesome dietary staple.

The certified organic bakery at Hawthorne Valley Farm on the other hand, takes a few organic ingredients, forms them into a dense and satisfying loaf, and sells them at their farm store in Ghent.

They make their Fruited Rye on Mondays and Wednesdays and a loaf of the stuff will set you back $5.50. It’s delicious. But you are going to need a knife.

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This is one dense bread. Seriously. A half-inch slice of supermarket sandwich bread is about 40 grams. A similarly thick slice of the Fruited Rye weighs in at 80 grams, and it’s smaller to boot.

But that’s because it is packed with good things: Whole rye four, rye berries, prunes, dates, hazelnuts, raisins, water, sea salt, and sourdough starter. That’s it. Everything but the water, salt and starter is labeled as organic.

The observant will notice that there isn’t any refined flour used in this loaf either.

Hawthorne Valley’s fruited rye bread demands to be toasted. Sure you could simply spread it with a little cream cheese. But with the addition of a bit of heat, the oils in the hazelnuts begin to sizzle and the nutmeat starts to brown. This process not only amplifies the flavor of the nuts, but also warms and softens the sizable pieces of dried fruit.

A pat of butter, a sprinkle of coarse salt, and you have yourself an incredible breakfast or a substantial midday snack.

Alternatively, you could slice this bread thin, coat it with some oil, and crisp it in the oven to make a remarkable crostini that would pair marvelously with a local goat cheese and a drizzle of honey.

Sandwiches may be a bit trickier. With its dense crumb, sour rye profile, and sticky fruit, it is not an obvious pairing for everyday lunches. Although I can imagine it pairing well with a curried chicken and apple salad.

$5.50 is not a paltry sum to spend on a loaf of bread. But this is no mere bread. It’s a meal unto itself. And if you looking for the staff of life, you need go no further than the bakery at Hawthorne Valley Farms.

The farm is located at 327 County Route 21C, Ghent, NY 12075

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

Nettle Meadow Chevre with Garlic and Olive Oil

26 Feb

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Nettle Meadow Chevre with Garlic and Olive Oil

A food review by Daniel B.

Nettle Meadow Farm is a dangerous place. It’s not dangerous for the animals, as this is a place where animals come first, even when their productive milking days are over. It’s not dangerous for the two owners Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan who operate the farm, or visitors to the farm either.

No, it’s dangerous for me.

Because these two women with the help of Sheila’s mother have been able to turn this 50 acre plot of land in Thurman, NY (25 miles northwest of Queensbury) into a nationally renowned cheesemaking operation. My inlaws have a slightly smaller farm in rural Pennsylvania, and converting that land into a farmstead cheesemaking operation has been a longstanding pipe dream.

Looking at pictures of the farm and tasting their handmade cheese, it’s hard not to revisit those old dreams and consider cashing in the 401k for some cheesemaking equipment. But for right now I’ll have to settle for telling you about one of my favorite goat cheese accompaniments.

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Olive oil.

Goat cheese makers have told me in the past that a surprising number of people have a reluctance to even try a fresh, unaged goat cheese. Me? I love that tangy goatiness. But people are split on what it goes best with. There is a school of thought that pairs likes with likes, and a lean tangy cheese will go with a lean tangy wine, such as sancerre.

I like to go the other way. Contrasting but complementary flavors and textures are what excite me. So I like my goat cheeses with a rich, round, buttery and fruity chardonnay. I find the two keep each other in check.

It’s probably no surprise then that I also enjoy fresh goat cheese with a rich, round, buttery and fruity olive oil.

What a pleasure it was to discover that Nettle Meadow Farm had a fresh goat cheese with the olive oil already in it. The garlic flavor was light but clearly present, but I felt the cheese needed some more olive oil. That is a problem that’s easily fixed.

Certain ingredients work harder when they aren’t incorporated into the product but are allowed to sit on top. Think about the impact a few crunchy flakes of sea salt would have on top of a dark chocolate souffle, and how those same granules would simply get lost in the batter.

Good quality olive oil drizzled on top not only shows its vibrant color but also gives the full impact of its aroma.

At Nettle Meadow Farm, fresh goat cheese is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s their aged blend of goat’s milk and Jersey cow’s milk in a bloomy rind that’s the star of their cheesemaking efforts and won them their first award from the American Cheese Society. It’s called Kunik, and everyone loves it. But they also have sheep’s milk cheese and a blend of all three milks called “Three Sisters” which also came back with an ACS award.

One of these days I’ll have to visit their farm. It’s normally open to the public for cheese sales from 11 am to 3 pm Thursday through Monday. But there are tours of the farm available at noon on Saturdays.

Maybe a tour will remind me why I’ve moved on to other dreams and left the thoughts of cheesemaking behind. Or perhaps seeing a similar sized farm to the one I visit regularly in Pennsylvania will shake me from my complacency and spur me into action.

Like I said, it sounds like a dangerous place.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

New York yogurt and jam parfait

14 Feb

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New York yogurt and jam parfait

A food review by Daniel B.

Usually local food is conceived to be small food. But sometimes it gets complicated. So today I thought it would be a good idea to bring together two different sides of the local food continuum.

Cabot Creamery Cooperative is huge. Their products are available nationally at places like Wal-Mart. And while the brand’s heritage is in Vermont, as the brand has grown and brought in more member dairies from New England and Upstate New York, Cabot has stopped using The Green Mountain State as part of its logo. These days there are a surprising number of local farms involved in the production of Cabot.

Beth’s Farm Kitchen has been operating for over thirty years in Columbia County out of an old farmhouse, and is dedicated to providing jam, jellies and other foodstuffs made from locally or regionally grown products. In fact in 2011 they purchased more than 63,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables from regional farmers. They are sold at farmers markets and specialty stores around the northeast.

Both make some special things, and both help to support local farmers. So let’s enjoy them, simply, in an appreciation of the cold winter season.

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In my lifetime, yogurt has gone from being a fat-free dieter’s delight to another portable form of sugar in our lives. Looking down the yogurt aisle in the supermarket, and reading the names of flavors sounds like you are in a candy shop or an ice cream parlor. Yet still, the vast majority of the yogurts are low fat or fat free. Some are even sugar free and heavily sweetened with unpleasant sugar alternatives.

All of this makes it difficult to think of yogurt as a decadent pleasure.

But that’s exactly what Cabot’s plain Greek-style yogurt is. It’s 10% milk fat. That’s huge. A serving of this yogurt has more saturated fat than a serving of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And that’s not bad, that’s delicious.

This is thick, heavy, rich and creamy stuff. On its own it tastes surprisingly like a slightly tangier version of cream cheese, and it’s thick enough to spread with a knife. Plus, it’s unadulterated by gums, starches or thickeners, so the yogurt has a nice clean finish in the mouth. Especially when it’s paired with something sweet and tart.

That’s where Beth’s Farm Kitchen comes in with their very elegant red currant jam. This is a beautiful product, made from whole currants, that spoon out of the jar like jewels. It kind of reminds me of salmon roe, especially how they pop on your tongue.

As a whole fruit jam the red currants are packed with their seeds, so those add a little texture. Really almost any of their sweet jellies or jams would provide a good complement to this yogurt. If jam isn’t sweet enough on its own, a little local honey goes a long way too. And combined these make a sweet, fruity and creamy treat for those cold winter months when ice cream has completely lost its appeal. Plus it is great to have the reminder of summer’s fruity bounty in the form of a whole fruit jam, when even the prospect of spring feels like an eternity away.

Big or small, we’re all in this together.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

Arthur Avenue Breadsticks

11 Feb

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Arthur Avenue Breadsticks

A food review by Daniel B.

In the depths of a New York winter, soup isn’t a nice idea, it’s practically a necessity.

One of my favorite soups to stave off the cold and warm myself up from the inside out is a classic split pea. Whenever possible I get the ham hocks from Rolf’s in Albany. Not because of the pedigree of the pork, but because of the flavor of the smoke. As the hocks simmer with the pulses and aromatics, the pork fat renders into the broth and helps to give the soup a silky texture.

But even this hearty soup on its own doesn’t feel quite like a meal unto itself. It needs a little something more. Crackers won’t cut it. Toast points don’t quite hold up. Crusty bread is good, but if you just use the crusts then there’s all of those soft insides that need to be made into bread crumbs or croutons.

The answer obviously is bread sticks. These old world crispy biscuits from Arthur Avenue Baking Co. have an unexpected ingredient that may not put them on anyone’s short list for a healthy snack, but make them ideal for winter soup dunking.

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Lard.

Most places really just don’t make them like that anymore. But at this Italian bakery in the Bronx that also bakes coal and brick oven breads in addition to other traditional sweets, lard is alive and well.

As a result, these bread sticks are super crunchy and decidedly savory. For what it’s worth, there is more salt in these sticks than lard. They aren’t exactly health food, but each 9 g stick only has 40 calories, and only 15 of those come from fat. Still there isn’t enough saturated fat or cholesterol to even register on the nutritionals. But each bread stick does carry with it 65 mg of sodium.

On their own, there are enough toasted sesame seeds pressed into the surface, that they are perfectly tasty as a snack. But it’s their hidden ability to serve as an edible spoon for thick and hearty soups that make them shine.

They steadfastly hold their shape. Their crunch never diminishes. There are no soggy mushy bites. And as a result, they bring a surprising lightness to the soup eating experience.

When you finish one, there is no need to toast another. Nor do you need to pick up the bread knife and slice the next piece off the loaf. Nope, you just simply dig another sesame spoon out of the bag. It’s the epitome of a convenience food.

You don’t even have to go down to the Bronx to get them. Hannaford has them at locations throughout the Hudson Valley. And in the Red Hook store a 7 ounce bag will set you back a mere $2.69. That’s less than the tolls to get down to Arthur Avenue.

Now break out your soup pot and get warm, because despite what Phil the groundhog may have predicted, in upstate New York it’s going to take a while for spring to arrive.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

Wan Ja Shan Tamari

9 Feb

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Wan Ja Shan Tamari

A food review by Daniel B.

The third annual New York Locavore Challenge is quickly approaching. It begins the first of September. Really, it’s a series of thirty challenges over the course of the month, culminating in state wide locavore potlucks on Sunday, September 30.

Local foods are great. They are important. I support them.

All the same, there are certain foods that I just won’t give up which can’t be grown locally. Coffee is at the very top of that list. Chocolate is a close second. But there are other pantry staples that come from all over the world which I also love: Spanish olive oil, Italian anchovies, Greek olives, Korean noodles, and Chinese soy sauce.

Except recently I was told of Wan Ja Shan in Middletown, New York. They are a Taiwanese soy sauce company that had owned and operated a plant in New York since the 1970’s. As it turns out, their Tamari is terrific.

For many, soy sauce is nothing more than those brown packets that come with Chinese takeout. And this is a crime. Well, it’s not a crime, but it should be. Because many of those packets are nothing more than salty brown water. Just take a look at the ingredients, there isn’t any soy to be seen.

Compare that for a moment to the Tamari from Wan Ja Shan, which is made from just water, soybeans, wheat and salt. There aren’t any preservatives. There isn’t even any alcohol added to naturally preserve this fermented condiment.

Although Tamari fans and the gluten intolerant may be a little confused. Generally speaking Tamari is made entirely of soybeans without the presence of wheat. Most Tamari comes from Japan, and that’s how it’s made in that country.
Cultural differences aside, Tamari is defined by the use of the Aspergillus tamari fungus that is used in the fermenting process.

In short, soy sauce is made by steaming soy beans, roasting and grinding wheat, and combining that with a specific strain of fungus. This mixture is cultured, brewed and pressed. And though the magic of fermentation and time, these humble grains transform into a dark brown liquid imbued with layers of flavor and aroma.

The nose on Wan Ja Shan’s Tamari is delightful. There is almost a fruitiness to it which I tend to associate with wine rather than soy sauce. On the palate it is pleasantly oily, with rich round roasted notes, and a bit of malty sweetness. But unlike wine, tasting soy sauce is a bit of a jolting experience as it’s obviously intensely salty.

While the bottle I sampled was their traditional Tamari, Wan Ja Shan also has an organic Tamari in addition to an organic wheat free Tamari, for those who are gluten intolerant. They even make a straight organic soy sauce which Food & Wine magazine called one of their three favorites back in September, 2005.

Who would have imagined New York soy sauce could be so good.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

Placid Flats

14 Jan

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Placid Flats

A food review by Daniel B.

Placid Flats are neither placid nor flat. Besides this quibble over semantics, these are truly wonderful hand-crafted locally-made crackers.

On one level the name does have some logic. After all, these come from the excellent Placid Baker in Troy, which also makes serious baguettes, delicate French macarons and a pastry case full of decadent delights.

To call these simply crackers does not come close to doing them justice, so I don’t begrudge their creators for choosing some other fanciful name. I say this as someone who is decidedly not a cracker lover, and yet I couldn’t get enough of these flats. Part of it has to do with the “Everything Seed Blend” but that is not all.

I was first introduced to the Placid Flats at the Chef’s Consortium table at Winter WonderLark in Albany where the Consortium was sampling a host of local products to the brave souls who showed up for the Santa Speedo Sprint.

We were topping shards of the crackers with slices of Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. Generally I’m a cheese purist, and prefer to eat it entirely unadorned by crackers or even crusty bread.

But as I’ve said, these are special.

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Each flat is approximately five inches wide by ten inches long. They aren’t perforated, and they aren’t flat. They undulate, and some even have formed bubbles while they baked. They are so thin and crisp that when you try to break a piece into smaller portions, it shatters.

While its appearance may be rustic, the flavor is much more refined. The cracker itself has a rich, whole grain wheat flavor, with a touch of sweetness and buttery undertones.

That is, if you can even isolate the flavor of the cracker itself from under the torrent of seeds showered upon these things. There’s sesame, poppy and caraway. I even detected a few chopped sunflower seeds. But the thing that puts these totally over the top are the coarse grains of salt.

It’s like The Placid Baker took a crusty, chewy Everything bagel from my Nana’s favorite shop in Great Neck and turned it into something delicate and refined.

But this is more than just a tasty cracker. Its thin profile is really ideal for holding toppings without weighing them down with a lot of bread. Its brittle crispness provides some great contrast of texture to cheeses and savory spreads. Plus even in this light and delicate package, the crackers are able to pack a ton of flavor and can stand on their own.

A pack of them cost $4.99 and you can pick them up at the bakery on 250 Broadway in Troy. They are open Tuesday through Friday 8 am to 4 pm and on Saturday from 8 am to 2:30 pm. Just make sure not to show up hungry, because this can be a dangerous place for those without restraint.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.