Food News

Selecting Olive Oils Spring 2015, Part 1

The early spring season at Bklyn Larder is an exciting time of year. After a long, cold winter, our chefs are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Greenmarket season and springtime veggies. Managers are busy planning spring catering events and menus, and our buyers, myself included, are tasting new items from importers and producers.

Bklyn Larder Owner Sergio Hernandez

Bklyn Larder Owner Sergio Hernandez

In particular, my attention turns to olive oils, and selecting what we will offer throughout the year based on tasting the recent harvest.

Now, volumes can and have been written on what makes an olive oil “extra virgin” and Novello Olive Oil vs Olio Nuovo- there are debates and scandals about lesser quality olive oils and even non-olive oils being passed off or blended to increase yield and oils from all over the world being labeled as “Tuscan” or simply “Product of Italy” olive oils, as you can see from the 3 articles below, and there is plenty more information out there on all of this:
Forbes Olive Oil Mafia Article
NY Times Article
New Yorker Article

For the sake of our tasting and selection process, we are going to skip all of that. Not because it is not important, but it is an entirely different subject matter that we address at our core philosophy and in our relationships with top quality importers and producers, and we are confident in the sources that we buy from- not just in olive oil, but in the traceability of all the products that we sell and use at Bklyn Larder.

Since olive oil is such a staple in my own personal “larder” as well as in our kitchen here and at our sister restaurant, franny’s, I’d like to cover a spectrum of flavors in my selection. While there are many more nuances and specifics, here are 4 basic categories that I always include:

Delicate & Mild: NOT to be confused with old, flavorless oils, these oils have a light and ephemeral quality and are best paired with other delicate flavors- perfect for spring peas, new lettuces and young pecorinos & other mild cheeses

Fruity & Fragrant: these oils, while remaining very low in acidity are very versatile and wonderful with savory and sweet foods. Drizzled over gelato or oranges with a touch of sea salt or with mild meats such as poultry or sautéed fish

Olive-y & Peppery: that back of the throat “burn” that can sometimes even make you cough a bit actually has a name in Italian- “pizzicante” – Tuscan olive oil producers see this as a very desirable quality- these oils are fantastic to enjoy with hearty loaves of bread, stronger flavored cheeses and also to dress hearty grains like farro & barley and even play well with roasted meats. The slightly bitter finish also pair beautifully with artichokes and cardoons.

Leafy Green & Grassy: these oils are the most flavorful and versatile- great in simple pasta dishes where the pasta is the star or with only a couple of simple flavors like anchovy, chili or garlic. The green grassy flavor is upfront and pungent when tasting them straight, but blends well with seafood, all sorts of vegetables and are essential for garnishing soups!

2015 ROUND 1 – Tasting & Selecting:

Like tasting wine, it is important to keep in mind what is known as “palate fatigue”- we can only taste so many olive oils in one session before the palate becomes saturated and it becomes impossible to taste the different nuances and subtleties between similar oils.

I always start my spring selection by tasting the oils that I still have from the previous harvest. This is a good base and starting point, as there is nothing at all wrong with these oils- the oil, unless heated or exposed to direct sunlight for extended time, is really good for 2 years from the harvest date.

Trevi DOP – Umbria, Italy – 2013 Harvest

Il Frantoia D.O.P. Umbria Trevi Olive Oil

Il Frantoia D.O.P. Umbria Trevi Olive Oil


Sadly, we will not be seeing the 2014 harvest of this beautiful oil due the abysmal harvest that affected central and Northern Italy (as well as Southern France)- blight and cold weather cut the yield by almost 2/3, leaving most single producers with just enough olive oil for themselves or to sell locally.

Tasting the 2013 harvest though, we are still placing this oil in the “Olive-y and Peppery” category. Strong flavors of fennel, anise & raw kale finishing with a surprising kick of green bell pepper and telicherry peppercorns- fantastic for finishing a grain salad and hearty sautéed greens!

Moulin Saint-Michel AOP Vallee des Baux – Provence, France – 2013 Harvest

Moulin Saint Michel Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Moulin Saint Michel Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Always a great example of the “Delicate and Mild” category, the oils from Provence (unlike their red wines!) are soft and delicate. Soft floral notes and a buttery texture (NOT to be confused with greasy) make this a lovely pairing for rich, buttery cheeses- from a decadent triple cream to a young marzolino and ideal for the upcoming bright tasting spring vegetables and even ramps and fiddleheads!

NOTE: we are still waiting to hear if we will be receiving any of the 2014 harvest

Morgenster, Somerset West, South Africa – 2013 Harvest

Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Warmer climate in the opposite hemisphere give these olives a chance to ripen and develop strong vegetal notes. The 2013 Morgenster has sweet notes of savoy cabbage and a dark green grass aroma. This oil is a blend of 14 Italian varietals planted in rich, volcanic soil giving this oil a lot of characteristic flavors reminiscent of grassy Sicilian oils. Great to drizzle on soups, cooked beans and pastas this oil is still vibrant enough to classify as “Leafy Green & Grassy”

 

Nuñez de Prado, Flor de Aceite – DO Baena, Spain – 2013 Harvest

Nuñez de Prado Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Nuñez de Prado Extra Virgin Olive Oil


My all time favorite oil, the Nuñez Family estate constantly produces this gem known as the “flower of the oil” with a slow gravity driven drip process through silk-like mats after the olives are gently crushed, yielding small amounts of this sweet, delicate nectar. Certainly under the “Fruity & Fragrant” category, this is an oil that wants to be drizzled on gelato, or served simply with bread as well as just about any application.

Subtle notes of stone fruit including ripe peaches make this a true stunner, and we can wait patiently for the new harvest when the 2013 harvest is still showing this well!

And… STAY TUNED FOR TASTING NOTES ON THE 2014 HARVEST SOON!

-Sergio

A Consideration of Cornmeal

Check out the pastry case!

Initially, Bklyn Larder was created as a cheese and provisions shop. Yet, in recent years—thanks to some stellar talent in the pastry kitchen—, our pastry department has gained a national cult following. To take you behind the scenes of the operation is Bklyn Larder’s own Mariana…

I’m still new to New York, a decisive flaw that can be read in my excitement every time I ride the subway and in the frustration I express when my mail is surprisingly difficult to track down. That said, I’m not nearly so keen on exploring the thrilling potential of public transportation at 6am when I head off to a morning shift at Bklyn Larder. What makes the trip worth the taking lies in a particular blend of coffee and conversation that brews before opening the doors. This and, among the rest of the jewels the store has to offer, the fact that we’ve got a pastry kitchen that’s already warming up the shop as I brace myself against the morning chill.

We bake our scones fresh every morning!

We bake our scones fresh every morning!

Cue pastry chefs Amelia, Meg, and Caitlin. The first two ladies are working on the morning I arrive to shoot the team in action. I smell buttermilk biscuits, scones, muffins, gougères, and doughnuts in every corner of the store. Try working at a place like this with a sweet tooth like mine; I feel like a martyr every time I bypass a caramel square for a helping of kale. A few of my favorite sweets, the pistachio cake and almond cake, make an early appearance in the kitchen. Amelia brushes egg wash on the crostata. Meg preps the scones. Share with me my struggles.

While the sanctum of kitchen recipes prohibits my publishing the make and model details of our beloved pastries, I can describe for you the quaint history of our sweets, my personal attachment to one particular pastry, and a few tasting suggestions. Welcome the star of today’s show, the polenta cake.

Crostata time!

Crostata time!

Born in November of 2013 in the pastry kitchen of the Larder, the polenta cake gave purpose to a fresh cranberry relish that still needed a home. The warm cornmeal delicacy, kin to the sweetest of pie custards thanks to its cranberry, lime, or lemon curd, as well as classed with savory after-dinner treats given its malty polenta batter, stands out among our more traditional treats. Closer to cornbread than traditionally prepared polenta, this cake does a fine job of maintaining a “rustic” sweetness as opposed to a sweetness predicated on fresh baked fruits or powdered sugar dusted almonds. I use the quotes around rustic in reference to a recent article describing our pistachio cake, whose similarly toned-down sweetness won accolades from Tasting Table’s cake-gurus, but the term makes sense. When we compile a list of traditional cornmeal dishes, at least in the States, we’re drawing on recipes from the first colonial villages, from frontier days, from the depression era, from the Deep South and the rural north – put simply, from impoverished people and times. Even the names we associate with cornmeal products sound rustic – grits, grit cakes, cornbread, hushpuppies, porridge, fried mush, spoonbread – and yet I hardly mean to imply that cornmeal produces as poor a meal as its status as an international staple grain might suggest. Quite the contrary. Bessie Murphy, writing pre-1920, hit the nail on the head when she penned her book “Cornmeal for Breakfast, Supper, Dinner”; it’s one of the most versatile of ground grains and easily one of the most rich in both culture and flavor.

We’re most familiar with breakfast options in the States, where we commonly find it given the porridge treatment, with butters, creams, and sugars, or otherwise cooked down with cheeses, salts, potatoes, and meats. As grits or polenta, it’s served with anything from red peppers and shrimp to smoked sausage and pulled pork. Oven-baked cornbreads can range from the ultra-sweet muffins my mother used to make to the full-kernel and cheddar cornmeal biscuits they bake with such perfection in Savannah. In Europe, cornmeal was similarly used to produce that gruel that everyone imagines prisoners eating in the medieval ages, but plated with cuttlefish, baked plums, porcini mushrooms, or even (er, don’t look up these ones if you’ve a sensitive eye) small songbirds and frog stew, polenta can be quite the delicacy in nations like Italy and Croatia. I grew up on my great-grandmother’s specialty – fried mush. Strips of polenta fried on a griddle and served with a lot of butter and a small dose of sugar? That one comes straight from the poverty of the early 1930’s, and yet my brother and I couldn’t get enough of it, even when we had our fancy frozen waffles and dad’s omelets as alternatives. In Austria, children eat a similarly sweet polenta dish, only dipped in café au lait. Hm.

So this is all to say cornmeal can arrive in an incredibly diverse collection of really fantastic dishes. Why even bother with another cornmeal-based product from Brooklyn?

Polenta cake and tea!

Polenta cake and tea!

Ours is rather simple, and it’s likely been done before. But what you’re missing out on if you’ve not given this cake much thought is a subtlety of texture you won’t find in a cupcake or a muffin. That perfect amount of lemon curd, or that rare raspberry, is juxtaposed delicately against a crisp, malty edge, dusted with only enough powdered sugar to make the bread glow. The soft center that, when still warm from the oven, falls apart as if it’s been training a lifetime to offer the perfect bite, expresses a re-envisioning of cornmeal in our kitchen so delightful you simply cannot pass it up.

I suggest sitting down to cup of tea and our polenta cake (I pair our molasses ginger cookie with hot coffee). Make it sweet, iced, and mild on a summer day or hot and black on a chillier fall morning. Bellocq’s Earl Grey with blue cornflower, which you can also find on our shelves, really works magic as a pairing. I’m tempted to try warm, mulled cider or wine once winter comes along, because there’s something about the sweet heat of a full-bodied drink that renders this simple baked good a rival to any English shortbread or delicate coffee cake out there. Take your time enjoying its hidden complexities, especially as it’s not overly sweet. In the same way you wait for the lavender in our cupcakes and the anise in our scones, wait for the savory warmth of cornmeal and the familiarity of a grittier texture in the cake. Push that same savory profile and coarseness against the melting, cloying tang of the custard. It’s subtle, but phenomenal. Yet, for all its internal battles between the sweet and the savory, our polenta cake leaves no trace of salt or sour on your palate once you’ve (unfortunately) finished the treat. Intersperse the bitterness of a black tea throughout, and you’ll be as golden as the cake itself.

It’s rustic – there’s no doubt about its simplicity and lack of serious luster – but it’s a small kind of perfection. Let me know if you enjoy it as much as I do. It even served as my birthday cake this year, the first one I enjoyed in New York, and I’m serious about my cheesecakes and pies. Here’s to warm polenta cake and seasonal fillings as fall quickly brushes up against us!

-Mariana Satterly

The Increasing Price of Shrimp

As you may have noticed, recently the price of our shrimp salad, in which we use wild-caught pink shrimp harvested off the Florida cost in the Gulf of Mexico,  jumped from $9.75 for a 6oz portion to $15.00 for a 6oz portion. Yes, this is a 35% increase in retail cost, and no we did not just raise our price to make more money. Here is the realty:

If you want to buy wild-caught fresh fish, you are going to pay a premium. You can buy farmed shrimp—whose production in recent years has surpassed wild-caught shrimp—however, from a culinary standpoint, these shrimp will never match the flavor of wild-caught gulf shrimp existing in their natural saltwater environment.

Yet, in order to grantee the existence of wild shrimp for future generations, aka the sustainability of the species, fishermen have to monitor the amount of wild shrimp they can catch, thus decreasing the overall supply. At the same time, many fishermen have become more aware of “bycatch,” or catching other wild animals unintentionally. To insure the safety of these animals, new nets have been created—at a cost of course—which only catch shrimp.

But, perhaps the most recent factor in the rise of shrimp costs is the decrease in imported shrimp from Asia. A new virus, known as “early mortality syndrome”, has drastically decreased the amount of shrimp coming from Asia; shrimp output in Thailand has dropped by 40%.

But you were always buying locally caught shrimp, you say? And, even after the oil spill and Hurricane Katrina shrimp prices remained relatively stable. Why do we only now see this sudden increase? For the past few years, the shrimp industry has undergone massive market integration, meaning America was importing and consuming so much foreign shrimp, that the price of our own shrimp remained stable. Only now, with the loss of that extra supply of shrimp, do we see prices rise.

Thus, to buy the best wild and sustainably caught shrimp in a market of overall decreased supply, the price will increase. We think it’s still worth it.

Perhaps, the real concern is that for the past few years, a majority of American consumers chose to buy imported, mass-produced shrimp, giving our own wild-cought shrimp a false sense of fair market value.

The following articles were referenced in the writing of this post and are also a great read for anyone looking to learn more!
Disease Kills Shrimp Output, Pushes U.S. Prices Higher by Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol and Julie Jargon in The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. Shrimp Market Integration by Frank Asche, Lori S. Bennear, Atle Oglend, and Martin D. Smith in the Duke Environmental Economics Working Paper Series.
Impact on Seafood Prices is Limited by Emmeline Zhao in The Wall Street Journal.
Gulf of Mexico-Florida Pink Shrimp Fishery Improvement Project from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership
Atlantic Northern Shrimp from Fish Watch: U.S. Seafood Facts