Spy Food: A Very Special Squeeze

It catches your eye. Lemons from Sorrento, Italy at $6.99 a pound. The lemons are large and juicy. The color is beautiful, but the color doesn’t increase the cost. Weighing it at a bit over 8 ounces produces an eye popping price when compared to the offering at a local supermarket selling their lemons for 79 cents each.

Still, standing in the Piazza Italian Market and discussing the quality of these lemons with the proprietor, Emily Chandler, the desire to buy and try this unique experience is strong. After all, if you traveled to Sorrento, how would you bring a few of these beautiful lemons back into the country.

This is a lemon where every part of it deserves to be used! So, while preparing dinner, a twist of lemon from the Bella Vita lemon provided an exquisite experience at cocktail time, building confidence in the wisdom of making the investment in a lemon from Italy.

In fact, it was so good that I tried, as suggested in an online story, just enjoying the fruit by itself. Amazingly good!

We enjoyed some lemon juice on our meal and confidence was high with regard to the real lemon expert in the family….my wife.

I explained just how remarkable this experience really was, dining while enjoying this Italian lemon. So, the question was popped….what did she think. “Well,” says she, “it tastes like a lemon.”

High praise, I suppose, from someone who likes fresh lemon juice on most things…and, after all, it really should taste like a lemon.

Like so many things in life, the total experience is what’s important. I’ve never taken so much time focusing a dinner on a lemon….come to think of it, I’ve never written about a lemon.

Go to Piazza. You decide!

And, here is a bit of information found while doing research…something else that’s new…researching lemons!

Growing the perfect lemon is a process Italians take great pride in and celebrate. The process of growing lemons requires an attentive and nurturing caretaker and a warm, subtropical climate. As a lemon tree begins to blossom, a fragrant sweet smell is released. This aroma is captured in the form of lemon essential oils, which are often used for perfume making, as well as adding fragrance to soaps and lotions. As lemons continue to grow and ripen on the tree, they become sweeter. A lemon so sweet and full of flavor, it is often enjoyed plain with just a pinch of salt on top! But it’s not just the juice that is prized — Italians enjoy every part of the lemon, including the peel and rind.

Spy Wine Notes: Piazza Tasting Finale

Piazza Italian Market founder Emily Chandler introduced the final wine tasting event of the year saying we would be “touring” Umbria.As with each of the enjoyable wine tasting events this year, Emily and her team beautifully prepared food with each of the three wines tasted.

The full house at Piazza started with a white wine made from the Grechetto grape by the Antonelli winery .

This wine described by the maker as opening with elegance to the nose: fresh, fruity and floral with notes of citrus, peach, almond and hawthorn blossom, was paired with a simple but delicious bowl of red potatoes and tuna.

The selection of reds involved another offering from the Antonelli winery – Montefalco Rosso. This blend contains 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Montepulciano. Described by the maker as being ruby red in color. Olfactory impact is intense and fruity, with hints of cherry and wild berries. To the palate this wine is dry, balanced and well structured. The freshness provided by the Sangiovese gives it an excellent drinkability. It was paired with a tasty bruschetta.

And, the final wine – Perticaia’s Montefalco Sagrantino – was made 100% from the Sagrantino grape.

This wine is described as being very full and persistent, tannic with an agreeable touch of bitterness.

Piazza paired this wine with a salumi selection fairly representing the fine offerings available everyday in the market.

As with all other tastings at Piazza, the guests were given the chance to purchase the wines for home consumption along with meats and cheeses. The evening brought a great year of tastings to an enjoyable conclusion….and, we can’t wait to see what comes next in 2019.

Mid-Shore Food: LTO on High, Stams, and the Return of Neyah White and Brandywine Hartman to Chestertown

While Chestertown foodies will need to demonstrate a bit more patience over the next few months, there are some promising signs that High Street will soon be the center of a dining revolution in the not too far future.

That’s because of the Mid-Shore return of Neyah White and his wife, Brandywine Hartman, who is heading up a massive effort to restore the building where Andy’s and the Lemon Leaf restaurant called home until a few years ago as well as the old Stam’s Drug Store down the street.

Neyah, a native of Kent County, very quickly became one of San Francisco’s best known and successful bartenders in the 2000s when he moved there after college. With a remarkable career launched at some of that city’s most popular bars, including the Clift Hotel, Bacar, Mecca, and Supper Club, and then opening up the legendary Nopalito and Nopa, Neyah swiftly became rose to the top of the mixed drinks hierarchy from almost the day he settled in the Bay Area. But his one consistent long-term plan from day one was to return to Chestertown and open up his own bar.

That plan worked well for his bride to be, Brandywine Hartman, who had created her own remarkable reputation as one of the Fog City’s most applauded pastry chefs. With her background working with two of the city’s two Michelin-rated restaurants, Brandywine found herself as one of the stars of the critically-acclaimed Bar Agricole in the SOMA part of town before the two plotted their exit from California to return to Neyah’s hometown in 2016.

Since that time, life has come with a new baby, a temporary pop-up bar where JR’s and Andy’s was located, and more permanent plans to take the reigns of a entirely new bar once the High Street building has been renovated, and the re-establishment of Stam’s a few blocks down as the home of an ice cream parlor and pastry shop.

The Spy caught up with Neyah, Brandywine and their daughter Suzie, a few weeks ago to talk about their new quality of life and their long-term plans of putting Chestertown on the foodie map in the Mid-Atlantic region.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about LTO please go here.

 

Mid-Shore Food: Nighttime Surveillance on Sprout HQ’s Open House

It was hard for our Spy to enter the new Sprout HQ on North Aurora a few nights ago. As might have been expected, grateful customers and public officials crowded into the organically pre-prepared and locally sourced meals new business location to the point where our agent couldn’t immediately enter its new hub. Relying on the art of outdoor surveillance techniques after years of specialized training, our Spy captured the festive scene through several windows.

This video is approximately one minute in length. For more information about Sprout. please go here

Spy Wine Notes: Piazza Trifecta

Our story begins in the Swiss Alps, specifically on Alp Trosen, where 35 cows, a heard of goats and pigs and a cheesemaker spend several weeks in an aging hut built into the side of the mountain.

(Great way to start a Spy story, don’t you think?)

This first report involves an unbroken tradition from the Swiss Alps known as transhumance involves cheesemaker Jakob Knaus moving from his home in the Toggenburg valley up to the 6,000-foot level of Alp Trosen. This is all part of a cheesemaking practice that can be traced back over 2,000 years.

With his cows eating only wild grasses, herbs and flowers, the milk produced makes a cheese full of flavor. All this is done by Jakob Knaus and an assistant using a copper kettle over a wood fire where their alpkase cheese is made by hand.

As Piazza’s Emily Chandler describes it, “…this is beyond organic and the resulting flavor of the cheese is a pure expression of the alp and its microclimate. It is a beautiful cheese from a beautiful place.”

And, yes, it is now available at the Piazza Italian Market because they have again participated in an annual event where stores around the country adopt an alp! Fortunately for us, Piazza’s Alp is Trosen.

As part of the introduction to their adopted alp, the cheese from Alp Trosen was “part one” of this past weekend’s wine dinner at Piazza.

The second part of this very successful event was the wine.

With cheese from the Alps, Emily selected a perfect wine from the Italian Alps. Where better to go than to Lombardia where the Perego family have been tending vines set on sheer granite terraces in the mountainous Valtellina since 1860. The vines are so far north into the alps they are practically in Switzerland.

The family works only with Nebbiolo, or Chiavennasca as it is called locally, growing the grapes up to nearly 2,300 feet above sea level on sheer, south-facing, sunlit vines that dig straight into rock. The resulting fruit is intensely mineral.

Their Rocce Rosso wine is named for red rocks, because the winemaker feels that the flavor of iron and earth are most prominent in this wine. And, this vintage won the Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award from Gambero Rosso, the Wine Spectator of Italy.

Finally, for the third important element of our story, the cheese and wine became vital elements in a series of food courses prepared by chef Rosario del Nero. He prepared extraordinary offerings traditional to the Italian Alps featuring alpage cheeses. Starting with a cured beef dish, the second course was Pizzoccheri, a specialty of the valley known as Valtellina from where Chef Rosario comes. Chef Rosario’s main course was a roast pork loin with porcini sauce.

Once again, the Piazza Italian Market delivered an extraordinary evening, this one rich in traditions of the Swiss and Italian Alps.
Now, everyone can be touched by the history and incredible craft achieved over generations producing the exceptional cheese and wine that have traveled here to Easton

For more information: Adopt an Alp  and ARPEPE Wines

Mid-Shore Food: Piazza’s Adopt-an-Alp Program 2018

Piazza Italian Market is pleased to announce it will again participate in the Adopt-an-Alp program. This five-year-old program was created to generate awareness and appreciation for the endangered practice of transhumance and to highlight “real” Swiss cheeses. Piazza was one of three winners of this competition in 2016 which resulted in a free trip to visit alpine dairies for one member of the Piazza team. Owner Emily Chandler selected Brandy McKinney to represent the store.

Historically, many cheeses in Switzerland and other Alpine countries were produced via transhumance. As the summer sun warms the slopes, green grass sprouts, and the cows follow. Herdsmen were just behind the hungry cows, living and making cheese in small huts. While the idea of spending a solitary summer high up on a Swiss mountain with only animals for company might sound idyllic, life away from the comforts of home is not easy. Some of the huts that provide shelter have neither running water nor electricity. Remarkably, production of Alpage (cheese made from alpine-grazed cow’s milk) has increased over the last 5 years, arguably due to the Adopt-an-Alp program.

Piazza has selected to adopt Alp Trosen this year. Brandy McKinney of Piazza Italian Market visited Alp Trosen in 2017 and was struck by the humbleness of the operation and the quality of its cheese. Jakob Knaus Sr. stays on the alp for 9 weeks, most of the time alone. During this time, he lives in a one room chalet directly above the stables. There are few modern amenities at this 500-year-old hut, only a government-required filtered water system and solar panels. Jakob is required by the Alpkäse consortium to use a wood fire and a copper kettle to warm the milk for cheesemaking. These little details result in a sum that is more than its parts. Importer Caroline Hostetter describes Alp Trosen’s cheese as very flavorful and having “a lot of the earth” in it, even when young, and the rest of us can’t wait to try it!

To celebrate the arrival of the cheeses, there will be an Alp Dinner on Saturday, November 17th at Piazza. Featured chef Rosario del Nero will be using the Swiss alpkäse to cook dishes from his native alpine valley in Italy, the Valtellina. Tickets will become available in October.

Additionally, we will be celebrating the transhumance practice by unique events created by Jenn Martella, Special Events Coordinator. She will once again involve the community by reading at the children’s hour at the Talbot County branch libraries, a cowbell art contest for artists of all ages and Swiss jeopardy at the kick off dinner. Prizes will be awarded to the winners.

Adopt-an-Alp was created by Caroline Hostetter at Quality Cheese and it is officially supported by Schweizerischer Alpwirtschaftlicher Verband (SAV), (translates to Swiss Society of Alp Economy) a Swiss government agency for protecting and marketing Alp products including the platform http://alpkase.ch. All cheeses sold through the Adopt-an-Alp program are exclusively imported by Mifroma USA and distributed by Atalanta Corp.

For more information about the art contest or to make a reservation for the Alp Dinner please call Jennifer Martella at 410-253-1100.

Spy Wine Notes: Virginia Wine on the Eastern Shore

It is reported that nearly 400 years ago the first colonial legislative assembly in Virginia passed an act requiring all Virginia households to plant 10 vines for grapes. Undoubtedly, since then the quality of wine from Virginia has been subject to debate.

Well, this past weekend at the Talbot Country Club Wine Dinner, there was no debate about the quality of very enjoyable wine from the Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Virginia. Four exceptional wines from Boxwood were tasted, paired with exquisite offerings from the Club’s Sous Chef.

The evening was made all the more remarkable with a lively discourse on the wines, the winery, Middleburg and even a new California wine project, all from Rachel Martin. Boxwood, a family owned winery, is run by Rachel and her brother, Sean Martin.

In addition to the winery in Middleburg, Rachel launched her own wine project along the California coastline in San Luis Obispo. From this winery, the assembled wine tasters enjoyed a 2016 Chardonnay that was exceptional.

The Boxwood Vineyard wines demonstrated just how high the bar is now placed when in comes to Virginia wines. And the offering from Oceano suggests we will hear a lot more from this new winery.

The evening was the final one of the wine tasting series for the season offered by the Talbot Country Club and it was an exciting way to conclude the successful wine tasting dinners offered to members.

 

Mid-Shore Food: Hair of the Dog is Starting to Sniff

The Spy was on reconnaissance the other evening as we were checking out rumors of a new Vietnamese restaurant near Lowe’s. The good news is that our report can confirm that a Pho-themed venue is indeed happening. The bad news for the Spy that particular evening was that it wasn’t open yet.

But as we were swinging out of the shopping center, a quick look informed us that Hair of the Dog had made good of their promise to bust through a wall and open up the next door retail space to create a tasting room with an appropriate bar menu.

The Dog did well. It’s a remarkably open, pleasant space with very little doubt about its purpose. The tasting menu for both wine and craft beer seems endless, but just in case there is a credit card-run wine station where eight wines can be pumped out from a high tech encasement at various prices and sizes.

The food was good enough, which is a good thing. While the menu is creative to a point, none of the food offerings are designed to take center stage. It’s all about what one drinks.

 

 

Quick Takes: Yes, Virginia, there is a Indian Restaurant on the Mid-Shore

The Spy has investigated many restaurant rumors that float through the Mid-Shore throughout the year, but when we received news that there was a possibility of an Indian restaurant in Cambridge, there was an instinctive reaction to label it “fake news.” Nonetheless, duty called, and we took a field trip last weekend to confirm or deny this existence of a venue for curry and are pleased to report that those reports have turned out to be entirely accurate.

Here are some of our findings:

1). The Indian restaurant goes by the name of Bombay Tadka and is located at 1721 Race Street in Cambridge.

2). The food is excellent and remarkably fresh.

3) Some staples of Indian cuisine are missing from the menu. Regrettably, Naan bread is not to be found along the favorite Tandoori chicken. It was also a disappointment that Tadka has yet to get their wine and beer license, which we hope will be resolved soon.

4) The service was attentive even during a busy night.

5). Like any new restaurant, there were a few hiccups and odd twists to our meal.  It is also safe to say that while the curry dishes were outstanding, they seemed remarkably different in taste and with presentation from your traditional curry house.

6) We conclude that Bombay Tadka is the “real deal” and a welcome addition to the Mid-Shore.

For more information about Bombay Tadka please go here

 

Spy Wine: High and Dry at Piazza

On the south coast of Sicily in Italy sits Mount Etna and that was exactly the place “to be” when heavy rains hit Talbot County this past weekend. Thanks to a well-timed wine tasting event at Easton’s Piazza Italian Market, a full house of wine tasters put their cares for the weather aside and enjoyed four different wines from Tenuta DelleTerre Nere, where grapes are grown and wine is made on the slopes of Etna.

The remarkable wine is made from grapes grown on vines that are forty to one hundred years old in very rocky soil and volcanic material. As, Piazza’s Emily Chandler shared with the group that gathered, these difficult soils drive the roots of the vines deeper and make for a unique taste.

Emily had visited the winery in 2015 and stayed in touch with the winemaker ever since. This yielded a very special allocation for Piazza, much of which was enjoyed during the wine tasting.

Our tasting included….

Etna Rosso

Premier Cru Santo Spirito

Premier Cru Guardiola

Grand Cru Calderara Solttano

(click on the names above to learn more from Terre Nere)

The evening provided all who attended a chance to enjoy fine wines along with veal meatballs, bread with olive oil, porcini cheese and salami.

It was the perfect way to stay dry during a very rainy afternoon.

 

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