Pu'er Teas

Pu’er teas: Silk Road Teas Imperial Leaf tea bags, Silk Road Teas Dark River (Lin Cang) Pu-erh, and Tranquil Tuesday’s Ancient Tree Raw Pu’er

The holidays bring us an endless array of feasts for the senses, but if you’re like me, all these seasonal specialties leave you feeling that your eyes were much bigger than your stomach (even after your stomach has stretched beyond its normal proportions). There are plenty of culinary options for soothing your stomach at the end of a luxurious meal – from dessert wines and herbal digestifs to an espresso or a mug of mint tea – but for me, this season is the perfect excuse to break out one of my most treasured beverages: 普洱茶 (pu’er tea).

I first had pu’er tea (also written “pu-erh”) back in 2008, when I was travelling through the heartland of pu’er in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province. Although it is less well known in the U.S., pu’er has been a highly prized variety of tea for centuries in China, where it played a large role in the Ancient Tea Horse Road trade-route connecting parts of Southeast East Asia, India and Tibet. Unlike black, green, white, and oolong teas, pu’er falls into a fifth category, known as “dark tea,” which is allowed to gradually ferment after harvest. The brewed pu’er has a similar body to black tea, but with less caffeine and more oaky, earthy flavors.

Rob with Pu'er Tea

Me with a giant disc of pu’er tea at the Chinese National Tea Museum. Pu’er tea is often packed into bricks or cakes.

Traditionally, these dark teas were carefully packaged and allowed to age, like wine, developing richer, bolder flavors as the fermentation progressed. In the 1970s an extra processing step was invented to accelerate fermentation and mimic the flavor profiles of those more sought-after vintages. Today, pu’er is divided into two categories to reflect which method is used to finish it: raw (生 sheng) pu’er, which has been lightly fermented and may occasionally be left to age; and ripe (熟 shou) pu’er, which has been processed using the accelerated method.

Whenever I talk with people in China about pu’er they immediately extoll its popular health benefits – “Ah, pu’er tea, it aids digestion, helps you lose weight, and is great for the skin!” Clever marketing if I ever saw it, but I have to say (at least in my experience) there really is something about this fermented tea that helps soothe the stomach more than the other teas I drink.

When I first came back from China the funkier scents of the ripe pu’er leaves I brought with me turned a few of my friends off, but I love these teas for their delicacy and depth of flavor. Pu’er is my go-to tea for sitting around with friends and family, in part because it steeps effectively in a matter of seconds and the leaves can be reused upwards of 30 times over the course of a day.

With its purported digestive benefits, rich flavor, and mild caffeine content pu’er makes a perfect after-dinner drink for the winter holidays – a great transitional beverage to bring you from your turkey on to pie!

Most pu’er outside of China is ripe pu’er, and we have two exceptional varieties from Silk Road Teas. In addition to their organic Imperial Leaf pu’er tea bags, Silk Road’s Dark River Pu’er is bursting with smoky, spicy peat and really resembles the qualities of a wine aged in barrique. I’m also thrilled that we carry a marvelous raw pu’er from Tranquil Tuesdays. Their Ancient Tree Raw Pu’er is much more delicate, with a light body and clean finish, and it still boasts those earthy undertones, just without the smokier punch. All three are great gifts for tea lovers, offering a unique taste of one of China’s most beautiful regions!


Rob Campbell is a culinary adventurer, world traveler, science geek, and also a Tea Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

Thanksgiving Cheese 2014

Our top Thanksgiving cheese picks for 2014: Shelburne 2 Year Cheddar, Verano, Bayley Hazen Blue, and Sage Farm’s fresh goat cheese

One of our favorite ways to celebrate Thanksgiving is with a round up of some of New England’s best cheeses. While we love the fruits of Europe’s great cheese-making traditions, Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to reflect on and celebrate American cheese makers, and our country’s own tradition of beautiful cheeses of all milk types and textures. This year, our Cambridge store’s domestic cheese buyer Tripp, along with the rest of the cheese team, have brought together four of our favorite Vermont cheeses for a perfect addition to the holiday table!

Shelburne Farms 2 Year Cheddar

Founded in 1886 as a model agricultural estate, Shelburne Farms sits on the edge of Lake Champlain in Shelburne Vermont, just fifteen minutes south of Burlington. In addition to their successful dairy, vegetable, and sustainable forestry programs, Shelburne Farms also runs an nonprofit dedicated to conservation education, and in 2001 it was named a National Historic Landmark. Their Vermont farmhouse cheddar is made solely with raw milk from their herd of grass-fed Brown Swiss cows, and comes in a variety of ages. Our favorite is this two-year old cheddar, which has a delightful crumbly texture and turns creamy on the palate.


One of the the original New England artisan cheesemakers, David Major raises sheep with his wife and family in Westminster Vermont. They model their sheep’s milk cheeses after aged mountain cheeses of the Pyrénées, and Verano in particular has caught the attention of cheese lovers on both sides of the Atlantic. Verano, which means “summer” in Spanish, is made with their herd’s summer milk. The sheep’s summer diet of wild herbs and grasses gives their milk, and resulting cheese, extra herbaceous notes in it’s earthy sweetness. This cheese is wonderful with classic pairings, like the cherry jam from staff-favorite Boutique Arraya. It also pairs wonderfully with more seasonal tart treats like Wood’s Cider Jelly!

Bayley Hazen Blue

Recently crowned the “best unpasteurized cheese in the world” at the 2014 World Cheese Awards in England, Bayley Hazen Blue regularly features as another Formaggio Kitchen staff favorite. The creamy, crumbly texture of Bayley Hazen Blue is an immediate stand-out among blue-veined cheeses, with flavors of sweet grass and peppery spice. The Ayrshire cow’s milk provides a nutty, pleasantly farmy foundation for this complex cheese. Jasper Hill Farm in far north Greensboro Vermont makes phenomenal cheeses using milk from their small herd of Ayrshire cows. They also run an expansive, top-notch aging facility used by many of the state’s other producers including the much-loved Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

Sage Farm

Molly and Katie Pindell have been making cheese in Stowe Vermont since 2008. Together with their small herd of registered Alpine goats, they produce some of our favorite fresh goat cheeses made in Vermont. Styled after the French classic Valencay, Sterling is dusted with ash and aged for just two weeks, and it’s smooth texture yields a rich, tart flavor. Madonna is denser, but still creamy, with a brighter, lemony flavor that pairs beautifully with New England honey.


All four cheeses are available together online as part of our Thanksgiving Cheese Bundle, paired with Vermont’s own Castleton Crackers and Wood’s Cider Jelly.

For more Thanksgiving cheese ideas, check out our 2012 Thanksgiving Cheese Board, and our 2011 picks for celebrating America-the-melting-pot with international cheeses!

The Vallana Winery

The Vallana Winery

The rolling Alpine foothills of the Alto-Piemonte (or Upper Piemonte) are not as well known or as frequently visited by wine-lovers as the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions just to the south, but fascinating and delicious Nebbiolo-based wines are made here, too!

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Some of our favorite cideries right now: (left to right) Bantam, Far From The Tree, and Shacksbury

Some of our favorite cideries right now: (left to right) Bantam, Far From The Tree, and Shacksbury

While I’ll never turn down a good glass of beer or wine, as the leaves start to fall I find myself reaching for cider more and more often. Thankfully, the days of just Woodchuck are over, as more and more craft cideries enter the field.

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After visiting Fromageries Marcel Petite in the fall of 2013, Team Formaggio traveled on to Switzerland. Ihsan and Valerie, owners of the Formaggio Kitchen family of shops, fellow cheesemongers Tripp and David (Tripp from Cambridge and David from Formaggio Kitchen South End), and myself journeyed to Raclette country in search of the best representations of this classic cheese – and we found it in Raclette de Verbier. Here are a few photos from our short but delicious stay! (please click on one of the photos to open the slideshow)

Meredith Rottersmann is the General Manager and Classroom Coordinator at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

Domaine de Vaccelli Cuvée Roger 2009 with Meadowood Farm Lamb Chops and Red Fire Farm Brussels Sprouts.

Domaine de Vaccelli Cuvée Roger 2009
with Meadowood Farm Lamb Chops and Red Fire Farm Brussels Sprouts.

France’s Île de Beauté (Island of Beauty) lies one hundred miles south of France’s Côte-d’Azur and just over fifty miles west of Tuscany. This wildly majestic island enjoys some of the hottest, driest conditions in all of France (it holds the record for the most annual sunshine), and is where the Greeks first cultivated vines back in the 6th Century BCE. Despite this long history of production, it was not until the 1960s, when a horde of skilled wine-makers fled Algeria (the so-called French pieds noirs) for Corsica, that it became known for wines of quality of distinction.

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Dark Milk Bar

Patric’s Dark Milk Bar – an example of craft chocolate’s dark side!

This post is part three of three of my interview with Carla D. Martin, “Professor of Chocolate” and Lecturer in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Part one discussed the meaning of “craft chocolate” in North America, and part two questioned the idea of terroir and craft chocolate’s cost. Today’s post looks at North American craft chocolate’s dark side — so much of it is dark chocolate! What’s a milk chocolate lover to do?

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