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Italian Olive Oils

A selection of some of our Italian olive oils — left to right: Raineri Unfiltered, Salustri Olivastra, Madonna Antonia, Podere San Biagio, and La Bandiera

The other night, while having dinner with a friend, she said “I’m not buying Italian olive oil anymore because of all the fraud – I just can’t trust it.” and my head just about exploded.

I can’t really blame her for this baby and bathwater approach. Recent press implicates Italy as the center of fraudulent olive oil activity and in many cases, paints a broad picture without distinction between the good and the bad producers. Without clear direction, how can consumers be expected to filter through what’s on the grocery shelves? It certainly seems easier to stick to olive oil from other countries.

Easier, maybe but I suspect the Italians have not cornered the market on olive oil fraud and that similar problems affect other olive oil producing countries as well. So buying a bottle of Greek or Spanish olive oil is no guarantee of authenticity or quality.

On this same subject, I was recently speaking with a customer about harvest dates, lot numbers and “best before” dates, all of which play an important role in sharing information about the oil inside the bottle. He was insistent that harvest date is the most important way to determine the authenticity of an olive oil. Playing devil’s advocate, I suggested that if a producer wanted to be fraudulent, they wouldn’t think twice about misinformation on their labels.

There is a lot of trust that goes into buying food these days. This is at least one of the reasons for the fantastic boom in the local food movement, and in farmer’s markets and CSAs in particular. In New England, we don’t have the luxury of a local olive oil producer, so we depend on an honest supply chain to give us the quality we believe we are buying.

In the typical olive oil supply chain, customers depend on grocers such as Formaggio Kitchen, grocers depend on distributors, distributors depend on importers, and importers depend on producers (and to get really nitty-gritty about it, producers can sometimes depend on growers and their mills).

My suggestion to my friend was simple – find a grocer you trust – someone who knows the harvest dates of their oils, knows each producer and allows you to taste the oil. Talk with the grocer to discover the oils with the fewest links in the supply chain.

Short of helping pick the olives and watching them go from press to bottle, there is no 100% certainty in olive oil authenticity. However, rest assured there is a wonderful world of excellent olive oil out there, and with a good grocer and a bit of trust, you can enjoy your Italian, Spanish, French, Californian or Greek olive oils without fear of fraud.

Tim Bucciarelli oversees general operations at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge and manages Formaggio Kitchen Online.

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Fresh Chai Hot or Iced

Fresh Chai Hot or Iced

After a winter that seemed like it would never end, we have finally made it to the hot and humid days of mid-summer. Somewhat ironically, these days I find myself coming back to the same drink that got me through that long cold winter – fresh brewed chai tea.

The phrase “chai tea” is actually redundant. Our word chai comes from the Hindi word for tea, and it turns out that most people across South Asia and the Middle East, and even most of China, use some variant of cha or chai for the word tea (the Hindi word chai comes from the Chinese “cha” (茶); however, in some southern Chinese dialects the same word is pronounced “teh,” which is how we got the English word “tea” instead).

Here in the U.S. the word chai has come to mean that distinctly Indian blend of strong black tea, spices (usually a mix of ginger, cardamom, and one or two other ingredients depending on the specific blend), and milk. Hot or iced, it has taken the American beverage world by storm as one of the most popular café teas and as a delicious, savory alternative to coffee. Interestingly, this tea may be closest to some of the first teas ever made – which were used as medicine and prepared more like a broth than the sweetened drinks we see today. This practice persisted in some parts of Asia, and developed into chai as we know it during the British effort to break China’s tea-producing monopoly by establishing tea plantations in India.

Women picking tea in Darjeeling, India

Women picking tea in Darjeeling, India

While I always consider chai the perfect winter-weather complement because of its warming spices, there’s something about those same spices that takes on a new dimension in the bright, full sunlight of a summer day. I discovered this for myself in Malaysia, sipping hot chai at my friend’s home near the beach without a second thought for ice. Back home, I more often opt to keep things cool with iced chai, where those spices add an extra punch that makes it one of the most refreshing and delicious iced teas I’ve ever had.

Unlike most other teas, chai is traditionally brewed by boiling tea in water for several minutes (as opposed to pouring just-boiled water over the leaves and leaving them to sit). This helps bring out the full flavor of the spices, and also creates a bolder black tea infusion that can hold its own amidst all those competing flavors.

Our newest chai addition to the shop comes from Chai Wallahs of Maine, and it is a strong, authentic chai blended right here in New England! As aficionados of both hot and iced chai, I asked them to share their favorite way to brew up some refreshing iced chai at home.

For two cups Iced Chai:

    • In a pot, combine 1 Tablespoon chai and 1 cup water.
    • Bring to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes.
    • Add 1-2 Tablespoons of honey (to taste).
    • Strain the mixture and stir in 1 cup cold milk.
    • Pour over ice and serve!


Rob Campbell is a culinary adventurer, world traveler, science geek, and also the assistant tea buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Consider Bardwell Farm

Consider Bardwell Farm

Four years ago, when I first moved from New York to the Boston-area, I can only describe it as a collision of worlds. Although the change of pace is less noticeable for some, it took me extra time to adjust to the relatively gentle mobility of Beantown as compared to that of the Big Apple.

After finding work at Formaggio Kitchen, and as I established a comfort zone with my newly adopted environment, I was given the opportunity through the shop to visit a series of farms in western Vermont. I had never traveled that far north in the United States before, so I jumped at the opportunity.

The trip offered a wonderful introduction to a region extremely diverse in sights, flavors and experiences. Growing up, my grandparents would seek solace from the city life in the mountains of central New York but, as a child, I never appreciated the clarity that environment could impart.

My fellow staffers and I visited three farms on our trip: Consider Bardwell, Twig Farm, and Blue Ledge. During our visit, Twig Farm’s owner and veteran Formaggio Kitchen cheesemonger, Michael Lee, gave a simple, yet nuanced perception of his art. He posited that cheese bears a striking similarity to bones; dependent as they are upon the bonding of calcium and on moisture levels during cooking, curds can be molded into a soft and pliable cheese, or a firmer, more crumble-prone cheese. Michael’s analogy became a sort of leitmotif to reflect upon as we visited other farms in this unspoiled terrain. Each cheesemaker gives life to a different bone in their “body” of a repertoire, and each farm was its own sort of self-sustaining organism or ecosystem.

With the Goats at Twig Farm

With the Goats at Twig Farm

The final, striking aspect of our trip was the use of the honor system, and the collective bartering between farms that eliminates any sense of competition. Cheesemaker Hannah Sessions of Blue Ledge Farm explained that this is a byproduct of the comparative youth of artisan American cheese production, married with the fact that there is still plenty of business for everyone involved.

The sense of place and charge that each of the farms we visited has with their land and livestock is extraordinary. I believe that it is safe to say that this region will continue to serve as a large, untainted sandbox for artisan cheesemakers to create their own corpus and a place where natural city-dwellers like myself can learn to appreciate a different kind of order for many years to come!

Photos by: Kim Beaty

Marino Pawlowski is a romance linguist, enchanting dinner guest, and a cheesemonger and buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge .

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Gruyère Alpage

Gruyère Alpage

We knew it would be a fast trip, and the time spent waiting for our flight in the Newark airport did not make it any easier. Switzerland was calling and we could not have been any more prepared (and less ready) for what we were going to experience.

We landed in Geneva and made haste to the Jura region of France for a brief stop at Marcel Petite’s famed aging rooms at Fort Sant Antoine. As always, visiting Claude and the crew to taste and pick our wheels of Comté was a resounding success. The Comté offered to us was as spectacular as ever and we were introduced to new fruitières* with all new flavor profiles. This means in a few months, our customers will also be introduced to these new flavors. Exciting, but I digress…

Switzerland was our focus. Leaving France behind, we arrived in Villeneuve on the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac du Monde) to meet with Bernard. Immediately, we were swept up and driven north into the Alpine hills and mountains of Gruyère. We steadily climbed until we reached our first stop, an amazing, small farm where the cheesemaker makes three cheeses, Gruyère, Gruyère Alpage and a small Reblochon style washed rind, as well as some very fresh tasting yogurt. Bernard sells his cheese, but does not age it. This allows the cheesemaker to employ both his son and a full time helper – a nice philosophy that assured us we were dealing with the right people. They had just finished cleaning after their afternoon cheesemaking and excitedly showed us the cave. Hundreds of wheels of Gruyère at all ages sat in meticulous condition. The Gruyère, by the way, was fantastic. Notes made and photos taken, more work had to be done and so we said our goodbyes.

Ihsan in front of Bernard's Cave

Ihsan in front of Bernard’s Cave

Our next stop was Bernard’s own cave. On a winding mountain road, we continued to climb higher in altitude. As we rounded a tight curve, we made a sudden stop. The flat, rocky wall aside the road seemed an odd place to stop until we realized this was the entrance to the cave. This ‘cave’ was originally a Swiss army fort built during World War II (forts make excellent cheese caves).

Traveling in the Cave's Tunnels

Traveling in the Cave’s Tunnels

It originally housed up to 300 men and was connected to other forts through underground passages. While others have tried to convert these forts, few have had the success that Bernard has. He has slowly transformed each room to hold distinct cheeses. The cave is not yet filled, there are numerous rooms and whole upper and lower levels that are still untouched.

Walking through room after room tasting different cheeses was as impressive and fun as it sounds. Discovering unique flavors of Gruyère from different farms, as well as a host of other styles of cheese, was eye-opening. Many of the cheeses had flavor profiles that we had never tasted in the US. The complexity and diversity within a range of such closely related cheeses was astonishing.

After tasting, Bernard took us deep into the mountain. A small door led into a hand carved stairwell heading down at a treacherously steep angle. A long walk down these steps tooks us to a small tunnel with even more rooms. As we neared the end of the tunnel, Bernard opened a door that led to a small wooden bridge that would take us to yet another fort, which a friend of Bernard’s is also using as a cave.

We walked over a gorgeous ravine into the next fort and were offered a visit to see those cheeses, but the hour long walk up deterred us. After all, we already had the task of climbing the 900 steps back to Bernard’s cave (Ihsan swears it was 1,200 steps!). Our legs would be feeling that for days.

The drive back to the lake was a nice prelude to the finish of the day. A wine tasting with a friend of Bernard’s who makes fantastic local wines, followed by a pleasant dinner helped us get ready for the following day.

Making Vacherin Fribourgeois

Making Vacherin Fribourgeois

The next morning, we arrived at Bernard’s cave in Villeneuve where we tasted yet more cheese and, again, we were blown away. Throughout the day, we visited more cheesemakers and farms, tasting, talking and writing as we went. The highlight of the day was our first stop, an Alpage cheese maker in the town of Moléson. By law, the cheese can only be made from May to September, using the milk from cows grazing at certain altitudes, and it must be heated over a wood fire. The old, traditional manner of doing everything by hand includes cutting and straining of the curds, which is quite a sight to behold. We watched as the milk transformed from pure liquid to snow-white curds that would eventually become Vacherin Fribourgeois Alpage. The season was only about three weeks in, so were not able to taste any of the new batches, but we did taste his aged cheeses in the caves, and I am pleased to report that we will have some on our shelves soon!

Tasting Vacherin Fribourgeois

Tasting Vacherin Fribourgeois

A few farms later and our visit drew to a close. Bernard proved to be a fine tour guide through the beautiful mountains of Gruyère. We tasted many excellent cheeses that are sure to become new favorites for staff and customers alike. After we said our goodbyes, we headed into the small town of Nyon for a light dinner of lake fish – a well deserved finish to a quick moving and cheese-filled trip.

To view our current selection of Swiss cheeses, please click here.

*Fruitière is a word used to refer to a co-op where the cheese is made – it is a term used in the French Jura, the Savoie and Swiss Alps.

David Robinson is the International Cheese Buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

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Big Orange Tomatoes - Red Fire Farm

Big Orange Tomatoes – Red Fire Farm

Spring has finally snuck back into town and I am getting excited about the local, organic produce that will soon be gracing our shelves! On one especially stunning Monday morning, I had the chance to chat with Max Jiusto, the Harvest Manager at Red Fire Farm‘s Montague, MA location (they also have land in Granby, MA).

So what about this winter? Max explained that the extension of winter that we have all been bemoaning set Red Fire back about two weeks in their planting schedule. Even when the top layer of soil started to thaw, the lower layers remained frozen, so water couldn’t drain down into the ground and would just pool in the fields, making planting impossible. They started the plants in the greenhouse at the normal time, however, so even though they will be going into the ground about two weeks late, Max is hopeful that with a little cooperation from the weather, the plants will be able to catch up in their growth and end up maturing right on schedule. (more…)

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Spoonwood Cabin Creamery

A big welcome to the newest cheesemaker on our wall – Spoonwood Cabin Creamery! Spoonwood is a teeny-tiny 1,000 square foot “nano-creamery” in the town of Jacksonville, Vermont, 25 minutes west of Brattleboro – it is owned by Nancy Bergman and Kyle Frey. The name “Spoonwood” refers to the common name for the Mountain Laurel, which is prevalent in the region. (more…)

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Matcha Teas - Tencha and Sencha

Matcha can be a rather confusing category of tea. This is because, in the United States, there is no strict classification of different varieties. In Japan, “matcha” refers to a particular variety of very finely ground green tea. Historically, the Japanese tea ceremony has revolved around the preparation of this tea. These days, matcha is used in a number of ways – from cooking applications (in ice cream and mochi), to drinking applications, to classic Japanese tea ceremonies.

True Japanese matcha – or, “tencha” as it is called more specifically – is made from the delicate shade-grown tea leaves used to make Gyokuro tea. The tea trees are covered in cloth to protect the leaves from light during the several week period before harvest. This process forces the plant to produce more chlorophyll, increases the production of amino acids and gives the leaves a very dark, rich shade of green. The leaves are then delicately hand-picked and laid flat to dry (if they were rolled, they would become Gyokuru tea). At this point, the leaves are de-veined, de-stemmed and finely ground into a powder which is then called “tencha.” This high-grade tencha has an intense sweetness and round richness that is unparalleled. Tencha is the only tea that qualifies as true matcha in Japan, despite the fact that most “matcha” sold in the United States is not tencha.

Matcha: Tencha vs. Sencha

Tencha and Sencha: Note the color difference between the two.

So then, what have you been buying all this time? Because of the extremely high cost of producing tencha, many tea suppliers and retailers have been marketing ground sencha as matcha. Sencha is a beautiful Japanese green tea that is bright, vegetal and grassy. The buds and broken leaves of the sencha tea are ground into a powder to make a less-expensive matcha-like tea. Technically, this type of tea is known as “konacha” (literally, powdered tea). Powdered sencha is quite a bit more intense in flavor than tencha and can have a rather tannic and astringent finish.

I think that both tencha and ground sencha have a place in a well-stocked tea shop. One of my favorite treats is homemade green tea ice cream. I find that the intense flavors found in the ground sencha are perfect for this and other baking applications. As for tencha, I must admit that I swoon for this tea. I have shelled out $35 for just a few grams of it – it’s that amazing. This tea should be enjoyed as it has been for centuries: place a small amount of tencha in a ceramic bowl, add hot water (not boiling – aim for 175°F) and whisk with a bamboo whisk until the tea has totally dissolved. Enjoy right away!

Julia Hallman wears many hats at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge – among them are cheesemonger, classroom instructor and tea buyer.

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Domaine de la Pépière Château-Thébaud Clos des Morines 2009 Muscadet Sur Lie with Valençay Affiné

It’s springtime, and you can just begin to smell it in the air as the damp ground warms up and the bulbs start pushing through. In the cheese world, there is similar rejoicing, because kidding season (when goats have their babies!) has just passed and the best of springtime chèvres are appearing in the cheese case. Paired with a mineral-driven white, these little goat cheeses make a perfect afternoon snack or appetizer to welcome in spring! (more…)

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Carquinyolis Sant Quintí de Mediona

Carquinyolis Sant Quintí de Mediona

It’s easy to love Barcelona. Whenever Ihsan and I visit, we spend 90% of our time wandering from one tapas place to another. A little glass of cava and some sardines here, a fluffy golden tortilla Española there, clams as tiny as a fingernail smothered in garlic and wine, grilled octopus, fried rabbit ribs, platters of jamón. (more…)

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Xocolates Aynouse l'Artesà - Olive Oil and Candied Orange Peel Bars

Xocolates Aynouse l’Artesà – Olive Oil and Candied Orange Peel Bars

In February 2013, while Ihsan and I were visiting our friend Pere Planagumà (head chef at the restaurant Les Cols in Olot, Catalonia), we stopped in the ancient historic city of Girona for a food show and discovered chocolate maker Francisco Javier “Xavi” Rodriquez Perez. Actually, Xavi recognized us — he used to be the chocolatier for another Catalan chocolate company. It was a nice reunion seeing Xavi and to learn that he decided to open his own company Xocolates Aynouse l’Artesà in the town of Agramunt. (more…)

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