Let me continue a review of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2009. Two days ago, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2009 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from ingredients to desserts. Future posts will discuss my wine, spirit and Saké favorites.
This is certainly not a complete list. It is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.
Favorite New Ethnic Market: If you are seeking authentic Spanish foods, especially cheese and pork products, then you must drop by Las Ventas in the South End. Owned by the proprietors of Estragon restaurant, this small market has an excellent variety of Spanish items, such as over 25 cheeses, the famed Jamon Iberico de Bellota, chorizo, sandwiches and much more. Check out my prior reviews here and here.
Favorite New Local Butcher: Though it has only been open for a few months, the Olde Redding Butcher Shoppe in Reading is already making its mark. It is more of an old fashioned butcher shop, with a great assortment of meats, a deli, reasonable prices and excellent service. I am getting my Christmas roast from them this year.
Favorite New Local Bakery: Another new business located in Reading, Swiss Bäkers has a wide assortment of delicious Swiss products. Their baking philosophy is simple and compelling: Authentic, fresh, and natural. From their Berliners (like a light donut) to their Pretzel rolls, to their Croissants to their Linzer cookies, you have plenty of tasty options. I am buying some of their products for Christmas too.
Favorite Local Chocolate Makers: Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville, is a more unique chocolate making company that produces chocolate using traditional Mexican, stone-grinding methods. This often gives the chocolate a very distinctive texture. Plus it is just very tasty. They also are very concerned about sustainability issues, which certainly gives another reason to support them. Their chocolate is available at many local stores so keep an eye out for them.
Favorite Chips: I love potato chips, tortilla chips and similar other chips. But my new favorites are now the chips made by Food Should Taste Good, Inc. They produce several different types of chips including my favorites like Sweet Potato and Jalapeno (which I love to cover with a layer of melted, Mexican cheeses). These chips are also gluten free, cholesterol free, certified Kosher, dairy/lactose free, have no trans fats, and have no genetically modified ingredients.
Favorite New ingredient: An intriguing and versatile ingredient, Black Garlic has really impressed me. It has been fermented, becoming almost jelly-like in consistency, and has a sweeter rather than pungent flavor. I think it goes very well with seafood dishes, though it can be used for any type of meat or poultry, or even non-meat dishes.
Favorite Vegetables: Yes, this might seem an odd category for me but I do eat some vegetables. And pickled veggies certainly taste good to me. Vermont Pickle makes a variety of delicious pickled vegetables, from carrots to snap peas. Some of these veggies also come in an intriguing Hot variety. Their pickled garlic is also one of my favorites, another versatile ingredient.
Favorite Cheese: I tried a lot of cheese this year, especially at the Vermont Cheese Makers Festival. Out of all that cheese, though I enjoyed most of them, one stood out among all the others, possessing such a powerful, complex and compelling taste. The Grafton Clothbound Cheddar, made in Vermont, is just amazing and gets my highest recommendation.
Favorite Cookies: Do you love coconut macaroons? I certainly do and Klara's Gourmet Cookies make exceptional ones. A crisp, crunchy exterior leads to a very moist interior, just the right balance of textures. The taste is absolutely delicious, that rich coconut flavor that pleases the senses.
Favorite New Meat: With all the uproar over beef, maybe you should branch out a bit and try other meats. You need to consider Yak meat, which is healthier for you than beef and which tastes very good, like beef but leaner. I had some delicious yak burgers and later learned that there is a Vermont Yak Company, where you can get local yak meat. One of my plans for 2010 is to visit this yak farm.
Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: One of my biggest finds at the UNLVino Grand Wine Tasting event was not even a wine. It was the Republic of Tea bottled Iced Tea, fresh brewed, unsweetened, and flavored with fruit. Their iced tea tastes as good as actual fresh brewed and unlike any other bottled iced tea I have ever tasted. I could easily drink bottle after bottle of this refreshing and tasty brew.
Favorite Food-Related Bookstore: Take the drive to Portland, Maine and stop at Rabelais, a compelling food and wine book store. It has a comprehensive selection of titles, both new and used, as well as special collectible books.For food and wine lovers, it is a treasure trove where you will likely find plenty of books you want to buy, including some you have not found elsewhere.
Favorite Sushi Book: With its beautiful photography and extensive information, Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body, and the Soul by Ole G. Mouritsen is an excellent book. It combines philosophy, science and practical advice, helping you learn how to prepare sushi.
Most Fascinating Food Book: The winner of this category was quite clear to me. The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner captured my attention from the start, and each page was more and more fascinating. I learned so much about the world of fruit, all of it interesting, and Gollner has written a fantastic and detailed book which I cannot recommend enough.
Favorite New Food Magazine: This was another easy winner to determine. Culture: The Word on Cheese is an amazing magazine all about cheese. The articles are well written, interesting, cover many topics and is supported by some beautiful photography. I eagerly await each new issue and I have written about most of their issues, including #2, #3 and #4.
Favorite Food Comic Book: U.S. comic books are mainly about superheroes but Japanese ones, called manga, cover a much wider range of subjects, including food and wine. Oishinbo, (roughly translated as “The Gourmet") is a best selling food/cooking manga in Japan and an abbreviated compilation of the series has recently been published in English. The various volumes that have been published to date include Japanese Cuisine, Saké, Ramen & Gyoza, Fish, Sushi & Sashimi, and Vegetables. These are fun and informative reads which I strongly recommend you check out.
Favorite Food Controversy: Do you enjoy foie gras? Or are you opposed to it, thinking it is cruel? I explored a number of aspects of this controversy including: a review of The Foie Gras Wars (a new book by Mark Caro), information about foie gras, a discussion of the debate, and a potential ethical foie gras. This is not a simple issue but it is fascinating and well worth exploring.
Favorite Chef Information: In 2009, I began the Culinary Creativity series, a series of interviews with local chefs, trying to determine the source of their inspirations. How do they create new dishes and recipes? Their answers were compelling, and show a wide difference of opinions and experiences. I hope to add more interviews to this series in 2010.
Favorite Food Festival: Though it was not perfect, the Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival was still a worthy event. There were tons of different cheeses, Vermont wines, and other local food products. I ate more than my fill from all of the samples and found some new favorites and treasures. I will attend the festival again next year and recommend you should go as well.
Favorite Local Food Blogger: I first encountered Jacqueline Church of the Leather District Gourmet at a blogger dinner in January 2009. Besides being a captivating dining companion, she writes an excellent blog about food, wine and spirits. Her work is well-written, informative and often with a touch of humor. A significant portion of her work deals with sustainability issues and she is currently working on a book on Heritage Pigs. If you are not following her blog, then you are missing out.
New Food Short Story: This year, I wrote a new, food-related short story, called "You Had Me at Foie." This is a love story where foie gras plays an important role. Yet it also a mystery, with an ending that should make you think. I hope you enjoy this story and would like your feedback.
New Cheese Haiku: Cabot Creamery held a Haiku contest where you had to submit a haiku about the Creamery or its products. One of my submissions was a runner up and you can check it out. I hope you enjoy it too.
For more food-related reviews and highlights, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything that I enjoyed in this review post.
What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?