July 2009


mozzarella from hellI want to begin by apologizing to all our customers for any trouble they may have had related to mozzarella from our store this week.  If you recently purchased a mozzarella that was not to your satisfaction, please come in and let us know.  We will happily refund your money or replace your mozzarella with a fresh one, just let us know when you come in.  We’ve been having some trouble with our suppliers.

This week of July 13th will go down on the record as “mozzarella hell” and I will refer to this week as such for years to come.  Let me tell you why.  The story revolves around two suppliers, CW and NJ.  On Monday I ordered a case of buffalo mozzarella from CW and I decided not to order our fresh mozzarella from them.  For the last few weeks an increasing portion of our mozzarella order was arriving with brown spots.  I would set those pieces aside, call my sales representative and receive a credit for those; problem solved, except for the fact that I had less stock to sell for the weekend.  My sales rep was aware of the mozzarella problem, I had complained to him and asked him what the problem was-  were they sitting in the warehouse too long, were they on the delivery truck too long and what changed?  No response.  It was disappointing but was a problem that we were able to absorb.

On Tuesday I came to work and found that two customers  had called the night before and complained that the mozzarella they had bought during the weekend was sour by Sunday.  I was angry with CW because I had no way of knowing that those mozzarella were bad, they looked normal.   I was embarrassed.  I wrote a very angry letter to the regional manager of CW (whom I met two weeks ago) along with copies of the notes from my customers.  I didn’t hear from CW so I decided to order my fresh mozzarella from another supplier, NJ, and I expected it to arrive on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning and it seems that the delivery from NJ is late.  I call the company and they told me that they are having computer trouble and that all deliveries are running 5-7 hours late.  We start to tell our customers that we are switching mozz suppliers and that the delivery is coming that evening and offer the buffalo mozzarella from CW.  Soon after, a customer comes in and says that the buffalo mozz he bought yesterday was sour.  We check another bag and sure enough, all the pieces are bad although none are bubbled or have any indication of their expiration.  Now I’m really mad at CW and I call my rep and demand he find out what is going on.  He tells me that he can give me a credit on the buffalo mozz but he doesn’t really know what’s going on.  He told me that he asked one of his other accounts about the fresh mozz because, apparently, I’m the only one who has been complaining about this problem.  The local restaurant that orders the same mozz from CW has noticed that the mozz have been arriving with spots but that they just cut those out before they cook with them and didn’t think to report the problem.  How gross.  I left the store before the NJ order arrived because they said that the driver from NJ won’t be there until 7 pm.

Thursday morning I looked around for the mozz from NJ but there is none and it’s not even on the invoice.  I call NJ and ask for my sales rep, J.  My rep is not there today but E says that he can help me.  I explain that I ordered two cases of mozz on Tuesday with a woman but there is no evidence of those pieces on my invoice.  E says he’s going to do some digging around and call me back.  While I’m waiting to hear from E I’m trying to figure out what to do because another day is passing and we don’t have any mozzarella.  Should I drive up to the CW warehouse and pick mozz in person, making sure its fresh?  Drive to NJ and pick up my two cases in person?  Drive out to another supplier in VA and pick something there?  See if NJ can ship me the mozz overnight?  E calls back at 11:30 and says that he found my order, he sees their mistake and he offers to overnight ship the mozz before I even have the chance to insist on it.  I am relieved that I won’t have to spend Thursday driving around and that I will be able to enjoy my day off on Friday knowing that mozzarella is on its way.

On Friday morning my assistant manager DJ calls NJ because it’s 11:30 and the mozzarella hasn’t arrived.  The woman at NJ says that the mozzarella was shipped out yesterday but that it won’t be at Piazza until 3 pm because it costs (them) twice as much to get it to us before noon.  DJ is angry because Friday morning is second only to Saturday morning in sales but she bites her tongue because she figures that the lady at NJ doesn’t know that.  At 2:50 pm the mozzarella still hasn’t arrived so DJ calls NJ again and asks the same woman for the tracking number of our package.  The woman tells her to hold on while she looks for it.  She comes back and informs DJ that the mozz never got sent because while they were packing it up on Thursday they noticed that it was out of date and decided not to send it to us.  So why had the woman at NJ told her that it was on its way??  She answered that she had heard the delivery guys talking about the mozz yesterday so she had assumed it had been sent out.  She doesn’t know why no one called us but E isn’t there and neither is our rep, J.  So DJ calls me and asks me what I want to do.

The sad thing is, at this point, I’m not surprised that there is more drama.  I mean, since Monday, I have burned my arm pretty badly, cut my finger, found out that farro won’t be available until the end of August, forgotten to go to a radio interview, forgotten to order Sesamo bread, and realized too late that Altimura bread and provolone were out of stock (and today this post was completely erased and had to be re-written)!  Why couldn’t something else go wrong?  I called NJ myself.  I asked for the woman who was there earlier, the man on the phone said that she was gone but that he could help me.  I told him the whole story and I said “whatever can be done at this point NEEDS TO BE DONE, send me ANY mozzarella.”  He said they don’t send things out on Fridays.  I said drop it off at a shipping center.  He said that was unnecessary because they don’t have any mozzarella.  Nothing.  No ovaline, bocconcini, ciliegine, loaves, NOTHING.  He said nothing can be done until Monday.  I told him that it was too bad that I hadn’t known about this yesterday because now I’ve missed a big shopping day at the store, I’ve been telling my customers all week to please be patient because mozzarella is coming and now its 3:00 on Friday and I don’t have any options???  Thanks for nothing.

At that moment I was on my way back from Salisbury (that’s another story) and I realized that I had to continue onto Annapolis (where I had gone last night and the reason I had to go to Salisbury) and beg a store for enough mozzarella to last us for the next five days and return to Easton during Friday rush hour.  Today is Saturday and we have mozzarella and we’re not making any money but at least we don’t have to make any more excuses.  To all our customers, my apologies and please forgive me, this week was mozzarella hell.

In the July issue of Wine Spectator there is an informative editorial about wine vinegar.  Matt Kramer gives the mis-treated condiment its full due, he explains that, in fact, there are great wine vinegars and it is no coincidence that they are made by some of the best winemakers.  Mr. Kramer names Castello di Volpaia in Tuscany as the maker of the best wine vinegar and he notes that they grow a specific type of grapes for making vinegar.  Vinegar master, Giovanella Stianti explains that “you don’t want an alcohol level over 10 percent because that interferes with the bacterial fermentation.”  After Ms. Stianti ferments the grape juice with a mother starter and oak and chestnut shavings, she moves the vinegar to age in chestnut and oak vats.  The vinegar is then moved to oak barriques where it stays for about a year.  No wonder this is a standout favorite for Mr. Kramer, and Chef Tom Colicchio( who names the vinegar in his book Think Like a Chef), it is a labor of love.

So what do you do with a great wine vinegar?  You can make an excellent Salsa Verde (parsley, garlic, anchovies in salt, capers, olive oil and white wine vinegar blended like pesto) for meats.  Carpione di zucchini is excellent, pan-fried zucchini get a bath of wine vinegar and can be stored in this liquid.

And Mr. Kramer suggests you drink a Dolcetto or a Chianti with your dinner although he says “it’s the vinegar that steals the show”, I would also recommend a Roero Arneis to pair with the carpione di zucchini .

Give it a try, at Piazza we have both the white and red wine vinegars from Castello di Volpaia.  Gianni Calogiuri also makes vinegar with care, he grows special grapes for making his vinegar.  We carry his vin cotto.

Last weekend I went up to New York to the Fancy Food Show, it’s a big deal in the food world, there are thousands of companies represented and thousands more who attend.  It is an especially good trade show for us at Piazza because after Americans, Italian companies reserve the most booths.   After a walk through the Italian section you forget that you’re in the US!

There is a price to pay for going to this kind of show, tired feet and a stomach ache.  You can’t take samples off the premises, I think I must have tasted about 40 cheeses in one day!  I tried four buffalo milk cheeses from Lombardia; one was soft like a brie, another was a cacaocavallo, big and almost floral in flavor.  I tried a sheep’s milk cheese from Lazio that is coagulated with thistle flowers, a little goat cheese from Vermont, a cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto that is aged in hay, chamomile and mint and many more.  A new thing was spreadable cheeses from Italy, a spreadable parmesan cheese with truffles, and another made with sheep’s milk.  I tried a wonderful pecorino from Calabria that I bought the next day at the supplier’s warehouse because we liked it that much.

Another instant purchase was Porchetta, a juicy rolled ham that includes dark and white meat and a little crispy skin, we tasted it hot from the oven and couldn’t resist.

porchetta

porchetta

This past weekend I used some on homemade pizza and at the store it is a sandwich special today with provolone and onion jam.  I also tried some Lemon Honey from Sicily which was perfect with fresh apples (the case just arrived at the store) but would probably be even better with grilled peaches!

I stopped by the booth of Gustiamo, where I had some wonderful samples of cookies that you should look out for soon.  I also tasted some of their super-aged balsamic vinegar with strawberries, which was awesome.  The samples were just flowing like water!  I  said hello to Ali at Italian Products where I met one of the owners of Mirabassi, the Sienese company that specializes in Panforte.  We are getting their fig and walnut panforte for Christmas.

We saw Lee Green from the Scrumptious Pantry who hosted a very fun tasting with us last week (more on this to come).  I also found out that Creminelli will be making wild boar salami by special order for Christmas!!!  There weren’t any available samples but, if I know Creminelli the salami will be nothing short of fantastic.  Can’t wait.

Did I mention that I tried about as many olive oils as cheeses?  Yeah, I had lots of olive oil, sipped straight from little cups.  One from il Mulino was especially notable, I am working on buying it from a company in Florida.  The show was fun but it meant that Iwasn’t in the mood for any kind of real dinner afterwards.  Luckily I was invited to go to a tasting party at a very beautiful enoteca in Greenwich village (during the Gay Pride parade but that’s another story).  We were invited by the Manicaretti importers to have some wine and little snacks created using their products and fresh produce from the Greenmarket.  We had:

Olives with orange oil and lemon olive oils

Pecorino Toscano with Cogna, Gorgonzola with orange marmalade, Parmigiano with 30 balsamic vinegar

Crostini with ricotta and asparagus pesto

Crostini with olive spread, orange zest and Calabrian oregano

Crostini with butter, anchovies and Caravaglio capers in oil

A nice faro salad with tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers

Plus a prosecco with wild blueberry jam stirred in

It was not all good news at the show, there were some empty booths which I’ve never seen before, and we learned of some bad news.  Caffarel chocolates are not available in the US at this time.  I’m sure that someone will pick up the account in the future and next year the booths will probably be full again!

At the Gustiamo booth

At the Gustiamo booth