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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.

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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.

wine office We will be working for wine from here on out (everyone except Hudson or Alex).

We did it, we have been approved to sell beer, wine and liquor for consumption off-premises.  That means no glasses of wine with your lunch and no bottles upstairs.

It does mean that we are having our first wine tasting this Saturday from 2-4 pm!!  We will be trying three wines (not sure which ones yet) and two cheeses!  Very exciting.

A few customers have expressed concern about where the wine will physically fit in the store.  Don’t worry!  The layout of the store is like a puzzle, I will contract and relocate other things to find space for the wine.  The wine is not going to take over the store, we are a deli that will now carry wine.

I also want to mention that at the liquor board meeting two hearings preceeded ours and both were for violations.  DJ and I watched two local stores receive fines and suspensions for selling alcohol to the same underage cadet.  Most importantly, we got a look at the cadet!  He is two months shy of 21, at least 6 feet tall, clean cut andfairly responsisble looking.  But the law is the law and both stores sold him beer, one even LOOKED at his vertical (indicates that he is under 21) license and STILL sold him the beers.  The board was not happy that the cashier who made the mistake is still working at the store.  If you don’t ask if your customer is 21 you can expect a $600 fine and a two week suspension of your license!  You can ask to pick which two weeks to serve your sentence but the board will ultimately punish you when they please.  One of the store managers tried to pick her two weeks.  I thought that was a little bold…

To avoid any confusion and violations of our own three of our employees shuffled off yesterday to a Techniques of Alcohol Management class.  Currently 5 of the 7 employees are TAM certified and at least one will be on premises during operating hours.

Ramps

Ramps

More signs of Spring– ramps have arrived!  A wonderful wild onion, like a leek without all thetough fibers.  You pretty much eat the whole thing, the slim stems and the greens.  We are selling them for $6.10 a bunch and they are going fast!!

Now what to do with these lovlies; saute them, make soup out of them, blanch and blend with mashed potatoes, scramble with eggs, pickle them… here are some recipes for ramps including one with spaghetti!

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Yes, it took us too long to bring you salads but there are here now!  We have two sizes of salads, a small green side salad for $1.75 and an entree salad with cubed salami and mozzarella plus a hot pepperoncini for $6.95.  Both salads come with balsamic vinegrette on the side.

marinated-fetaWe have added a few new cheeses to our inventory– if you haven’t been introduced, please meet marinated feta.  This is the first cheese at Piazza that is NOT from Italy.  He comes from Australia, is “Persian-Style” and wins over all worldly discerning palates; except maybe the Greeks who fiercely defend their own feta.

In addition to the marinated feta we have a pecorino-style cheese from Bellwether Farms in California called San Andreas Crucolo from Friuli and Marzolino from Tuscany.  Crucolo is sort of a big hunking cheese with lots of little eyes that tastes sweet and sour and definitely rich.  It is more full in flavor than the Tavoliere, which looks just like it.

Marzolino is a fresh sheep’s milk cheese that looks like a rare forest mushroom-top.  Made in the month of March, Marzo in Italian, the appearance of this cheese marks the arrival of a new flock of lambs and the beginning of the new growing season.  Marzolino is delicate and buttery, a perfect cheese for a picnic, if only we could do away with these April showers.  It is also excellent shaved over spring pea shoots or other little greens that are just beginning to poke out of the ground.

If San Andreas is from California, then California might be the 21st region of Italy.  Bellwether Farms has been around since 1986 and they seemed to have it all figured out.  San Andreas is so concentrated and deep and sheepy well, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was Italian.

panelle11Chickpeas are an ancient grain, nutty and so good for you that they are often dismissed as health food or a canned thing at the salad bar.  Well, there is a  solution to every problem and I am here to tell you that in this case deep frying is the answer. In Sicily they make little chickpea flour fritters called panelle (I believe that Naples has a version of it own). Made from a mixture of chickpea flour, water, parsley and eggs, the batter is formed into thin patties, fried in olive oil then served with a little ricotta salata and a squeeze of lemon in a sandwich.

I first tried panelle in Brooklyn at Fernando’s Foccaceria on Union St. in Carrol Gardens.  They were very cheap, very thin and very good.  I have been staring at the bags of farina di ceci here at Piazza thinking about those little pillows of fried goodness but last night I decided to try to make them myself.

I used a recipe from Molto Mario, Mario Batali’s show on the Food Network.  I have a few suggestions but overall things went well:

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Suggestion number one: deep frying is difficult if you have a cook-top stove.  The ‘cycling’ of the power makes the temperature of the oil fluctuate wildly.

Suggestion two: use floured hands to form the fritters.

Suggestion three: let them cool before you take a big bite or else you will kill the roof of your mouth.  Ouch, I didn’t wait.

Chickpea flour can be used to make other traditional Italian dishes like farinata from Liguria, a sort of chickpea flatbread or torta di ceci from Livorno, a sort of giant pancake that is layered with thin slices of marinated grilled eggplant…

amedei-1As promised, the chocolate from Tuscany has arrived and just in time for Valentine’s Day.  We have boxes of Pralines (shown above) in 5 and 16 pieces as well as boxes of 12 single origin bite-size sqaures.  Amedei is the name to remember here, the creation of two dedicated people in love.  The company has been making chocolates for 19 years so they have found their classics like dark chocolate with cinnamon and milk chocolate with orange & walnuts.  Each box of pralines comes with a beautiful tasting menu and a suggested tasting sequence.  

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Just for the spirit of the holiday, Amedei affixed little pink ribbons to each of the praline boxes:

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I am sitting next to a fragrant box of these guys and it is driving me crazy!  They look beautiful, they smell beautiful and I don’t want to share them!!  How will I make it until Saturday???

We also have the sliding boxes of Napolitains which contain two squares of single origin chocolate from six different plantations.  I don’t have my own picture of these but here is one from the Amedei website:

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Each chocolate is plain, 70% cacao but they are so different from each other.  Some chocolates taste like allspice and nutmeg, another may taste like mushrooms and coffee!  This is definitely a fun gift, it is the ultimate chocolate tasting in the style of a wine tasting.  You will be hunting for adjectives and making flavor associations that may surprise you.  A ‘cru collection’ helps me appreciate my chocolatier because it shows how hard they work to balance and smooth out those crazy flavors to find their signature blend.  

I can hardly wait until Valentine’s Day!

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