Zingerman’s Best of 2014 Tasting Extravaganza

I’m a huge sucker for all of the ‘Best of’ things that appear at the end of each year.  I don’t listen to much top 40 music during the year but can’t resist the end of year mashups (I really like Isosine’s this year but this Queen/Mika track is no question my favorite of the year).  So I was immediately drawn to the ‘Ari’s Best of 2014 Tasting’ at Zingerman’s with co-founder and fellow Michigan history grad Ari Weinzweig.

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Last Tuesday my wife and I made the trek all the way down the block to Zingerman’s space on 4th avenue for a 2 hour event where we tasted nearly 30 different foods and got some food history and cooking lessons to go along with it.  I was really happy we went, I had never been to anything quite like this and it gave me a much greater appreciation for things that I use quite frequently in cooking (particularly olive oils and vinegars).

I’ll be upfront and say that I didn’t take that many pictures, I was too busy tasting, listening, and writing things down!  We started off tasting four different olive oils: two from Italy, one from Spain, and another from Turkey.  I was amazed the complete knowledge Ari had not just of the flavors of each oil, but the story behind the company/family that was making the products.  These aren’t the kind of olive oils you would cook something with, but rather drizzle over top something right before you serve it, or perhaps use in a salad dressing.

One of the things he mentioned which seems obvious in hindsight is the importance of matching the flavor of the oil to the food.  If you are cooking a really mild fish finishing it with a strong tasting olive would completely overpower it.  So pair your strong tasting ones with foods that can accommodate them.

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After olive oil we tried three different vinegars including ones flavored with hibiscus and lavender, accompanied by plenty of bread.  From there it was on to grits, which growing up on the east coast is not something I had never really had.  They got their corn from Anson Mills, which is the same place I received several pounds of incredible flour from as a birthday gift last year.  The had a fantastic true corn taste to them and Ari noted that the use of quality corn meant they didn’t have to be drowned in garlic or cheese (although that does sound good) because they had a strong enough flavor to stand on their own.

Following the grits we tried three different cheeses, some country ham, a hot sauce from The Brinery and three different types of beans.  We then got to sample a few different spices from Épices de Cru in Montreal.  Ari told the story of how he stumbled upon the shop while at a conference, and then two years later came across them in New York, now ready to export products to the US.  Their curry powder, which featured cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves, is used in the Zingerman’s curry turkey salad we tasted.

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Next I boldly (if you know me this is a HUGE deal) tried sardines, mackerel, and anchovies.  I wouldn’t rush to the store to get more but they were certainly different (read: better) than anything of that sort I had come across before.  We had two different types of cous cous to cleanse the palate afterwards, and then were rewarded with chocolate covered peanut brittle and pieces of dark chocolate to finish everything off.

We very rarely if ever buy products at Zingerman’s (like in a cherry & chocolate emergency) so this event was a wonderful way to try lots of different things we otherwise wouldn’t.  I really enjoyed myself and if you’re in the area highly recommend you go next year!

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