Archive for the 'Tastings' Category

Boyden Valley Winery

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Aurora and I just finished a wine and cheese tour of Vermont. Okay, so it was mostly cheese (it turns out while Vermont has the world’s best cheddar, it also boasts several other lovely cheeses as well). But, we did get to sample several lovely wines, most notably from Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge, VT.

Boyden Valley Winery had several nice wines and one excellent liqueur. Their Maple Cream Liqueur was absolutely outstanding: Apple Brandy serves as the base. It is sweetened with maple syrup and made rich with cream. If you enjoy Irish Cream you will definitely love this. If you also cherish pure maple syrup as the superlative sweetener, you will venerate this concoction. It is delicious. And, as it turns out, this liqueur will be available through the PA Liquor Control Board soon.  I highly recommend purchasing it.

If you happen to be in Cambridge, $7 gets you 6 samples and a wine glass. Here are some notes from my tasting of some of Boyden Valley’s other products:

  • Riverbend Red: Peppery. Lovely and rich at the front of the tongue with a gentle glide through to the aftertaste. Quite enjoyable.
  • Big Barn Red: Fatter through the front of the tongue but rears up in the back. Good.
  • Rhubarb: Hmmm… I didn’t expect to like a fruit wine. Not really too sweet, though. Nice and tart.
  • Vermont Maple Apple Wine: 6 months in stainless. Dry maple flavor. Wonder what it would taste like aged in maple cooperage instead of stainless?
  • Gold Leaf Cider: Northern Spy apples. Sweet, rises toward the back of the tongue.
  • Vermont Ice Cider: McIntosh, Empire, Northern Spy. Balanced wave across the tongue, finishes with a sweetness in the front of the mouth.

Those Bastards at Breyers

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Breyer’s is no longer ice cream.

Breyer’s now manufactures “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”  According to their website,

Frozen Dairy Dessert products are made with many of the same high-quality ingredients that are commonly found in Ice Cream – like fresh milk, cream and sugar – and offer a great taste and even smoother texture. These products do not fall within the current FDA definition of standardized Ice Cream, so we call them Frozen Dairy Dessert.

The thing is, what Breyer’s does not acknowledge in this description is that a side-by-side comparison of the ingredients in like flavors from before and after the switch, their frozen dairy dessert is partially sweetened by corn syrup, whereas their ice cream was sweetened only with real sugar.

Again, from the Breyer’s website:

In a national side-by-side taste test, our fans tell us they like the new recipe just as much as the original. We’re confident these new products deliver the great taste Ice Cream fans expect but with any product change it’s always possible that you may notice a difference. Frozen Dairy Dessert tends to have less fat than ice cream.

Okay, so
1) the frozen dairy dessert has a somewhat slimy texture (even before I discovered the labeling switch, my immediate reaction to the box of Rocky Road I purchased was that there was something off with the contents) and
2) I don’t want less fat with my ice cream. If I wanted less fat, I wouldn’t be eating ice cream, now would I? Don’t go effing with my dessert formulae in the name of better health and then swap out real sugar for a processed alternative sweetener and then lie about it!

Again, official propaganda from Breyers:

Since 1866, Breyers products have consistently delivered high-quality ingredients, great flavors and smooth creaminess that our fans love, and we remain committed to that Pledge. Our Ice Cream and new Frozen Dairy Dessert varieties continue to use fresh milk, cream and sugar. What distinguishes our Frozen Dairy Dessert from our Ice Cream is that it’s blended in a whole new way to create a smoother texture.

My revision:

From 1866-August 2012, Breyers products had consistently delivered high-quality ingredients, great flavors, and smooth creaminess that our fans loved. In a short-sighted change prompted by allowing individuals lacking a love of high quality foods to make decisions crucial to the integrity of our product, Breyers has ceased to deliver upon our Pledge to quality. Our Frozen Dairy Dessert uses corn syrup as one of its primary sweeteners whereas our ice cream used only real sugar. We blatantly lie by omission about the ingredients in our frozen dairy dessert by not acknowledging the presence of the corn syrup in our marketing materials. What distinguishes our Frozen Dairy Dessert from our Ice Cream is a clear and noticeable drop in quality. We’re stupid pricks who should immediately renounce this change in formulation, fire everyone responsible for it, and issue a huge public apology in the same manner as Coca-Cola did following their New Coke debacle.

Quite Possibly the Sweetest Corn Available

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I spotted a sign while I was driving in Ohio:

“Sweet Corn: Sweeter than your Mother’s Love.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop and put their claims to a test.

Recently, though, Aurora and I hosted family from Nebraska and Iowa, each of whom brought a dozen ears of corn for us to enjoy, with claims that their state’s corn was the best.  We tasted and compared each with samples of Pennsylvania corn.

I am somewhat disappointed to announce that PA did not win.  I am somewhat surprised to announce that NE didn’t win, either.  Iowa’s corn was the sweetest of all the samples we tried.

sweeter than my mother’s love…that’s tough to quantify.  But it was darned good corn.

Mmmm, Strawberries

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It’s been about a week since I’ve been expecting to taste fresh, local strawberries.

The ones I’ve been expecting grow very close by: in my back yard.  I planted them this year and they seem to be doing quite well.  Every day or two, I’ll look out at them and see a strawberry on the verge of ripeness.  I’ll examine it, and decide that the tinge of pink isn’t quite red enough to pluck just yet; the pale green beneath the leaves is too reminiscent of one of those low-flavor berries imported from out of state.  Instead, I’ll leave it, and when I go out the next day to check it again, it’s gone.

Yesterday, I spotted Flopsy Mopsy Cottontail hopping through our backyard from the vicinity of the strawberry plants.  I have a feeling she’s grabbing the berries before I have a chance to get them.  Either that or it’s the mysterious Greenfield garden thief who to date is suspected of filching my weed whacker, my wife’s hydrangea blossoms, my neighbor’s tomato plant (dug from the ground!), and, most recently, a terra cotta pot of oregano and tarragon that my mom had just delivered from Massachusetts and three hanging baskets of spider plants.  But since one of the berries was left with teeth marks gnawed into it, I suspect the rabbit of this robbery.

Thank goodness for Farmer MacGregor!  There was a quart of strawberries in our Penn’s Corner CSA box yesterday.  Bright red berries, without a hint of green.  Succulent, juicy, flavorful berries that transported me back to the field at the pick-your-own berries place my family went to every year, where I must’ve eaten a quart for every pint I picked.  Vibrant, intense, amazing natural sweetness.  they were incredible.

Strawberry season is short, life is long.  Do yourself a favor: leave the office a little early today and swing by the farmers’ market on the way home.  Today is the opening day of Farmers At Phipps—or, if Squirrel Hill isn’t convenient for you, follow the link anyway, and enter your zip code into the box at the top right side of the screen.  PASA’s search function will identify farms, farmers’ markets, and more local food resources that are close to your home.  Once you know where your local resources are, it’ll make it that much easier for you to take advantage of them.  Believe me—once you bite into a seasonal strawberry, you’ll be hooked on local freshness.

Don’t forget!  Ingredients will be showing at Hartwood Acres this Sunday evening (June 6), at 7 pm;  accompanied by a question and answer session with local food experts and farmers.  The event is free and open to the public—I hope to see you there!

Corn-y Sunday

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

On Sunday, I got together with some friends to watch the football game. We all contributed snacks to munch on, potluck style. Turned out, everything was made of corn: Doritos, tortilla chips, cheesy puffs, etc. My contribution: corn on the cob.

I grilled the corn at half time, and when I peeled back the husk, the bright yellow color of the unprocessed corn kernels was quite appealing. I proudly brought my contribution into the living room. I grabbed an ear, anticipating the sweet flavor.

Instead, I bit into flavorless, chewy mush. Turns out the farmer I bought the corn from accidentally sold me feed corn. It must’ve been an accident—I can’t imagine anyone selling something so bland and toothsome on purpose!

But, then again, all of the processed corn crap that we gorge ourselves on on a regular basis: the chips and the flakes and the puffs and the curls: all of that is made from feed corn.

I think if we realized what it is we eat when we eat we would be a bit more discerning. But once it’s been spiced and seasoned, processed and disguised; it turns out, we’re all at the feedlot too: eating the same blah, chewy mush as the bovines do.


Product Review: Pepsi Natural

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I never got to try “Pepsi Throwback.”  For all those ads on TV, the stuff never made it to any of the dozen or so stores I looked in.  But it must’ve done well.  Last week, Aurora came home from the grocery store with a 4-pack of Pepsi Natural, which bills itself as “all natural cola made with sparkling water, sugar, [and] kola nut extract.”

The first sip took me back to 1984, drinking “old” Coke out of a glass bottle in my grandmother’s kitchen.  I doubt Yum Brands would be thrilled with that description, but the stuff really tastes like Coke did before it became “Classic,” which I’ll contend is not the same thing it had been before the crossover.  To capture that is an accomplishment for which Pepsi should be praised.

Your Goose Is Cooked!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

All I knew about roast goose before I roasted mine was a story that my dad tells from time to time about how when he was a kid, his cousin (Janet, I think, if I remember correctly) visited from college, and his dad decided to spit-roast a goose in her honor.

The story:

I obviously wasn’t around for the meal, but I can imagine the preparations that went into it.  Lew probably measured the heat at various intervals from the coals to determine exactly where the bird should be placed, and had several heights pre-arranged with holes drilled into a piece of sheet metal in case the bird needed to be moved while it cooked.  He had probably measured the goose to determine its exact center of gravity, and skewered it so that it would turn on a precise rotation.  And, the turning mechanism for the skewer was probably an old turntable that had been co-opted for the purpose of cooking outdoors.


Winery Off Beaten Path Well Worth a Visit

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

In Cabot, PA, 3.5 miles off of Route 356, John Ricchuito makes wine from purchased juice. His Winfield Winery is only a couple of years old, but the quality of his wines makes his operation well worth a visit.

Less than an hour from Pittsburgh, Winfield Winery has an unassuming facade. Truth be told, I rolled my eyes as I drove up the gravel drive that leads to the winery’s rear entrance. I felt like I was approaching somebody’s basement, and I expected that perhaps this would be one of those awkward winery tastings where, at the end of it, I purchased a bottle out of embarrassment in order to avoid telling the vintner what I really thought of their work.

Instead, I was intrigued from my first sip. The Traminette is pleasantly crisp, striking your tongue front and center and rolling toward the back of the mouth with hints of citrus. Its full body and bold flazor would make it a natural accompaniment to roasted pork, especially if the pork were finished with a fruit sauce. The Pinot Grigio was somewhat more subtle, but was dry and refreshing; I expect that it would match nicely with poultry or white fish. The Seyval was a bit sweet for my tastes, but offered a hint of peaches that I can see how some people would enjoy.

The Cabernet Franc was the best of the red wines that I tasted. A hint of pepper in the finish would make it a natural choice for beef or lamb. Mrs. Ricchuito, who was pouring the wine, said she prefers their Noiret as a steak wine, proclaiming that she tastes pepper in it. I found the Noiret to be more tanniny than peppery, but thought it was sufficiently complex to buy a bottle. Their Chambourcin was soft and fruity with hints of black raspberry. Though quite pleasant, it tasted a bit young to me. I have a feeling that it will improve with the benefit of a little bit of time in the bottle. Of all the wines I tasted, there was only one that I did not prefer. the Merlot finished with a strong and detrimental acidity that erased any sort of pleasantness it offered on the front half.

Though small of stature, Winfield Winery has more offerings than many larger places. Their full list of offerings includes 10 reds, 9 whites, 3 blush wines, and 9 fruit wines. The obvious competence with which the wines I tasted were crafted bodes well for the rest of their offerings; and the breadth of choices means that they should have something to everyone’s liking… except for champagne drinkers.

Berry Heaven

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

The hills around our cabin at Flaakoie

had a full cover of blueberries

and cloudberries nestled in the marsh.

Raspberries lined the old logging road.

But even amidst such brilliance of foragability, the tiny wild strawberries lurking in odd corners and peeking from trap rock tasted like candy from the vine.

Served atop flaky biscuits with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Dining in Norway

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

If you’ve wondered why i haven’t added anything to the site since sometime last month, the short answer is that I’ve been in Norway.  A beautiful variety of foods available there, though the foods tend to be somewhat expensive.  As a result, I ate out rarely and more often prepared my own meal or ate meals prepared by friends.  Even so, I got a chance to explore a large swath of the regional cuisine.

A quick and mostly complete list of what I ate:

  • Fish cakes–patties of fish pudding seasoned with a mixture of spices that very much reminded me of barbecue potato chips (that was probably the msg).  if I had to compare it to anything, i’d say it was probably the norwegian equivalent of a hot dog–very similar in texture, pre-cooked, can be eaten with a variety of condiments either hot or cold
  • Mackerel in tomato Sauce: a canned food, readily available in any grocery store.  has a nice, meaty texture and a flavor that isn’t too fishy.
  • Fresh berries: almost everywhere I went, there were berry bushes growing that I could pluck berries from.  Varieties included blueberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, cloud berries (a native delicacy that is difficult to find and expensive to buy at about $30 per kilogram), and currants, bith red and black.  The black currants had a nutty taste that I thought would match tremendously well with mackerel, though i never had a chance to test this theory.
  • Salmon, both fresh and smoked: Norwegian salmon is quite tasty.  because it’s a local food, wild salmon sells at about an equivalent price to what I’d pay in Pittsburgh, maybe even slightly cheaper.  the farmed salmon from Tine (brand name) goes from water to packaging within four hours and even raw and lightly seasoned tingles the tongue with delight.
  • Sausages of many types abound.  A sampling of the sausages I sampled includes: moose, llama, reindeer, and a sausage containing horse meat.
  • Rutabaga: There was some confusion about this vegetable, which came mashed as a side dish to one of my few restaurant meals.  the Norwegian word for it is very similar to “kohlrabi” and the English translation provided on the menu was “turnip cabbage,” so it took a small amount of detective work to determine that it was in fact a rutabaga.
  • Reindeer stew: tasty, tasty, tasty.  According to my ex-pat friend whom I was visiting, Norwegian dishes rarely combine too many flavors.  So, if I were to make it, it would have included potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, and what have you; in its presentation to me, it was tender bits of braised reindeer and mushrooms in a dark and rich gravy, served with a couple of boiled potatoes on the side.
  • Pizza.  It turns out, pizza is incredibly popular in Norway, and I would up eating some because, apparently, a trip to Norway isn’t complete without having some.
  • Various foods from tubes: including bacon-cheese and fish eggs.  Other possibilities that I didn’t taste included shrimp-cheese and pepperoni cheese.
  • Salvarpostei (I think I spelled that right!): a paste made primarily of fish eggs with other ingredients, served in a can.  Bore a resemblance to tinned cat food, both in size of the can and in the smell.  I’m not quite adventurous to try tinned cat food to compare the flavors.
  • Rislunsj: individual rice puddings with an attached flavoring (my favorite was rips [aka red currants] and bringabaer [aka raspberries]).  They come with a collapsible plastic spoon–its handle folds in half and clicks into place when you open it!
  • Cheese of a variety of sorts, including a tasty milk-sheep-goat combination blue cheese from western Sweden and gjetost, a brown cheese that isn’t really a cheese at all, but rather a caramel made by simmering milk for two days until the lactose caramelizes.
  • Gummy men and gummy women.  the difference?  The women have curvy figures.