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Top Pick Of The Week

December 25, 2007

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Purple Haze

Purple Haze, a three-inch disk of fresh goat cheese embellished with lavender buds and fennel pollen, is one of the numerous chevre-tacular cheeses from Cypress Grove Chevre. Universally wonderful at breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails or snacks. Photo by B.A. Van Sise.

WHAT THEY ARE: Our very favorite Top Picks Of 2007, affordable and ready for the table (or for snacking) every day of the week.
WHY THEY’RE DIFFERENT: All of our 52 Top Picks Of The Week are already “the best,” but these are among the best everyday foods.
WHY WE LOVE THEM: We taste more than 3,000 products a year; by now we’ve tried perhaps 10,000. These are five that we enjoy every week. Taste them and you’ll know why!
WHERE TO BUY THEM: All are available online—information is included at the end of each full product review. Much to our chagrin, most of these amazing foods are in extremely limited retail distribution. We beseech every fine food retailer to put them on the shelf!
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Top Of The Tops:
Don’t Miss Them!

Our regularly-scheduled issue of THE NIBBLE appears on Christmas this year. In addition to wishing all celebrants a happy holiday, we thought we’d share with you some of the Top Picks of 2007, products we wrote about earlier this year that continue to bring happiness to our table. These are not fancy boxes of chocolate or special foods for entertaining, but everyday foods that have become part of our every day. One of our goals is to introduce you to foods you might not have discovered on your own. So if you aren’t familiar with these special products, we hope you’ll have the opportunity to try them in the coming months:

You can click on the links above to read the full reviews, or read the summaries below.

Happy holidays from all of us at THE NIBBLE.

  • Read reviews of more of our favorite products.
  • See the Table Of Contents of the December issue of THE NIBBLE, plus the prior issues archive and our most popular articles.
  • All of the Top Pick Of The Week newsletters are permanently archived on TheNibble.com, in chronological order and by product category.
     
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

 

Toast The New Year

Williams-Sonoma Entertaining: Cocktail Parties 4000 Champagnes World Encyclopedia Of Champagne
Williams-Sonoma Entertaining: Cocktail Parties. Throw a successful cocktail party, large or small, indoors or outdoors, elegant or casual. Recipes for food, drink and essential planning guides. Click here for more information or to purchase. 4000 Champagnes, by Richard Juhlin. Written by “The Champagne King,” who holds the world record for the most Champagnes tasted, this is an incredible reference volume—written with Juhlin’s notable sense of humor. Click here for more information or to purchase. World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, by Tom Stevenson. In addition to the bubblies of Champagne, this in-depth guide covers the sparkling wines of the world: California, Italy, Australia and beyond. Click here for more information or to purchase.

Top Of The Tops: Don’t Miss Them!

INDEX OF REVIEW

 

Cypress Grove Chevre:
Got Your Goat!

To some, happiness is a warm puppy. To others, it’s a shipment of perfect goat cheeses from California’s Cypress Grove Chevre (chèvre—pronounced SHEV-ruh in French—is the word for both goat and goat cheese).* From a goat fromage blanc we never want to be without, to the most lush and lovely fresh cheeses, to the aged Mount McKinley triangle that can be grated over pasta and risotto or enjoyed, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, with a fine red wine, Cypress Grove demonstrates why one no longer needs to go to Europe for a brilliant cheese experience.

*The company doesn’t use the French accent mark.

Cypress Grove also makes the iconic Humboldt Fog, a cheese that, in earlier centuries, might have inspired sonnets and songs. Many people like to give gifts of chocolate or wine. Give someone an assortment of the three-inch fresh cheese disks, a one-pound Humboldt Fog plus some Truffle Tremor, and happiness ensues for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe some singing, too. Read the full review.


Cypress Grove Chevre
Mount McKinley, an award-winning shepherd’s-style aged cheese, is a chèvre unfamiliar to most people: sharp, earthy and nutty. Enjoy it as a table cheese with red wine, shaved on a salad, grated on pasta or in a risotto. Photo by B.A. Van Sise.

Peeled Snacks
We’re Fig-Sated on this delicious and healthy dried fruit and nut snack: apricots, dates, figs, almonds and pistachios in cute, colorful packages. Photo by Naheed Choudhry.

Peeled Snacks:
Super Snacking

With all the snacks that pass our way, why has Peeled Snacks become our favorite grab-and-go (or grab-and-sit) snack? Pure deliciousness, and the feeling that we’re eating something healthy. Premium nuts and dried fruits are mixed into four different assortments: Bing Bing Cherry (apples, bing cherries, peaches, cashews and walnuts), FigSated (apricots, dates, figs, almonds and pistachios), Plu-what? (white peaches, pluots, plums and cashews) and Shock-olate (apricots, pears, almonds, walnuts and dark chocolate disks). Unlike ordinary dried fruit or trail mixes, this is a gourmet product. The fruits are moist and tender and the nuts dry and crisp, thanks to innovative packaging that keeps them apart until you tear into the plastic to blend them together. Not only are these “good-for-you” snacks, they’re a painless way to get family members off of junk food or higher-sugar sweets. They taste great, and the nifty, individual-serving packages look fashionable in any age group. Peeled Snacks are portable anywhere, delicious anytime, and the company will ship them by the boxful to schools, workplaces, weekend homes or wherever snacking demands. The company also offers fruit-only snacks for the nut-averse. Read the full review.

The Ojai Cook:
Marvelous Mayonnaise

“Life is a banquet,” said Auntie Mame, “and most poor bastards are starving.” If your banquet includes mayonnaise, that statement may be especially true—unless you’ve stocked up with the wonderful line of mayos from The Ojai Cook. One taste will make you view any supermarket mayonnaise as the equivalent of the most tasteless supermarket white bread. Fortunately, The Ojai Cook offers an affordable solution that will invigorate every food you mix mayonnaise into, dip it into or slather it upon. Citrus, herbs and flavors you never believed could come from mayonnaise will dance on your palate. Family and friends will exclaim that the new sandwich/salad/deviled egg recipe is fantastic.

You may have seen The Ojai Cook Lemonaise (the original flavor) on the shelf of your specialty food store. It’s been around for years. Wise cooks will pick some up, along with Garlic-Herb Lemonaise and Latin Lemonaise, and get to work re-energizing their menus. There’s also Lemonaise Light, Bite Back Tartar Sauce and Sassy Seafood Sauce (a fabulous spicy ketchup substitute). All of the flavors are equally wonderful; the line is all-natural and certified kosher, too. Read the full review.


Tuna Sandwich
Mayonnaise doesn’t get more exciting than the mayos from The Ojai Cook. Whether it’s tuna, lobster salad, deviled eggs or a garnish for shrimp or grilled chicken, a jar of Ojai mayonnaise is a cook’s best friend. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

 

Pierre Marcolini Confitures
A simply heavenly way to begin the year, or day: Pierre Marcolini’s confitures (jams). From top to bottom: Raspberry, Orange and Apricot. Photo by Naheed Choudhry.

Pierre Marcolini Confitures: Jubilant Jams

Some people think that only a food fanatic could wax poetic about a jar of jam. But those people have never tasted Pierre Marcolini Confitures. These creations of the great Belgian chocolatier are either the ne plus ultra of jam, or they create a new subcategory completely. First, they have exquisite fruit flavor and only 20% sugar. (Even the finest jams, domestic or European, are 40% to 60% sugar.) The need for so little sugar here is a function of an exceptional producer sourcing exceptional ingredients. Second, the texture: spreadable velvet, the richness of a curd without curd’s calorie- and cholesterol-laden eggs and butter. Except for the Orange, which is a delicate marmalade, the fruits are puréed into a smooth and glossy consistency that you could eat like a pudding with a spoon. Given that these confitures are sweet, ripe fruits set with a bit of pectin, one could easily serve them as a new “fruit pudding” dessert. In fact, we have suggestions in the full review for other ways to use these confitures beyond jams-on-bread. But first, jam lovers everywhere should buy one of each flavor, feast and begin to wax poetic themselves. Read the full review.

Starr Ridge:
Gourmet Crunch

While occasionally we come across an exciting bread stick in a good restaurant (generally a top brand of grissini† from Italy), most are the equivalent of bland white bread. However, they crunch nicely—and that’s a big attraction in this land of crunchy-snack lovers. With butter or a tapenade, you can get something interesting going.

†A particular type of Italian bread stick, very slender and about 12 inches in length.

Leave it to Starr Ridge, makers of one of our favorite graham crackers, to create a line of bread sticks that needs no embellishment. Whether you’re serving cocktails, appetizers, salad, Italian cuisine or want to enliven a bread basket, you can’t do better than to serve these crunchy treasures.

In five varieties—Asiago Cheese, Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese With Black Pepper, Roasted Garlic and Seed, Starr Ridge bread sticks do more than crunch. You get great flavor, too. To the manufacturers in Phoenix: Grazie. Read the full review.


Antipasto
For an easy hors d’oeuvre or as part of an antipasto, wrap a slice of prosciutto around these gourmet bread sticks from Starr Ridge. They are absolutely delicious unadorned, too, as you’ll see below. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

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