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The Artisans, Farmers, & Food Lovers

By: Calvin Mayne | VP of Food
On: April 02, 2016

It’s no secret that we are food enthusiasts to the core. We eat, live, and breathe good food. Sitting down at the dinner table isn’t just a ritual, it’s an opportunity to enjoy meals and connect with others through this shared experience. Often, this passion takes us just a short drive from home to the many farmers and producers all around us. But sometimes, our quest takes us to faraway places where artisans, farmers, and food-loving families have perfected their craft for many years and generations. We’ve broken bread with these families and linked arms, despite living worlds apart. They’ve taught us so much, and we are pleased to bring the fruits of their labor to you.

Peduzzi Family · Rustichella d’Abruzzo Pastas

In 1929, Gaetano Sergiacomo began making rustic pasta using the whole wheat flour produced at his family’s stone mill in the small town of Penne in Abruzzo. He would then wrap the pasta in brown paper and sell it, which the present-day kraft paper packaging nods to.

In 1981, Gaetano’s daughter, Nicolina Sergiacomo Peduzzi, along with her late husband revived her father’s whole wheat pasta-making technique and they gave it the name Rustichella d’Abruzzo. Later, their adult children Gianluigi and Stefanie joined the business, and the variety of shapes and sizes of the family’s pasta expanded into an extensive line of artisanal pasta.

I had the pleasure of meeting the family about six years ago. There were about 15 guests from a variety of food business professions, including myself, who were invited to celebrate the wheat harvest in Abruzzo, Italy, with the family, farmers, and producers of Rustichella pasta. For me, this was a dream come true as we gathered at a rural farmhouse while the sun slowly lowered in the late afternoon sky. Tables were set under the shade of fruit-laden peach trees. It was there that we enjoyed seven courses served family-style. Rustic and simple, it was wonderfully full of flavor.

We walked through the wheat fields where the best semolina is produced and then on to Puglia to the flour mill. We watched as batches of artisan pasta were cut with bronze-cast dies and then air-dried for 36-56 hours. This adds incredible dimension and texture, resulting in a difference you can taste.

Minelli Family · Parmigiano-Reggiano

For over a decade, we’ve been buying from the Minelli family of Modena, Italy. We make the extra effort to buy only from this particular family for two reasons: we love the cheese and the people who make it. Theirs remains the best we have ever tasted.

Two summers ago, we visited their home overlooking the hills surrounding Modena. While walking through the barn where his cows were eating green, fragrant hay, Giovanni Minelli leaned over to me and said something I’ve never heard before from a farmer. He whispered, “Look into their eyes. They are happy.” So they should be, living as they do on the Minelli’s benevolent estate.

Giovanni, along with his brother Valerio and son Carlo, showed us the entire cheese-making process, from the large copper pots where the milk is gently cooked to the forming and salting process, and finally the impressive aging rooms, where the cheese slowly attains its maturity and full flavor. Since they only produce 14 wheels a day, the Minellis personally attend to every single wheel!

To finish our visit, we gathered around a table in the open air at the Minelli home overlooking the Modenese hills. As we nibbled on cheese and bread and sipped Lambrusco wine, Valerio related how his late friend, famous opera singer and fellow native of Modena, Luciano Pavarotti, would travel with a cache of their cheese and consume it before performances to give him strength. We too felt the power of parm, enjoying samples of various ages. We import their 30 month Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is beautifully balanced.

Keep a chunk in your fridge, because this is a truly great cheese! And it’s no wonder once you see the care and pride of the Minelli family.

Barber Family· Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar

For more than six generations, the Barber family has been making cheese in Somerset, England. Today, the Barbers’ farms make up 2,500 acres that are home to 3,000 dairy cows. “As far as we can ascertain there is nobody making Cheddar today anywhere in the world that’s been doing it for as long as we have,” says Giles Barber, who co-manages the cheese-making facility with his cousin Charlie. “The starter culture has a history even longer than ours,” he says.

It was Nicholas Barber, Charlie’s dad, who decided to install the company’s very own cheese culture production, as DLM Cheesemonger David Mader witnessed when he visited. The facility even has its own microbiologist to ensure that the legacy of Barber’s is in safe hands, as the culture would be produced and unmodified in-house to ensure the taste of Barber’s for years to come. “You could say that they are the crown jewels of Cheddar-making and provide the link back to our history and how Cheddar used to taste,” Giles says. The family is incredibly proud. So much that a member of the Barber family signs off on each batch of Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar before it makes its way to our stores.

Michel Chapoutier • M. Chapoutier Wines

The family roots at M. Chapoutier run just as deep as the vinous roots of its famous vineyards. Michel Chapoutier is the current patriarch and winemaker extraordinaire of his family’s business, which began in France’s Rhône Valley more than 200 years ago. We have hosted Michel at both DLM Oakwood and Washington Square through the years and I had the pleasure of doing a little vineyard work with him in Tain l’Hermitage in 1997. Michel is known for his high quality small parcel offerings, such as his world-famous Côte-Rôtie. He also makes more approachable wines, such as M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche ($28) and M. Chapoutier La Bernardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($55). Here at DLM, we think of him fondly particularly in April when the “pink stuff” arrives. No matter the wine, he gives the same attention to detail and quality when making everyday wines, too. His M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé ($11 this month) is no exception—the lovely, dry, bottled sunshine from the Rhône made from mainly Grenache, thin Cinsault, and Syrah.

Alex Zanetti • Vera Jane’s Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Some years ago, my parents, Norman and Terry, were traveling in Italy and met an enterprising young man in Tuscany named Alex Zanetti. Alex had tried his hand at a couple of other businesses, such as jewelry and Italian leather products, but his real passion was food. He couldn’t help it, you see, growing up eating his mother’s tasty cooking, such as her pappardelle with wild boar ragu. His mother Lily, a native Toscana, would liberally drizzle many of her dishes with oil from the very same olive trees surrounding their hillside estate, located just outside the medieval walled town of Lucignano. Over a long dinner on Lily’s porch, my parents learned that Alex was contemplating exporting his family’s olive oil to America. My Dad didn’t give it too much thought, but left Italy bottle in hand.

I’ve been fortunate to taste hundreds of olive oils over the years, and the very first time I tasted the Zanetti’s oil I knew it was special. I recall saying, “Wow! That is some oil. Must be expensive.”

It had flavor, balance, and a healthy peppery kick that Tuscan oils are known for. When I heard that Alex could sell it directly to us for a very reasonable price, I was interested. In fact, we thought so much of the oil that we put my Grandmother’s photo on it and named it after her, calling it Vera Jane’s Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.