14 South Jersey Food Events to Check Out This Weekend (12/14 – 12/16)

Looking for something to do this weekend in South Jersey? Head to one of these foodie events.

Breakfast with Santa at Cape May’s Congress Hall, Sat. 12/15 & Sun. 12/16, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm

Image credit: Smallbones [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a gourmet breakfast buffet with Santa at South Jersey’s southernmost shore. 

Kids (ages 4-12): $15 (plus tax & gratuity)

Adults: $22 (plus tax & gratuity)

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 884-6542

200 Congress Pl, Cape May, New Jersey

Breakfast with Santa at Ott’s in Washington Township, Sun. 12/16, 10 am – 12 pm

Image credit: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Bring along a new, unwrapped toy. Take the whole family for a visit with St. Nick and a breakfast buffet. 

No reservation necessary. 

340 Greentree Rd, Washington Township, New Jersey

Camden Children’s Garden Brunch with Santa, Sat. 12/15, 10 am – 12 pm

Discover the wonder of this four-and-a-half acre imaginative playground on the Camden Waterfront where families can enjoy brunch with Santa, hot chocolate, and a kids’ Polar Express ride.

Call ahead for reservations & details: (856) 365-8733

3 Riverside Dr., Camden, New Jersey

Chocolate Covered Anything Day, Sun. 12/16

There’s truly a holiday for everything. Chocolate Covered Anything Day happens nationwide this Sunday.

Bake your holiday cookies and then dip them in chocolate. Or whip up some chocolate fondue.

If you don’t feel like cooking, head to the Melting Pot for their Sunday Fondue Brunch with Santa. 

A Christmas Carol Dinner Theatre at Braddock’s Tavern, Sun. 12/16, 2 – 5 pm

Image credit: Stephen McKay / A Christmas Carol via Wikipedia Commons

The Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Troupe will entertain with an interactive performance of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” as diners enjoy a multi-course dinner. 

Call ahead for reservations. I do not know if they still have tickets available for this performance: (609) 654 – 1604

39 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Comedy UnCorked at Willow Creek Farm & Winery, Sat. 12/15, 6 – 10 pm

Image credit: photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Willow Creek Farm and Winery in Cape May will host a three-course dinner and comedy show starring three New York City comics. 

Must be 21 or over to attend. Comedy show is rated MA for mature audiences.

Call ahead for reservations: 

Tickets: $65 -includes food, wine, and the comedy show. 

(609) 770 – 8782

168 Stevens St, West Cape May, New Jersey

Cousin Eddie’s Christmas Party at Elaine’s, Fri. 12/14, 7 pm

Image credit: Adam Lautenbach [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit Elaine’s in Cape May for an outdoor screening of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Stay warm by the fire as you enjoy dinner and drinks with friends. 

Admission is free. Drinks and food extra.

513 Lafayette St, Cape May, New Jersey

Live Music Series at Sharrott Winery, Fri. 12/14 & Sat. 12/15, 6 – 9 pm

Image credit: Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

Head to Winslow Township where you can relax with friends as you listen to live music at Sharrott Winery. Choose between indoor and outdoor seating while you enjoy wine and food from Sharrott’s wine bar.

Outside food or beverages are not permitted, and seating is first-come, first-serve.

Friday 12/14: Nancy Malcun performs

Saturday 12/15: Jeff Twardzik performs

370 S Egg Harbor Rd, Hammonton, New Jersey

Lunch and Learn at Lucky Bones Cape May, Sat. Dec. 15, 12 pm – 1 pm

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities presents a series of educational programs that explore issues relating to the Victorian era. This Saturday they will hold the final program of the year. 

Cost: $20 per person (includes lunch buffet)

Registration required: (609) 884 – 5404 – I do not know if they still have space at this event. 

1200 Rt 109 South, Cape May, New Jersey

Open Mic & Art Walk at Lower Forge Brewery, Fri. Dec. 14, 7 pm

Image credit: Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Music starts at 7, but arrive by 6 if you want to sign up to perform. 

14 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Pajama Party at the Pop Shop Medford, Sat. 12/15, 8 – 10:30 am

Image credit: Photo by Michael Nunes on Unsplash

Let the kids stay in their pajama’s when you bring them to the Pop Shop’s Medford location for a FREE kids’ meal (per paying adult).

1 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Sunday Fondue Brunch with Santa at the Melting Pot, Sun. 12/16, 11:30 am – 3:30 pm

Image credit: Photo by Angela Pham on Unsplash

Sunday is National Dip Anything in Chocolate Day. Celebrate by bringing the whole family to the Melting Pot for brunch and a visit from the big guy in red. 

584 Rt 38 East, Maple Shade, New Jersey

Ugly Sweater Party at The Ugly Mug, Sat. 12/15, 9 pm – 2 am

Come hear Lima Bean Riot perform. Wear your ugliest garb for a chance at a $100 cash prize for ugliest sweater. 

426 Washington St, Cape May, New Jersey

Whole Foods’ 12 Days of Cheese Event, Marlton & Cherry Hill, 12/12 – 12/23

Image credit: Photo by Lana Abie on Unsplash

This event is actually at every Whole Foods location, but Marlton and Cherry Hill are their only South Jersey locations.

Every day, Whole Foods will feature a different cheese

Receive 50% off the cheese-of-the-day, Get an extra 10% off if you’re a Prime member. 

December 14: Kaltbach Cave-Aged Le Gruyère

December 15: Vermont Creamery Bijou

December 16: Hervé Mons Camembert

Marlton location:

940 NJ-73, Marlton, New Jersey

Cherry Hill location:

1558 Kings Hwy N, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Have something to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below, and I will add it when I get a free moment.

Rastelli Market Crowns South Jersey’s Best Eggnog Cooks

Rastelli Market recently hosted their 5th annual Nog Off competition. Judges selected three winning eggnog recipes. A holiday sampling event followed the contest.

Rastelli Market staff distribute samples of Rastelli’s own family eggnog to attendees at their 5th Annual Nog Off Competition. Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

Does good eggnog need to contain eggs?

No – at least not according to the judges of Rastelli Market’s fifth annual Nog Off competition, which was held at their Marlton location on Saturday, December 8, 2018.

For the second year in a row, Catherine Nichole Gray was the reigning champion of the competition. The event’s three judges – Rastelli Executive Chef James Liuzza, Philly cheesesteak mogul Tony Luke Jr., and Philly food truck ambassador John Cohl – awarded Gray’s vegan recipe first place.

Nog Off judges sample participants’ eggnog. (From left: James Liuzza; Tony Luke Jr.; and John Cohl.) Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

For Gray, baking is a “side trade.” She originally created the winning eggnog recipe for her vegan customers. Gray’s award-winning, coconut-based nog contains Puerto Rican rum and is similar to Christmas coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican, eggnog-esque beverage.

South Jersey baker Catherine Nichole Gray receives her first-place prize, a $300 Rastelli gift card.  Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

Gray’s was not the only entry with a multi-cultural influence. One participant included the dry ingredients from savory mole sauce, a Mexican cuisine staple containing chocolate and chili peppers. The participant – one half of an Instagram duo self-described as “home cooking enthusiasts” – topped off his recipe with tequila and Mexican hot chocolate.

Nog Off attendees learn about each participant’s unique eggnog recipe.

In total, sixteen South Jersey home chefs participated in the competition, all putting their own unique twists on the classic holiday beverage.

For several participants, eggnog making carries across multiple generations. There was even a young child who entered the competition – with the help of his father. Their eggnog, of course, was alcohol-free. 

Nog Off participants describe their eggnog recipes to attendees. Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

This year marked an entrant named Angela’s first time making eggnog without the help of her mother. Her eggnog tradition began 70 years ago when her grandmother began making the drink. Every year, her family updates the eggnog with a new kind of alcohol. Their 2018 recipe uses bourbon infused with honey liquor.

Participant Barry Bachman’s family eggnog tradition began 45 years ago with his father. His son now helps with the eggnog recipe, which – like Angela’s – includes bourbon.


Photo by John Fornander on Unsplash

Nog Off entrants used a variety of liquors to create their eggnogs. A participant named Colleen, whose family is Irish, combines Irish Whiskey with brandy and spiced rum. After twelve years of practice, she is confident about her blend. “I turn people who are not eggnog drinkers into eggnog lovers,” Colleen says during the event.


“I turn people who are not eggnog drinkers into eggnog lovers.” 

Second-place Nog Off winner Lori Kusevk makes her eggnog using a rich blend of peanut butter, dutch chocolate, and vodka, which the judges compared to the taste of a Butterfinger. Al Irons, who was awarded third place, blends coffee and cream for a white chocolate mocha eggnog.


Photo by Tereza Rubá on Unsplash

More than one participant cited the Nog Off as helping them to cope with grief or to overcome obstacles in their lives. Food is uniquely tied to memory and emotion, and it’s difficult to remember food without also remembering the loved ones with whom we’ve shared it.

This past August, Pam Ingram Walsh lost her brother to a four-year battle with colon cancer. In previous years, her brother had placed first, second, and third in the contest. “I’m here today to carry on his tradition,” she says.

Visitors take comfort in Rastelli’s homemade foods and family traditions. “This is the place to come if they’re going through some things,” remarks the Nog Off’s emcee.

Participant Emily Dawson’s grandmother began making eggnog because she believed it could help cure illness. She made it whenever her children got sick. When Dawson fell ill herself, she followed her grandmother’s wisdom and started making eggnog.

Many of the Nog Off’s entrants have participated in the event during previous years. After last year’s competition, Jeff Bravo resolved to “focus” harder on his eggnog game. To hone his recipe, Bravo experimented through a process of trial and error – or, in his words, “tasting and tweaking.” All that tasting necessitated a lot of alcohol consumption.

“I definitely stayed in that evening,” Bravo says of his eggnog experiment.

For Bravo and another participant named Linda Falcone, high-quality ingredients are a must for eggnog making. Bravo credits the quality of his eggnog to vanilla bean paste, a gamechanger for anyone who likes to bake – according to Bravo. Falcone believes the key to great eggnog is quality nutmeg, which she purchases directly from Barbados.

Rastelli Market judges and participants pose for a photo following the competition. Pictured standing: (from left: third-place winner Lori Kusevk; first-place winner Catherine Nichole Gray; and second-place winner Al Irons.) Pictured seated: (from left: James Liuzza; Tony Luke Jr.; and John Cohl.) Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

Each participant took home a $25 Rastelli’s gift card. Gray claimed a $300 grand prize gift card. Kusevk took home a $200 gift card, and Irons was awarded a $100 gift card. When Gray received her first-place prize last year, she spent it “just sampling everything” on offer at Rastelli’s.

Event attendees also sampled many of Rastelli’s dishes on Saturday. During the Nog Off, Rastelli Director of Culinary Joe Muldoon and other Rastelli staff handed out samples of Rastelli’s own family eggnog, which contains whiskey and rum.

Rastelli chicken picatta
Rastelli Market dishes available for catering

Following the competition, Rastelli Market hosted their annual holiday sampling event, where children enjoyed a visit from Santa Clause. Shoppers sampled Rastelli favorites like gourmet meats and cheeses, crab cakes, rib eye roast, shrimp pasta, and baked ziti. Rastelli staff distributed informational brochures detailing Rastelli’s catering services – including their Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner.

Rastelli’s rib eye roast with au jus and side salad

During the celebration, shoppers also had the opportunity to enter a free raffle. The lucky winner will take home a 22-pound Panettone cake.

As for my personal favorite attraction of the day, I enjoyed Irons’ second-place white chocolate mocha eggnog the most of any I sampled. Its coffee flavor put me in the mood for Rastelli’s house-roasted espresso drinks.

Rastelli’s house-roasted coffee beans

Rastelli’s makes the best lattes in South Jersey – at least of the ones I’ve sampled. As the barista crafted my latte, the alluring aroma of the store’s coffee beans roasting nearby enticed my husband to order a cup of coffee too.

We vowed to visit Rastelli’s more often. Their coffee beans alone are worth the trip. While I’m there, I might just pick up ingredients to whip up some eggnog of our own. 

A special ‘thank you’ to Amaris Pollock for sharing her photography talent and to John Cohl and Tony Luke for giving me the chance to talk about Fork in the Pines during the competition. 

Nog Off judge and Philly food truck ambassador John Cohl. Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

13 South Jersey Food Events to Check Out This Weekend (12/8 – 12/9)

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out one of these South Jersey events.

Breakfast with Santa at Cape May’s Congress Hall, Sat. 12/8 & Sun. 12/9, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm

Image credit: Smallbones [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a gourmet breakfast buffet with Santa at one of the Jersey Shore’s most historic buildings. 

Kids (ages 4-12): $15 (plus tax & gratuity)

Adults: $22 (plus tax & gratuity)

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 884-6542

200 Congress Pl, Cape May, New Jersey

Breakfast with Santa at the Garden State Discovery Museum, Sat. 12/8 & Sun. 12/9, 10 am – 1 pm

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Bring the whole family to one of South Jersey’s most popular kids’ attractions. Eat a pancake breakfast, listen to carols, and chat with Saint Nick. 

Members: $15 per person

Non-members: $20 per person

Call ahead for reservations: (856) 424-1233

2040 Springdale Rd #100, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Breakfast with Santa at the Pop Shop Collingswood, Sun. 12/9, 9 & 11:30 am

Image credit: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Take the kids to see jolly old Saint Nick at one of South Jersey’s most kid-friendly eateries. Enjoy a breakfast buffet and caroling. 

Babies under 12 months of age: FREE

Children: $15 (includes tax & gratuity)

Adults: $24 (includes tax & gratuity)

Tickets much be purchased online.  

729 Haddon Ave, Collingswood, New Jersey

Camden Children’s Garden Brunch with Santa, Sat. 12/8, 10 am – 12 pm, 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm

Discover the wonder of this four-and-a-half acre imaginative playground on the Camden Waterfront where families can enjoy brunch with Santa, hot chocolate, and and a kids’ Polar Express ride. 

Call ahead for reservations & details: (856) 365-8733

3 Riverside Dr., Camden, New Jersey

Lidia Bastianich Book Signing, ShopRite of West Deptford, Sat. 12/8, 1 – 3 pm 

Image credit: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Famed chef and television host Lidia Bastianich will be at Zallie’s ShopRite of West Deptford to sign her new memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family and Food, Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian or Lidia’s Favorite Recipes,” which will also be available for purchase.

Bastianich’s pasta sauces will also be available for sampling. 

If you attend, be sure to tag your social media photos with #LidiaatShopRite.

45 Parkville Station Rd, West Deptford, New Jersey

Live Music Series at Sharrott Winery, Fri. 12/7 & Sat. 12/8, 6 – 9 pm

Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

Head to Winslow Township where you can relax with friends as you listen to live music at Sharrott Winery. Choose between indoor and outdoor seating while you enjoy wine and food from Sharrott’s wine bar.

Outside food or beverages are not permitted, and seating is first-come, first-serve.

Friday 12/7: Ginger Coyle performs

Saturday 12/8: Megan Knight performs

370 S Egg Harbor Rd, Hammonton, New Jersey

Mindful Tea at Perkins Center for the Arts Moorestown, Sat. 12/8, 2 pm – 3:30 pm

Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

Need some zen this holiday season? Join certified Tea Specialist Deborah Raab of Tea for All for a guided mindfulness workshop. As a part of the Perkins Center’s Tastefully South Jersey workshop series, this class will also cover Wabi Sabi and other principles of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. 

Non-members: $15

Members: $10

395 Kings Hwy, Moorestown, New Jersey

Pajama Party at the Pop Shop Medford, Sat. 12/8, 8 – 10:30 am

Image credit: David Shankbone [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Let the kids stay in their pajama’s when you bring them to the Pop Shop’s Medford location for a FREE kids’ meal (per paying adult). 

1 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Rastelli Market Fresh 5th Annual Nog Off, Sat. 12/8, 12 – 1 pm

If you love a good eggnog, you’ll want to check out Rastelli’s annual eggnog competition. South Jersey’s best eggnog chefs will compete for first, second, and third prizes. 

Marlton location only.

710 Route 73 S, Marlton, New Jersey

Rastelli Market Fresh Holiday Celebration, Sat. 12/8, 1 – 4 pm


Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash

Music, giveaways, tastings, and a visit from Santa: Rastelli’s holiday event has it all. 

Deptford location:

1276 Clements Bridge Rd, Deptford Township, New Jersey

Hill Creek Farms location:

1631 NJ-45, Mullica Hill, New Jersey

Marlton location: 

710 Route 73 S, Marlton, New Jersey

Santa’s Workshop & Holiday Brunch at the Reeds at Shelter Haven, Sun. 12/9, 10 am – 2 pm

Bring the kids “down south” for this Grinch-themed event featuring crafts, brunch, and more. 

Children 12 and under: $20

Adults: $30

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 368-0100

9601 3rd Ave, Stone Harbor, New Jersey

SoHa Arts Holiday Market, Sat. 12/8, 10 am – 3 pm


Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Purchase locally made goods for everyone on your shopping list while you listen to music performed by Dave Kelly. Enjoy food from vendors like Mecha Artisan Chocolate, The Baking Harlot, Royal Mile Coffee, & more. Santa will also be stopping by this free event.   

Thank you to @tastytemptationsjso for bringing this event to my attention! 

1001 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township, New Jersey

Winter Wine Down Happy Hour Special at Valenzano Winery, Sat. 12/8, 4 pm – 5 pm

Photo by Rodrigo Abreu on Unsplash

Visit Valenzano Winery in Shamong for their $3 per glass Happy Hour Special. 

1090 US-206, Shamong, New Jersey

Have something to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below, and I will add it when I get a free moment. 

20+ South Jersey Food Deals for Small Business Saturday

Shop local this Sat. & score some sweet food deals at area restaurants & shops.

Every year, shoppers come together to kick off their holiday shopping while supporting local businesses. Small Business Saturday, which takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, began as an American Express campaign that quickly gained nationwide support.

Step away from your smartphone and resist the urge to order everything from Amazon. If you’re brave enough to bear the arctic chill in South Jersey’s air, shop small at local stores. While you’re at it, grab a bite to eat from your favorite area restaurants.

Below are just a few Small Business Saturday foodie deals in South Jersey for this Saturday, November 24.

If you know of any I missed, please comment below and I will add them when I get a free moment. I will personally be shopping in downtown Mount Holly today, which is home to a vibrant arts district (Mill Race Village Shops) and one of my favorite cozy coffee shops (Breaking Grounds).

Palmyra

*Print out this flyer to redeem the following coupons:

Franco’s Cafe – 10% off (with flyer coupon)

Kaffir Thai – 15% off (with flyer coupon)

Mama’s Homemade Cookies – 13% off (with flyer coupon; I’m not sure how they arrived at 13%, but hey, who am I to question someone offering delicious homemade cookies?)

Hammonton

Casciano Coffee Bar & Sweetery – purchase 4 gift cards, get 1 free

Annata Wine Bar – offering specials on gift cards and wine purchases

El Nuevo Mariachi Loco – Spend $30 and get free flan (my FAVORITE Mexican restaurant)

El Mariachi Loco's Enchiladas Verdes (Hammonton, NJ)
El Mariachi Loco’s Enchiladas Verdes


Ohana Juice Bar –  20% off select merchandise

Mannino’s Cannoli Express – raffle giveaways and free mini cannoli with every order

Monroeville Winery –  10% off any purchase & 15% off a case of wine

Tales of the Olive – specials on various olive oil and vinegar products

Mount Holly

Breaking Grounds – owner Jenny Lee will be dressed up as an elf and hiding throughout Mill Race Village from 1 – 2 pm for Mount Holly’s Selfie with the Elfie event

Robin’s Nest Restaurant – buy $100 of gift cards and receive a $20 gift card

Medford

Offering $2000+ in raffle prizes from Medford’s Main Street Merchants

Braddock’s Tavern – buy $100 in gift cards and receive a $20 gift card

Harvest Coffee – free Harvest tote bag when you spend $50

Haddonfield (free parking)

Downtown Haddonfield, NJ

Tre Famiglia Ristorante – $20 gift card when you buy $100 in gift cards

The British Chip Shop – I couldn’t locate any special promotions for the British Chip Shop, but they did announce some great news recently, so fans rejoice: they’re NOT closing as previously reported!

Collingswood

Earlier this year, USA Today declared Collingswood the Best Small Town Food Scene in America. They’re also hosting a holiday parade at 10 am on Small Business Saturday.

L’Oceano – buy $100 of gift cards and receive $20 gift card

Indiya (you made need to purchase online) Buy $50 in gift cards and get $10 gift card; buy $100 in gift cards and get $20 gift card; buy $200 in gift cards and get $50 gift card

Millville

Print out this flyer to redeem this coupon:

Bruni’s Breakfast & Burgers – $2 off a 6-pack of take-out burgers (with flyer coupon)

Pitman

Win prizes with when you shop with Pitman’s Passport

Rancocas Woods

Rancocas Woods is also hosting their Made and Found Market this Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. While I couldn’t find any specific information about food vendors, in previous years their market has included a couple of unique food trucks.

9 Ways to Help Feed the Hungry in South Jersey

Help feed those suffering from hunger in South Jersey by donating your time or money to these causes.

Note: The following list is very biased toward the area where I live, as I didn’t have much time to put this one together. If you know of another hunger cause in South Jersey that needs assistance, please comment below. I will add it as soon as I can. Thank you!

In honor of World Kindness Day, here are 9 ways you can help alleviate hunger in South Jersey:

If you’re near Mount Holly or Berlin, help stock pantry shelves and pack bags at Oaks Integrated Care, which needs assistance with their Thanksgiving food pantry.

In Audubon, Meals on Wheels seeks volunteers to help shop and deliver meals to Camden County senior citizens.

In Pennsauken, the Food Bank of South Jersey is looking for volunteers to teach healthy cooking and nutrition classes in a variety of settings.

Hunger Helpers in Camden and Jersey Cares need volunteers to serve hot meals in a restaurant-like setting to people suffering from hunger.

Stock the shelves of Touch New Jersey Inc’s. food pantry in Camden.

If you’re a teen or know one who wants to help, check out Quixote Quest’s Qaravana initiative, which aims to feed hungry children in Camden.

The Salvation Army in Vineland needs help with their food pantry.

Learn more about hunger in South Jersey by reading the Press of Atlantic City’s Growing Up Hungry series.

Host a food drive at your school or workplace to benefit the Food Bank of South Jersey.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Cheese Education at Whole Foods Marlton, Dessert at Murphy’s Market Medford, & Homemade Empanadas

Whole Foods Marlton educated customers on all-things-cheese this Saturday.

Produits_terroir.jpg

Image by: (WT-fr) Regiondesaintjeansurrichelieu at French Wikivoyage [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cheese Terroir

Often applied to wine, the French word terroir refers to the environmental factors – climate, soil quality, sunlight, and local wildlife – that can affect a food’s appearance or taste.

Ed Reynolds knows all about terroir. As a part-time Whole Foods employee, he has logged more than 4,500 hours of cheese experience. On Saturday, November 10 from 1 pm – 3 pm, he led a talk at Whole Foods’ Marlton, New Jersey location for their free Flavors of the Moment cheese tasting, an educational event that taught me a lot I didn’t know about cheese. Reynolds’ passion for all things cheese shone as he introduced the word terroir – as it relates to cheese – at the start of the tasting.

“What grows together, goes together,” he explained to our small group of eager cheese samplers. In general, when foods – like honey and cheese – are grown or produced in the same geographical area, they tend to complement one another. Before the presentation, Reynolds and the rest of the Whole Foods’ cheese team used the concept of terroir to pair several varieties of cheese with the accompaniments that complemented each.

The History of Cheddar

IMG_6114

The tasting began with a sample of Keen’s Cheddar, a mild, unpasteurized cheese. Keen’s Cheddar is a “farmstead” product, a label given to cheese produced on the same farm where the cows are raised to make it. Producing farmstead cheese is a terroir practice that lends cheese unique properties depending on where it is made.

Reynolds and his team served the cheddar with a side of Cremenelli Tartufo Salami, an uncured Italian meat lightly dotted with black truffle. Beta-carotene lends Keen’s Cheddar its deep yellow color as a result of the cows’ grass-fed diet. While cheeses made from goat’s or sheep’s milk are often grass-fed, their cheeses do not produce as vibrant a color because goats and sheep do not secrete beta-carotene in the same way cows do.

Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England, where cheesemakers used caves to mature it. Since 1899, Keen’s has produced cheddar and the farm remains in the same family today. They are one of only three farms still producing raw-milk cheddar in Somerset. The taste was decidedly mild and distinct from the mass-produced varieties of cheap shredded cheddar I often toss into my family’s scrambled eggs and tacos.

Cheddar_Gorge,_Somerset,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg
Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England Image, the birthplace of cheddar Image by: Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Sweet Italian Cheese

IMG_6112
Moliterno al Tartufo cheese with Mitica Acacia honey and a cracker

Next, we sampled a pecorino-style Italian sheep’s milk cheese called Moliterno al Tartufo, a sweet, salty cheese that contains black truffle. For Reynolds, Moliterno al Tartufo recalls memories of growing up in Philadelphia eating salted pretzels with sweet ice cream.

We sampled the cheese with a drizzle of a raw Italian honey called Mitica Acacia, which Reynolds called “low-glycemic,” ideal for people who are watching their sugar intake. (I was unable to find an online source that verifies this claim.) Boasting a long shelf-life, this light-bodied honey rarely crystallizes. Mitica Acacia comes from an acacia tree, which is native to Bulgaria but also grows in Italy.

Steps to Cheese Tasting

As we sampled, Reynolds talked about the process of professional cheese tasting. Professional cheese tasters practice what is called ‘retronasal breathing,’ a practice that uses exhalation during the swallowing phase to aid the perception of aromas in the back of the throat.

Because professional tasters, such as competitive cheese judges, often sample hundreds of cheeses in a single weekend, they don’t always eat all of the cheese they judge. Instead, they use other senses – like smell – to judge the quality of the cheese.

Reynolds also discussed the importance of food temperature in relationship to taste. Few foods, he said, are meant to be eaten cold. The temperature of a cheese, for instance, can alter the cheese’s entire taste profile. Reynolds argues that most cheeses should be consumed at room temperature, a belief shared by many other experts – like the team at Serious Eats.

Sweet Partners: Jam and Cheddar

IMG_6115
La Clare Farms’ Chandoka cheese with Bonnie’s Jams’ Bourbon Berry Jam

The Whole Foods team brought out Chandoka cheese from La Clare Farms Family Creamery in Wisconsin next. Like Keen’s, La Clare is a farmstead cheese producer, and they have been in business since 1978. Aged inside a cave, this cheddar cheese is mixed-milk, meaning it contains both cow’s and goat’s milk. The team paired it with a sweet jam called Bonnie’s Jams’ Bourbon Berry Jam, popular with Whole Foods customers.

Stilton: “Gateway to Bleu”

Next up was an English Stilton, a cheese that can only be produced in the British counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire. Candied pecans accompanied the Stilton. Reynolds called Stilton the “gateway to bleu cheese” because Whole Foods’ employees often suggest this mild, beginner cheese to customers who are new to the world of bleu. 

IMG_6116
Stilton cheese

Types of Rennet

Most cheeses are made using rennet, which is traditionally obtained as a byproduct of veal. Today, the vast majority of today’s cheese producers are moving away from animal-based rennet and instead using a genetically-engineered, vegetarian rennet grown in a lab. In fact, about up to 90% of the world’s cheeses are now made with lab-grown rennet, which Reynolds says is “100% identical” in chemical composition to its animal-based counterpart.

Dessert at Murphy’s Market

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the rest of Whole Foods’ informative presentation. But later that day, I took my son to Murphy’s Markets in Medford for their free Taste of the Seasons sampling event. (I like free samples, okay?)

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Lars Ginger Snaps with Murphy’s Pumpkin Dip

We sampled Lars Swedish Ginger Snaps with Murphy’s pumpkin dip, which Murphy’s often has available for sampling throughout the season. The dip, which is made at Murphy’s, is a creamy, delicious blend of pumpkin puree, sugar, and cream cheese. I’m not usually a big pumpkin-spice gal – despite my love for all-things-fall – but this one had me reaching for more.

Murphy’s also had out a basket of their brownies to try (pictured above). This chewy, enticing brownie has become locally famous, and if the crumbs on the floor were any evidence of their popularity, I’d say a lot of people enjoyed them on Saturday.

My son’s favorite Murphy’s sample was the caramel cranberries – fresh cranberries dipped in gooey caramel, which would make for a delectable, light Thanksgiving appetizer or dessert. We also tried several of Murphy’s seafood spreads and dips with crackers, including their buffalo chicken dip.

My experience at Whole Foods and Murphy’s gave me a lot of ideas to think about for Thanksgiving dinner – cheese grazing boards, desserts made with locally-grown cranberries, imported Italian meats. I might think twice next time I reach for the cheap shredded cheddar at Wal-Mart.

But I think even processed cheese has its rightful place, and no one was complaining this weekend when I used Target cheese on my homemade empanadas. If you ever make empanadas, be sure to use this dough recipe from Laylita’s Recipes. I used frozen butter, and the result was a flakey, buttery crust. I stuffed mine with shredded chicken, canned corn, canned tomatoes, and Mexican spices (chipotle, smoked paprika, salt, and chili powder).

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My homemade cheap-cheese empanadas