Sunday, June 6, 2010

yellow mould and other adventures in the pike place market


This Saturday, I did my grocery shopping in the Pike Place Market, in downtown Seattle.  It is the oldest working public market in the United States.  Back when we lived just three blocks away, market shopping was a daily occurrence.  Now that we are inhabitants of not quite suburban urban sprawl, visits are fewer and farther between. 

Trips to the market necessitate three destinations: De Laurenti, Frank’s Quality Produce and Don & Joe’s Meats.  Runners up are Sur la Table for Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, kitchen necessities and other culinary whims, and Pear Delicatessen (previously Pike Place Grocery & Deli), where you’ll discover an unexpected mecca of gourmet items such as fleur de sel  and Maldon sea salts, imported rose syrup, an impressive array of baking supplies, and an unexpected wealth of local wines, all reasonably priced.

When I venture outside the confines of day-to-day dinner planning, I invariably head for ‘the market’.  I credit a number of my culinary successes to ingredients found there as they never fail to elevate a meal from good to great.  Ricotta from De Laurenti tastes like ice cream, as opposed to the stuff at the grocery store which could double as spackle.  I have yet to encounter duck breasts that rival those sold at Don & Joe’s; nor could I hope to find a kinder, more affable butcher.  And my kitchen adventures are much richer for my interactions with Frank and his staff at Frank’s produce.  They are friendly, knowledgeable and know me by name.

Don & Joe’s Meats carries Magret de Canard duck breasts, beautiful racks of lamb and for the adventurous, a sizable selection of obscure animal parts.  If they don’t have it, they can most likely order it.  Don, with his rosy cheeks and bespectacled, twinkly eyes, runs the operation and is the nicest butcher I’ve ever met.  The first time he frenched my lamb rib chops, he said, “Now when you serve it to your friends, you can say “Ooh la la!”. 

Frank’s Quality Produce is run by Frank Genzale Jr.  This is a man who is easy to love.  He once carried my 23-pound Thanksgiving turkey from the produce stand to my car, several blocks away.  He clearly enjoys what he does and takes pride in his business.  The produce is top notch and Frank makes of point of sourcing local items whenever they are available.  This time, I filled a brown paper sack with just foraged local morels and another with thin green asparagus boasting tight purple tips, a sure sign that they are the freshest of fresh.

De Laurenti is one of a kind.  It is full to the brim with so many wonderful things but I love their cheese selection and helpful, all-knowing staff most of all.  A close third are their deli salads.  As much as I loathe the word ‘deli’, it means something entirely different when you are talking about a deli inside an Italian import store.  Their made to order salads would cost more to make yourself than what they charge for them, and are loaded with market fresh produce and chock full of  little jewels such as candied nuts, briny olives, flavorful cheeses and house made vinaigrettes. The sandwiches boast ingredients like white truffle oil, imported cheeses and locally cured meats, from Salumi

On this occasion, I had the good fortune of arriving at De Laurenti just in time for their Saturday wine tasting.  I have known for years that they host this weekly event but I’ve never made a point of being in the market at 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon.  In fact, I prefer shopping on weekdays when the market is quieter and therefore easier to navigate.  This Saturday, though, fate intervened on my behalf.

Tucked away in the wine loft was a tall rectangular table, its lacquered wood top boasting four wines from Joel Gott and four corresponding cheeses, selected by Connie Bennett, manager of the cheese counter at De Laurenti.

First in the lineup was a Columbia Valley Riesling accompanied by a goat Tomme.  This particular Riesling's allure was the absence of the anticipated syrupy sweetness.  It had the makings of a more versatile wine than the typified Riesling would have been.  The goat Tomme had a split personality.  Its earthy, musty flavor was countered by the slight tang and brightness of the goat’s milk.  This was a great match for the musky overtones of the Riesling. 

Next up was the Monterey Chardonnay and a cheese whose rind seemed to be blooming with mould before my very eyes.  While deftly wielding her cheese knife, Connie affirmed that this was indeed a seriously moldy cheese.  Three moulds were living on its rind, to be precise.  I was filled with a mixture of intrigue and trepidation as she went on to describe the yellow mould which was indigenous to the Savoie region and was the only mould of its color in the world.  The cheese was Tomme Crayeuse and I gave it a suspicious whiff before willing myself to taste it.  I took a small bite and discovered that there was none of the pungency I had anticipated.  Salty, creamy, earthy and with a slight fungal quality, it had enough intensity to be interesting but not overwhelming.  A new favorite, proving that you can’t judge a cheese by its rind.  The chardonnay, though not typically my preferred white, was quite good thanks to the absence of oak.  The fruit forward white complemented the cheese pairing without overwhelming it.

Third in line was a Zinfandel from California.  There was a time when I drank a lot of zinfandel.  My husband and I were big fans of Ravenswood, back in its heyday.  Most recently, we have been favoring the flavorful red blends from Columbia Valley, here in Washington State.  The zinfandel surprised me.  It was fuller, with good fruit but more complexity than I expected.  No lightweight, it had an underbelly to it and a longer finish.  The wine was paired with a Grana Padano, the slightly creamier, milder cousin of Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

The final wine was the 815 Cabernet Sauvignon also from California.  I tend to avoid Cabernets due to their girth and intensity.  This classic Cabernet was no doubt rich, with prominent veins of tobacco and burnt caramel, but had a smooth finish unlike the wallop that cabs sometimes pack.  After one sip, I was taken with with an overwhelming craving for steak and frites.  The accompanying cheese, a blue from Jasper Hill, was creamy, salty and smoky- in other words, the ideal counterpart.

The final verdict:  we went home with the Monterey Chardonnay and the Tomme Crayeuse.  I had hoped to pair the Crayeuse with the Zinfandel, my favorite of the four wines, but the cheese got lost in the robust red.  It was exciting to bring home the wine and cheese we liked best; but not as thrilling as happening upon a wine tasting on a Saturday in the market.

Our daughter, Annabelle, accompanied us at the tasting.  She sampled all four cheeses and then rattled off her detailed impressions of each one.  Her picks?  The Tomme Crayeuse followed by the Jasper Hill blue. 


  1. I just picked up morels at the u district farmers market yesterday. I was so excited to see them! Oh, and now I'm craving wine and cheese at ten in the morning-- I'll take the cab & blue.

  2. I know, I am super excited about morel season. What did you do with yours? I used some last night on homemade pizza with roasted asparagus and shaved chistou (a sheep/cow cheese from france).

  3. I'm using them tonight in a vegetable galette. It's a recipe from the most current Edible Seattle magazine and it smells delicious-- savory thyme crust, leeks, carrots, morels, peas, turnips... It's loaded with great ingredients.

  4. That sounds outstanding. Have you ever tried Bob's Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat Pastry Flour in crusts? I use it all the time in my pastries and baked goods and they come out beautifully. I feel so much better about feeding my family whole wheat and still making things that taste good.
    Is that the edible Seattle with the wild strawberries on the front?

  5. yes, the strawberry cover. I used the bob's organic unbleached white, but I do love the whole wheat pastry flour too!

  6. how did it turn out? will your kids eat morels, leeks, turnips, etc.?