Virtual Gourmet

  JUNE 16,  2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Chester Conklin and Charlie Chaplin in "Modern Times" (1936)


By John Mariani

Tamara Keefe's Naughty & Nice Creamery
 Aims foe the Sweet and Boozy
By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani

The Castle of Chillon
Photo courtesy of SwissTourism

    Vevey is a small Swiss city in Vaud at the foot of Mount Pèlerin, with less than 20,000 inhabitants, so one can easily walk around in a couple of hours on a leisurely stroll along the Lake Leman waterfront, with the Savoy mountains looming beyond. The antique Old Town, which has its own history museum, is composed of quiet, winding streets with storefronts holding bakeries, restaurant, cafés and boutiques. The   sheer calm of Vevey makes up a good deal of its charm.
    Yet Vevey is also a very vibrant city, with great cultural history behind it—here it was that Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote his tremendously popular romantic novel Julie, or the New Heloise (1761)—and it is in close proximity to Vaud’s wine country, Montreux and Chillon. The local bus and train system makes Vevey a good city in which to stay put so as to venture out to other places in the Vaud environs.
    Beginning July 18, Vevey will hold its three-week-long Fêtes des Vignerons, an event that occurs every 20 years or so and dates back to 1797. (I am writing more about this in my article on Swiss wines.)
    Appropriately for a Swiss town, Vevey has a Museum of Cameras, spread over five floors, and Nestlé, whose headquarters are here, founded the Alimentarium on Quai Perdonnet, a museum of nutrition, which  examines the history and complexity of food worldwide through virtual and sensory exhibitions, including a Body Section in which you can wander through the brain and other body parts concerned with the consumption of food, if that is your wont. And it impossible to miss the giant stainless steel fork sticking out of the lake here since 2007 (photo: Maude Rion).
    Another singular attraction, above the city of Vevey, is the Charlie Chaplin Museum, which anyone with only the vaguest idea of the movie master can appreciate.  For, along with the requisite film clips and historic narratives, the museum has adapted the best ideas from decades of Walt Disney amusement parks and Madame Tussauds wax museums to provide impeccably life-like replicas of Chaplin and his co-stars. There are tableaus taken from his destitute childhood in the London slums (below; photo: Bubbles, Inc.)as well as the sets for his most beloved movies. You learn how much of a perfectionist he was, with some scenes requiring hundreds of takes, and what an important composer of film music he was. There are lots of tricks of the eye as well, and, after touring the museum, you have the pleasure of actually visiting the 35-acre estate called Manoir de Ban, where Chaplin retired to with his family in 1953, at a time when his political and personal life came under fire during the McCarthy Era.
    Declaring himself  “a citizen of the world,” Chaplin lived out his life in Lausanne knowing he was still beloved by a world he had given so much joy to. “I hope that the entertainment I give has some lasting effect on people,” he once said.  “I hope they see the beauty that I myself am seeking. I am trying to express a beauty that embraces not only physical characteristics and scenes, but the true fundamental emotions of humanity. Beauty. Beauty is what I am after.”
    Hop the Number 201 bus in Vevey, and in half an hour you’ll be in Montreux, a resort city that has acquired all the encrustations that international popularity has brought, beginning in the post-Napoleonic Era.  Montreux was part of the Vevey District until 2006, when it became the independent Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut.
    In the 20th century Montreux became a draw for artists, writers and musicians, which included Tchaikovsky, Noël Coward, Oskar Kokoschka, A.J. Cronin and Dame Joan Sutherland, all staying there when the city was much less trammeled and much more of an Alpine retreat. Today nearly half the city’s population is composed of foreign nationals, whose houses and condos have peppered the hills in recent years.
    After the establishment of the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967, the city became a draw for scores of rock musicians who recorded their albums at Mountain Studios;  some, like David Bowie, bought homes. The British group Deep Purple wrote the song “Smoke on the Water” after the city’s Casino burned down in 1971.

    But by far the rock-and-roll connection above all others is to Freddie Mercury and Queen, which bought the Mountain Studios in 1978. (It is now a charity museum called “Queen: The Studio Experience.”)  Mercury had a second home in Montreux  and, as with the statue of Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia, a visit to the statue of the late singer in the town square has become a requisite tourist site (photo: Maude Rion), with a plaque that reads,   “He appreciated the kindness and the discretion of the townspeople and Montreux became a haven for him.”
    A walk along the lake is one of Montreux’s principal charms, though the sidewalk along the Grand Rue is now lined with shops of varying taste and price. The one stop one must make is to visit the great and historic Fairmont Le Montreux Palace Hotel (left), which opened in 1906 and became the haunt of European royalty and society. During World War I the hotel was used as a shelter for wounded Allied soldiers, but by the 1920s it had again become one of the most luxurious caravansaries, host to many international conferences. In World War II it was again used as a hospital. Deep renovations were made in 1994 and consistently since, with a Winter Garden opened over the Grand Hall in 2001. New, award-winning restaurants and bars were added in the first decade of the present century, with a multi-million-dollar renovation ending in 2014.  (I shall be writing about where to stay and eat in Vevey and Montreux soon.)

    Not far from Montreux is the remarkably restored 12th century Castle of Chillon, whose fame rests wholly on the 1816 poem by Lord Byron (right) about Francois Bonnivard, the castle’s lone, surviving prisoner. By then the Castle had already become the property of the Canton of Vaud. Ever since, restoration has been on-going, but it is one of the best castle visits I have made in Europe, during which one sees the underground room where Bonnivard was shackled, three formal great halls, defensive measures, the chapel, bedrooms and dining rooms.
    The Castle is easily reached on foot (about 45 minutes from Montreux), car (there is free parking), train, bus or by boat. The latter is certainly the loveliest, most romantic way to approach the Castle, which is always the case anywhere on the beautiful Lake Leman.




Tamara Keefe's Clementine's Naughty & Nice
Aims for the Sweet and Boozy

By John Mariani

    Is there anything more American about the American Dream than opening your own ice cream shop? Especially when you’ve achieved what you thought was your dream in the corporate world?
    That’s how it turned out for Tamara Keefe, 43, who left a job as senior brand manager for Abbott Nutrition’s $70 million Ensure Oncology business to open Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery in her native St. Louis, Missouri. Now with three units, Keefe has already won several top awards for Best Ice Cream for flavors like Italian Butter Cookie, Midnight Pleasures and Boozy Banana Rum.
    I interviewed Keefe about her decision to take the leap from the corporate safety net into artisanal ice cream making

Q: Why did you switch from a stable, high-paying corporate job to take such a chance on making ice cream?

TK: I have been making ice cream my whole life.  When I was a child, ice cream entirely changed my sense of community and, therefore, sense of self. We grew up below the poverty line. After church on Sundays, the other families in our community would meet at the local ice cream parlor. I remember tugging on my mom’s dress, begging her for us to join them for ice cream, not knowing the financial burden a trip to the ice cream parlor would cause our family of seven. I can still feel the sting of loneliness from not being able to join the rest of our community.
    Then one day, we stopped at a garage sale (that’s where we got our clothes), and my mom ran across an old hand-crank ice cream maker for $2, and decided it was going home with us. That was the day my life changed forever. We made ice cream together as a family and the sweetest tradition ensued.
    Word of our amazing creations spread, and soon enough, rather than going out for ice cream, the church families began to gather at our house, with each family bringing a different ingredient. I went from social zero to hero! My whole sense of community changed, because of ice cream. All of a sudden, I had friends I’d never had before, was invited to parties and became popular. I discovered the power of ice cream and I didn't even consciously know it. 
    By 2014 I was running a $70 million business, on the road all the time, commuting back and forth from St. Louis to Columbus, working 60-70-hour weeks, and successfully climbing the corporate ladder. Dream job, big company, big responsibilities, big salary—everything I thought I ever wanted, until I didn’t. Exhausted, unhappy, single, no kids, no family, and rarely seeing my friends, I was miserable. On a much-needed weekend away, one of my closest friends turned to me as I was ugly crying and said I should quit.  Bewildered, I asked, what would I do? My other girlfriend  commented, “You’re always complaining St. Louis doesn't have great ice cream or  ice cream shops, and you are so happy when making ice cream, no one makes it better than you, so go do it.”
    So that weekend, the four of us wrote my business and marketing plan, put together my financials and I resigned two weeks later. I figured, what was the worst thing that could happen? Yes, I could fail, but I was highly employable, and could go back. I had nothing to lose, except my pride and money. The rest is history. In early 2014 I attended “Ice Cream College” at Penn State.
    I didn't really set out to create something new in the market. I set out to create something better. Having worked in the food industry, I knew how large CPGs [Consumer Packaged Goods manufacturers] made an inferior product, and how they reformulate to cost cut, confuse and undermine consumers. I knew I didn't want that. I wanted to do it based on my values, a different way, but a profitable way. I wanted to create a culture and appreciation of makers, bakers and creatives.
    I had 20-plus years marketing experience, created and launched new products for CPG big brands, worked closely with sensory science, product development, packaging groups, food chemists, food scientists, spent lots of time in and around food manufacturing facilities, a Six-Sigma Green-belt, and I was acutely aware of food safety … and what it meant and the importance of doing things the right and safe way. It was the perfect storm so to speak. Oh, and I am a trained master taster.
    The Naughty component came to fruition as I was just starting out. A customer asked if I could infuse some rum into a flavor I had. I said it wasn't possible. He kept after me, and it was seeping into my subconscious all the time, and I started to think, “How can I make this happen?” After all, I had had access to the best food scientists, chemists and product development people in the world. And I was familiar with lots of new and emerging technologies in food and how people were using them in creative ways. I gathered my closest friends and over a few bottles of wine, I started connecting the dots, experimenting until we homed in on some pretty innovative stuff. Once I realized we had something, I knew it was an opportunity and a really good one in a space where there’s been little innovation since the invention of Dippin’ Dots. So, I course- corrected, reassessed and off I went.

Q: Describe what makes your ice creams different from others compared with national brands? 

TK: Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery is named around the two types of ice creams we make. Naughty (boozy) and Nice (non-boozy).  We have a trade-secret process for infusing alcohol into ice cream up to 18%. Our ice creams really are boozy. A few companies have tried to hang their hat on creating boozy ice cream, but they use such little amounts it's not noticeable, or they use liquor flavors, or they cook it all off so it's a bit misrepresented.
    Additionally, we’re one of only a handful of micro-creameries in the country. There are qualifications you have to meet in order to be one. First, it has to be Small Batch  made in a real ice cream machine (batch freezer), not some large continuous mega-robotic machine that pumps thousands of gallons of product through in a few minutes that no one sees, or tastes, or quality checks. I like to say ours is made by real people with love, concern and care for the quality and the taste of the product.
    Handcrafted also means that everything in the ice cream has to be hand crafted and made. If there’s a pie, cake or cookie in it, we make it, bake it and see it through. We salt our own caramel and candy our pecans. Or, for some flavors, we collaborate to support another local artisan maker and use their product in it.
    All-Natural means the cream needs to be made using no artificial ingredients, and we are the only ice cream maker in the state of Missouri that is all-natural.
    A micro-creamery has to have less than 30% overrun, which is a technical term that describes the air whipped into the ice cream. Large commercial ice cream manufacturers and most local ice cream shops use 100% overrun, meaning that the pint you get at the store is actually only 50% ice cream; the rest is air. Ever had a cone that instantly melted?  That’s a great example of 100% overrun. Big commercial brands and most ice cream shops do that to get more volume using less product.
    Our ice cream is made with approximately 26-28% overrun, so when you taste our pint of any flavor and compare it to another, ours is heavier and denser.
    Butterfat is the component in ice cream that gives it the richness in flavor, the creaminess or smooth texture, the body and the ability not to melt so fast. It coats your tongue and makes the flavor last and gives it that great creamy mouth feel. Additionally, it carries the other flavors in the ice cream so you can enjoy it longer, leaving you with a lingering aftertaste.  But it is very expensive, in contrast to using 10% butterfat, which is what big commercial manufacturers use. All of our ice creams have between 16-18% butterfat, which is why they are so decadent.

Q: Has the corporate take-over of brands like Häagen-Dazs compromised the original product? 

TK:  Yes, corporate takeovers and now venture capital firms often do ruin the integrity of the product. They are so guided by making the most profit possible that they tinker with it little by little, and before you know it, a co-packer is making the product and it no longer is what it once was. It is completely different.
    As for gelato, 99.995% of all U.S. gelato makers use a premade dry blended bag mix, chock full of artificial colors, flavors, fillers, emulsifiers, etc. It’s made start-to- finish in 25 minutes. Authentic gelato takes a long time and is much more expensive to make. Our ice cream takes three days to make one batch.
    For the modern millennial consumer we are targeting, Häagen-Dazs exists as an iconic name with a tremendous marketing and sales legacy; however, in terms of a product that can excite the palate for flavor and mouth feel, it is no longer a benchmark.
    Conventional wisdom in the CPG world, in general, and food industry specifically, would dictate that a corporate takeover of a brand like Häagen-Dazs is a good thing.  Size used to be one of the most important factors of success; however, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer brands have leveled the playing field, allowing smaller brands to reach consumers without needing to fight for limited shelf space or making large investments on their brand. Additionally, the millennial consumer has demanded a new level of transparency for the products that they put in and on their bodies. This transparency has been best met by on-line born or upstart brands that experience fast growth, which consumers view as having a more authentic story or healthier, fresher and more eco-friendly offerings.
    For me a pint of ice cream will forever be a volume measure of 16 ounces. In January of 2009, Häagen-Dazs downsized the volume measure of its pint from 16 to 14 ounces, citing rising costs. That’s “customer betrayal” and I will never again buy a “pint” of Häagen-Dazs.

Q: Are there any Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rules about booze in ice cream? 

TK: Yes, as to content by volume, by weight and whether or not it is viewed as a beverage or food. Additionally, it depends if the manufacturer is looking for a drawback, meaning a tax refund on the alcohol purchased. 
    In the beginning, we sent all of our Naughty ice creams to the TTB for analysis at great expense and time. We worked with their team on our formulation and understanding of what and how the overrun and fat affect the alcohol by weight and volume. We had a liquor license in the beginning because we thought we had to, but ultimately the TTB decided our ice cream was a food and not a beverage, and we did not make shakes in our stores, which by nature changes the form into a beverage. From the start, based on my own values, I chose not to sample or serve anyone under the age of 21. This practice continues in all our stores, even though technically we don’t have to. The silver lining is that it has worked as a great marketing tool as well, because now young adults look forward to sharing their “21st” with us so they can try and indulge in Clementine’s boozy ice cream.

Q: Explain: All of the milk Clementine's uses is from local, grass-fed, pasture-raised, hormone- and RBST-free cows. 

TK: We work with small dairy farmers who choose to raise herds differently than their big commercial counterparts. By using dairy from local, grass-fed, pasture-raised, hormone and RBST-free cows you’re starting with the purest, most unadulterated, best tasting, non-altered, fresh dairy you can imagine. As a result, our base dairy is so much cleaner, richer, creamier. Its healthier, tastes better, it benefits the cows, and our environment. 

Q:  How did you round up investment? Are you wholly privately owned? 

TK: I am completely self-funded and solely owned by me. I’ve invested almost 500k to date from my personal savings, cashed out my 401k, and continue to grow from profits. As we look more to capitalize on our momentum and take advantage of the market opportunity, we will be considering smart outside investment that can help take us to the next level in becoming a national brand. 

Q:  Is the market for new ice creams in America limitless?  What are your current overall U.S. sales? 

TK: In America, there is never a barrier for an excellent product that delivers on its promise. Ice cream is a $14 billion market. But overall consumption in the U.S. is declining. On the flip side, the craft segment keeps growing.  I believe consumers are reveling in all the newcomers and their inventive market niches. Their entry into the market have stimulated growth, motivated excellence and differentiation, and better products are being produced, especially in niche markets like vegan, low-carb and micro-creamery, which are taking market share fast from the big brands.
    As long as the artisan ice cream business continues to deliver to customers what they crave—the flavors, ingredients and experiences underrepresented in the hyper consolidated ice cream market—then there is no limit to its growth.
    I opened my first shop in May 2015, second in July of 2017, and my third this month in May 2019, with our fourth coming along in July. Our sales are around $2 million to date. My initial goal is to do $10 million in revenue from 12 shops, and an entry into grocery channel within five years, with the ultimate goal of $50 million, 50 shops, grocery and online expansion in 10 years.  That is, unless another opportunity comes our way that is better than I have charted for us now.

Q:  But won’t expansion nationally compromise what is now a small artisanal company? 

TK: For us, no; we will be better than we are now. At the moment, we have different expansion plans and have seen one other artisanal ice cream maker on the West Coast whom we respect a lot expand the way we are planning to. Their values mirror ours. They are choosing to expand mindfully and authentically. The end result will be a national presence without compromising the best parts of being small.  I can’t wait to see how high is “high”!


By John Mariani


Setai Hotel

40 Broad Street

    Since 2013 Reserve Cut has been one of handsomest restaurants in the Financial District, and with the addition of chef Richard Farnabe, a veteran of Daniel, Jean-Georges and Picholine, its food has never been better. This is a kosher steakhouse, but working within rules that only affect dairy and shellfish products, Farnabe brings a new sophistication and variety to the menu.
    Owner Albert Allaham (with Farnabe, left), who is a descendant of master butchers going back two centuries in Damascus and the owner of The Prime Cut market in Brooklyn, has access to the very best products, so you can be sure that because those ingredients are kosher, they must meet very high standards, from the USDA Prime beef to the sushi-grade tuna.
    The sprawling restaurant uses a canny contrast of shadow and light, wood and glass, with dominant colors of deep reds and rich browns to give a dramatic flow to the two principal dining rooms. They are bisected by a glittering corridor of glass cases containing an exceptional wine cache (below) that shows off the real quality of modern-day kosher wines, from both Israel and California. Thick white tablecloths, votive candles and roomy leather chairs add measurably to the comfortable luxury of the place. Puzzling, then, that the wine glasses are cheap, when better examples are so easily available for a restaurant.
    The menu is as huge as a mini-version of Cheesecake Factory, with dozens of sushi and sashimi options, a score of appetizers, six non-steak offerings and a dozen variations on steak, including wagyu galore. In addition, there are nightly specials. Farnabe does command a very large kitchen with a brigade of cooks, but I doubt regulars or newcomers care that there are so many items to choose from. The margin of error seems risky.
    Nevertheless, the sushi dishes we had were all excellent, beautifully presented and nicely seasoned, from signature rolls like the crunchy Volcano of spicy tuna, avocado, aïoli and tempura ($23) to generous platters of sashimi and sushi like the Reserve Chef’s Selection ($44). Also in the Asian mode with Latino underpinnings is a delightful item called “Blackened Tuna Bites” with avocado, pico de gallo, wonton chip and aïoli ($24).
    Then there is a whole section called “Appetizers from the Land,” like Moroccan lamb merguez sausages with slowly braised giant beans, red pepper and tomato ($28); very juicy, flavorful short ribs tacos with a tangy-sweet grilled pineapple salsa ($26); and wagyu short rib steamed buns with pickled cucumber to cut the rich fattiness of the meat ($26).
    Getting to the main courses, there are three fish offerings and roasted chicken. But, despite all else on the menu, this is a steakhouse, one that proudly serves first-rate Colorado rack of lamb with a smoked chile glaze, mashed minted English peas and romesco sauce ($76).  I don’t think the otherwise excellent veal chop ($65) gains much from being “bone marrow crusted,” which makes it a little steamy.
    All steaks are USDA Prime, aged for a minimum of 36 days on premises, including a 14-ounce boneless ribeye with a delectable confit of trumpet royale mushrooms and crispy parsley ($65). Farnabe is also very good at side dishes that show off his talents.
    Regular readers of this column well know both my yawning lack of interest in and suspicions about wagyu beef, which is now ubiquitous in American steakhouses. The wagyu cuts at Reserve Cut are touted as “Renowned for their unprecedented flavor produced by expending traditional Japanese all natural holistic techniques,” which sounds a bit more spiritual than beef descriptions usually get. In any case, the modest prices—$70 for a 10-ounce cut with half roasted garlic and aromatic herbs—indicates this meat is probably not from one of those vaunted Kobe Prefectures so many steakhouses claim to have. For that, Reserve Cut has a 10-ounce Miyazaki cut for $149.
    Because kosher demands that no dairy can be served with meat, desserts are not the high point of a meal at Reserve Cut, although the chocolate tasting of chocolate caramel tart, peanut butter ice cream and molten chocolate cake ($18) is definitely worth sharing.
    I am very happy to see that Richard Farnabe is now in the kitchen at Reserve Cut, making this beautiful, swank restaurant an attraction even for those who are not in the mood for a great USDA Prime steak. And with a wine list so rich in modern Israeli and kosher American wines, it becomes a singular destination in the Financial District.

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Sun.-Thurs.




By John Mariani

Vaud Vineyards on Lake Leman
Photo: Maude Rion


    Before going off to Switzerland this spring, I was fortunate to attend a dinner in New York held by the Swiss Wine Commission to show off modern viniculture from a country whose wines are so rarely written about—not from a lack of interest but from a lack of wines to write about.
    As I learned over dinner at Nomad restaurant in Manhattan with several Swiss vintners, the problem is that the Swiss pretty much drink every drop of wine they make, with only about 2 percent exported to the rest of the world. This was particularly disappointing because the wines I tasted that evening were of high quality and varietal caliber.
  With a dish of foie gras was served a Provins Valais Petite Arvine 2015 from Valais and Château d’Auvernier Chardonnay 2017 from Neuchâtel; with a mushroom dish two vintages (2013 and 2016) of Jean-René Germanier Balavaud Cayas Réserve Syrahs from Valais; with a beef and Swiss chard dish came Angelo Delea Carato Merlot 2015 from Ticino and Valais Mundi Sa Electus Red Blend 2015 from Valais; with the cheese course of Sbrinz, Domaine La Colombe Petit Clos Chasselas La Cȏte 2017 from Vaud and Château d’Suvernier Chasselas 2018 from Neuchâtel; finally, a chocolate cake with Domaine La Colombe Pinot Noir 2017 from Vaud and Vini Delea La Bruna Grappa from Ticino.
    These constituted more Swiss wines than I had tasted in the past five years. So, when I arrived in Switzerland, I was eager to drink nothing but Swiss wines for the next ten days, mostly spent in Vaud. The region, sub-divided into eight smaller regions, encompasses 3,800 hectares of vineyards—a quarter of all wine-growing areas in the country—with more than 3,000 parcels that produce 39.6 million bottles annually, all overseen by the Vaudois Wine Office.
    Tours of this beautiful, deeply sloping wine territory that winds on the Corniche Road along Lake Leman—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—are as popular with the locals on weekends as with Europeans and other travelers. Most of the wine-producing villages open their cellars to the public from Easter through October.
     My wife and I had a marvelous guide named Fabienne D’Alleves, who showed us through the small villages and vineyards and introduced us to Luc Massy, who with his sons Benjamin and Gregory (right), owns Luc Massy Vins in the quiet village of Epesses-Lavaux. The estate dates back to a 17th century Clos du Boux farmhouse that originally sold wine in bulk. In 1995, Luc Massy brought the winery into modern focus, “marrying tradition with a 21st century viewpoint. Our responsibility is not to preserve a fixed world, but to make it live, to evolve it, to improve it even more, and above all to share it.” It is a modest-size winery, using only natural yeasts, and producing 9,700 liters per year.
    If any Swiss varietal is due for an emergence in the world market it is white Chasselas (sometimes called Dorin in Vaud), of which I enjoyed many that week. Massy’s Clos de Boux Grand Cru (about $39 in the U.S., if you can find it) has a typically refreshing acidic edge, the minerality of the terroir, with no residual sugar and 12% alcohol.
    Massy’s Chemin de Fer from the Dézaley region ($59), also made from Chasselas, is even more complex, because the vineyards get more sun and grapes can stay longer on the vine before harvesting. Luc Massy said these wines have remarkable longevity. “We have bottles going back to 1968 and they are delicious,” he said.
    Crêt Bailly ($35) from Epesses is made from Gamay, the red grape best known for its eminence in Beaujolais. In Vaud it becomes a very graceful wine, with light to medium body, good fruit and acid, at 13% alcohol.  Lighter in body but quite rounded and full of minerality is Sous Les Rocs ($36) from grapes in the region of Saint-Saphorin.
    The restaurants in Switzerland proudly list many Swiss wines on their menus. At Pavillon in Zurich’s Baur au Lac Hotel, my wife and I enjoyed a splendid dinner of dishes like lemony scallops with a Fläscher Sauvignon Blanc 2015 from Graubüunden; rosemary-scented rabbit with a Domain Les Hutins Pinot Noir Premier Cru Barrique 2016 from Dardagny; and veal Metternich with a Guido Brivio Merlot Platinum 2012 from Ticino. 

    These only hinted at the variety of superb wines made in Switzerland, and I urged my Swiss hosts—begged, actually—to release more of them into the market. They deserve not just recognition for being good Swiss wines but for also being very good wines of any kind. 

Next month, from July 18 to August 11,  Vevey will host its legendary Fête des Vignerons, a month-long festival that dates back to the 1700s, with colorful processions, music written expressly for the event, and, in this century, art exhibitions with artists around the world showing their work (left). Young people play Bacchus and Ceres, wonderful puppets are carved and carried and a good amount of wine is consumed. The fact that the Fête is held only every twenty years or so makes this very special and never becomes repetitious.



“Our kitchen is asking two main questions: Is a tomato a tomato? For sure, a tomato is not a tomato,” he says. “So if it is not a tomato, what it is? Once you find that, you can ask the second question. What does the tomato want? And that is the long journey of our creation.”— Chef Eyal Shani (left) interviewed by C
hris Cowley, “At the New Restaurant HaSalon, the Food Carries ‘the Energy of Happiness,’” New York Magazine (April 11, 2019).


"On a good day the wind blows the fumes right out to sea, but the residents of St. Mary’s, Newfoundland aren’t always that lucky. When the wind comes from the northeast, it carries the stench of over 100 vats of rotten, nearly 20-year-old fish sauce into the homes and business of everyone in the tiny community. The reason: the hollowed-out shell of what was once the Atlantic Seafood Sauce Company, which closed its doors in 2001."—Madeline Muzzi, "A Town Drowned in the Smell of Fish Sauce; What will it take to clean up Newfoundland’s abandoned fish sauce factory?"  (5/23/19)




Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


   Wine is a joy year-round but in cooler weather one grape varietal has really taken center stage in my daily activities – that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello di Montalcino.
    From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.
    Second, cooler weather here means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines.  That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello.  Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello.  The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.
    What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura?  Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi.  When we first began planting our vines there in the late 1970s studies from the University of Bordeaux indicated which strains of many varietals we should plant, based on the soil type and microclimate of each vineyard.  But when it came to the region’s native Sangiovese, there was only local lore, no scientific research.  So we took it upon ourselves to figure out this vine, and set off on three decades of incredibly detailed research.
    We started with 600 apparent variations on Sangiovese, because it is so susceptible to variations in weather and soil, and narrowed that down to 160 truly genetically different clones.  We planted a vineyard with two rows of each type, made wine from each of them, and charted the differences – remember, you only get one chance a year to make wine, so this took time.
    It took about ten years to get some concrete results, though we continue to experiment today and always will – you never stop learning in science and nature!  Once we determined which were the best, complementary clones that could be planted together to make the best Brunello, we chose to plant them in what we determined to be the optimal vineyard sites.  Coincidentally, the best soils and climate conditions are in the slopes surrounding the medieval fortress today known as Castello Banfi, known since Etruscan times as Poggio alle Mura – the walled hilltop.  Hence the name of our most special “cru” of Brunello, representing a synthesis between tradition and innovation.
    Though the focus of this study was our Brunello, all of our Sangiovese-based wines, including the super Tuscans SummuS, Cum Laude, and Centine, benefitted from this work.  And that’s the third reason for celebrating Sangiovese this month, for the range of wonderful reds that usher us into autumn!  One wine in particular was inspired by our research – the BelnerO, a Sangiovese dominant blend with what I like to call a kiss of Cabernet and a whisper of Merlot.  We grow the grapes a little differently for BelnerO than for Brunello, make the wine with less oak aging and released it earlier from the winery, providing a counterpoint to Brunello and a lovely terroir-driven wine in its own right.
     If you know Italians, you know that by nature we are multi-faceted, varying in mood, and always passionate.  As a nation, we span from the hot sunny beaches of Sicily near the African coast to the rugged mountains and Alpine ski slopes of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north.  Sangiovese is grown in almost all of Italy’s regions and reflects the unique nature of each; it is most famous (rightfully so) in Tuscany, yet even there it reflects the nuances of each hilltop, valley and subzone.  It has something a little different to say in Brunello than Chianti, Morellino than Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino than Super Tuscan blends.
    Here is a smattering of Sangiovese-based wines that you may wish to get to know better, reflecting a spectrum that appeals to every occasion, every taste, and every budget.  We can assure you that the conversation will never become boring.

Recommendations for Celebrating Sangiovese 

BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese – A refined cuvée of noble red grapes perfected by our pioneering clonal research. This dark beauty, BelnerO, is produced at our innovative winery, chosen 11 consecutive years as Italy’s Premier Vineyard Estate. Fermented in our patented temperature controlled French oak and aged approximately 2 additional years. Unfiltered, and Nitrogen bottled to minimize sulfites. 


Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, with flavor hints of licorice, cherry, and spices. Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste. Unfiltered after 1998 vintage. 

Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrique for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish. 

Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – A single vineyard selection of our most historically outstanding Sangiovese, aged five years before release, the additional year more than that required of Brunello including 6 months in barrel and 6 months more in bottle to grant its “Riserva” designation.  Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of fruit and subtle wood influence. Round, complete, well balanced with hints of chocolate and berries. Unfiltered after 1998.

Poggio alle Mura – The first tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape.  Estate bottled from the splendidly sun drenched vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name.  The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky.  Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices. The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red.  The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut.  It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note.  It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.

SummuS – A wine of towering elegance, SummuS is an extraordinary blend of Sangiovese which contributes body; Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit and structure; and Syrah for elegance, character and a fruity bouquet.  An elegant, complex and harmonious red wine. 

Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.

Centine – A Cuvee that is more than half Sangiovese, the balanced consisting of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes, this is a smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character, and a perennial favorite at my own dinner table. 

Banfi Chianti Superiore – The “Superiore” designation signifies stricter government regulations regarding production and aging requirements, as compared to regular Chianti.  An intense ruby red wine with fruit forward aromas and floral notes.  This is a round wine with well-balanced acidity and fruit.

Banfi Chianti Classico – An enduring classic: alluring bouquet of black fruit and violets; rich flavors of cherry and leather; supple tannins and good acidity for dining. 

Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – Produced from select grapes grown in the "Classico" region of Chianti, this dry, fruity and well-balanced red has a full bouquet reminiscent of violets.

Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico – This is our newest entry into the Chianti arena, coming from a 99 acre estate in Castellina, the heart of the Chianti Classico region.  The wine is a captivating mauve red that smells of cherry, plum and blackberry with hints of spice.  It is round, full and balanced with very good acidity.  

Col di Sasso – Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Luscious, complex and soft with persistent notes of fruit and great Italian style structure.



 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  THIS WEEK:

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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