Monday, September 29, 2008
Noshing Nirvana: Provvista '08
It was about, oh, maybe three months ago that I started pestering my ever-patient brother about the upcoming Provvista Open House.
"Have you heard anything? Have they sent an invitation? Huh? Huh? Huh?"
Pizza man Mark Doxtader
I'm worse than a four-year-old begging for a puppy when it comes to this biennial event held at one of the Northwest's leading importers and distributors of specialty food products. Normally open only to account holders, I slide in on my sib's generosity to the equivalent of a day in what surely must be foodie heaven.
With tasty temptations like the pizzas produced by Tastebud wood oven maestro Mark Doxtader and biscuits and gravy from Pine State Biscuits, and detours featuring paella and fideua, espresso and gelato, it was hard not to lose my bearings and stuff myself silly. But with steely determination I kept my wits about me, remembering that the real show was in the seemingly endless aisles of the warehouse where food purveyors were proffering a dizzying variety of edible delights.
Cheese mother Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery
And Provvista doesn't pull any punches, luring the big cheeses of the curd world like Mateo Kehler from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery in California. Mateo was happy to talk about his new cheese cave where he's working with 11 regional cheesemakers, including Dancing Cow Farmstead Chees's Menuet from Bridport and Manchester from Peter Dixon of Consider Bardwell in West Pawlet. I'd tasted the Manchester about a year ago when I interviewed Dixon, and found the cave aging had deepened and accentuated its creamy earthiness.
A wink and a nudge from Tom Koolman, Provvista cheese dude, sent me searching for Amy Turnbull and husband Stephen Hueffed of Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese. Open for only three months, they're producing some of the most promising blues I've tasted recently, including the hauntingly delicious Fresh with Ewe Hint of Blue from their herd of 80 sheep and 5 jersey cows.
Fra'Mani's ever-delightful Paul Bertolli
But the highlight for me was a hug and a kiss (on the cheek...he is a gentleman, after all) from Paul Bertolli himself, one of the progenitors of the movement toward artisanal cured meats that every chef worth his pork butt is making today. Not resting on his laurels, he brought with him some new (and mouthwateringly luscious) uncured hams (regular and rosemary) that he was slicing and handing out to the pork-loving groupies crowding his table. There were also some new patés, a Pork Liver Mousse and Paté Campagnolo, with their shimmering topping of gelée, that bode well for future appetizer platters.
Most of these products can be found at your local cheese shop or Pastaworks, but if you don't see them, definitely ask!