One of the things that I love about working at Di Bruno Bros. is that I am constantly rediscovering products. I manage the “Non-Perishables” department and I am responsible for purchasing well over 1,700 items; this includes all of our oils and vinegars, plus our dried pastas, sauces, condiments and chocolates. While I can tell you something cool about all of our items (after all, they were carefully selected to appear on our shelves), its hard to keep up on tasting all of them on a consistent basis. So what happens? I get into playing favorites. For awhile, it was nothing but Olio Verde olive oil in the house and Texas Sassy relish on, well, just about everything. Don’t even get me started on last summer. Opening a meat and seafood department (and consequently tasting hundreds of products to accompany these fine items) left me with several hard-dying habits, which included putting Rick’s Picks GT-1000s (we’re talking curried green tomatoes folks) on every single hamburger I consumed. Hey, it’s hard to say no when it’s delicious.
As I was saying, every day brings a new surprise. A recent conversation with one of my favorite chefs in Philadelphia, Johnny MacDonald from Snackbar, reminded me how cool our products really are. Johnny mentioned how he loves walking through our store and reading the labels of all the unusual stuff that he finds. Always one for a challenge, I spent the next day looking for things that might be unfamiliar to Johnny and that I might have forgotten about. One item stood out from the rest: Arrope jam with pumpkin pieces. At first glance, I could imagine our customers looking at this with a perplexed look on their face, something that would seem to say “What the heck am I supposed to do with that?!?” I brought a jar back to the Cheese Cave, opened it and drizzled some of the thick syrup on a spoonful of freshly scooped ricotta cheese. Holy crap! The must, in all of its concentrated glory, tastes something like a combination of grapes and molasses. I wanted more…
I asked Johnny to try the Arrope Jam out at Snackbar. He came back with one of the best pairings that I have ever tasted: he told me that he was using the Arrope Jam with our Nevat sheep’s milk cheese. Sure enough, we tasted the combination and it was a winner. There’s something about sheep’s milk cheese that I love – it’s probably the fact that sheep’s milk tends to be a little sweeter than both cow’s and goat’s milk. The jam, with it’s not-too-sweet grapiness melds together really nicely with the creamy, somewhat tangy Nevat. (Full disclosure: I was a big fan of Nevat to begin with…).
Of course, I’ve become slightly obsessed with Arrope. Lately, I’ve been spreading it on bread, drizzling it on seared foie gras and slicing the pumpkin pieces onto toast, only to have the syrupy goodness of the must poured over it. I’ve been doing some research as well. It turns out that Arrope, along with being delicious, is actually an ancient Spanish method of preserving fruit and some vegetables after the harvest. Through osmosis (or some other scientific method – its been a long time since 10th grade chemistry), the must imparts the preserved fruit with a sweetness while maintaining the integrity of the original flavor. Oh yeah, and the syrup, mixed with seltzer water, makes one “banging” drink!
We’ve got jars of Arrope open for sampling at Di Bruno Bros. on Chestnut St. Come on in and check them out – and don’t forget the Nevat cheese!