Ripe Flavour

IMG_4176Ripe, luscious fruit. Summer at its best! This morning I discovered my strawberries need to be eaten today. So I pulled out my favourite flavouring for strawberries and peaches: DeRuijter “Gestampte Muisjes” IMG_4182 This powdered sugar with a touch of ground anise accents the fruit’s natural flavour and brings out the juices. I just sliced my fruit, sprinkled a bit of this flavoured sugar, stirred, covered and put it in the fridge for dessert tonight.


Simple. Delicious. Or dress it up by serving on angel food cake and adding whipped cream.


Sheep in the Brambles

zacharie-cloutierZacharie Cloutier is the ancestor of probably more Quebecois Canadians than any other man.  He and his wife Xainte immigrated from the Perche province, France in 1634.  They founded one of the foremost families in Quebec. By 1800, the Cloutier descendants numbered close to 11,000.Today it might be impossible to count them but they include Marie-ChantalIMG_2836 Houde (pictured on right) one of the principals of Fromagerie Nouvelle France. Their sheep’s milk firm pressed cheese is named for this forefather. Fromagerie Nouvelle France is part of a growing number of farm cheese producers.

This washed rind cheese is semi-cooked. Ripened from 4-6 months the paste has a buttery caramel flavour with the rich tones associated with a sheep’s milk cheese. It is best paired with a moderately full bodied red wine with strong dark berry undertones but balanced with mild acidity. Try Cattail Creek Cabernet Merlot. The black raspberry, cassis and Damson plum aromas of this wine will evoke summery days picking IMG_4166blackberries in wind blown brambles. Its refined tannins and spicy vanilla finish will balance well with Zacharie Cloutier’s richness. Serve with some toasted pecans and crusty white bread. As you nibble note the distinct zigzag design on the outside rind of the cheese.IMG_4165

More Cheese Please!

IMG_4004    That perfect taste of cheese.  Not the same for everyone.  That’s why we keep trying new cheeses at The European Pantry. This week we unpacked 7 new cheeses.

Time to count our choices again…I’ve been telling people that we have between 50 and 60 cheese choices. Surprise! We are now at 79!  That only scratches the surface of what is available in the world.  I think I have access to about a 1000 through my current wholesalers alone.

Someone asked me this week how there can be so many different cheeses. In some respects making cheese is fairly simple.  You take milk, cream or both and add a starter.  Once this has curdled then you slowly heat the batch until the whey and curds have totally separated.  Then you drain the whey from the curds. The curds become the cheese. If I have some milk or cream that has started to turn funny, IMG_4082that’s what I do. The results are a very plain sort of ricotta.  I use it to cook with…watch for another post soon showing what I did with this batch.IMG_4080 Obviously, there is much more to cheese making than that because the cheese you buy usually doesn’t look much like this. That’s because there are so many variables in making cheese. Here’s a just a basic list of options:

  • What type of animal the milk comes from
  • What that animal was eating
  • Whether the milk is skimmed, used warm, cooled first or if extra cream is added…or maybe even another type of milk
  • What type of starter is used
  • Hard cheeses require rennet…so what type of rennet is used.
  • The temperature the milk is processed at
  • Whether the curds are washed or cheddared
  • How much moisture is pressed out of the cheese
  • Is anything extra added…like blue mold, herbs, beer, whiskey, nuts, mushrooms, fruit, spices…the choices are endless
  • What process is used as the cheese ripens…this is a whole category of other options including ripening temperature, the development of a bloomy rind, washed rind options, etc
  • How long is the cheese ripened

Perhaps that gives you an idea of the amazing variations and combinations that are possible.  It is also why it is very difficult to copy a particular cheese.  It is virtually impossible to get all the factors the same.

Back to our new cheeses. We will be introducing these cheeses during our Saturday cheese tastings over the next few weeks. Here is a list of what is coming up:


  • Award winning 5 Brothers firm cheese from Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheeses
  • Santa Lucia Provolone
  • Tartufo – Sheep’s milk Pecorino with Truffle Pate imported from Italy
  • Medium Cheddar – Pine River Cheese & Butter Coop (est. in 1885)
  • 9 year old cheddar – Pine River Cheese & Butter Coop (est. in 1885)
  • Swiss Emmenthal
  • Bellavitano Merlot Reserve Cheddar

But even with these new cheeses I know that someone is going to say, “More Cheese Please!”  In fact, there are several other cheeses that we are waiting for already!  And this morning someone said, “Can you find….?”

Mont Jacob weds Niagara

IMG_2659Every Saturday we offer several cheeses for our customers to taste.  This week you can sample Mont Jacob from Fromagerie Blackburn in Quebec.  The Blackburn family began farming in Jonquière in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec about 80 years and four generations ago. More recently they began making cheese including the award winning Mont Jacob.

IMG_4135 Being a washed rind cheese, the aroma is strong and the rind of any such cheese is an acquired taste. Cut into the cheese and you will discover the paste’s rich buttery flavour. The finish is soft with no bitter edge.

The recommended pairing for Mont Jacob is a dry white wine.  Here in Niagara we suggest Creekside Sauvignon Blanc. A glass of this wine’s white grapefruit, granny smith apple flavours and light tropical notes of pineapple and star fruit will be an excellent foil to the richness of the cheese. Try it and tell us what you think!

Cottage Omelet: Simple meals that satisfy.

IMG_4108 The ingredients for this cottage omelet are usually at hand. Leftover dried bread cubed, milk, eggs, German salami pieces, cheese, butter and dipping olive oil. Make 1-2 eggs & 1-2 TBSP of milk per person. You can vary the type of salami or substitute another type of sausage. Same for the cheese. The proportion of bread to eggs is also flexible.  Some like lots of crunchy bread and others prefer more egg.


Brush a cast iron frying pan with balsamic vinegar and Italian herb dipping oil.     I use International Collection oils from the UK. Melt      a table spoon of butter. Brown cubes of bread on high heat.  Then reduce heat  to medium low.                                                                                                                                                 Beat your eggs & add a few tablespoons of milk for each egg. IMG_4105IMG_4106             Pour egg mixture over bread cubes. Sprinkle with cubes of cheese and salami. I used a mix of Jarlsberg. Gouda and cheddar. This is a great way to use up odds and ends of cheese.  Cover and let the cheese melt & mixture set. Flip over gently with a spatula and serve.  IMG_4107

Fika, koffeekletz, gezeligheid…

IMG_4031There are times when English for all its large word base is just not enough. As much as I am far more articulate in English than in Dutch, there are Dutch words that, like essential car keys, get me through the day. That doesn’t mean I use them in conversation everyday. Even with all the Dutch customers that daily come to our store, I do not always need these words to converse. Rather they are part of my identity and shape the way I live.

For me running our store, The European Pantry here in Welland, is about more than just merchandising European imports. It includes understanding and communicating about the cultures that we are celebrating. So I will often troll online to learn more about European cultures other than the one I grew up in. That is how I stumbled on the word “Fika“. Simply put, it means “coffeebreak” in Swedish but it didn’t take me long to realize that this simple word encompasses so much more. It is like the Dutch word “gezeligheid” conjuring up a whole spectrum of feelings, associations and memories.

I am a crime drama buff and lately I have been reading Swedish crime dramas in their Dutch editions. Recently that was ‘Oorlogskind‘ (Hidden Child in English) by Camilla Lackberg. Unlike their American parallels who meet in special meeting rooms, Lackberg’s Swedish police investigators meet to discuss cases in the lunch room over coffee and cinnamon rolls. When the police officers knock on doors to ask questions, they are invited in for coffee and cake. It all started to sound so ‘gezellig‘ that I had to remember I was in Sweden and not The Netherlands.  Dana Velden in her blog ‘the kitchn’ discusses the meaning of ‘fika’ . She explains that ‘fika’ is a daily, often more often, pause that nourishes not just the body but also the mind and spirit.  It is a conscious stop; the gathering of friends or co-workers to share time together. One commentator said that it is when teachers will discuss their challenging students. Unlike the North American concept of a break it is not just a stolen moment of laziness, it is rather an essential part of the social rhythm and fabric. And…this is important…it always includes food!  Especially the good stuff like cinnamon rolls and other sweets…what we call ‘gebak’ in Dutch.IMG_4036

My older Dutch immigrant customers have told me of their shock on first coming to Canada at being given a ‘naked’ cup of coffee by their Canadian sponsors or neighbours. That just wasn’t done back home unless you were very inhospitable. Coffee and tea must be served with cake or at least a cookie. Intrinsic to European culture is the high value placed on hospitality. But also the concept of ‘gezelligheid‘. Although the word is Dutch, the concept of an atmosphere that is warm, cozy and welcoming is not foreign to Scandinavian or German culture either. Each of these cultures understand the importance of creating a home that feels safe and ‘good’. The interior design movements of these cultures reflect this, too.

It extends to the workplace.  Unlike at home where the responsibility for hospitality falls on the host or hostess, at work everyone is expected to contribute to fika. In Dutch culture if it is your birthday, you are expected to bring sweets for everyone. I would be interested in knowing if that is also part of the fika  tradition.  Pausing regularly and talking…koffeekletzen… contributes to healthier relationships between family members, friends, and colleagues. It shapes a stronger society.

None of my children have settled in their hometown. When I visit my oldest daughter, I stay at least for overnight. When my son-in-law comes home from work, everyone gathers for coffee time. My daughter usually has delicious cake or treats because Gramma is visiting but I expect there is something sweet most days. The memory of these fika breaks in their home are cherished as I return back to my own busy routine at home. Here in Canada where people line up at the Tim Hortons drive-thru to carry their coffee into work, we are missing out on a tradition that helps to strengthen the fabric of family and society. Perhaps we should all begin to fika everyday!  You will find the best baked goods to go with that coffee here at The European Pantry, and of course, great coffee!

Read Dana Velden’s blog : Do You Fika?  The comments are worth a read, too!

We weren’t Finnish’ed yet!

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Last week we received our first shipment from Viking Foods. Viking is a Toronto based Scandinavian import company. Today and yesterday,  I enjoyed a great sandwich with a Fazer wholegrain organic rye sour dough bun for lunch. Each package contains 4 buns that toast up like English muffins. The flavour is amazing! Yesterday, I tried mayonaise and Black Forest ham. Today I had Cervelaat salami with Jarlsburg cheese, mayo and cucumber.  Both were delicious!

Here are some of the other products we are now stocking:

IMG_4059 IMG_4064Abba sour herring from Sweden….3 types: with carrots & onions; with dill; with Aquavit (Swedish Vodka)

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Matjes Herring…we already had frozen salt herring. Now we have matjes herring tidbits and fillets. Matjes herring is cured in a brine…not as sour as “zurre haring”. We are selling the fillets by the piece. The pail has already been “cracked open” and I expect those fillets are already history!  We also have Anchovies/Sprats.

Smoked Cod livers    IMG_4070

IMG_4054Felix Lingonberries

Oululainen Sour Rye Crispbreads  IMG_4045

IMG_4057 IMG_4056Fish seasoning and spices for Swedish Meatballs

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Finnish Sweet and Salt Licorice

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Fazer Filled Chocolates & Salmiak filled chocolate bars

IMG_4063  Anijs candies.

And Smoker pouches for in your BBQ or over your campfire. IMG_4055  Come in and tell us about your favourite Scandinavian food!

Balkan Chili

IMG_4030We tend to associate chili with TexMex but beans are equally at home in other cultures. Essentially chili is a bean stew. Balcan ingredients lend themselves to great chili….hot or mild.

Chili is a great dish for novice cooks.  Ingredients are basic: beans, veggies, seasonings and optional meat.

IMG_4042Beans: I avoid the typical kidney beans because there are other beans that are so much easier to digest.  I use romano beans or Dutch “Bruinebonen” which both have soft skins but fill the spoon like kidney beans.

Veggies:  Tomatoes are a must but onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms, kernel corn, celery, or any combination are all okay. I cut my veggies in big chunks and saute them before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.IMG_4041 My secret ingredient is “Zacusca”. This is a Balcan relish made from baked eggplant, onions peppers and tomatos. I sometimes “cheat” and throw in a small jar of chunky salsa. In our family that means mild salsa but like everything in chili, that’s negotiable!

Seasonings: Most people usually reach for chili powder. Nothing wrong with that but there are many other options, too.  If you want a Balkan chili then Hungarian paprika should be your ‘go to’ choice.  Hungarian paprika comes sweet or hot.  IMG_4039What I love about the sweet is that you can really up the flavour without going too hot. Then you can add some hot paprika for just the right amount of heat.  The most important thing to know here is that not all Hungarian paprikas are equal.  Most grocery store grade lacks in freshness.  Here at the European Pantry we put a few packages on the shelf and the rest is kept in a fridge for optimum flavour. You can tell the difference just by smelling it. You can also boost flavour by using paprika paste: Piros Arany or goulash creme: GulyaskremCsipos mean HOT. Csemege means sweet…not sweet as in sugary. Just not hotIMG_4044

IMG_4043Do some like it hot in your household and others mild? Make your chili on the mild side and then put hot pepper condiment on the table. Eros Pista is a ground hot pepper condiment from Hungary.  Edes Anna is the milder form.

Meat:  Chili can be a great vegetarian meal. Serve it with a wholegrain bread and you will have a full protein.  If someone is going to ask: Where”s The Meat? you have a number of options.  You can saute ground meat with your veggies or you can use stewing meat. This is the ingredient that benefits from slow cooking for tenderness and full flavour absorption. But you can also use leftover meat and then chili can be a quick after work throw together meal. Nevertheless, a few hours at least in a slow cooker melds the flavours.

It’s hard to go wrong with chili but here are a few hints that will guarantee success.

  • If you are using fresh tomatoes be sure to simmer them for a while to evaporate some of the moisture.  I love using fresh garden ingredients but canned tomato chunks are a real timesaver on this step.
  • If your chili is too watery, add some tomato paste…or thicken it with some cornstarch.  Remember though you have to dissolve your cornstarch into fluid  before adding it to the hot ingredients.  Take a bit of the fluid out, let it stand to cool or add just a bit of cold water.  Two tablespoons of cornstarch will thicken a cup of fluid to gravy style consistency. The actual fluid in your chili mightn’t  actually measure to very much so  add any thickener incrementally.
  • If you don’t have a slow cooker make sure you don’t simmer your chili on too high a temperature…you don’t want your chunky ingredients to become mush. If it is cooler weather, slip your dish into a 200 degree oven for several hours to let the flavours mingle and blend.

Add a fresh salad, buns or bread and you can pretend you are eating on the slopes of the Mecsek mountains!

Wild Twist of Taste

IMG_3986Thanks to some birds years ago, our garden has a patch of wild raspberries. We also let mint grow wild among the other plants.

IMG_3990Being able to just go into the yard and forage for fresh produce is an inexpensive luxury at this time of year. Mint and blackberries might not seem like a logical pairing but the freshness of the mint coupled with the heady tartness of the berries is a winning combination. IMG_3994  We binge on french vanilla ice cream and berries during these short weeks as long as the berries last.  Tonight I sprinkled the ice cream with small nips of mint.  I think my guy thought it strange to find green leaf flecks in his frozen dessert but there weren’t any complaints.

IMG_3999 The berry season will soon be past but we can enjoy this flavour pairing during the rest of the year. A drizzle of Hungarian Piroska fruit syrup and some store bought mint will bring the summer sun at any time of year.SAM_1970