The Pickle Guys

Fermentation and pickling are food preservation techniques that form important parts of the food traditions of many global cultures. Different pickling mediums, sometimes infused with spices, are used to extend the lifespans of seasonal, perishable foods.  Pickled foods have historically been used to sustain travelers on long sea voyages, and are a vital functional source of food for families living in remote locations facing harsh winter climates and no access to fresh produce.

There is much folklore and many stories are told about the origins of pickling.  However, archaeologists and anthropologists believe that the oldest known records were from ancient Mesopotamia in around 2400 BC.  The New York Museum of Food have created this fascinating chronological timeline documenting the history of pickles.

Every country and culture has it own regional pickling traditions based on local ingredients and tastes.  Furthermore, with the global movement of people and food, these once local foods have been transformed beyond their functional roots into gourmet, world-famous delicacies.  One such example is the Eastern European tradition of pickling that became synonymous with the Lower East Side of New York City’s borough of Manhattan in the early 20th century.

The influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants settling in the Lower East Side at that time, resulted in food businesses being established that catered to the dietary requirements and tastes of the community.  The area’s demographic has changed a lot in the ensuing years, as the neighbourhood has moved beyond it’s Jewish working class roots and has become increasingly gentrified.  However, there is still evidence of it’s past Jewish food heritage, in the form of Kossar’s BialysKatz’s Delicatessen, Yonah Schimmel, Russ & Daughters and, of course, The Pickle Guys.

The Pickle Guys is the last remaining pickle shop in the Lower East Side.  They sell an exhaustive selection of barrel-aged pickles that range from traditional pickled cucumbers; to more innovative varieties such as okra, carrots, mango and horseradish.  The recipe for their bestselling traditional sour, half-sour and new cucumber pickles hasn’t changed over time and remains the same as it was in 1910: cucumbers, pickle spices, garlic and saltwater.

I spoke to Alan Kaufman, the owner of The Pickle Guys, who told me the story of his business. You can hear the interview by clicking on the play button below.

Riverdel Vegan Cheese

Aside from Union Square Greenmarket, another of my regular New York City foodie pilgrimage trails is the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Some of my favourite regular Grand Street haunts are Kossar’s Bialys and The Pickle Guys.  Also, any visit to this iconic neighbourhood would also be incomplete if I didn’t leisurely browse the gentrified Orchard Street locality, and the ethnically diverse Essex Market.

On my visit to the Lower East Side this summer, I was surprised to find that Essex Market had moved a short distance to a new home on the South East corner of Essex and Delancey Streets. This historic food market has been updated and transformed into a slick, modern airy space and gastronomic food hall. Originally established in 1888, and transitioning to become an indoor market in 1940, Essex Market has changed as time has passed to reflect changes in the community around it. Over the years, the area’s demographic has shifted from being a mixture of Jewish and Italian immigrants, into a much more cosmopolitan one.

The new Essex Market, which opened in May 2019, now hosts an eclectic combination of existing, as well as some new, innovative food companies.  One such business is a purveyor and producer of fine vegan cheeses called Riverdel.

Riverdel was established by Michaela Grob four years ago in Brooklyn.  They are a vegan cheese monger par excellence that stocks a wide range of vegan cheeses made by some of the best, predominantly North American vegan cheese makers.  When I first saw the cheese counter of their stall at Essex Market, my initial reaction was WOW!!! It truly was a sight to behold.

So, what is Vegan Cheese?

To conventional cheese connoisseurs and the uninitiated, the idea of vegan or non-dairy cheese may seem like an oxymoron.  However, aficionados of the gourmet vegan cheese world would define these unique products by the cheese-making techniques and cultures used to ferment and produce them, rather than by the lack of dairy as their base ingredient.

As a fan of vegan cheese, I have borne witness to the evolution, innovation and improving quality of products available in the UK.  Naturally, I was thrilled to find a similar trend being repeated in the USA.

Michaela told me the story of how her passion for vegan cheese inspired her to set up Riverdel.  She also told me about the cashew nut-based cheeses that they produce, and about trends within the vegan cheese industry.  You can hear the interview by clicking on the play button below.

Union Square Grassman

New York City, akin to London, is an exciting metropolis that is one of the food capitals of the world.  One of my favourite foodie experiences in the Big Apple is browsing and buying delicious goodies from the world-famous Union Square Greenmarket.  Established in 1976 with only a few farmers, the original market has expanded and evolved into a 4-days-a-week, all year round, destination market that supplies New Yorkers, chefs, and tourists alike with a wide range of produce from a plethora of local farmers and producers.

On a recent visit to the market, I discovered a market stall run by an urban farm called the Union Square Grassman.  Based in climate-controlled shipping containers in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; Stewart Borowsky founded the Union Square Grassman in 1994. One of the many things that makes Stewart’s story unique is that prior to setting up his urban farm, he worked as a truck driver.  His unconventional farm now grows wheatgrass, and a selection of salad and micro greens.  All of the farm’s crops are grown without the aid of chemicals and fertilizers.

To their regular greenmarket customers, the Union Square Grassman are best known and loved for their vibrant trays of wheatgrass and fresh shots of wheatgrass juice.  Before I met Stewart and learnt about his urban farm, I had only ever had wheatgrass in it’s dried, powdered form in my daily smoothies.  So, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try a fresh shot of juice.

So how did it taste…?  I was surprised by the juice’s intense, complex flavour profile and by it’s unexpected sweetness.  It really was a nutrient-dense taste revelation.

Stewart told me the story of the Union Square Grassman, and about his journey from being a truck driver to becoming an urban farmer.  You can hear the interview by clicking on the play button below.

Aside from the greenness of the Union Square Grassman’s fresh green produce, another colourful feature of their market stall is a bright yellow school bus. Stewart told me how this unlikely vehicle became an irreplaceable part of his business.

Greyston Bakery

Brownies and cookies are two of the most popular kinds of baked goods in the United States and beyond. Both prepackaged and bakery fresh, they fly off store shelves effortlessly, as a daily coffee accompaniment or an occasional indulgent treat.

I recently discovered a bakery with a difference and a purpose, who produce a very special range of these products. Greyston Bakery is a social enterprise who train and employ people who face barriers to traditional employment. These so-called unemployable people can range from people without a high school diploma, to people with a criminal record. Greyston’s motto is: Eat a brownie, change a life.

Since it was established in 1982 in Yonkers, NY; the bakery has evolved and developed into a successful commercial bakery whose products are sold by Whole Foods Markets across the United States. Also, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream uses Greyston’s brownies as it’s signature ingredient.

I spoke to Mindy Srebnik, the Education and Demo Coordinator at Greyston, about her company and the work that they do. You can hear the interview by clicking on the play button below.

 

OmNom Chocolate

Small scale, bean-to-bar chocolate making is a relatively new concept in the chocolate world. The broad definition of the bean-to-bar process is that the chocolate maker controls every step of the chocolate making process, from choosing and purchasing beans from cacao farmers, to creating and crafting their chocolate bars.

Chocolate makers who subscribe to the bean-to-bar model also have a strong ethos of maintaining quality, sustainability, traceability, social responsibility and transparency, as an integral part of their craft. The compelling nature of this kind of ethical, flavourful chocolate, has enticed many curious chocolate lovers to learn about, and become part of the growing global family of chocolate makers.

Chocolate makers can now be found in countries and communities which are not usually associated with high quality chocolate production. One such country is Iceland.

OmNom Chocolate is a small batch, artisan chocolate maker based in Reykjavík, Iceland. It was founded by Kjartan Gíslason and Óskar Þórðarson in 2013. As a chef, Kjartan always had a fascination with making desserts and saw chocolate as being the pinnacle of what desserts are. The seeds were sown, and Kjartan’s learning, experimentation, and journey to becoming a chocolate maker begun.

OmNom now produce a unique range of small batch, single origin chocolate bars and bars made with inclusions. The company’s mission and vision is to be serious chocolate makers who produce bars that are fun and delicious. This statement of intent is reflected in every aspect of their offerings: from their iconic branding, packaging and bar molding, to their flavour combinations and ingredients used. Some of their bars with inclusions have an Icelandic twist and make use of local ingredients, such as: Lakkris + Sea Salt, and Black n’ Burnt Barley.

I spoke to Kjartan about how he got bitten by the chocolate making bug, and about how OmNom has become a multiple award winning chocolate maker. You can hear the interview by clicking on the play button below.