THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods

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TRENDS: Continued Growth For Craft Beer

Craft Beer
A trio of craft beers from New York State that “competed” in our Super Bowl beer tasting (New York versus New England).
  This Bud’s not for you, if you’re one of the millions of Americans with a finer palate for craft beer, represented by the bottles at the right—all of which are proudly brewed in our home state of New York. (Brooklyn Brewery, which has quite a few exciting brews—of which the lager shown is the everyday basic—is one of our favorites.) The craft beer market again grew by double digits in 2007, leading all other segments in the beer category. The Brewers Association reports that estimated sales by independent craft brewers were up 16% in dollars (12% percent in volume). While craft brewers’ share of the total beer category is just 5.9% of sales and 3.8% of volume, In 2007, the U.S. had 1,449 total breweries in operation, of which 1,406 comprise small, independent, and traditional craft brewers. The other 43 are industry giants— Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser, Miller), Molson Coors, Pabst (also owns Schlitz) and regional brewers like Ballantine of New Jersey, Rheingold of New York, Stroh of Michigan, Stroud of Pennsylvania and Narraganset of Rhode Island.
Since 2004, dollar sales by craft brewers have more than doubled: they’ve increased by 58%, according to the Brewers Association. This correlates with the trend of buying local products, plus a preference for higher-quality, more flavorful specialty foods and beers. While craft brew quaffers are very familiar with labels like Anchor Steam, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island, Harpoon and others carried by stores that can carry upwards of 100 craft brands, nearly 70% of craft breweries are brewpubs that make and sell most or all of their beer on-premises. Read more about beer in the Beer Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Mulled Wine Day

Mulled Wine Recipe
[1] A cinnamon stick for garnish is optional. Here’s a recipe from Gimme Some Oven (photo © Gimme Some Oven).

Mulled Wine
[2] We drink mulled wine from glass mugs (photo © Bodum).

If you have stemmed glasses, now’s the time to bring them out (photo © Edward Howell | Unsplash).

Mulled wine with dried fruit (photo © Nastasya Day | Pexels).


You’ve heard of mulled wine, you say, but you don’t really know what it is? You’re not alone. So we’ll take a moment on National Mulled Wine Day, March 3rd, to give you some information to mull over, as well as mulled winerecipes for mulled wine and its Scandinavian cousin, glögg (pronounced glugg—add Aquavit or vodka along with the brandy, plus almonds and raisins).

The basics: Take a dry red wine and add water, brandy, spices, and some sugar or honey. Simmer on the stove top (read the recipe) and serve in mugs. But check out the recipes.

Glass mugs are preferable, since, as with any wine, one likes to enjoy the color of the beverage. But any mug will do.

If you’re going to buy glass mugs, we love the double-walled Bistro series from Bodum—photo #3).

They’re beautiful, keep the beverage hot longer and don’t require a coaster because the double wall keeps the heat and moisture raised above your tabletop.

For those who don’t drink alcohol (or for the kids), there’s also a recipe for mulled apple cider.

The word “mull,” referring to sweetening, spicing and heating of wine or ale, has been traced back to 1610 or so.

Wine and ale often went bad. By adding spices and honey (sugar was not widely available for another two centuries), it could be made drinkable again.

Almost every European country has its version of mulled wine. Even the wine-snooty French make vin chaud (hot wine).

Today, it’s enjoyed as a comforting drink in chilly weather; not to cover up bad booze. Although if you think a bottle of wine is past its prime, go for it!

The spicy-sweet aroma of the mulling wine will fill your home—it’s the beverage equivalent of baking cookies.

You can buy premixed mulling spices in a specialty food store or spice shop (or even in some supermarkets); or you can measure out a little allspice, some dried orange rind (a.k.a. orange peel) and a few whole cloves into a muslin pouch or spice ball.

Add peppercorns if you’re into pepper, and star anise if you have it; and throw a few cinnamon sticks into the brew.

Centuries ago in Old England, the Anglo-Saxon peoples would toast with the expression waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health.”

The tradition was that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled family, workers and guests with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health.”

In return, the people would respond would reply drink hael, “drink well.”

Thus, like our modern toasts on New Year’s Eve, the new year’s celebrations would begin.

Such celebrations are believed to have begun many years before Christianity began to spread throughout Britain (from around 600 C.E. [source]).

While the recipe varied by region, the wassail drink—typically served from a punch bowl, the wassail bowl—consisted of warmed ale, cider or wine, blended with spices (cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) and topped with slices of toast (think very large croutons).

Since this was long before the availability of sugar, honey was used as a sweetener; and and perhaps an egg or two for a rich, creamy texture.

The tradition evolved to go wassailing began with the Anglo-Saxons in the countryside, where groups visited the orchards and blessed the trees.

Later, urban wassailing evolved into groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, singing traditional songs. This evolved into what we call caroling.

Wassailing generally take places on Twelfth Night, January 5th. However, some people still celebrate it on “Old Twelvey,” January 17th—the original date before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.




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GOURMET GIVEAWAY: Win Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter Chip CookiesLearn about peanut butter, and maybe you’ll win these chocolate peanut butter chip cookies from Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies.   Are you nuts for peanut butter? Or do you simply love chocolate chip cookies? Take the Peanut Butter Trivia Quiz in THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet Giveaway this week, and you may win a prize of two dozen luscious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies from Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies (we reviewed these cookies last year and ate every last crumb—they’re also kosher-certified). Just answer four fun trivia questions about peanut butter—you don’t even have to answer them correctly. Everyone who enters has an equal chance of winning. Take the quiz, from March 3rd through March 9th for the prize, or anytime for fun. You’ll learn great factoids and will be able to impress your friends that you know where it was invented, by whom, and why.
Learn more about peanut butter in the Jam, Jelly & Peanut Butter Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TIP OF THE DAY: Buy Artisan Hams

The Chinese may have been the first to cure hams—or it might have been the ancient Egyptians. Whoever deserves the credit, thousands of years after the fact, we tasted dozens of hams to select a few that deserve the honor of gracing your table. See our favorites in the our review of the best hams in America. The comedian Steven Wright commented, “When you buy a cured ham, do you even wonder what it had?” We found an enormous difference between supermarket hams and artisan hams, which deliver rich meat flavor with much less salt. That said, quite a few of the hams in our tasting that arrived from artisan producers still needed to be “cured” of excessive saltiness, which purchasers tend to counteract by coating and baking them with sweet toppings! Why? We don’t need that excess salt or the sugar.   Kurobuta ham
Kurobuta ham, Japanese black hog, which originated in Berkshire, England, was purportedly discovered by Oliver Cromwell’s troops, and is now one of the best hams available in America, if not the best. It’s produced in Iowa. What a voyage!
Many mass-produced hams are cured simply by injecting them with brine. An artisan ham is immersed in brine or dry-rubbed with spices, then lightly smoked and aged. The quality of the pig is far superior, as well. Baked ham is a traditional Easter dish. This Easter, kick up your tradition by serving the most delicious artisan ham you can find. Read more about our favorite pork products—and find some gourmet ham glaze recipes—in the Pork, Ham & Bacon Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine. You can also take our Ham Trivia Quiz.

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TIP OF THE DAY: Peanut Pairing

Peanuts Beer
Not every type of peanut goes well with beer.


March is National Peanut Month. People (and bars) commonly serve goobers with beer; the idea behind giving them away at bars is that salty peanuts make you thirstier for more beer.

But there’s an art to pairing peanuts with libations:

  • German Hefe-Weizen beers, with their scent of roasted hops and wheat, echo the same notes in peanuts. A perfect match!
  • Sherry is known for its nutty qualities, so serve roasted peanuts with a sherry aperitif.
  • Honey-roasted peanuts match better with a fruity wine.
  • Hot chili peanuts also beg for a wine with residual sugar to offset the heat of the chiles.
    Visit the Snacks Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine to find our favorite gourmet peanuts.




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