Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Zingerman's Fieldtrip: aka the best foodie day ever

step inside with me......
Way back in mid-November I had a few free days so naturally I headed to Detroit.  Actually, I headed to Bloomfield Hills, a very lovely suburb of Detroit that is home to my best friend, Susan and her family.  Our first full day of visiting we had every intention of going to a TRX class, going to Starbucks and getting out a knitting project.  Instead we were starving after the TRX class and went to lunch instead.  Our waitress suggested blueberry margaritas and the knitting was history.  That was a fun day.

Day two brought about the best foodie day ever as we headed to Ann Arbor to visit Zingerman's and do a little shopping.  We walked in the door to Zingerman's Delicatessen and immediately William, the retail assistant manager (so his card says, but he was more of the choreographer for one heck of a good shopping day) had us hooked up with samples from the bakery and a date with the cheese guy, Charlie.   The first taste of baked goods really was one of those choir of angels moments.  The golden light shone bright around us and we were hooked.  Possibly telling the manager that one thing I have no guilt about spending money on is food was not the best idea.  Or maybe it was a brilliant idea.  Arriving at 10 a.m. was, as it turns out, another stroke of genius.  We had everyone's undivided attention and anything we wanted to taste, no matter if it was on a shelf or on display was fair game.   Cue the choir of angels.  My only regret was leaving my camera at home and only having my Blackberry to document that day of days.

Such was the glory of that day, that it has taken me two months to find the proper time to devote to a blog post that will do it justice.  If you are unfamiliar with Zingerman's go to their website or through your stack of catalogs and then maybe it will ring a bell.  I've dog-eared that catalog for years.  Mouth watering, tummy grumbling, soul-warming reading.  Even better in person.  And not just because there was no shipping fee.  We were blessed with good timing, but since Zingerman's sells a book they authored on customer service, I am guessing most everyone has the same glorious shopping experience Susan and I had.

What was so good about our Zingerman's day?  For starters the deli is housed in a space about twice the size of my kitchen and we spent almost two hours there sampling and buying.  And we didn't even have a glass of wine (it was ten in the morning, after-all and we do have some standards).  Everything was amazingly delicious.  And being shepherded through each department including the adjacent bakery/chocolate shop we tried things we didn't even know we wanted.  A good day of Costco samples, has nothing on a field trip to Zingerman's.  Nothing.

oh my is this addictive

Let's start with baked goods.  I believe I've gone on record already as loving artisan breads.  I'm sorry to say I did not take a picture of the cranberry/pecan loaf before Greg and I devoured it.  More fruit and nuts than bread.  Toast perfection.  I did take a picture of the Olive Oil Cake sign and I still have the label from the cake in my cookbook.  Someday I'm going to master the lush, citrus and almond goodness that is Zingerman's Olive Oil Cake.  I'm pretty sure if I start with the best of all the ingredients listed I can figure it out.  Sounds strange, but it was devoured at the Purdue tailgate that weekend.  You see it was $14.99 so sharing it was very generous of me.  Friends are worth it (and truly, you can only play so much tennis, walk so many miles and do so many ab routines to make up for eating the entire cake instead of just a quarter of it).  I can also enthusiastically recommend the brownies, although I showed restraint and did not purchase them.  I did buy a package of amazing graham crackers.  Of course William gave me a sample and those graham crackers from the grocery in the paper box have very little in common with the Zingerman's gems.  So rich.  So buttery (okay, I buy reduced fat graham crackers so maybe that's not a fair comparison).  So good.  I may even spring for some shipping fees to replace my stock.  One day for a treat I enjoyed the graham crackers with a pumpkin cream cheese spread.  I lost count of the crackers.

have a little cheese


Next we met adorable Charlie and our tour of the Zingerman's world of cheese commenced.  I've not been to Europe, but I imagine the cheese experience in Ann Arbor that day rivaled what I could encounter on The Continent.  We sampled soft cheeses, aged cheeses, hard cheeses, cheddars, munsters and blue cheeses.  Lord.  Who knew all the subtle and bold differences in smell, flavor and texture?  Well, Charlie did and he patiently explained them all to Susan and I.  It worked.  We both left with a nice little selection.  Let me just tell you that the Rogue River blue wrapped in some manor of alcohol soaked leaves redefined the blue cheese genre for me.  Just looked up the Rogue Creamery online to refresh my memory:  those would be grape leaves macerated in pear brandy.   Divine.  

cheese happiness with Charlie


my shopping basket

We sampled salami from two domestic operations and Susan could not tell the difference, but I could and  was not surprised to find the one I preferred was the most expensive.  Susan said she would take some of the cheap one and William, funny man, corrected her that it was not cheap, just less expensive.  Then we engaged him in a little battle of the raspberry jams.  One came home with me and there is enough squirreled away for one more piece of good toast.  More samples, more tasting and more buying before a quick little stop in the bakery/chocolate building.  Added to my cart were a coffee rub for poultry (yet to try), turkish red pepper flakes (zesty and wonderful) and imported dried pasta (heavenly).  

I can't even tell you how many chocolates and salted caramels we sampled.  I believe we were making some coffee-drinking regular customers jealous because they evidently know William and had him bringing samples to their tables after a while.  Susan purchased a bag of other-worldy caramels and I purchased four Zingerman's Zzang candy bars under the guise of shopping for stocking stuffers knowing full well that I might share them with my family (which I did), but also that only Kelly would be even mildly interested.  I also ordered a lemon cloud for my drive home, but I should have gone for a cupcake or something with buttercream or pastry cream instead or in addition.  Life is short (and may be a bit shorter if I keep putting dessert first).   Baked goods are one of my true weaknesses, but I had enjoyed so much food of every kind by this point that I couldn't pull the trigger.  Sad.

seriously, I could just crawl in that case ....

our bigger bags are on the picnic table, don't let this fool you
We could have taken the Tour de Food and earned a t-shirt but we decided to save that for another trip.  I'm quite sure we'll make that happen (Tour de Food is a self-guided tour of Zingerman's Delicatessen, Roadhouse, Bakehouse, Creamery and Coffee operations).  Ann Arbor is just four hours from Indy.  More importantly it's just 40 minutes from Bloomfield Hills.  Sure it's the home of the evil Wolverines, but they are struggling in football and basketball so they are not on the top of my Big Ten hate list.  Even if I was a Buckeye fan (born a buckeye, but not a bucknut, my parents are Purdue grads too), Zingerman's would lure me back to Ann Arbor.  Don't miss it if you are ever in the area.  And if you never will be, look online or get the catalog.  That Olive Oil Cake would make the trip to your house just fine.  

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