Heat It Up!

As many of you Creamery enthusiasts know, we recently hosted our fifth annual start-of-summer Gelato Kickoff to cool everybody off.  (And a mighty success it was! with scoops of our newly revealed El Mysterioso/El Rustico – unconched, vanilla bean-studded Askinosie chocolate in our vanilla gelato – disappearing down hatches by the dozen.)

But now it’s time to heat things back up.  For the first time on our shelves and in some of our favorite cheeses, we present: harissa from the Mahjoub family of Tunisia.  Harissa is a spicy, red pepper paste mixed with tomatoes, coriander, caraway, garlic and olive oil, and is most commonly found in North Africa.  It is used as a condiment in various dishes, including couscous, tuna, olives, lamb, and vegetables, and is also a central ingredient in the national dish of Tunisia, lablabi, a chickpea stew.  It is a bit smoky, quite spicy, dense, and really tasty, and we are selling both large and small jars of it in the cheese shop.

Now, we thought the harissa itself was a pretty wonderful addition to our dry goods selection.  The Mahjoub business is – like Zingerman’s – very interested in preserving food traditions, using natural ingredients, and seeking delicious flavors.  But then we met the inspiring Majid Mahjoub himself and learned of his great love for harissa blended into – none other than! – fresh cream cheese.  That’s when we really got excited.  We mixed up a trial batch post haste, spread it on crackers, and feasted.  The salted tangy creaminess of the cheese subdues the heat just enough, and provides the perfect platform for the flavors of the harissa to run wild.  According to Majid, there has been no such formal union of fresh, full-flavored, preservative-free cheese and fiery harissa available anywhere until now.  And it is a match to behold!

For our second creation, we tried adding harissa to bocconcini – the miniature-sized mozzarella balls we make fresh every morning.  We called it harissarella, and it’s already become the staff favorite and a runaway hit at the Farmer’s Market.  You can rip off a hunk of Bakehouse Paesano bread and dredge it in harissarella, or use it to top eggs for brunch.  It’s fantastic in pasta, too.  You can’t go wrong.

So crank up the A/C and get a little harissa and fresh cheese in your life… the summer has just begun.

[Notice!  For those who can’t get enough of Tunisian cuisine, we are also carrying the Mahjoubs’ piquant orange marmalade and fig jam, both very nice with our double cream Manchester, flinty Ypsi, or fresh goat’s milk cream cheese.  To learn more about the Mahjoub family, farm, and products – including the extra virgin olive oil they make in their olive grove on a reconstructed Roman stone press – check out www.moulinsmahjoub.com.]