Like a lot of bloggers out there, I occasionally get PR offers to receive products to try and potentially review on this site. To be completely honest, I turn down those offers most of the time. They’re always conditional, of course: “…and if you like it, you can share it with your readers….” Before I even try a product, however, I often know whether it is something I’d feel comfortable sharing here. If I know I won’t (because their cross-contamination prevention is sketchy, the product doesn’t align with my personal values in some way, etc.), I politely decline. I only want the best for you guys, and I can’t hawk something I don’t believe in.
Back in July, I received an e-mail from the Philadelphia tourism marketing office, asking if I’d like to try out some products local to the area and, if I find anything I particularly enjoy, pass them along to you. This sounded like something I could get behind. Chris and I try to eat/support local as much as we can, in part because we are aware of the many, many reasons why this is beneficial in the grand scheme, and in part because local ingredients tend to be fresher and better tasting. While Philadelphia isn’t precisely our local, it’s still very close by. Plus, Chris grew up less than an hour out of Philly, where his parents still reside, so there is that connection as well.
And seeing as how this is a gluten-free blog, I was kindly assured that everything they sent would be gluten-free.
When the box arrived from Philly Homegrown, I was pleased with the selection and excited to try the offerings. There were nearly a dozen in all. After much tasting and cooking, I came up with only a handful of items that I would like to recommend to you. Those things that I’m not recommending weren’t necessarily bad, but these are the ones I feel enthusiastic about, the ones I’d specifically seek out myself. I humbly suggest trying them out for yourself as well.
And don’t worry, we ran everything past our in-house quality control before the tasting even began.
Mind Your Own Beeswax Honey
These walnuts and dried cranberries in honey have been a welcome addition to our pantry. The honey has an intense sweetness that is offset by the earthy flavor of the walnuts and a tiny pop of tart from the cranberries. It’s the perfect complement to thick, tangy yogurt first thing in the morning. MYOB also suggests adding it to ice cream, oatmeal, and pancakes–with the weather cooling, you can bet I’ll be stirring a spoonful into my steel cut oats.
Their products can be found year-round at farmer’s markets and craft shows and can also be ordered online. They produce everything from honey to candles to beeswax-based cosmetics. Also, beeswax in bulk. As in beeswax bars. (Is it weird that I sort of want some, just because?) Their cheeky company name is easy enough to remember, and I highly recommend grabbing a jar of their honey should you run across it.
Tait Farm Blueberry Preserves
As a canner myself, I don’t often purchase jams or preserves. Most commercially-produced preserves are far too sweet for my tastes and have too many additives. But these blueberry preserves were far from “commercial,” in the very best of ways. Upon opening the jar, I was pleased to find a gorgeous purple mess of whole blueberries that still tasted of blueberries. Not too sweet, slightly tart, they were perfect for spooning generously atop buttered, brown rice English muffins–and eating straight from the jar. I haven’t been as productive in my canning this year as in years past and would gladly pick up a few more jars to fill out my pantry.
Tait Farm grows their produce using sustainable and organic methods. They offer a wide array of products, many of which are available at select markets and restaurants nationwide. If you aren’t able to make it in to visit the farm and can’t find their products near you, you can also purchase their goods online.
Garces Trading Company Coffee
I may get myself into trouble for admitting this, but this was the summer of cold-brewing for us. Which means, we ground and cold-brewed these beans from Iron Chef Jose Garces. I know that cold-brewing has its detractors, but Chris and I really enjoy the clean, fruity flavors that it produces. Cold-brewed coffee comes out tasting very close to the way the coffee itself smells, and these freshly roasted beans from Chef Garces’ roastery smelled wonderful. The iced coffee that they produced was so flavorful that I’m looking forward to buying another bag of beans and coarsely grinding them for our French press now that we’re out of the sweltering summer heat.
I should also mention that Garces Trading Company’s selection now includes wine and charcuterie, and I’d imagine that the Iron Chef is only stocking the very best. This will definitely be a stop on my itinerary when I visit Philly.
North/South Meatery & Canning Co. Pancetta
Okay, so I’m pretty sure we’ve yet to talk about my love of pancetta–good pancetta. Now is the perfect time. In case you’re unfamiliar, pancetta is the exact same piece of meat as bacon, cut from the luscious, fatty belly of the pig. It’s cured and rolled and differs from bacon in that it’s not smoked. It has a clean, porky flavor, salty and savory, but does not overpower other flavors the way that bacon can. I add it to pasta often, use it as a flavor base for soups, or I render it, roast veggies in the drippings, and top them off with the crispy bits. The possibilities are endless with pancetta.
And this pancetta? This was good pancetta. The flavors were balanced and the texture remained lush and meaty even as it grew crispy. And the way they cut it was perfect; this thick, 1/2-3/4″ cut is exactly how I ask for it at the counter. I used this up quickly and immediately wanted more.
North/South produces several other cured meats, as well as barbecue sauce, pickles, and spice rubs. They’re located in Philadelphia and their products can be found at several markets throughout the city.
The Mushroom Cap Dried Oyster Mushrooms
I’d never heard of Kennett Square prior to receiving this mailing, but it seems I should have. Apparently it’s known as “the mushroom capital of the world” and is responsible for more than 65% of the the country’s mushroom production. My father-in-law responded enthusiastically when I mentioned that Kennett Square mushrooms had been part of the package, and I now know why.
These dried oyster mushrooms from The Mushroom Cap were something special. I’ve worked with dried mushrooms in the past and, after soaking as necessary, have often found myself with something resembling bits of soggy cardboard. Not even a minute after I hit these with a splash of hot water, they started to resemble fresh. The gills went soft and the caps grew supple. Since the mushrooms from this region are such a big deal, I decided to use them in a way that would really let their flavor shine and added them to a very simple risotto. The flavor was shockingly deep and intense. Chris and I were both in awe.
If you head over to In the Kitchen, you’ll see I’ve shared the recipe for this risotto with you. Get your hands on some good-quality dried mushrooms, from Kennett Square if you can, and give it a try–it’s simple and it’s delicious. If you’re interested, The Mushroom Cap has a few items available for online purchase, but I imagine a visit to Pennsylvania to stock up on some ‘shrooms would be well-worth the travel time.
After spending all this time looking back at and describing all of these fabulous items, I’m not only hungry but am seriously thinking I may have to plan a trip and hit up the Philadelphia markets sometime very soon.
Well played, Philly tourism reps. Well played.