Charcuteria The Soul of Spain

One of my favorite perks of being a blogger is receiving new cookbooks to review. I always learn something from them, while adding new and wonderful recipes to my repertoire. Jeffrey Weiss has not only written a cookbook filled with tempting Spanish recipes; he has written a text book on the art of curing meat and fish. It is a food history of Spain. Between the beautifully photographed front and back covers are pages of wonderful stories about the age old traditions that live on in modern Spanish practices. Rituals are followed like a religion. From the way the pigs are slaughtered to butchering to sausage making everything is explained in great detail. Nothing is left out, including the banter between the newbie and the age worn artisans. Charts, percentages, proportions, diagrams and cartoons all make this tome delightful and insightful reading.

Charcuterie is the centuries-old culinary art of butchery and preservation. While most of the world’s focus has been on France and Italy, Spain has long-held traditions that not many know about. Charcutería: The Soul of Spain (Agate Publishing; March 2014; $39.95) by Jeffrey Weiss, is a detailed exploration of the traditional preservation and butchery techniques from a region of the world steeped in rich culinary traditions, complete with over 100 mouth-watering recipes. This book has reaffirmed my thoughts on making things by hand. Somewhere along the way in our industrialized civilization we have lost sight of the thrill of producing small batches of fresh food by hand. Far too many home cooks reach for canned or prepared frozen foods that have little flavor and even less nutritional value. That is not to say that I have no canned goods in my pantry. But I keep them to a minimum, purchasing only canned San Marzano tomatoes, coconut milk, hoisin sauce, Asian fish sauce and beans. Items that would take far too long to produce by hand on a daily basis. And only those items whose quality is not compromised.

For quite a while I have been contemplating sausage making. So this wonderful volume has given me the knowledge, technique and background to be able to make my own charcuterie. Jeffrey has even given instructions on building curing and drying cabinets that are simple and inexpensive. But even if you didn’t want to make your own sausages or cure your own meat or fish there are recipes galore where you could substitute great quality purchased items. This would certainly make the time span much shorter from start to finish. If you are looking for an in depth book on the art of charcuterie I most highly recommend Jeffrey Weiss’ new cookbook Charcuteria The Soul of Spain!

Costillas de la Matanza (Matanza Ribs)
Yields 2
While cooking in Spain, I noticed culinary philosophical differences between Americans and Spaniards when it comes to grilling. While Americans slather their smoked ribs in barbecue sauce, the Spanish like to let the flavor of their meat doing the talking, especially when Ibérico pigs are the meat in question. I’m guessing the difference is explained by our history of smoked barbecue meats and the world of sauces and condiments that complement them, contrasted with the Spaniard’s heritage of acorny Ibérico fat, and letting its subtle flavor come through. The Spanish accent this natural flavor only lightly, with ingredients like herbs and spices. This recipe, from the sabias of Extremadura, demonstrates the Spanish penchant for soft flavors like lemon and cinnamon that are found in everything from flans and ice creams to meat and other savory recipes. For those who must have sauce, I’m including a killer glaze that we prepared while the ribs were cooking. The acid in the sauce helps cut the richness of the confited meat.
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Per 2 racks of ribs
2 ounces (50 g) kosher salt
2 tablespoons (20 g) freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon (12 g) granulated sugar
3 dried bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons (4 g) ground cinnamon
½ cup (100 ml) Oloroso sherry
Rinds of 4 lemons, each removed in 1 strip
3 sticks cinnamon
5 cloves garlic, smashed
3 whole fresh bay leaves
Rendered pork fat, to cover
½ cup (100 ml) Pedro Ximénez (PX) sherry*
1 cup (200 ml) Peddro Ximénez sherry vinegar
*this type of sherry (and vinegar) is made from Pedro Ximénez white grapes. The varietal yields an intensely sweet dessert wine.
1. In a large baking dish, combine the salt, black pepper, sugar, crumbled bay leaves, and ground cinnamon, creating a cure.
2. Place the ribs in the baking dish and toss them with the cure, coating them evenly. Sprinkle with the Oloroso sherry. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°c).
4. Remove the ribs from the cure. Rinse well and pat dry with paper towels. Place the ribs in a large Dutch oven with the lemon rind, cinnamon sticks, garlic, and whole bay leaves. Cover with the rendered pork fat.
5. Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and bring the fat to a bare simmer. Remove from the heat.
6. Cover and place in the oven for 2 hours, until the ribs are fork tender and the bones pull easily away from the meat. Remove from the oven.
7. Allow the ribs to cool to room temperature in the Dutch oven, and then place in the refrigerator to chill in the confit overnight.
8. In a small saucepan over medium–high heat, combine the PX sherry and the PX sherry vinegar. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the sauce’s volume is reduced to 1/3 cup (80 mL). Remove from the heat and set aside.
9. Light a charcoal grill or heat a broiler on high heat (fair warning: The ribs will splatter a lot in an oven, so use caution!). Remove the ribs from the fat, wiping off any excess. Place the ribs, meat-side down, and cook them for 10 minutes, until cooked through and starting to brown.
10. Glaze the ribs with the sauce on the bone side. Flip them over and glaze the other side. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, until nicely glazed and just charred a little in spots. Remove from the heat and serve.
We ate these ribs right off the grill during the matanzas—finger food at its best! For more civilized affairs, these ribs would make a great main course, especially if you don’t have a smoking rig handy for doing American-style ribs.
Recipe from Charcutería by Jeffrey Weiss. (Agate Publishing; March 2014; $39.95/Hardcover; ISBN-13; 978- 1572841529).

Disclosure: This book was sent to me free of charge to read and review. All of the opinions are 100% my own.

Zakon Wines Perfect for Passover



I would like to share more items for Passover. Here is the background on Zalon Wines for Pesach which include a Petite Syrah that is spice, crisp and floral. These are not the ultra sweet wines from your Bubie and Zeyda’s seders.

Zakon Wines Perfect for Passover

The Maharal compares wine to music, just like Neginah, a song writer’s shoresh haneshama goes into his nigun, a wine maker’s puts his shoresh haneshama into his wine. 

Yossi Zakon is the prime example of a wine maker whose whole soul is put into his wines.  He is one of the oldest orthodox winemakers of today’s modern wine-making world, yet his enthusiasm and youthful focus is glowing today as it was when he made his first homemade wines in 1978. 

Yossi was taught that wine is a drink of prestige and aristocracy, so important that it is given its own bracha.  This weighed heavily on Zakon’s shoulders, with him often wondering how could something as noble as wine be relegated to the syrupy sweet offerings the kosher wine world was associated with.  This was Zakon’s “Aha” moment, when he realized, it didn’t have to be, “I began researching the history of kosher wine and found that there wasn’t much interest in winemaking amongst Jews.  Not many people were aware of what it takes to produce traditional wine.”  Zakon paused and clarified, “and by traditional I mean traditional in the greater wine world, not in the kosher wine world.”  Zakon added, “I was determined to produce a kosher wine that met the standards and quality of wine the way it was meant to be and described in the holy Torah.”

In 1981, Yossi Zakon opened his winery, Joseph Zakon Winery, becoming the youngest person to own a winery bonded and licensed by both New York and by the Federal Government.   “It wasn’t an easy start.” noted Zakon. “Our first wine was an award winning dry Chardonnay; however at that time the kosher consumer’s palette wasn’t accustomed to drinking dry wines, so I sold to mostly non-kosher consumers and restaurants.”  While Zakon was pleased with his wine, he felt as if he let down his community, and dug deeper into what the kosher consumer wanted.  

Zakon talked with anyone who would listen about what they were looking for in a wine, and soon came up with the idea for a lighter, easy-to-drink wine. He started working on the wine featuring concord grapes grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and developed a delicious, naturally sweet low alcohol wine. By using grapes from designated vineyards from the finger lake region, Zakon was able to ensure that sugar and water would not need to be added to the wine like other brands were doing at the time. It was a huge success and the Kesser line of low- alcohol, wines were born.

With the success of the Kesser line, Zakon focused his attention on a new project, developing a lower alcohol dry wine for Passover which he felt was paramount for many consumers who wanted to drink the four cups and fulfill the requirements according to all rabbinical authorities with the highest standards possible.  People liked the lower alcohol Kesser wines, and to his delight, he noticed the taste profiles in the kosher community were changing – people were becoming more familiar with and appreciating less sweet wines! Extremely enthusiastic, Zakon set out to produce a dry lower alcohol wine with the Passover Seder in mind.  He began with a blend from the finest French hybrid grapes available grown exclusively for him in the finger lakes region of New York State.  After crushing, the grapes are put through a unique cold fermentation process which helps retain the distinct nuances and fruity characteristics of the french hybrid grapes and the fermentation is halted at exactly 7%. less then 7% alcohol is not considered wine by the federal government. The new wine was a hit and “Kesser- Eminent Passover wine” has been available ever since.

At this point Zakon had a successful and flourishing brand, but he yearned for more.  He saw there was a revival in the Jewish community for European style wines and returned to his original inspiration, a premium kosher wine on par with any wine available, kosher or not.  His travels brought him to California where he created three new wines under the brand, Joseph Zakon.  The first, a white Muscatini with no carbonation that tastes as if the muscat grapes were just picked off the vine.  The second, the first ever available Red Muscatini which he developed by blending the Muscat grape with the unique flavors of the Black Muscat grape to create a delicious wine bursting with the flavors of berries and  fruity aromas. The third wine in the portfolio is a Petit Syrah a A crisp, semi-dry red wine with a a spicy, floral aroma that wine connoisseurs are appreciating. 

Rounding out Zakon’s wines are a line of wines made with value in mind while not compromising on the high standards of kashrus Zakon’s wines are synonymous with. With this customer in mind, he created the “Farbrengen” label which translates in English to “Joyous Gathering” which Zakon says with a big smile, “at the end of the day is what wine is meant to do, bring people together to enjoy good wine and each other’s company.”  

It’s been a long road traveled, but Zakon wouldn’t have it any other way noting, “Zakon wines are a true extension of nature and they should taste as nature intended.  Wine barrels and other type of vessels are a place to store the wonderful wines. Aging is a continuous natural process that allows the wines to develop the fruity flavors into a complex integral delight one can enjoy with many foods. 

I have always preferred a non-interventionist approach to wine-making. The style that is more common among European and smaller lot producers domestically and abroad focuses on letting the wines become what they are meant to become while at the same time recognizing that changes in approach are necessary, vintage to vintage and varietal to varietal.” Zakon added, “I get to do what I love every day.  I’m truly blessed to be a part of countless Shabbat dinners around the world through my wines.” 

I would like to thank Jay Buchsbaum for this wonderful and educational article on Zakon wines.

A Gluten Free Passover

Gluten Free Matzo

Gluten Free Matzo

The good people at Kedem have asked me to publish this press release to help point out that Passover is the happiest time of the year for people living a Gluten Free lifestyle:

In the gluten free world, the Jewish holiday of Passover has become a treasure trove for consumers looking for new (and seasonally available favorite) gluten free items. Kedem Food Products, the leading all kosher food manufacturer perhaps most widely known for their grape juice (fun fact, Kedem Grape Juice is the 2nd best selling grape juice in the United States and is made in a certified gluten free facility) has not let this annual occurrence go  unnoticed and 5 years ago began introducing products specifically labeled as certified gluten free.  

 “It started with Yehuda Gluten Free Matzo Style Squares, and grew from there” noted Vice President of Sales Harold Weiss.  “The following year we introduced Chef Jeff Nathan Gluten Free Panko Flakes as well as additional varieties of the Gluten Free Matzo Style Squares including one with added fiber.  Fast forward five years, and we have a complete offering of gluten free items under various brands including cereals, candies, cake mixes and ingredients all certified GF and many now available year round.”  Mr. Weiss added, “We haven’t been the only ones to notice this phenomenon either, Whole Foods, has put together the largest Passover program in their history including a large amount of these gluten free items.”

This year, Kedem Foods is excited to introduce a number of new certified gluten free items including Yehuda Gluten Free Chocolate Covered Crackers,  Yehuda Gluten Free Soup Crackers, Crispy-Os Gluten Free Cereal, Kedem Tilapia Gefilte Fish (exclusively available at Whole Foods) and Shefa Sweet Goodies.

For a complete listing of all our gluten free items, please visit and check the “gluten free” tab under products.  Please note, while many of our items happen to be gluten free, only items bearing the “Certified GF” logo on the package are certified to be gluten free.

New Gluten Free Items for 2014

Crispy-O’s Gluten Free Frosted Cereal – This delicious all natural cereal is light and crispy with a touch of sweetness.  A great addition to any breakfast table, also a great for snacking! (Certified GF, Imported from Israel)

Yehuda Gluten Free Chocolate Covered Crackers – The perfect harmony of salty, sweet and crunchy.  We start with our delicious gluten free crackers and cover them in chocolate for delectable flavor combination  (All Natural, Imported from Israel, Certified Gluten Free)

Yehuda Gluten Free Soup Crackers –These tiny soup crackers pack a big crunch.  Perfect for adding to soup or the perfect addition to a salad! (All Natural, Imported from Israel, Certified Gluten Free)

Shefa Sweet Goodies – Whether you’re a kid or kid at heart, this delightfully sweet chocolate with a crunchy center will bring a smile to your face.  Available in  Milk Chocolate, Bittersweet Chocolate, White Chocolate, Milk/White Chocolate (Cholov Yisroel, Imported from Israel, Certified Gluten Free)

About Kedem Food Products 

Created to provide the highest quality kosher foods to a rapidly growing market. Kedem Food Products (KFP) has successfully revolutionized today’s contemporary kosher food and culinary lifestyle. Please direct all press inquiries to Shimon Weinberg at

Food and Fond Memories hopes you have a very Sweet Passover!