The popularity of olive oil in the USA has risen dramatically over the last decade. Unfortunately, the growing demand has resulted in increasingly deceptive marketing and labeling of olive oil products, an attempt to willfully mislead customers who will often pay premium prices for inferior products sold as extra virgin olive oil. Buyer beware, because many—if not most—of these oils are not what they claim.

A few facts about extra virgin olive oil fraud:

  •  Many horror stories describe elaborate bait-and-switch scenarios involving soybean oil or common vegetable oil masquerading as olive oil, but such incidents are rare.
  • The fraud you are more likely to encounter in your grocery aisle involves the blending of high and low quality olives for sale as extra virgin olive oil. This common trick involves refining low quality olive oil through heating to remove odor and impurity, and mixing the result with extra virgin olive oil to impart the flavor of better olive oil.
  • Labels may prominently display that the oil is “packed in Italy.” Information on the origin of the olives, however, will be hidden in small text or omitted entirely. This is likely because the olive oil has been imported from another country and only bottled in Italy.

Genuine extra virgin olive oil is collected from the first pressing of ripe olives for the freshest possible oil.

To ensure your olive oil is the real deal, follow these tips:

  • Always check the ingredients. If refined olive oil is listed, the product is not authentic extra virgin olive oil.
  • A quality olive oil will proudly detail its origin—the location of the mill where the olives were pressed and the grove from which they were harvested.
  • Look for a harvest date on the bottle. Olive oil degrades over time, and fresher oil will be better, more flavorful oil.
  • Look for the DOP seal, designating a Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Domain of Origin). This certifies that the olives were grown, harvested and pressed in the same region.


Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For our part, Manhattan Fruitier sources our extra virgin olive oil from Villa Cappelli. Their oil is a DOP certified product of the Appia Traiana region of southern Italy, unrefined, unfiltered and brimming with flavor. It’s the real deal.

 mediterranean hamper with extra virgin olive oil Mediterranean Diet hamper featuring Villa Cappelli’s authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

To learn more about extra virgin olive oil, its health benefits, and how to pick a quality bottle, we recommend Tom Mueller’s website Truth in Olive Oil. A presto!

Meet Our Maker of the Month: Justin Rashid of American Spoon

american_spoon_2 American Spoon has been making delicious fruit preserves since 1982, born of a partnership between Justin Rashid in Michigan and Chef Larry Forgione of An American Place and River Café in New York City. Mr. Rashid would forage wild mushroom, nuts and berries for Chef Forgione to use in his dishes, a role that soon transitioned into developing fantastic and flavorful preserves. The company name comes from the initial line of strawberry preserves, which were better served by spoon than knife. Since then, American Spoon has continued to thrive, with an ever-expanding line of spoon fruit, salsas, marinades and other delectables. Mr. Rashid and his business keep their focus squarely on the quality of the fruit, sourced from the farms and wilds of northern Michigan. You can taste their attention and care in every spoonful. Justin was kind enough to speak to us about American Spoon’s past, present and future.

What inspired you to found American Spoon?

Justin Rashid:I had been sending Chef Forgione lots of fresh wild blackberries and wild blueberries and it got to be more than he could use. Larry flew into Pellston airport one late summer day in 1980 and I drove him down to Traverse City. He was enjoying the scenery and asked, “What are all these trees we’ve been passing, growing in perfect rows?” “Well,” I said, “those are fruit trees—cherry orchards mostly.” I found myself explaining that we were on a peninsula, and the effect of the proximity of Lake Michigan to the west creates one of the most superb micro-climates for fruit cultivation in the entire world. Cherries, apples, pears, apricots, peaches and plums all thrived here. And the very next thing he asked was, “Can you make preserves—you know, jam?” He said The River Café did a great weekend brunch business and he’d been looking for excellent American fruit preserves and there just weren’t any. Well, we were both 28 and completely ignorant of the realities of commercial food processing, and so of course I said, “Sure—you send me a recipe, and I’ll find the best fruits and we’ll make jam.” And that’s how we set out to make the best preserved fruits in America from Michigan fruits. When Larry got back to New York he dictated a recipe for Strawberry Preserves that I scribbled onto the back of a bag. By the next June, using $20,000 in borrowed funds from each of us, I had moved two copper kettles with long wooden paddles and a manual filling machine into the rented basement of Kilwin’s Candy Store on Howard Street in Petoskey.

Any funny stories from those early days? We spent our first summer, 1982, cooking preserves in the basement of Kilwin’s. The fragrances of simmering Early Glow Strawberries, Raspberries and Red Haven Peaches wafted out of a vent onto the sidewalk and down the street on the Lake Michigan breezes. But because we were invisible down there, pedestrians savored those vapors and turned directly into Jesperson’s Restaurant, where pie sales tripled that summer, while we didn’t sell a single jar. By the next summer we had moved our kitchen into our flagship store location on Lake Street. People could actually see where those delicious smells were coming from (and then taste and buy our preserves as well). american_spoon_3 What attracted you to northern Michigan initially? I spent all my childhood summers from the age of five here and I could never get it out of my head. I guess you might say that it had become the inner landscape that I returned to in memory, until, at the age of 25, I came back to stay.

What do you think sets your business apart? How deeply we are rooted in our particular place: The Northern Fruitlands of Michigan. I don’t believe that American Spoon could have happened anywhere else. We are devoted to capturing and preserving our region’s fruits in authentically delicious products that cannot be found anywhere else. So we go to great lengths that most companies simply cannot or will not go to in order to accomplish this. We have at least a hundred local foragers who bring wild blackberries, wild elderberries and thimbleberries to our kitchen. We devote many weeks of our summer to hand-pitting apricots, paring pears and hand peeling peaches. I don’t believe there is another company that hand processes local fruits at the scale that we do. We believe that we earn the right to exist by preserving as much true flavor as we possibly can in every jar.

How much of your produce comes from foraging in the wild?

Five to ten thousand pounds, depending on the year.

strawberry harvest gary bardenhagen farm leelauna county

What sort of relationship do you have with the growers and farmers who supply American Spoon?

They are long term relationships of great mutual respect and interdependence that must endure through good times and bad, through bumper crops and disasters. They wouldn’t last if they were simply based on price; they have to be built on trust. So we happily pay much more than processor prices because we know we are obtaining something of unique value that has been grown with a real commitment to a demanding, but rewarding lifestyle.

Could you describe the process of preserving fresh fruit?

It varies widely for every fruit, but we adhere to some general principles. First we find a wonderful fruit with flavor, texture and aroma worth preserving (we can’t preserve what isn’t already there and nothing improves in the kettle). Then we work to find the best way to capture the aesthetic characteristics that make that particular fruit so wonderful. How ripe should this fruit be? Should some of the peel be left on?  How large should the chunks or slices of fruit be?  If they are berries, should they be left whole? Does the fruit require additional pectin to gel? Does the fruit require acidification and if so, what is the best acidifier to use? Lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice or another fruit? Does this fruit stand on its own or should we pair it with a contrasting or complementary fruit or spice? And, perhaps most critically: what is the ideal sweetness level and fruit-to-sugar ratio and how much reduction time in the kettle will achieve the best result? We are trying to capture as much authentic fruit flavor, texture, color and aroma in the jar as is possible. Sometimes this requires maceration and multiple steps or stages, and at other times it can be a remarkably fast process.

How much experimentation goes into developing new products?

Usually you have to invest quite a bit in order to achieve something special. I think our record is our Cherry Peach Salsa at forty three test batches.  Our Culinary Director, Chef Chris Dettmer, spends most of his time in the test kitchen engaged in product development and has quite a remarkable streak of winners. We have gotten much better at this process over the years. Creating something new is a great deal of work, but it is the most enjoyable work we do.

Do you have any upcoming items that you’re particularly excited about?

In addition to a wonderful quince and a crabapple jelly, we are working on several new pickled vegetable products that are very promising.

What is a good day at American Spoon?

A day when the system of connections or relationships that have been developed over three decades, with our growers and foragers, our customers and our people here at American Spoon is alive with activity. On those days, you can feel that that new connections are being made, the work is fun and the future is bright.

Who do you look to for inspiration in your career?

Wendell Berry, beginning with his book, The Unsettling of America, has long been a source of inspiration for me. Jerry Oleson, the local grocer who made his own pickles in his backroom and who started a buffalo herd here in the 1950’s in an attempt to save buffalo from extinction, was a friend and mentor. He didn’t separate his workday from his lifestyle, and his enthusiasm was contagious. I find that I am inspired by the stories of innovators, like Stanley Johnston who spent decades cross-pollinating fruit varieties here in Michigan from the 1920’s through the 1940’s and ended up developing the most delicious peach varieties in the world. He is also the person responsible for convincing Michigan farmers that they could grow cultivars of wild blueberries back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Michigan now grows more cultivated blueberries than any other state.

How was 2013 for American Spoon?

It was a year of astounding abundance following a year of unprecedented scarcity. Having lots of beautiful fruit, especially the stone fruits like Red Haven Peaches, Harlayne Apricots, Damson Plums and Montmorency Cherries available again made a huge difference for us. Our biggest problem was that there were not enough hours in August and September to preserve it all. And we launched some wonderful new products that our customers love like Chili Jam and Valiant Grape Jelly.

What are your goals for 2014?

Our hopes for 2014 are to finally see a large enough yield from the small quince orchard that my friend, Gene Garth, is growing for us, to actually launch a new quince product! We are also hoping to have enough wild blueberries from local foragers following the Duck Lake fire in the Upper Peninsula to do something special with those as well. We will continue to work with a growing number of local farms to supply us with more chili peppers, heirloom varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables that will be incorporated into our conserves, relishes and salsas. IMG_5253 You can find American Spoon’s Red Haven Peach Preserves in our Early Bird Breakfast Basket and customize any gift with a jar of their Early Glow Strawberry Preserves. Spoon not included.

Meet Our Maker of the Month: Madeline Lanciani of Duane Park Patisserie

Madeline Lancian outside of Duane Park Patisserie

Madeline Lanciani is the owner of Duane Park Patisserie, a trusted vendor to Manhattan Fruitier for over two decades. Madeline is a world-renowned pâtissière whose artistic vision and mastery of French technique has produced decadent and delicious treats that we proudly feature in our gifts. Gilded-chocolate cake, walnut brownies and handmade dipped-white chocolate occasion cookies are just a few of the sublime creations she makes for us. 

Madeline has had a storied career in the NYC food world, being a trailblazer and pioneer from the get-go. She was the first female chef ever hired at the Plaza Hotel – one gutsy young woman in a kitchen of 99 men. After much success in the culinary world, Madeline’s pioneering spirit brought her downtown to a quiet, industrial side street in what was then an unpolished Tribeca to raise her family and start a new career in the pastry world. Her business, Duane Park Patisserie, has flourished over the years and she is now considered among the finest pastry chefs in the country. While she has had many opportunities to expand beyond Tribeca, she has instead chosen to focus on perfecting her craft in her space on Duane Street. She is a vital part of Tribeca and NYC, nurturing her dedicated staff, clientele and neighbors with her astonishing desserts every day.

We at Manhattan Fruitier value our long time relationship with Madeline and the mountains of exquisite desserts that have graced our gifts for so many years. We thought it was about time to get to know her better and introduce her to our Manhattan Fruitier community.

Last week, Madeline graciously opened her door to us and invited us in for a behind the scenes tour of her busy, bustling patisserie while she shared her thoughts on her history and business.

Black Lacquer Cake - Duane Park Patisserie  Working on a Halloween cake. The client requested it look like black lacquer.

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Charlito’s Way: Meet the Maker Behind Artisanal Charcuterie Company Charlito’s Cocina

It’s always a pleasure collaborating with producers who are as wonderful as the foods they create.

Charlito's Cocina Rooftop

 Charles “Charlito” Wekselbaum on the roof of Manhattan Fruitier, also home to Charlito’s Cocina.

Charles “Charlito” Wekselbaum, owner of Charlito’s Cocina in Long Island City is one of our favorites for just that reason. Charlito says “he’s just a guy that loves salami.” His easy-going, humble nature belies the incredible taste, purity and skill that goes into his cured pork creations.

We at Manhattan Fruitier love salami too, so last week we created a line of salumi gifts that we’re hog wild over, featuring Charlito’s phenomenal scratch-made charcuterie. Continue reading

When is a Berry Not a Berry?… When It’s a Straw-berry!

Strawberries in season summer - June - August

Strawberry season extends from June to mid-August and now that summer has hit its peak, it’s fun to share the sheer uniqueness of one of the world’s favorite fruits. The beautiful, fragrant and healthy strawberry is more unusual than you would think.

Unlike true berries, like blueberries and cranberries that hide their seeds inside, the strawberry is the only fruit in the world that shows its seeds on the outside.  These little yellow ‘seeds’, about 200 of which adorn one strawberry, are actually separate tiny fruits themselves and known as “achenes” (ah-keens). The achenes contain the actual seed of the strawberry and they’re packed with bountiful nutrition and antioxidants.

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