With the abundance of mass produced foods and industrialized lot-fed meats, it’s hard for many Americans to understand that how food is grown greatly affects its flavor.
At a gourmet market I used to work at in Chicago we sold a cow’s milk cheese with a delicate garlic flavor. The garlic wasn’t added to the cheese, the flavor was already in the milk. I was told by the distributor, European Imports in Chicago, that an English dairy farmer’s cows had gotten into a patch of wild garlic, thereby tainting their milk. Making lemons into lemonade the farmer turned the seemingly useless milk into garlic cheese.
Prosciutto Di Parma is a perfect example of how a specific diet can create a distinctive flavor. Pigs raised in Parma, Italy are fed chestnuts and the whey that remains from the production of Parmesan cheese, giving the meat a velvety texture and a rich, sweet-salty fragrance and flavor. Fox and Obel on Chicago’s Near North Side and Bari Foods in the West Loop are two excellent places to pick up Prosciutto Di Parma sliced paper thin.
Honey flavor can differ greatly depending on what the bees pollinate. The colors and flavors can vary from the light, golden color and mild flavor of clover honey to the robust flavor of buckwheat honey. The Chicago Honey Co-op has over 100 hives on its North Lawndale bee farm. The variety of nectar sources from flowers planted in Garfield Park to the local clover, basswood, and goldenrod gives their honey complex flavors that are unique Chicago. This honey can be purchased at local Chicago Farmer’s Markets. And not to be outdone, the rooftop of the downtown Chicago Marriott is also abuzz with bees. The honey is used for the hotel’s own house-made honey wheat beer.