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Coming Soon: Valente’s Cucina!

June 11th, 2020 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

We have some very exciting news to share! Valente’s Italian Specialities is growing and transforming into Valente’s Cucina, an intimate, Abruzzo-inspired, sit-down Italian restaurant right here in the heart of historic Haddonfield, New Jersey. 

Our transformation is already underway. As changes are being made, including adding indoor and outdoor seating, we will continue to offer our specialty sandwich menu and our Italian family meals for pick up and delivery. 

A majority of these items will also remain as part of Valente’s Cucina.

When we fully reopen as Valente’s Cucina later this summer, (date to be announced soon!) our guests will experience a fluid atmosphere that changes throughout the course of the day. 

For lunch, Valente’s Cucina will embody the casual, relaxing feel of a traditional Italian neighborhood cafe. Guests can sit at the counter to enjoy a specialty sandwich or sip an espresso with biscotti or another artisan treat handcrafted by our local Haddonfield partner, The Custard Cart.

In the evenings, the experience will be of a warm and intimate Abruzzo-inspired restaurant with a menu of small plates, flat breads and pasta dishes crafted using local, seasonal ingredients, as is a staple of traditional Abruzzese cuisine. 

Psst… have a sneak peek of our evolving menu!

We have also partnered with New Jersey’s Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery to offer their award-winning wines by the bottle at Valente’s (available for purchase now for pickup or delivery), and we will be BYOB. 

Why the name change to Valente’s Cucina? Because the experience is just as important as the food to us. We want you to feel like you are in a family kitchen when you are here. As a part of both the business and residential Haddonfield communities, we want you to feel like you are at home, because this is our home, too.

We can’t wait to welcome you into our new space!

Photo of a picnic spread, courtesy of Unsplash

How to plan a perfect Italian-inspired picnic in South Jersey

May 8th, 2020 Posted by How-To No Comment yet

The weather isn’t the only thing that can spoil a pretty picnic. Bringing the wrong food, not having the right utensils or materials, and picking the wrong time or location can make the experience more exhausting than enjoyable.

It sounds melodramatic, until you’ve done it once or twice and thought, “Why is this so hard?” There’s a reason that spoiled picnics are both an idiom and a common TV trope.

The trouble is probably that we are so spoiled eating indoors, next to a fully equipped kitchen with air conditioning, that we get caught off guard by things like sweaty cheese, or not having napkins.

Fortunately, dining al fresco – or all’aperto, as Italians more commonly say today – has been perfected over the centuries, and modern science and equipment has made it even more enjoyable. Here’s some useful background and basic concepts to help you master eating outdoors.

The origins of picnic culture

From famous paintings, to famous movies, to famous TV shows, we’ve all been indoctrinated with images of what a quintessential picnic looks like: a basket, a blanket, and a smorgasbord of food and drink.

The word picnic stems from the French term “picque-nique,” which originated in the 18th century. It has a complicated history. The modern term only came to mean what we think of today in the 20th century.

As more people concentrated in cities, more people yearned to get out of the city, and the idea of escaping to the countryside became an event. With the invention of cars and public transportation, there was also a new way to travel quickly.

“In a sense the first meal that man ever ate was a picnic. For the essence of picnics is that they use the open air as sauce. But people who live in houses and particularly people who live in paved cities are the people who have kept the custom of the picnic alive,” starts a New York Times article from 1936.

Around that time, you started to see mass-market, specialized picnic baskets produced like the stereotypical ones we think of today – with placeholders for dishes and silverware and glasses and napkins.

The type of food served at American picnics has changed dramatically, and still varies by your preference and location. If you really want to do a deep dive, here is an incredible history of recipes and recommendations for picnics, culled from cookbooks printed between the 1910s and 1950s.

Suffice it to say, food preferences have changed dramatically through the decades, and therefore so have picnic food preferences. Ultimately, the food and drink you choose is probably going to be based on your own preferences, which are probably further based on where you live and where you come from. We are obviously going to take an Italian angle with our recommendations, and hope that you can take away some good ideas for your own.

A simple Italian-inspired picnic menu

We believe there are five quintessential food categories to creating a stellar, easy-to-execute, Italian-style picnic spread: cheeses, cured meats, bread or crackers, fruit, and beverages.

A simple, yet well-planned picnic goes a long way, from selecting foods that will hold up well to the outdoor conditions (both the weather and temperature), to considering reverse packing to make for an easier set up (blanket on top), and making sure to bring along any helpful non-food items, like a wine opener or a knife. 

Below is a breakdown of our recommendations for an Italian-inspired picnic in southern New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia. We’ve also curated picnic bundles for purchase to make your planning even easier.

Cheese

In our opinion, it’s not a picnic without the cheese. The main thing to think about when choosing the right cheeses for your picnic is temperature and texture. You’ll want something that won’t get too sweaty. Hard cheeses are best because they travel well. Given the tougher texture though, you’ll need to either pack a knife or pre-cube it. If you’re packing a knife, then a small chopping board isn’t a bad idea either as it doubles nicely as a shareable serving board.

And if you really want to enjoy the cheese in its full flavor, then you’ll want to make a mental note or set a phone alarm to set it out in the shade about ten minutes to an hour (preferred) before eating it.

We suggest buying a couple of smaller hunks of a few good ones. The main reason is for maximum flavor, but also because you won’t want to take home uneaten, sitting-in-the-sun cheeses.

Our recommendation is Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Both pecorino and parmigiano are hard, crumbly Italian cheeses, but they differ in that pecorino is made from fermented sheep’s milk, while parmigiano is produced from aged cow’s milk. 

They each stand well on their own or served over a hunk of fresh Italian bread and with Italian cured meats. And they both pair nicely with Prosecco as the sharp saltiness and nutty flavors of the cheeses balances well with the light bubbles.

Cured Meats

You can’t go wrong with some Prosciutto and Sopressata. Prosciutto is a thinly-sliced, Italian dry-cured ham and Sopressata is an Italian dry, coarse salami. Both pair nicely with the cheeses listed above. Again, you may need to bring along a knife depending on your selection and prep.

Bread or Crackers

We recommend grabbing a fresh baked loaf of Italian bread or focaccia or bringing some crackers. You can either tear off hunks of the bread as you eat it, or pre-slice it. If you’re bringing crackers, we recommend something unflavored to allow the cheeses and meats to really shine, like a stack of classic Panzanella crackers, a thin, artisan Italian cracker with crispy golden bubbles, which we serve on our pre-made cheese boards.

Fruits

Soft fruits like berries don’t travel very well, so we recommend going for whole or dried fruits. Whole apples and pears are really nice choices. If you’d rather have sliced fruit, bring a knife. If you’re going the dried fruit route, try dried apricots or figs, or even a spread.

Beverages

What’s an Italian picnic without the wine. Like with the cheeses, it’s a good idea to prep the wine before you pour it by chilling it with ice, or at least sitting it in the shade. There are many very good wineries right here in the Garden State, and we wholeheartedly suggest supporting them. (As we post this, during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, many are providing safe curbside pickup options.)

We recommend grabbing a bottle of Auburn Road Vineyards’ Blanc Nu 2018, described as a “refreshing bright white wine with enticing aromas of the outdoors on a spring day” and a bottle of Prosecco. Don’t forget the wine opener, and if possible, bring along some stemless wine glasses, but at the least some sort of cups.

Aside from alcoholic beverages, we suggest packing a couple of Italian sodas and waters. 

Other Essentials

While you don’t absolutely need all of these, it’s a good idea to go through your menu and consider what might make your experience better or potentially save the day.

  • Knife: To slice the cheese, meats, breads and fruits as needed.
  • Small cutting board: As noted above, this can double as a shareable serving tray.
  • Wine opener.
  • Rigid drinkware with big flat bases: Something you won’t have to worry about breaking or sitting on the ground.
  • Ice packs or ice.
  • Napkins or hand towel.
  • Blanket and tarp or shower curtain liner: If you’re planning to sit on the ground, first make sure your blanket’s big enough for both everyone and all the supplies when laid out. The tarp or liner will block any ground moisture from dampening the blanket.
  • Bug spray or a portable fan: A fan can keep you cool, but is also an effective way to keep bugs away.
  • Plastic bag: Makes clean-up easier, by keeping dirty items separate for the transport back home. (We strongly frown upon the Betty Draper approach to clean-up.)

Timing

One last point is when to have a picnic. Obviously, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast. What we should also note for our region, in and outside Philadelphia, it that mosquitoes and other pests are most active in the early morning and evenings (dawn and dusk) and can really ruin a relaxing outdoor meal. Lunch or brunch is probably a better idea than dinner.

 

We hope this has inspired you to eat all’aperto, and that we have helped to make your picnic planning easy and fun. If you’d like more hands-on support, we would love for you to visit us at Valente’s Italian Specialties and allow our team of professionals the opportunity to walk and talk you through a tasting of our offerings.

Also, if picking out individual items to pack isn’t your thing or you don’t have the time, check out our pre-made cheese and charcuterie boards and sandwiches, many of which feature our recommended picnic menu items as ingredients.

An Update on Valente’s

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Updates No Comment yet

Hello all,

Until otherwise mandated, Valente’s will remain open for takeout and delivery. We will take every precaution to avoid contact and enforce heightened sanitation measures.

We are taking this health scare very seriously but also recognize people need to eat and not everyone wants to or likes to cook.

Additionally, we know that our employees have needs. They have children, rent, and car payments. As long as we can keep them working, we will.

So, you can place orders through our website for pickup or delivery. If you would like curbside pickup or porch drop off for delivery, please indicate that and we will happily oblige.

We will place lighter orders than usual for inventory this week, as we do expect a shutdown at some point, and want to avoid waste. If, in fact, we do have to close, we will offer any perishable products we have for free to whomever can use them.

If you are impacted by the virus and are in need of food, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Just email us at marcello@valentes.us and we will help however we can.

pasta in bowl

You’ve Picked a Pasta and a Sauce. Let’s Get Cooking!

October 14th, 2019 Posted by How-To No Comment yet

Part of the Valente’s Let’s Get Cooking Series

Italian cooking is all about simplicity. Our goal? To minimize your time spent in the kitchen and maximize satisfaction for your tastebuds. 

Directions

The Set-Up

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. In the meantime, pour sauce into a medium sized frying pan and heat up on medium-low setting.

 Adding the Pasta

Once water reaches a rolling boil, add pasta, stirring occasionally. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness of pasta. For thinner pastas like spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine, cook for about 2-3 minutes. Thicker pastas like pappardelle require roughly 4-5 minutes. Stuffed pastas will cook for about 5 minutes, or 15-30 seconds after they float to the surface. 

Combining the Sauce

Using a slotted spoon, transfer pasta into frying pan with sauce. To ensure pasta is coated with sauce, use a c-shaped motion and jerk the pan down and upwards so that the pasta hits the lip of the pan and flips the pasta. Add a few tablespoons of the starchy pasta water to further combine the sauce with the pasta. At this point add any grated cheese if desired.

Finishing Touches

Transfer to bowls for serving and top with fresh herbs or more grated cheese.

 

I hope you found this easy, or as they say in Italian, molto simplice!  If you still can’t get it just right, just keep practicing. Rome was not built in a day, and neither is your best dish of pasta. In the midst of your practice, stop in and order a dish from us to channel your inner-Italian and to reward your hard work in kitchen.

March: Women in Cheese

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Our March selection was inspired by International Women’s Day, and my admiration for women in cheesemaking! Women have been the driving force in much of farmstead cheesemaking for centuries, and this month I’m highlighting cheeses made by award-winning, tenacious cheesemakers – all of whom happen to be women!

Tres Bonne
Boston Post Dairy
Enosburg Falls, Vermont
Goat’s Milk, Pasteurized / $30/lb

Boston Post Dairy started as a business partnership between four sisters: Anne, Susan, Theresa, and Annette Gervais. Together with their families, they raise their own animals and make several varieties of award-winning cheeses on their farm in far nothern Vermont. An aged gouda, Tres Bonne was named by their inspirational mother Gisele, who, upon tasting the first batch of this cheese, proclaimed it “Tres Bonne”. The sisters chose to use the feminine “Bonne” instead of the more traditional masculine “Bon”, because as they see it, the cheese is made by women, and aged by women! The wheel we have in stock at Valente’s is firm in texture and gentle in flavour, with notes of wildflower honey. An ideal breakfast cheese, in my estimation!

Marieke Overjarige Extra-Aged Gouda 
Holland’s Family Cheese
Thorp, Wisconsin
Cow’s Milk, Raw / $34/lb

Unable to afford to buy farmland in their native Netherlands, cheesemaker Marieke Penterman and her dairy farmer husband emigrated to Wisconsin to start their own cow dairy operation. Missing the cheeses of her homeland, she decided to make Dutch-style cheeses with her family’s milk. Barely a dozen years later, her line of cheeses has won multiple awards in national competitions. We have many aged gouda fans among our customers, so given this month’s theme and the fact that Marieke is an immigrant woman with an entrepreneuship dream, I just had to bring in this extra special cheese. At almost three years old, our wheel is full of the characteristic crystals you’d expect in a gouda of this age – yet with a creamy mouthfeel that belies its crumbly appearance.

Quadrata
Lazy Lady Farm
Westfield, Vermont
Cow Milk, Pasteurized / $34/lb

Tucked away in northern Vermont, up near the Canadian border, is Lazy Lady Farm – helmed by the indomitable Laini Fondillier. Ask anyone in the biz, and they’ll confirm that Laini is a veritable legend of American artisan cheesemaking. One of a small group of pioneering goat cheese producers who started in the 1980s, she keeps her own herd of goats and is famous for making a range of highly-regarded small format cheeses. Quadrata is a washed rind cow’s milk cheese with a semi-soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. I’d enjoy it with a gruner veltliner, or keep it local and pair with a Vermont cider!


February: A French Invasion

February 23rd, 2019 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Last month, I ran into a friend who was about to whisk his partner off on a trip to Paris, with plans to propose in front of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day. I was downright jealous – not because of the proposal or the Eiffel Tower, but because of all the amazing French cheese and butter they could be eating!!! Then I thought, why not bring some great French cheeses to Valente’s in February?  Because, you know, while not all of us might be able to jet off to France for a February getaway, we CAN all give ourselves a Valentine’s treat in the form of a luscious French cheese plate! And that sounds pretty darned romantic to me!

All of our cheeses this month come from the caves of French master affineur Herve Mons. Just like Crown Finish Caves (featured last month), the Mons company does not make their own cheese, but takes very young cheese from select producers and ages them until they’re ripe enough to sell.

Tomme de la Chataigneraie
Aged by Herve Mons, France
Made in the Auvergne, France
Goat Milk, Pasteurized / $38/lb

Tomme de la Chataigneraie is made from the milk of goats that graze in chestnut groves in the Auvergne – a romantic scene if ever there was one! The cheese has a natural rind, and in keeping with the chestnut theme, sits on chestnut wood shelves during its ripening period. This is truly the kind of cheese I could eat all day long – it’s semi-firm, has wonderfully clean flavours enhanced with a pleasing hint of salt, and honestly goes with everything! It’s mild enough for a breakfast cheese, plays well with others on a lunch sandwich or salad, and is a great pre-dinner appetizer cheese – perhaps with a glass of rose!

1924 Bleu
Aged by Herve Mons, France
Sheep and Cow Milk, Pasteurized / $32/lb

When Roquefort became a name-protected cheese in 1925, regulation dictated that only cheeses made with 100% sheep milk could be classed as “Roquefort”. This cheese, 1924 Bleu, harkens back to the time before this ruling, when Roquefort was made with mixed milks too! I love this blue; it has a milky sweetness that’s a perfect counterpoint to its saltiness, and the addition of cows’ milk makes for a somewhat milder version of the all-sheep Roquefort. I’d recommend this as a good blue cheese for both beginners and blue fanatics. While delicious on a salad, this cheese shines best on a cheese board – with some sliced bosc pears or preserves as an accompaniment!

Camembert le Pommier
Aged by Herve Mons Normandy, France
Cow Milk, Pasteurized / $25/lb

I couldn’t have a French theme without including that most quintessential of French cheeses – a Normandy Camembert! Granted, “real” (i.e. raw milk) Camembert is not allowed in the States, but the pasteurized le Pommier was developed to come as close as possible to traditional, unpasteurized Camembert. It hits all the right notes: mushroomy, creamy, a tiny bit vegetal – and if you’re feeling the winter chill, you can warm this up in your oven and enjoy with a hearty loaf of bread. For best results (and to keep it regional), pair this with your favourite Normandy cider!


January’s Curated Cheeses: Hibernation

January 29th, 2019 Posted by Curated Cheeses No Comment yet

January, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, sometimes all we want to do is retreat into a cave and hibernate! Of course, if I had my pick of caves in which to spend a sleepy weekend, it would definitely be one filled to the brim with ripening cheese! In that spirit, this month I’m featuring Brooklyn’s Crown Finish Caves in our cheese selection. Crown Finish is an affineur – a company that buys very young cheeses from cheesemakers, carefully matures them in temperature and humidity-controlled conditions, and then sells them on to cheese shops and wholesalers once the cheeses have reached an optimal ripeness and desired flavour profile. Located in converted 19th century lagering tunnels in Crown Heights, Crown Finish works primarily with regional cheesemakers in NY and VT – though they make an exception to that norm with a very special cheese – which we of course had to include in our selection!

Bandaged Bismark
Grafton Village Cheese Company, VT
Sheep Milk, Pasteurized ($42/lb)

Named after a famed 19th century ram, Bismark is a sheep’s milk clothbound cheddar made at Grafton Village Cheese Company in Brattleboro. After its arrival at Crown Finish, the cheese is rubbed in smoked lard from Indianapolis-based cured meat company Smoking Goose, and aged for 4-6 months. With its crumbly texture and sweet caramel notes, Bismark is a definite contender for our new favourite dinner party cheese!

Goatlet
Consider Bardwell Farm, VT
Cow and Goat Milk, Raw ($40/lb)

Goatlet is a mixed milk, Italian toma-style cheese made by Consider Bardwell, a small goat farm in Rutland County, VT. A Crown Finish exclusive, Goatlet is made with 20% goats milk and 80% cows milk, released at 4-6 months of age, and took a first prize in its category at the 2017 American Cheese Society competition.

Characterised by a pleasing, moreish saltiness, Goatlet would be my pick this month for a table cheese, lunchbox addition, or pre-dinner appetizer. And if you’re looking to put together a light meal, this cheese would be an ideal companion to cured meats and pickles!

Bufarolo
Quattro Portoni, Bergamo, IT
Buffalo Milk, Pasteurized ($36/lb)

Bufarolo is a semi-soft, natural rind buffalo milk cheese made in Northern Italy by Quattro Portoni – a name which some of you may remember from last month’s selection. In December, I brought in Madame Bufala – a cheese made at Quattro Portoni, but aged by Italian stagionatore CasArrigoni. Made via a similar collaboration between Quattro Portoni and Crown Finish, Bufarolo is the only Italian cheese aged there. Bufarolo arrives at Crown Finish completely rindless, and forms its colourful natural rind over the course of 6-8 weeks in the caves. I love its fudgy texture and clean finish, and would recommend it with a prosecco or other sparkling wine.

December’s Curated Cheeses: An Organic Taste of Italy

December 14th, 2018 Posted by Curated Cheeses No Comment yet

For our December artisan cheese selection, we wanted to take it back to our roots and bring you an all-Italian, all-organic roster of cheeses. We worked closely with Pondini, an importer based right here in New Jersey who specializes in sourcing organic cheeses, oils and vinegars from Italy. Come in and taste them all!

Formagella di Montagna
Lombardy
Cow Milk, Raw ($26/lb)

Perhaps my favorite of this month’s selection, Formagella is a subtle crowd-pleaser. A cave-aged, semi-firm cheese with a pretty natural rind, its flavor is mild at first, but quickly opens up to deliver dominant notes of butter and mushrooms. This is an eminently meltable, very snack-able, all-day, every day kind of cheese that will be enjoyed by adults and younger folk alike!

Pecorino Gessato
Fattoria Lischeto, Tuscany
Sheep Milk, Raw ($32/lb)

I couldn’t put together an Italian cheese selection without a Pecorino, and this one is a great example of a classic Tuscan aged Pecorino. While overall less aggressive than a Pecorino Romano, Gessato still maintains the slightly meaty flavor note characteristic of many sheep milk cheeses. Shave this onto pastas and salads, or enjoy as a table cheese with honey and pears!

Madame di Bufala
Quattro Portoni & CasArrigoni, Valtaleggio
Buffalo Milk, Pasteurized ($36/lb)

A very special addition to any holiday cheese board, Madame di Bufala is a Taleggio-style cheese made with water buffalo milk! Buffalo milk is richer, sweeter, and yet milder than the milk of cows or sheep, and cheeses made with their milk tend to be luscious and decadent. Madame di Bufala’s creamy and spreadable paste beautifully balances the funkier notes from its washed rind, making for a cheese we just can’t stop eating.

Entrepreneurs NextDoor

November 18th, 2018 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

A couple of weeks ago the Entrepreneurs NextDoor podcast launched and debuted with a Valente’s interview. We’re honored to be a part of it and think the series is really worth a listen! 

Interviews with Mitch, of Gorshin Trading Post and End of the Earth, and Rocco, of Zaffron are now live too. Both are amazing and really cool stories.

November Cheese Selections: Thanksgiving

November 17th, 2018 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Thanksgiving dominates the November foodscape, and, like your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, our November cheeses are either beloved, award-winning American artisan cheese classics, only available seasonally, or both! In the spirit of the season, I encourage you to buy a large enough wedge to share with your friends and family – pick your favorite, or go with all three for a complete, crowd-pleasing cheese boar

Tarentaise

Spring Brook Farm, VT
Cow Milk, Raw
$36/lb

Alpine-style Tarentaise is one of the country’s most celebrated artisan cheeses, and for good reason! Made from Spring Brook’s own herd of cows on their 1,000+ acre farm in a gorgeous part of Vermont, it’s an artisanal American classic that I love to have around for the holiday season. A little sweet and a lot savoury, this versatile cheese is perfect on an appetizer board with cornichons and pickled pearl onions, melted over roasted potatoes alongside caramelized brussels sprouts, or as part of a breakfast spread (or midnight snack…) for hungry houseguests!

Verano

Vermont Shepherd, VT
Sheep Milk, Raw
$40/lb

A pioneering, artisan sheep milk cheese producer in both Vermont and the wider US, Vermont Shepherd has been grazing sheep and making their signature French-inspired cheese for over 20 years. As befits the oldest sheep dairy farm in the US, Vermont Shepherd’s products and practices are driven by tradition and closely tied to the seasons. Verano is made only in the summer, while the ewes are outside on pasture, grazing on clover, wild herbs and other grasses. These cheeses are aged 3-5 months and released starting in August, becoming scarce by late fall – and I was lucky enough to score one of the last wheels for Valente’s!

Abruzze Jawn 

Cherry Grove Farm, NJ
Cow Milk, Raw
$30/lb

A natural rinded, Jack-style cheese, Abruzze Jawn has a fun origin story: while experimenting with new flavours for their Jack cheese, the Cherry Grove cheesemakers created a unique spice blend and mixed it into the curds, not knowing how their experiment would turn out. A few months later, they cut into a wheel and realised it tasted just like the Abruzze sausage they used to sell while working as cheesemongers in Philly – and named it accordingly! The resulting cheese was entered in the American Cheese Society competition, winning first prize in its category. It’s now become one of Cherry Grove’s most popular cheeses, and is only made a couple of times a year – so snap it up while you can!