I have been a fan of Pistacia Vera since I first visited their German Village shop last summer and I was excited when Hills Market announced that they were having a Pistacia Vera wine pairing event. As well as being a wonderful local/ gourmet grocery store, Hills Market has a lot of food events, including wine and cheese tastings, dinners, and cookery demonstrations.
This event gave us the opportunity not only to eat amazing desserts but to learn more about Pistacia Vera from owners Spencer Budros and his sister Ann. Spencer is the pastry chef and Ann runs the business side. They have had the business (previously known as Pistachio and located in the Short North), for four years and last year moved to their new space on Third Avenue. Their passion, attention to detail and pride in their products were amazing and it was fascinating to hear Spencer talk about what he loves about pastry and desserts. We also learned a lot about how they choose flavors, the ingredients they use and how the business has evolved.
There were six desserts, each introduced by Spencer and each was paired with a wine (or beer) by Hills Market wine director Constance Begue. It was a wonderful event and I fear that I cannot describe it without sounding sycophantic. We feared that eating six desserts would be too much of a good thing, but I can assure you that it was not.
1) Olive Oil Madeleine with candied fennel and citrus, paired with Marcal Cava Reserve NV (Spain).
An excellent pairing with the citrusy notes in the cava complimenting the fresh citrus and lemon curd. Interesting anis note from the candied fennel and very fresh tasting.
2) Apple galette with 3 year aged Gouda and rosemary sugar, paired with Hugel Gentil 2007 (Alsace, France).
This was one of our favorite desserts and it is currently available in the store. The galette is made with Fuji apples, sliced very thinly and very tender. There is cheese in the pastry, as well as being served as a garnish and the rosemary sugar was a wonderful and fragrant touch. Overall it is not too sweet and I think we would all have happily eaten seconds or thirds. The wine was off-dry and fruity and a good accompaniment and the aged Gouda is available from Hills.
3) Framboise macaron and passion fruit pate de fruit, paired with Framboise lambic beer (Belgium).
Pistacia Vera are probably most famous for their macarons, which come in a rainbow array of colors and flavors and change with the seasons. I am a fan of lambics and so was more than happy with this pairing. Lambics are fruity Belgian beers that are made with wild yeast. They come in a variety of flavors (apple, cherry, cassis, peach and framboise). As an aside, Jeni’s have an award winning sour cherry lambic sorbet. Spencer explained a little of the 5 day process that is involved in making the perfect macaron and how the sequence of baking, drying and refrigerating give the optimum texture. In this case there were dehydrated raspberries in the shell to give color and flavor, and the filling is a french butter cream with Chambord (French black raspberry liqueur) and fresh raspberries. The pate de fruits is made by one of their employees and apparently requires a masters balance of science, artistry and patience. It is a pure fruit pectin jelly and they have some wonderful flavor combinations (I recommend the lemon pernod). I believe that both the macarons and pate de fruits are gluten free.
4) Brown butter pistachio financier with candied Amarena cherry, paired with Fortress Vineyards Novateur 2007 (Lake County, California).
The financier was my other favorite dessert and in this case I was lucky enough to get seconds! The flavor was more almond than pistachio with some salt, which brought out the flavor and was a great contrast to the sweetness, and some fresh thyme. The cherries are the same that are used as Details and are a league above any other maraschino cherry I have tasted. The dessert wine was interesting (70% semillon) and not overly sweet. Constance told us that her rule of thumb is to try to choose a wine sweeter than the dessert.
5) Milk chocolate macadamia nut praline paired with (Jacuzzi Family Vineyards cabernet sauvignon 2006 (Sonoma County).
This opera style torte is very sophisticated and luxurious and I have been lucky enough to have it before. It is a wonderful combination of chocolate, caramel and butter cream and is light and smooth. It was topped with a wonderful salty, toasty nut brittle. The Sonoma cabernet sauvignon was light and bright and not as robust as you would expect. The pairing worked a lot better than one might expect. Sonoma cabernet sauvignons have less tanin and more acidity than those from Napa.
6) Valrhona 72% Araguani chocolate truffle with orange, bergamot and apricot preserve, paired with Dows Ruby Port NV (Portugal).
Araguani is a new Valrhona artisan chocolate, not yet available for retail. Pistacia Vera are the largest consumer of Valrhona chocolate in Ohio. The truffle was amazingly smooth and they are hand rolled with a focus on flavor rather than form. They need to be refrigerated, but are apparently best served at room temperature. The vibrant citrusy preserve was a good antidote to the richness of the chocolate. I have to confess that the truffle disappeared before I could really consider the merits of the pairing.
Spencer and Ann seemed to enjoy having feedback on which flavors and desserts we enjoyed and hope to do more events such as this. They also encouraged us to visit their kitchen and see how the desserts are made for ourselves. The amaretti cookies are still my favorite, but I definitely see some more apple galette in my future. Perhaps needless to say, but I have gone from fan to devotee….