Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Happenings at Avanti Savoia
Pepper Jelly Gift Set

With Autumn now in full swing I thought that it was an appropriate time to think about our busy summer and look forward to some of our immediate plans for the new season.

Honey Update:
In the last post we explored the sweet world of honey and we have a couple of further words on the subject.  First, Avanti’s founder and a new and enthusiastic bee keeper, Doug Slocum has harvested his first honey from his own hives.  A few of his friends were lucky enough to receive a little sample of his “first fruits.”  It posses a rich golden color, slightly floral favor with a little bit of spice on the aftertaste.  (Have I been writing too much copy or what)?  Who knows, maybe some day we will be able to offer you our own line of organic Avanti Savoia honey.  Stay tuned.

Also in the same post I shared with you a relatively true story about the honey finding ability of my Choctaw grandfather.  It seems that my story about him being able to spot a honey bee and follow all the way to the hive was only partially accurate.  My favorite uncle, G.R. Lowery of Dallas, Texas (and a proud member of the Choctaw Nation, as well) was pleased with the story, but set me straight on the exact procedure.  He should know; he was actually present for the events.  It was not just one bee that the old Native American gentleman followed, but a series of them. 

The way he actually did it was by setting out a bait of very thick sugar water poured into one of those old fashioned ceramic canning lids.  A bee would be drawn to the bait and after having its fill would then take off for the hive.  It was that point that my grandfather would jump up and follow as long as he could with my (then) young uncle in tow.  When he lost sight of the first bee, he would again set out his bait, attract another bee and follow it.  He repeated this procedure until at last he found his hive.  I do appreciate knowing the exact details.

Let me share just one last honey note before moving on.  Recently we hosted several friends for a small dinner.  Knowing full well that my friends were vegans, I had designed the menu accordingly.  Although in the process I displayed my ignorance about vegans, I did learn something which is always a good thing.  We whipped up a beautiful salad straight from the garden and dressed it with the Honey Vinaigrette recipe from the last post.  I was very proud of the purity of the salad and dressing to offer to my health conscious friends.  Paolo Cassini Gran Cru Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Aceteria Merlino Honey Vinegar, Fleur de Sel Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Peppercorns.  Simple, clean, perfect dressing except… vegans do not eat honey!  I was able to quickly prepare an alternative and was inspired to educate myself on the concepts and precepts of vegans.

La Cucina at Avanti Savoia:
In the last 30 some odd years I have taught at several cooking schools and programs, but I had never been in charge of organizing an entire program myself.  Well, I suppose I can now take that one off my bucket list.  To begin with, there is the chore of designing and furnishing a demonstration kitchen that is suited to cooking classes.  Doug and Ben outdid themselves in the design department and personally performed all sorts of construction tasks.  Of course, I had an absolute blast in purchasing all the proper equipment for our new Batterie de Cuisine.  What chef would not be thrilled to outfit a brand new kitchen with his or her own selections of tools, gadgets and machines?  Now, I certainly can’t complain about the quality of my tools can I?

Next came planning the individual classes (mine and the other instructors), scheduling in harmony with the other business demands of Avanti Savoia, marketing, and the actual recipes and format for each of the classes.  Believe me, if you find yourself attending quality cooking classes anywhere, rest assured that there has been many, many hours invested in the experience beyond the two or so hours that you attend the class.  It is however, a labor of love.

Now, with a summer of successful classes behind us, our confidence is building and so is our excitement.  A wide range of culinary subject matter has been explored this first summer with New Orleans’ and Italian classes’ undoubtedly being the most popular.  In scheduling months in advance we also neglected to realize that students want repeats of popular classes that sell out quickly.  Learning and adjusting as we go, the response from our attendees has been so gratifying.  It really is great fun to share a passion with folks that respond with joy and excitement.  We also couldn’t make this work without the donated time by partners and devoted friends.  (It takes a village to clean up after me!)

Everyone enjoying the BBQ Shrimp
Now, we are beginning a new season with a host of offerings that we hope will be of interest to the public.  More cake decorating from master designer, Regina Long, more sushi skills from Chef Karen Crumley and my usual eclectic whims based on my career and travels.  We are also very pleased at the prospect of our friend, partner and man on the ground in Italy, Don Vito De Carolis teaching Authentic Italian Pasta Sauces at Home in late November.  Visit “Cooking Classes” on our website to keep up with the action.

Contests and Events:
International Biscuit Festival
We had a great time participating in the first “International Biscuit Festival.”   The talented chefs from the famed Blackberry Farms provided an amazing brunch in a beautiful outdoor setting.  There was also a biscuit bakeoff where we managed to take a third place for our “Big Island Biscuit.”  A quality “foodie” event, delicious food and lots of new friends; what could be nicer?

Avanti on TV
Our local NBC affiliate TV station WBIR recently visited Avanti Savoia.  Check out their interview with Ben and Chef Joseph on their program Live at Five at Four.

Please Vote:

Avanti Savoia is a proud sponsor of the Dogwood Arts Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.  We would appreciate your vote for the Dogwood Plan for Art in Public Places.

The Holidays are coming:
We always love the holidays and new exciting products are beginning to arrive daily. This year we want to help make your gift giving plans a little easier with a wonderful assortment of Holiday Ensembles available in attractive wooden gift boxes at a wide range of prices.  Chef Joseph and our terrific photographer, Bruce Cole  had a great time selecting, preparing, styling and photographing our delicious products.  Call Chef Joseph for uniquely customized gifts collections, as well.

As always, Bon Appetit Y’all!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


A sweet story

Many of our Avanti Savoia blog posts (olives, vinegars, chocolate, rice, etc.) begin with noting just how ancient a particular food or product is in the history of human experience.  The evidence proves that honey (derived from the old English word hunig) can certainly make a claim to be one of the oldest. Cave paintings located near Valencia, Spain depict honey gathering from thousands of years ago.  References to honey and bees exist in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sumerian and Babylonian Cuneiform texts, the Torah, Koran, Old and New Testaments, Indian Vedas and Chinese literature. The Greeks and Romans not only valued honey as a luxurious sweetener, they also rated it highly for health and medicinal purposes.  Honey has been used as a topical antibiotic for centuries. Like cocoa beans, honey has also been utilized as a unit of currency.  We also have to at least briefly mention mead, the legendary drink of kings and Vikings, which is simply fermented honey and water.    
I knew of two kinds of honey when I was a child; the ubiquitous bright golden grocery store versions, (which at the time I liked just fine) and then there was the wild dark mysterious honey that my Choctaw grandfather gathered on his own.  Although I was very young and never actually saw him do it, other older members of our family confirm his honey finding ability.  Having been born on an Oklahoma reservation in 1892, my grandfather was an accomplished hunter, fisherman and all-round savvy woodsman. The stories contend that his outdoor skills included the ability to locate and “rob” wild honey bee hives.

His reported method of doing this was to position himself somewhere in an area where he could see bees and focus his vision on one.  He would then jump up and follow the bee to the hive, all the while keeping his eyes trained on the particular bee.  When presented as family lore over the years I simply accepted this as true or at least partly true.  However, beekeepers with whom I have spoken confirm that it would be quite possible to do this.

By the time of my grandfather’s birth, Native American’s were quite familiar with honeybees and honey.  That had not always been true.  Perhaps surprising to some, Apis mellifera, the European honeybee is not native to North America.  There are thousands of types of native bees, but none are as prolific or docile as the European variety. There were also South American sting-less bees that were prized for their honey.  In fact, the Mayans were quite skilled in their Apicultural skills.

Historical records indicate that the first hives of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) were imported into Virginia around the mid 1620’s.  Reportedly called the “white man’s fly” the honey bee was indeed the harbinger of change.  Records then indicate that it then took the honeybee about 230 more years to reach the west coast.

For decades in North America, most honey was collected from wild colonies although by the 19th century many individuals kept bees as part of their farm stock.  Honey (and Maple syrup) was a vital necessity before the widespread availability of cane sugar and the beeswax obtained was also very valuable.

Particulars of honey production are really kind of amazing. Simply stated, honey is produced by the bees from flower nectar which is the liquid in the base of the blossoms. It is concentrated and placed in the familiar hexagon shaped honeycomb cells and capped with beeswax. Many fruits rely on the bees’ visit for pollination although not all, the fig depends on wasps for its pollination needs.

Bees forage in a 2 to 2 1/2 mile radius from their hives to collect pollen.  That’s about 12 ½ square miles.  It is estimated that it requires 2 million flowers simply to make 1 pound of honey!  The old cliché “busy as a bee” takes on a very literal meaning when viewed in light of these statistics.

In recent years wild bee colonies and bee keepers (both amateurs and professionals) have faced a number of daunting challenges.  “Colony Collapse Disorder” is a blanket term that can include a number of conditions.  Tracheal mites, Varroa mites, Nosema, and Small Hive beetles, can all prove disastrous for our little buddies.  The loss of rural plant diversity and pesticides in the environment also add to the stress placed on the bee population.  It is believed that many hives may show at least some trace of pesticides.

As with so many commercial products, there is a great deal of confusion over terminology and downright misinformation about honey.  There exist few real standards, no federal certification and no penalties even for out right lying.  Often marketing claims are inaccurate and simply amount to marketing ploys.

The term “organic” is very difficult to verify, as well.  Any product can be certified organic if it complies with existing regulations.  The problem here is that none exist for honey. So what’s a honey lover to do?  The quick answer is to keep your own bees (as Avanti Savoia’s founder Doug Slocum has begun to do) or short of that – know and trust your keeper or in our case, trust the merchant to do the leg work and verification for you.  Doug notes, “Avanti Savoia makes a concentrated effort to know our suppliers and their apicultural practices.  We offer our products being highly confident about their quality and your satisfaction!”

Avanti Savoia takes both pride and pleasure in offering a wonderful collection of “honeys from around the world.” We currently stock some 2 dozen varieties of honey from Italy, Canada, Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Very soon we will be adding products from Germany and South America, as well.

Fantastic honeys available through Avanti Savoia:

Organic Christmas Berry Honey 
This is a raw, organic honey with undertones of brown sugar and molasses with a subtly spicy finish. This Hawaiian delight is gathered by bees from the Christmas berry shrub. (Schinus terebinthifolia), is a native of Brazil that was introduced to Hawaii. It is a bold and robust honey. It is also one of the richest in antioxidants. These protective compounds are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Product of Hawaii

Raw Organic Lehua Honey
A distinctive light golden honey offers a silky mouth-feel with butterscotch overtones and floral bouquet. Lehua honey is produced by the bees from the Lehua flower which grows on the ‘Ohi’a tree. (Metrosideros polymorpha), is an indigenous Hawaiian species prized for its fragrance, delicate taste and light color; Lehua Honey can only be found three months a year. This honey truly captures the essence of the islands.  Chef Joseph’s favorite! Product of Hawaii

Macadamia Nut Blossom Honey
Beautiful amber colored honey that is raw, unprocessed and slightly nutty in flavor. Garnered from the flowers of the macadamia nut tree, (Macadamia integrifolia), which was native to Australia. There are many orchards of macadamia nuts on the Big Island of Hawaii. Beekeepers and orchard owners find it mutually beneficial to place beehives in flowering macadamia nut plantations. The orchard’s trees are pollinated by the bees, resulting in a more bountiful nut harvest. In turn, the beekeeper (and the world) is rewarded with this velvety, rich, amber-colored honey. Product of Hawaii


White Gold Raw Clover Honey
This is a very popular Clover honey from the Canadian tundra. It has a very low water content, which makes it as pure white as the winter snow. We have a friend who calls it naughty honey, yes it is that good! This delicate raw clover honey self-solidifies soon after extraction due to its extremely low water content. Product of Canada


Tupelo Honey 1lb jar
This is the real deal!  Fresh from the hive to your table Tupelo honey’s unique flavor is one of Americas finest and rarest. “Fresh Honey from Local Hives” is the motto of this company, Cross Creek Honey. This is a taste of authentic old Florida. Tupelo Honey has a delicious and unique flavor that makes it a favorite with everyone. Product of Florida

Orange Blossom Honey 1 lb jar
Raw, unfiltered, unaltered just what nature intended it to be!  We consider it one of the best orange blossom honeys available. Cross Creek produces this luscious and fragrant honey that features such a bright and delightful flavor. We are happy to offer this special product from special beekeepers that will please any honey lover. Product of Florida.

Gallberry Honey
Gallberry (Ilex glabra) is a small evergreen shrub that is found in the Southeastern United States.  A limited amount of delightful Gallberry honey is produced each year.  Join the fortunate Florida honey lovers that are “in the know” about this regional favorite!  Product of Florida.

Palmetto Honey
Saw palmetto (Serena repens) is considered an endangered and the rare honey produced from it is in short supply.  This is a honey that is seldom even tasted outside of Florida.  Avanti Savoia is very happy to be able to introduce this special honey as well as the rest of the Cross Creek line.  Product of Florida


Lavender Honey 
Bees love Lavender and gourmets love the Lavender honey that the bees produce. The bouquet is floral, fruity and a little woody with hints of black currants on the palate. Beautiful color of pearls, this honey is a very special experience. Product of Italy

Eucalyptus Honey 
Perhaps it's time to proclaim eucalyptus blossom honey the ideal companion to dairy foods! Try it with fresh cheese, such as ricotta - or mixed with plain yogurt or for the ultimate comfort food, stirred into warm milk. We think it's the light scent of licorice and medium sweetness that does it. Product of Italy

Honeydew Honey 
Honeydew is the extremely sweet byproducts of certain sap drinking insects. Bees can take Honeydew instead of nectar to create a dark honey with the rich fragrance of fig preserves. This honey is very thick, dark, rich and extremely sweet. Honeydew honey is high in antioxidants and highly prized in Europe as one of the most healthful of honeys. We consider this a “must taste” experience for the honey lover.  Product of Italy

Acacia Honey
Acacia honey is wildly popular throughout Italy for its ability to satisfy a chronic sweet tooth. Light golden-yellow honey extremely sweet but never cloying, notes of vanilla and cooked pears, excellent with tea. Stores well in a cool, dry place--won’t crystallize and harden like other honeys. Product of Italy

Alps Flower Honey
Mild but not bland with a hint of herbs, solid texture makes it a delicious choice for toast, biscotti, pound cake.  Warmed & drizzled works too! From the Italian Alps--where honey is harvested in spring. We think you'll love the authentic bee farm label as well!  Product of Italy

Citrus Flower Honey
Yep…bees were in high spirits making this honey! Why wouldn't they be? Hives are placed in orange and lemon groves at height of bloom. Tangy, zesty gives tea a lemony boost, try on apple slices with cheese or on whole wheat toast…Paradiso!  Product of Italy

Rhododendron Honey
Rare mountain honey much sought after for its gentle yet distinct character ...it imparts aura of delicate flower petals. Tastes like it just dripped off the honeycomb! Beekeepers put much care into cultivating this rare mountain honey.  Product of Italy

Linden Flower Honey
Linden trees (European Basswood) are a commonly used tree in European parks and to line roads. Honey produced from the Linden flowers is light yellow in color featuring a woodsy aroma with light touches of lime. Linden flower honey is popular for its mild flavor and also reputed sedative and antiseptic qualities. Mild honey wonderful in tea or on toast and a great addition to your collection! Product of Italy

Chestnut Honey
From the Roero valley in Italy, this is a big bold honey, slightly sweet with a touch of bitterness. Imagine honey from flowers sharing the same soil as famous Roero Valley Italian wines!  Chestnut honey is not something you stumble across everyday. And for sure, the Italians are particular about how they eat it. Slightly sweet with a bitter aftertaste (sweet and sour, if you will), this pairs beautifully with salami, or drizzled over stronger cheeses like gorgonzola, pecorino, and parmesan. Intense, earthy fragrance-- this honey is well suited for cooking. Product of Italy


Italian Acacia Honey with Truffles
This liquid gem blends the sweet taste of the acacia white flower with the earthy aroma of the Italian Piedmont's White Alba truffle. Add drops to aged Parmesan or fresh Ricotta cheese, and then pair with sliced fruit to savor the natural flavor and musky scent.  Product of Italy


Honey with White Truffles
Loaded with tradition and flavor, enjoy this rare delight at the end of a meal with gorgonzola or other cheeses.  Also try this extraordinary honey with duck, pheasant or quail. Product of Italy


Organic Acacia Honey
Called the "moonflower honey" in Italy, this organic honey is produced in the Southern Italian Alps. It has a clean, light vanilla taste and is delicate on the palate. It tastes delicious in coffee or tea or served drizzled over toast, with ricotta or shaved hard cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano. Elegant! Product of Italy

Tupelo Honey
Harvested over two or three weeks in the early spring, Tupelo nectar is one of the rarest and most valuable liquid treasures in the world. After being concentrated by the worker bees, the nectar is transformed into a delicacy whose combination of strength, subtlety, and sweetness is almost impossible to describe. A perfect compliment with a strong black tea, buttered toast, or aged cheddar. Product of USA.

Orange Blossom Honey
Orange Blossom Honey is fragrant, delicate and perfect when spread on toast, waffles, pancakes and other breakfast breads, also it makes a delicious topping for yogurt, ice cream, fruit salads, and even meat glazes. Product of USA.

Sourwood Honey
This complex honey displays notes of sweet gingerbread with a long finish... Sour by name sweet by nature! Sourwood honey takes pin point timing and delicate care to produce. Sourwood honey is produced from the sourwood tree that has a beautiful white bell-shaped flower that appears from late June to August. Product of USA.

Flute Pack
Four flutes of bottled sunshine, excellent examples of American honey at its best...even the bees are patriotic. This is one sweet deal; an Avanti Savoia exclusive. Product of USA.

Honey Sampler Gift Pack
Just a taste of four exquisite honeys then BOOM onto the Flute Pack...works every time. A honey for every occasion! The perfect sampling of four exquisite honeys includes Raspberry, Tupelo, Black Sage, and Orange Blossom honey. Product of USA.

Raw Honey Comb with Tupelo Honey
The deep color and earthy flavor of this rare delicacy from the North Georgia Mountains is an exceptional culinary experience. Hand cut from frames filled with honey produced from the flowers of the sourwood tree, each golden cell brims with concentrated nectar ideally suited for wine and cheese. When you see our sourwood honeycomb and Tupelo honey you think dreams can come true. When you spread it on a hot piece of buttered toast, you know they have! Product of USA.

Hand Cut Honeycomb
Simply Amazing! This hand cut square of honeycomb is filled with delicious golden honey. The wax is edible and adds one more complex character to this simple nectar of life. Spread on hard cheeses or a warm slice of toast or hot biscuit. Also makes for a stunning presentation on a cheese and cracker plate at your next get together. Product of USA.

Miele Al Matcha Honey & Green Tea
Matcha is a powdered green tea used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  Combine this “national treasure” with Acacia honey and you have a rare delicacy. An amazing combination to spread on toast for breakfast, topping for ice cream or yogurt, or added to a cup of warm milk or hot water. Italian Acacia Honey with Matcha (Japanese Powdered Green Tea) 

BX025 The Elegant Honey Gift Box
Four American honey classics (Tupelo, Black Sage, Orange Blossom, & Sourwood), packaged in pretty fluted bottles and an attractive handmade wooden box. What a SWEET present! Each has a distinctive flavor for enhancing hot tea, icy lemonade, salad dressing, barbecue sauce & ice cream. Honey lovers will enjoy spreading on scones, fresh baked bread, toast and (to be honest and I’ll bet I’m not the only one) big luscious spoonfuls. Product of USA


Orti Borghosi Honey Balsamic Vinegar
A wonderful full flavored Balsamic condiment made from cooked grape must blended with lime honey and aged in oak.  Serve with cheese, fruit and especially with grilled or roasted meats.  Product of Italy.

Aceteria Merlino Honey Vinegar
This is beautifully balanced vinegar produced with a blend of four Italian honeys, featuring low acidity and a smooth sweetness.  Vinaigrette made with this product is a stand out favorite at La Cucina at Avanti Savoia cooking classes!  Product of Italy

Don Vito’s Vinaigrette
Sel de Mer fine to taste
1 part Honey Vinegar
3 parts Marcinase extra virgin olive oil
1.    In a small mixing bowl, just before serving: whisk salt with vinegar until mixture begins to foam.
2.    Beat in olive oil until smooth, toss with salad, serve and enjoy.