Getting fresh with area markets

12/11/2012
BY DAN NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Note: This column is best read before Sept. 21, 2012.

My wife and I were finally checking out a well-known, family-owned grocery store in Sylvania. We had heard so many wonderful things about it ever since we moved to Toledo, and were delighted to discover that everything we had heard was true.

Especially the part about their inventively flavored macarons. Those things are amazing — light as a feather, but filled with a heavenly rich cream.

As we looked approvingly over their selection of cheeses, my wife wondered aloud if they had any Point Reyes Blue. She had literally just finished the sentence when, eyes wide with delight, she pulled a sample of it out of the case.

Point Reyes Blue Cheese has been one of our favorites since we discovered it on a memorable trip to Point Reyes National Seashore in California; it is a glorious mixture of sweet milk and that distinctively sharp blue-cheese flavor. We buy it whenever we can. It isn't hard to find, but it isn't particularly easy, either.

We purchased it at the Sylvania store and brought it home. I am not embarrassed to say that we unwrapped it to start nibbling even before we put away the rest of the groceries.

But this particular blue cheese was, well, a little green.

Of course, blue cheese is made with mold, so it can be hard to tell when it has become moldy. And this wasn't too bad. Just a little slimy, with a faint yellow-green tinge to the outermost part. But even after we scraped off the edges, the cheese tasted stronger than usual. We had a few bites and have not tried it since.

We bought the cheese on Nov. 18. The store label proudly said it could be sold until June of 2103. However, that label cleverly covered up another label originally put on by the cheese makers saying it was best eaten by Nov. 21, 2012.

To be fair, even the original best-by date was still three days away when we bought it. But frankly, that particular wedge's best days were long behind it.

Just four days later, my cousin and I were looking for ice cream to serve at Thanksgiving to go with the wonderful pie my wife had made. We were at one of the biggest chains in the country, the one with headquarters in my hometown of Cincinnati. As they do throughout Ohio and some other states, this store carried one of my favorite hometown ice creams, Graeter's. Their ice cream is justly famous for their chocolate chips (they're soft, not frozen solid), so we grabbed a big carton of the vanilla chocolate chip, figuring it would go best with the pie.

But when we tried it, something was wrong. The ice cream was grainy. The flavor was minimal. It was like eating some off-brand variety, not something that cost 16 bucks for less than a half-gallon.

My wife eventually turned the carton over and looked on the bottom. It said, "Best by May 5, 2012." This was Thanksgiving. It had expired six months before.

This is a problem I have repeatedly encountered in town, especially when buying chicken. It is always fine when I cook it the day I buy it. But if I wait just one day, I have had to throw it out on several occasions — and after I got it from many different stores.

Just a few days before my other recent purchases of past-its-prime food, I was looking to buy fish from a huge, local, family-run grocery-and-everything store. I wanted to make a seafood terrine, and the quality of the fish in such a dish is of paramount importance. I pored over the store's selection, but everything they had looked pale, dull, and pallid, as if it had been dead longer than it should have been. I wound up buying fish from a much more expensive, but apparently fresher, place.

What I am saying is, the local stores need to get their acts together. Sometimes it's a matter of taste. Sometimes it's health.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.