#PCHOLIDAYCHEER

Earlier this month (11/04/11), I was invited to participate in Price Chopper’s Holiday Entertaining Showcase (#PCHolidayCheer on twitter if you wanna see what all participants had to say). I’ve shopped at Price Chopper as long as I can remember but I was so impressed by what Price Chopper has to offer for the holidays, things I didn’t know about. I walked into the Price Chopper HQ in Schenectady on Nott St welcomed by a number of bloggers, like myself, ready and waiting to see just what Price Chopper had in store for us that day. The main point of this showcase was to show off what Price Chopper will be stocking for the holidays, the food options you can order or make for yourself with some of the products that get lost by the wayside when we begin to buy the same safe products over and over again.

We walked in to the room with snowflakes over our heads and in the middle were a couple tables surrounded by different kinds of food and numerous Price Chopper employees ready to tell us about one facet of what’s to come. I took a walk around before they began the function and I was so impressed by how pretty everything looked I couldn’t even imagine how great it was all going to taste!

The afternoon began with a welcome from Jerry Golub, President and COO of Price Chopper. My blog is about appreciating what’s local, what’s around you and Jerry Golub spoke right to that. He mentioned that Price Chopper’s main goal is “for you and all customers to look at us as #1 resource.” Price Chopper began here and unlike other stores who have started in a smaller city and grew to move on, their headquarters are still located in Schenectady. They turn to the customers in the Capital District, their aspiration is that you turn to them in return and they “hope you get a feeling for the passion we have as a company… especially during the holidays.”

Next, we were given time to explore all the various tables filled of food. I ran into Heather (from ThenHeatherSaid) who I’ve met before and talked to on twitter a bit and we took the room by storm. Our table was right by the seafood so that was a good table as any to begin (also where I ate everything and ended up ruining any other table’s chance with my appetite). There, we talked to Lee French, the VP of Seafood Merchandising (with 37 years experience) and Jamie Bouchard, the Company Manager of Seafood. While Lee was describing to us the difference between All Natural scallops and Dry scallops and which is better between the two, Jamie was offering us all the different Price Chopper seafood we could try so I wasn’t actually able to focus on the difference but I can tell you how great the food tasted! First we had a large stuffed shrimp and a stuffed mushroom. The shrimp was fantastic but really difficult to eat with one hand especially once I got to the actual shrimp part, they cooked it really well. My favorite was the Maryland crab cake- you can buy a platter of it for $10 which has about 10 cakes in it, they’re worth it! I ate them without a condiment at all and really enjoyed them. They also described “I Can Do This” to show that cooking fish isn’t as difficult as it sounds, ask the people working in the seafood department how to cook it, bring it home (165 DEGREES as they told us for fish) and then you’ll be saying “wow I can do this!” Tasty & easy to cook, MY favorite!

Next, was a table full of items that were a mix of what they will be selling and what they are currently selling in the store. My favorite was the chocolate covered pineapples that we were able to sample. I always hear about chocolate covered strawberries but if you’ve never experienced a chocolate covered pineapple, I recommend heading over to Price Chopper and getting them either made fresh or picking up a package in the fresh fruit section! They were delicious! Also on the table were roasted chestnuts. It was my first experience with roasted chestnuts and they weren’t my favorite nut but many other people enjoyed it, I’m just used to nuts with salt and  it would take some getting used to without it. The next stop was the florist section which presented us with beautiful glittered flowers (that were also our table decorations) and holiday wreaths. I didn’t know Price Chopper sold holiday wreaths but they had them in quite a few different styles. There was a “regular” Christmas wreath which looks like the kind you’d find in old Christmas movies, one covered in silver decorations, there was one (my favorite) that looks like it would fit perfectly in a wood cabin out in the Adirondacks. They were very pretty and it looked like they put quite a bit of effort in to them. If you’re looking for a beautiful wreath but for a little cheaper than those you may find at craft fairs, don’t rule out Price Chopper.

Next to that was a table of gelato and dips for on top of cheeses. I’m very well versed in Price Chopper’s gelato, where else can you get gelato that came right from Italy this far away? I love the blood orange flavor but here I was able to try the chocolate and the peppermint (candy cane). I liked the peppermint one, it seemed like a perfect flavor for the holiday season, red color and all. My problem with most peppermint ice creams is that they take over too much of my palate and even after I’ve finished my ice cream all I can taste is that fake peppermint flavor. With Price Chopper’s gelato, not only is the peppermint flavor taste authentic but it’s linger time (I guess is the best way to describe it) was just enough and I was able to go right from that to the cream cheese covered in sauce without that peppermint toothpaste flavor. I couldn’t try the cream cheese but my favorite dip was the Thai Chili Roasted Garlic, it had the spice that seems to have paired nicely with the cream cheese (stupid lactose intolerance) the best way to stop the spice is with some dairy! I’ll describe the flavor more when I go through my goody bag later this week! Yay!

Next was the bakery table, gotta take a break from the delicious food to have some delicious dessert. We were able to see the beautiful work the bakery does with bread and baked goods. I loved their idea of the “Cake in the Cup” because they figured it was too big to be a cupcake so it had to be a cake in a cup. During their presentation, they mentioned that you’re also able to order cannolis made to order. All you need to do is pick up the cream and shells and then impress your friends at your next holiday party! My favorite was the 11 layer red velvet cake we (thankfully) were able to try. Each and every cake was so different, so beautifully crafted, I wanted to order them all. From cupcakes to huge brownies to holiday cakes to decorated breads, I was so impressed! I tried to make a mummy bowl on Halloween and it was so difficult, seeing what they can do with bread was amazing! Even if you don’t have a party to order them for, take a look at their bakery, it’s like going to a culinary museum in your local grocery store.

The next table was focused on Boars Head meat which I assume almost everyone is familiar with. They made these crackers with brie, prosciutto, pastrami and a taste of heaven I assumed- it was wonderful. My favorite was the cheese log that he showed me that they’re going to sell at Price Chopper. It was a roll of chorizo and cheese with jalapeno inside that you can just buy already rolled together so you can slice them as little appetizers for your guests for your holiday party, easy and tasty. It was a bit spicy but nothing too intense and they mentioned there were other kinds if those weren’t your cup of tea. Something that surprised me was the turkey pepperoni, it has less fat but still packs the same flavor. If you had given that to me and didn’t tell me that it was turkey, I would have had no idea.

My favorite table was next, the cheese table. I can’t pass up cheese, especially great tasting cheese. At first we tried the pumpkin cheese spread, it has the texture of cream cheese but not too overwhelming of a pumpkin flavor, worth the taste.  What really surprised me was the Apple Pie flavored cheddar cheese. I love the taste of cheddar and apples so making an apple flavored cheddar seemed perfect. The flavor is almost indescribable you get the warmth of the apple pie but with the hint of flavor mixed with cheddar, it’s pretty much genius. My favorite was the Dubliner cheese, one infused with Guinness and one infused with Jameson except they just say “Irish Stout” and “Irish Whiskey.” You get the Whiskey flavor but not the alcohol after-taste, it compliments the cheese really well. I can’t wait to get the Irish Stout and try it with a Guinness. During the presentations we heard from Chris Boyle, the Category Manager of Specialty Cheeses, who taught us how to make a proper cheese plate for the holidays. With 22 years in the business, 19 in cheese alone, I think it’s safe to say that he knows a little more about cheese than I do and I thought I was a pro! Apparently far from it! He truely is a cheese artist, saying “Cheese is art.” Who knew the different flavors could be a painting on your palette.  He mentioned that he looks for local farms to get cheeses from, visits them himself and further pushes Price Chopper’s goal of keeping local. At one point during his presentation he mentioned “Local, local, local, that’s the mission we’re after.”

For the cheese plate, he started with Triple Crown, St Andre cheese that was brie with added cream. It made the texture a lot creamer than brie almost like the texture of a goat cheese but without the strong brie aftertaste, the cream cut it a bit. Then he added Manchego, from Spain, one of my favorites. This particular Manchego had been aged 9 months but he told us that the period of time that it aged decides the actual flavor profile. One way to detect the age of cheese is to look at the spots, no spots on the cheese means it’s still a younger cheese. Also, if you let cheese sit out an hour or so before serving, it gives the cheese a more full-bodied flavor. I learned so much about cheese, I’m still trying to process it all while eating some with wine, which is the best way to process cheese I think. I was unaware of the huge selection of cheeses, including some from all over the world, that Price Chopper has to offer. Try something new for your next party, everyone likes cheese!

The last table was for Certified Angus Beef. I know absolutely nothing about meat, just that I know what tastes good to me and I know what I like. I started out at this table making Dave McVain, the VP of CAB, know my lack of knowledge for something he’s so passionate about. The three meats they were having us try were the NY Strip Roast which was very tender but very lean which surprised me when the flavor was so strong, the traditional CAB Prime Rib which was my favorite, and the CAB Top Serloin Spoon Roast. We learned that starting for the holidays they’re doing something different with the NY Strip Roast. Instead of purchasing a large roast for a few people, Price Chopper is taking the original roast and cutting it in half creating 2 smaller roasts to be more manageable.

During the presentation, we got a crash course in meat. McVain started out his lesson with the question “What is Angus?” He had a good point, we hear about Certified Angus Beef as being higher quality but then fast food chains also advertise Angus so how are they different? The most important word to remember with Angus is breed. Angus is when independent farms raise independent Angus breeds of cattle and within these breeds there are different quality specifications. What I found most interesting was learning about intro-muscular marbling. Those little muscles are starch and when you cook the meat those starchy bits melt into the meat giving it flavor. The meat gets its flavor by feeding the animal grass until the last 100-120 days when it is fed corn to create the starch and disperse it.

Overall this experience was so rewarding and I mean that other than all the food I got to eat.  I knew Price Chopper was a local grocery store but I for one, had no idea that they were so focused on keeping it local. There were so many foods to try to talk about, a lot more than I mentioned but they can all be found at your local Price Chopper so take a visit and explore for yourself! I know this blog was a lot to manage, it was a lot for me to take in to write in this blog but maybe it’ll give you a bunch of great ideas for your next holiday party! At the end of the all the presentations we were given a goodie bag and  some cheeses of our choosing, I was also lucky enough to go home with one of the gorgeous flower arrangements from the middle of each table. When I try each product, I’ll be sure to write a blog entry about it so you, too, can try some new things at your local Price Chopper. Thanks Price Chopper!

For more pictures from this event, be sure to check out the 518Bites&Sights Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/518BitesNSights