Pear, Camembert & Honey Tart ~ The Best of Marin French Cheese Company

Caution: This post contains multiple pictures of creamy, oozing, dripping and bubbling….cheese! If you’re a cheese lover like me, then this won’t be a deterrent, but rather an open invitation to ogle some of the best artisan- produced delicacies from the country’s longest continually-operating creamery: Marin French Cheese Company.  Continue reading

Honey & Vanilla – Aloha Style

Here’s the final post- a sweet ending if you will- on my recent (and wonderful) trip to the Hawaiian Islands. I did some research before leaving California (the die-hard foodie I am! ) for unique culinary producers I could check out whilst I was on the Big Island. Figured there had to be a few farms in this tropical paradise that offered tours or tastings. So I scoured tons of websites and lots of travel blogs and found articles like this one and this one which pointed me in the direction of these two amazing food artisans: Rare Hawaiian Honey Company and Hawaiian Vanilla Company.  We combined both visits on the same day as they’re within a 30-minute drive of each other. This made for a fun, full-day outing and a great self-guided culinary excursion up the coastline from Kona towards Waimea. I didn’t take any photos on the drive up (dang it!) but trust me when I tell you the views were spectacular!

Rare Hawaiian Honey Company | range of honeys |

Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
Trading an avocado farm in Southern California for honey hives in an isolated forest on the dry side of the Big Island, owners Michael and Amy Domeier couldn’t be happier with their move to Hawai’i. Having previously spent short periods of time on the island, they both knew this location was special. Once they made their permanent move, they added the title of Beekeeper to their business card– and haven’t looked back since. The company was originally founded in 1981 (under different ownership) and Michael & Amy purchased it from them three years ago. Over the decades, the honey has developed a true cult following (add me to the list!) and has garnered well-deserved kudos from the specialty food scene by receiving the finalist award for Outstanding New Product from NASFT. What makes this raw and Certified Organic honey so unique is the stunning pearly-white color. There’s nothing else like it in the world. The bees feed on over 1,000 acres of rare Kiawe trees (pronounced “kee ah’ vay” in Hawaiian), a species of mesquite native to Ecuador and Peru. It produces a clear honey, which after only a few days, crystallizes into its signature white color with an unbelievably creamy texture. Its fragrance is laced with delicate tropical and floral notes….unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful!
calamansi honey | rare hawaiian honey co. |
calamansi honey | rare hawaiian honey co. |

beehive from Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
rare hawaiian honey company |
They have several types of honey, depending on the season, and what’s flowering. In the winter, the 400 hives are moved closer to wildflowers in bloom near a large macadamia nut farm along the coast or upcountry in an area called Honokaa. The Great White is one of their limited bottlings as this monofloral honey is only ‘pulled’ (removed from hive) at certain times of the year.  Bet you can guess which one was my favorite. Ah, too easy huh! The Calamansi took a close second though. I’ve never tasted a Calamansi before–it’s a cross between a mandarin orange and a kumquat, grows mainly in the Philipines and Malaysia. Warning: it’s a very tart fruit on its own, but when its juice is added to the honey, the mixture reminded me of a beautiful lemon-lime curd. Each honey is so distinct in its consistency and taste profile. Was great fun sampling through them all with Amy herself (thank you again Amy!). You can purchase any of the honeys shown through their on-line shop, or better yet– if you’re going to be visiting the Big Island, book-in for a tasting at their shop in Kamuela/Waimea. You’ll be in for a treat!

To visit:
Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
66-1250 Lalamilo Farm Road, Kamuela, HI 96743
Phone:  888 663-6639 |
Tasting by appointment

Hawaiian Vanilla Company |

Hawaiian Vanilla Company
Like many of you bakers, I use vanilla extract all the time. I know there are certain brands that are supposed to better than others, but I’ve never taken the time to actually learn why that it is or how vanilla extract is even made. But after our visit with the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, I now have all those answers and an even far greater appreciation for how this perfumed spice is grown.

The trip up to the Reddekopp family’s vanilla farm feels like a true culinary mission….CIA-style in fact. Although they’re widely publicized throughout the area on brochures and tour sites, getting there is a different story. There’s only one small road sign off the main highway leading you to the turn-off (which I swear we passed at least 2-3 times), and then a long, winding road which climbs up over the cloud line to about 1,500 feet above sea level– leading deeper and deeper into the dense tropical forest. What felt like a secret journey up the mountain made our arrival all that more satisfying. Like we were ancient explorers on our own spice expedition! Everything is low-profile here—probably because there are other family homes near-by AND when you consider vanilla is the second most expensive spice (next to Saffron) selling for upwards of $1200 a pound….well, you’d be keeping all this under wraps too.
sign in shop at Hawaiian Vanilla Company |

Jim Reddekopp | Owner Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Jim Reddekopp | Owner Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Upon arrival for our pre-booked tour, we were warmly greeted by owner Jim Reddekopp and his family (who also work at the farm) and served a refreshing and killer vanilla lemonade. Seriously, best lemonade E.V.E.R. ! Jim gave the group a tour of the greenhouses to see the vanilla orchids. Yes, the vanilla bean is actually a pod from a flowering plant in the orchid family. These precious orchids will only grow in a band 20 miles either side of the equator. The regions we’re most familiar with are Madagascar and Mexico, but now, the Hawaiian Vanilla Company is the first grower here in the U.S to successfully cultivate vanilla.  The farm uses a proprietary mix of soil to grow the plants in and they’ve developed their own system for trellising and water-drainage as well. Jim calls the setup his “vanilla canoes”. When it comes time for the plants to reproduce, each one is pollinated by hand to ensure the fertilization happens at just the right location on the plant. This is an extremely meticulous process as you can imagine, and there’s only about a 24 to 48-hour window in which to do it in. After flowering, the pod develops & ripens gradually over the next 8 to 9 months. Eventually, it will turn black and give off the unmistakeable vanillan-aroma. Each pod contains thousands of tiny seeds, and both the pods and seeds within are used to create vanilla flavoring.
vanilla orchid greenhouse | Hawaiian Vanilla Co. |
vanilla orchids at Hawaiian Vanilla Co. |

vanilla orchid | hawaiian vanilla co. |

During our tour, Jim shared with us his most prized gift from a vanilla farm down in Mexico. This sculpture is meant to replicate an Inca temple—it’s completely made from vanilla beans! It was really heavy for its size strangely enough, and the aroma….simply divine! Back at the main shop, we feasted on their homemade vanilla bean ice cream topped with a special liliko’i curd.  Then we shopped away for all-things vanilla. I’ll definitely be back for another visit, as they also offer a “vanilla lunch” too.
vanilla bean sculpture |
vanilla extract| hawaiian vanilla company |
all things vanilla | hawaiian vanilla co. |
vanilla extract | hawaiian vanilla co. |

vanilla extract | hawaiian vanilla co. |

liliko'i dressing | hawaiian vanilla co. |

To visit:
Hawaiian Vanilla Company
43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Rd. | Paauilo, Hawaii, 96776
Book tours and tastings here. There are several options to choose from including a full lunch to a farm walk.  For questions, (808) 776-1771

All and all, this was a happily jam-packed day full of information, sights and incredible tastes. What a blast! I highly recommend taking the time on your next vacation to scout out some local culinary producers near your destination. It will help you get a deeper sense and appreciation of where our global cuisines come from, as well as strengthen the mutual bonds of food-love we all share.

 *not a sponsored post, just sharing the stories of some awesome families who simply love what they do  :>)

Mango & Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

DSC_0070 - CopyIf you haven’t seen this video by Katie Quinn (qkatie) on how to peel a mango in 3 seconds, then stop what you’re doing this instant and go watch it. Seriously, this is so clever, you’ve just got to see this right now (well, maybe after you’ve finished reading this post and decided to make this delicious creamy & fruity dessert!). How did I not know this trick? I’m telling you, it will make prepping mangoes a cinch. Especially if you love mangoes like I do, but hate all the mess & fuss in peeling them. Curious?
You couldn’t wait to watch it- am I right? Ok, so now that you’ve seen the mango-magic video, what shall we do with two perfectly round cheeks and spears of juicy sweetness? I say we make an easy & tasty Mango and Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta. It’s another simple, make-ahead dessert that would be ideal for Easter brunch….or for any fancy dinner party really. The ingredients list isn’t too long,  and the presentation is sure to impress.

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A traditional Panna Cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) is a specialty thought to have originated in the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. It’s traditionally made by blending thick cream, egg white and honey. The blend is then baked in a water bath in a low oven. However—-we’re going to make an ultra-simple, no-bake version that’s much faster and easier. It’s just as creamy as the original, and the tang from the Greek yogurt nicely off-sets the sweetness from the honey. Find yourself some pretty little dessert cups, glasses, small bowls…whatever you have that you can layer the ingredients into. These are rich, so you won’t need a huge vessel.

Mango and Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta
yields 4 – 4ounce portions |  printable version

For Panna Cotta:
2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey (use the good stuff)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (my favorite is FAGE 0% Fat)

Put the gelatin and water in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat warm the cream, sugar, and honey. Do not boil, just warm until sugar and honey have dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in moistened gelatin until completely absorbed. Allow to cool slightly. Whisk in yogurt gently. At first the mixture may appear to be separating, but no worries, it’s not. Just keep whisking gently until you get a smooth custard-like texture. Pour into serving vessels, filling about 1/2 to 3/4  up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set.

For Mango Gelée:
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons water
1 cup mango puree (1-2 mangoes, depending on size)
1-2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)

Put the gelatin and water in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside. Peel mango (using the cool qkatie method) and put into small bowl of food processor. You want the equivalent of one cup of pulp. Process to a fine-course texture. Careful not to over-process and create a juice. Put processed pulp and sugar into a small saucepan and warm through. Taste the mangoes to determine how much sugar you’ll need. Keep in mind the panna cotta is  sweet, so you’ll want this gelée to be slightly tart to balance the flavors. Add in dissolved gelatin and stir to incorporate. Allow mango gelée to cool slightly and spoon over top of panna cotta. Place back in refrigerator, covered, for 1-2 hours to allow both to fully set. Serve with Meyer Lemon Biscotti or any other cookie of your choice!

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Note: if you want to substitute the mango, you could use papaya, passion fruit (omg, yum!), golden kiwi fruit (done it; tastes amazing), or summer berries (go for it). If using berries, just be sure to strain the pulp to remove all seeds.

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