My husband Glen and I joined a couples dinner party club this year. The premise is very simple -- there are 10 couples, and once a month one couple hosts dinner for the other members. We do a potluck in December and take off August because so many people are on vacation, and that gives us 10 months to get together. It's lots of fun -- we get to hang out with other adults who like food and cooking, we get to play the "whose apartment is smaller" game, and we get a monthly date night with our spouses.
Some couples have hosted us at restaurants, others have hosted in their homes. I'm looking forward to the picnic dinner in June that I know one couple is planning. We hosted in February -- too cold to go out -- and spend several weeks obsessing about how we could fit everyone in our apartment (our fold-down table can seat 8 if we're really pushing it, we could maybe get 20 places to sit in two different rooms.) We knew we'd have to use the table to serve buffet style, and that everyone would have to sit with a plate on his/her lap, which limited our food choices.
In a stroke of genius (not mine -- but Glen's) we decided to make the food the main conversation piece of the evening. Most of the guests were Mormon and had lived in the west, and when we did a little research we found several artisanal food companies in Utah that were willing to ship to New York, so we planned our dinner around that.
We started with artisanal cheeses from Rockhill Creamery. We ordered Snow Canyon Edam, Wasatch Gruyere and Zwitser Gouda, all aged more than 12 months. An email from Pete Schropp said he'd also throw in some feta and a Belvedere Tomme to round out the selection. The only one in the selection that didn't work for us was the feta -- it was dry, overly salty, and didn't fit the rest of the choices we had for dinner. The other cheese were amazing -- I particularly liked the Zwitser Gouda, but the Edam was popular among our guests. Just as important for us was the easy communication with the owners -- they were responsive to our request, answered questions, and followed up to make sure we'd receive our order on time. And the best part? They sent picture of the cows! It's all seems a little quaint, but it was such a change of pace from the anonymous corporations that package and ship to the big grocery stores that you WANT to support farms like Rockhill. Your somehow afraid that the cows will take it personally if you don't like their cheese!
Who knew that you could find an Italian salami-making shop in downtown Salt Lake City? Now you know -- Creminelli Fine Meats is the place to go. For New Yorkers, you can find Creminelli wares in several places, including Fairway, Eli's Manhattan, Murray Cheese and Whole Foods. But we wanted some specific items, so we ordered directly from SLC and had the salami shipped to our doorstep. (Or rather, to our doorman!) We followed the tips on the website and ordered three of the six flavors for "tasting". We tried the Tartufo (with black summer truffles) the Barolo (which gets its name and it's flavor from the Barolo red wine that is added to the meat) and Wild Boar. The meats were tender and tasting, and not what I expected at all. (Actually, I don't know exactly what I expected, because I don't really eat salami that often, so this was quite a treat!)
Unfortunately, the Kolob Water Company couldn't ship their bottled spring water because it was too cold and the owners were afraid that the bottles would freeze and explode. But we tried!
Dessert was mixed berries and cream (straight from whole foods) and a tasting of artisanal chocolates from Amano Artisan Chocolate. And if you've never tried Amano, you're missing one of the best chocolates around. We ordered several flavors of chocolate bars, including Madagascar, which is one of my favorites. To serve, we simply broke each bar into pieces, and set them around in a labelled dish. Our guests were able to try different flavors and comment on their favorites.
The nice thing about a dinner party like this was that the different food tastings also gave all the guests a common ground for conversation, which made them all feel comfortable with each other. And yes, our small apartment survived the crowd!