Taste Testing at Clover

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“Put on a hairnet and we will gather over here in the commissary kitchen.”

Food development 101 at Clover was about to begin. What does this mean, food development? Was this a behind the scenes tour? A cooking class? Not quite sure, but curious, my co-worker and I signed up.

Initially I thought we were to go on some sort of food tour. Some food tours let you discover unique shops and restaurants within an ethnic neighborhood, while in others you wander through open markets “oohing and aahing” over beautiful displays of fresh produce, locally caught seafood and scrumptious baked goods. However, as the general population becomes more concerned with how their food is made, Clover had the genius to invite individuals to share opinions on food development for their trucks and restaurants.

We gathered in a circle for general introductions. Visitors from the general public and employees from the Clover workforce listened together for instructions on the general protocol of the afternoon and how we would contribute.

In the first tasting we sampled hot coffee. Clover was trying to decide which coffee they would offer to their clientele. Our group was to taste Ethiopian, Costa Rican and Peruvian samples from Colectivo Coffee, the roaster. Small cups were distributed three times, each with a different coffee. We sniffed for aroma, commented on taste and then shared our opinions before moving onto the next coffee. One could chose to finish a coffee or pour it out, but many of us needed that late afternoon pick-me-up and had no problem finishing each sample.

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After the hot coffee trio came various samples of an iced brewed coffee with chicory. Chicory is a Mediterranean root vegetable, roasted to add a bitter, yet mellow taste to coffee. Here we were to distinguish which ratio of coffee to chicory we found most pleasing to our palate. There were three blends: 3/4 coffee to 1/4 chicory, 1/2 coffee to 1/2 chicory and 3/4 chicory to 1/4 coffee. Comments varied but most tasters felt that the higher percentage of chicory led to a more grassy taste, further away from the taste of coffee. Some felt the 1/2 and 1/2 ratio was similar to a tea. Once again our feedback was noted and we moved onto the next liquid to be sampled, something green and refreshing looking.

Clover welcomes recipes offered for potential additions to their menu. The next three cool drinks, all sporting a hue of green of some sort, were based on an employee’s own concoction. The first thirst quenching drink was a mint soda. Sweet and refreshing — everyone loved it. The type of mint used to infuse the flavor was not readily identified, but that did not matter. It was delicious! Then there was a cucumber lemonade. My co-worker commented that it tasted more like pickles and soon we referred to it as pickle-ade. Didn’t get our vote. The final drink, a rosemary lemonade, was tasty but had a herbaceous quality – a slight fuzzy texture which left the impression that the liquid needed a filtering process. Hands down the majority of the crowd was rooting for the mint soda to be added to the Clover beverage list.

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Food development then switched gears and we moved from liquids to bread. Clover’s specialty, pita bread. Information was shared as to what we would consider in tasting the different pitas. Flour used to make the pitas — regular, smelt and rye. The proofing time of the dough — 20 minutes proofing to 40 minute proofing. Coloring of the top and bottom of the bread once baked. Size of the air pockets. The chew — how chewy was the bread after a 20 minute proof, compared to a 40 minute proof. The rye and smelt flours came from Four Star Farm in Northfield MA — the use of a local farm made us think the bread would be much healthier besides being tasty.

I am a bread lover, but we sampled so many pieces of freshly baked pita, I actually had to stop. All were amazingly good. No matter which flour and amount of proofing time Clover would eventually decide upon, we could taste that their homemade pita bread was going to be spectacular! This was a recipe they would continue to experiment with in order to attain the perfect pita to bake in their ovens.

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I remind you again that this was a food development meeting — it’s very different from a food tour. You aren’t treated like a customer, you stand on equal ground with the rest of the employees. It’s free and a great way to take a sneak peek to see how an up and coming “healthy fast food” business conducts itself. A behind the scenes ‘look and taste” tour of how one restaurateur is going to make a difference. Patrons and employees together sampling food and beverage, while offering their opinion as to which may make the overall Clover customer happy and food-fulfilled. Brilliant!

Clover’s Food Development meetings happen every Tuesday from 3:00pm – 4:00pm. Sign up for their next meeting here.

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