Thursday, March 20, 2008

Steven Rosenberg, CEO (Chief Eating Officer) of Liberty Height Fresh

Say Cheese!

Standing by cheese at Jasper Hill Farm in VT. Steven says: "The brothers make some of the most amazing raw cow's milk cheeses in the USA!"

On Your Shopping List
A few recommendations of magical knock-out tastes gathered by Rosenberg from all over the world.

Winter squash soup and fresh cider (with 8 kinds of apples.) Wight’s natural grain-fed turkeys during Thanksgiving, cute jars of truffle, saffron, smoky or savory French salts to rub on meats and cooked Spanish chestnuts to mix into stuffing.

Preserves: One made entirely of rose petals— or Tunisian marmalade paired with horseradish spread.

Appetizers: Cheeses like Calabra, a hot, heady blue, an aged Gouda that tastes like butterscotch or creamy Vermont Stilton —add pears, apples and dollops of exotic-flower honey from Hawaii or one collected by climbing trees in Africa.

For Baking: Huckleberries, raspberry candied raisens, candied oranges or Sicilian marzipan.

Sweets: Browse a section of tongue-pleasing French and Italian hot cocoas or bars of Amano’s Madagascar or Venchi chili-infused dark chocolates. Fig goat ice-cream! Yum!

I'D LOVE SOME OF THIS: Leave with a sleek bottle of must-taste Tuscan rose-petal syrup.

The store is open Monday-Sat., 8:30-8 and Sunday, 10-7. 801-583-7374.

It’s breezy at Liberty Heights Fresh, the east doors are open wide to keep the produce cool and sweet. heady smells fill the market: a mixture of wild mushrooms, ripe pineapple, sweet, pungent cheeses, and fresh brownies baked with Italian, Spanish and French bittersweet chocolate. Shoppers search for the perfect tastes to complement their meals.

There’s a story behind many of the delicacies sold at Liberty Heights. The owner, Steven Rosenberg, often travels to where the food originates. He’s been to the Venchi chocolate factory in North-western Italy. He’s visited Modina, Italy and learned about the process of distilling the juice of Trebbiano grapes to create one of the many brands of balsamic vinegar he sells. It’s made in the traditional way, having passed though a series of wooden barrels like oak, ash, mulberry, chestnut and cherry. He points to a small bottle filled with the deep burgundy-brown vinegar. “Nothing can go into this bottle unless it’s been aged at least 25 years.”

Perhaps people shop at Liberty Heights because of the romance of those stories. Those with discerning tongues can taste the difference between cheese from a cow grazing on spring wildflowers along the foothills of the Alps or cheese from sheep that dined on the dewy grasses of Northern California. “We are only as good as the last bite someone ate, and if they didn’t get pleasure from it, we failed.” says Rosenberg.

Rosenberg grew up on a third-generation farm in Southwest Michigan, feasting on handpicked produce. It wasn’t until he left for college that he realized most people didn’t eat the way he had. “I just thought everyone ate well because we had all the great fresh things to eat, things that were ripened on the vine, and were allowed to get the flavor they should get.”

He graduated from Michigan State University in 1983 with a degree in agricultural economics, then worked in the cut-flower importing and marketing business––and even as a film maker.

When he moved to Utah in 1984 to work for a large distribution company, he had to adjust his eating expectations. “I was born with a passion for good things to eat. When I moved to Utah, there was no place to buy great food, and that was very depressing. The culture here was one of quantity and not of quality.”
Rosenberg opened Liberty Heights Fresh in 1993, initially selling only produce and flowers then adding baked goods and specialty foods from around the world. In 2001, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) named Liberty Heights one of the 10 Best Specialty Food Retailers in the United States.

Besides being passionate about great tasting food, Rosenberg is passionately dismayed about the mega-market, profit-driven approach to buying food. One wonders if Liberty Heights is his own brand of activism in a world fed by supermarket and fast-food chains. “The American consumer has been eating a tremendous bowl full of lies for a long time,” he says.

“People buy food processed to the point where nutritional value is lacking, and that has tremendous health care costs.” He wants to be known for selling food that has integrity. Offering this quality is where specialty retailers find their niche. “I sell real food made by real people, not factories. I prefer [to buy from] people that are passionate about what they do. I’m not interested in how shiny the apple is or how pretty the food is. I’m interested in the pleasure the food is going to give someone when they eat it.”

What does he love most about his business? “When somebody tells me about an extraordinary experience they had with something they ate.”

Rosenberg invites all to come to his shop and browse; he’ll even take you on a tour. He may even tell you about his pet foods for each season. This winter? “It’s a great time to eat cheese,” he says. “I would say a piece of English Stilton with a glass of Port.”

And after that, he suggests some steamed beet greens or Kale, or a good piece of Morgan Valley lamb. And the perfect addition to a cold winter morning? Potatoes latkes with applesauce made from fresh apples hot off the stove.

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