Back when Caputo’s first opened, the deli, market, cheese shop, kitchen items, meats, fresh pastas, dry and canned goods and desserts were all jammed together in the cramped store at the corner of 300 West & 300 South. A decade later, Caputo’s Market & Deli has been revamped and reopened, just west of the old location. Having recently taken a tour of Caputo’s spacious new digs, it occurred to me how lucky we are to have Caputo, his deli and his knowledgeable, hard-working staff here in Utah. Caputo’s even offers some goodies that you can’t find at prestigious specialty food shops like Dean & De Luca or Balducci’s. Yup, right here in Salt Lake City.
Tony Caputo admits to being less than thrilled initially with the cheese-cave idea, a notion put to him by his son Matt and cheese monger Troy Petersen. Could be that he flinched at the $60,000 price tag. Anyone who knows Caputo’s fondness for fresh truffles knows he’s not cheap, but you have to move a lot of cheese to justify the cost of a cheese cave—one of just a handful of such caves in the United States. “Put together a proposal,” Caputo told the boys.
The thing about Caputo’s new cheese cave is that it’s not really a cave, at least not in the sense of those cheese caves in France which come naturally equipped with moisture, stalactites and stalagmites. This cave is a state-of-the-art steel-and-glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled, humidified and airflow-adjusted, finely calibrated “artificial” cave designed to mimic the environment of a natural cave. There are no bats.
According to Caputo’s head cave man Troy Petersen, it’s based on the model used by Murray’s in New York City, the country’s largest cheese shop. The new cheese cave at Caputo’s allows Petersen and his cheese-heads to age fresh cheeses naturally—the process known as affinage. Whole wheels of Epoisses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton, Pecorino and others are aging in the cave even as we speak. This allows customers to buy cheese at the exact age they prefer: really runny in some cases, more firm and developed in others. Caputo’s sells 200 different cheeses, some of which are extremely finicky artisanal cheeses, and the pricy cheese cave allows them to be treated with the care and respect they deserve.
Another new addition to Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli is a temperature-controlled curing cell where Christiano Creminelli cures his stupendous sausages and salami. And by “stupendous,” I’m not being hyperbolic. At New York City’s Fancy Food Show last month, Creminelli’s salami tartufo (made with fresh truffles) took second place overall among some 150,000 competing food products. That’s stupendous.
And so are his handcrafted meats, which he began making in Caputo’s basement where he slept on a cot, waking every couple of hours to check his precious sausages and salami for moisture. The moisture content must be carefully controlled—which is where Creminelli’s new curing cell at Caputo’s comes in—or they will rot or dry out.
That Christiano Creminelli—whose family has been making artisan meat products in the Italian Alps since the 1600s—would wind up here in Utah is our considerable good fortune. Creminelli scoured the country looking for natural, free-range hogs fed with organic white grains of the quality that his family used for their meats in Italy, with no luck. That is, until he found his perfect pigs on small farms near Logan and in southern Idaho. Troy Petersen gets giddy when talking about Creminelli and his meats. Petersen prefers the salamis very young, when they are soft and moist. Others, more used to American-style salami, prefer theirs hard and drier. Thanks to Creminelli’s new curing cell at Caputo’s, you can have your salami your way.
Although Vanessa Chang calls herself Caputo’s “chocolate bitch,” it’s Matt Caputo who’s the most unrepentant chocolate freak at the store. As with the cheese cave, it took some convincing to get the go-ahead from his dad to install a very expensive, beveled glass, temperature-controlled case solely to display Chocolatier Blue gourmet chocolates. “It’ll take a lifetime to sell enough chocolate to pay for that case,” Tony says with a smirk. But then again, maybe not. After all, Chocolatier Blue isn’t exactly Hershey; it sells for $2 per piece. And they’re worth every penny.
Until last month, master chocolatier Chris Blue based his operation in Alpine, Utah. Originally the chocolate maker for Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Blue grew weary of city life and relocated to Alpine. Just recently, he moved to Berkeley, Calif.—where he’ll soon open a small store—with help from Alice Waters. His world-class chocolates are used exclusively for dinner service at Charlie Trotters, Chez Panisse and The French Laundry. Currently, the only Chocolatier Blue retail outlet is Tony Caputo’s. That’s some pretty heady company.
The chocolates are all made with 100 percent Venezuelan cocoa beans from a single plantation. Blue uses Five-Star organic butter from California and cream from Clover Cove, a Nebraska family farm. All the fruits come from Utah family farms; there are no artificial flavorings, extracts, compounds, preservatives or purees. One taste and you’ll be hooked.
There’s a lot to like about the new Caputo’s: a bigger, more comfy dining area; a huge selection of artisan chocolates; imported foodstuffs from Italian pastas and pesto to Greek olives; and on and on. Right at the center of it all is a guy who is an honest-to-goodness Utah treasure. Every foodie in town owes Tony Caputo thanks for raising the quality of our dining lives.
TONY CAPUTO’S MARKET & DELI @ 311 W. 300 South. 531-TONY tttt