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Sabato Blog

  • The Valrhona Story...

    Known as the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of the chocolate world and chosen by the world’s finest pastry chefs, Valrhona have been creating exceptional chocolate for eating and cooking since 1922. Based in the small village of Tain l’Hermitage, France, Valrhona is considered by chefs and chocolatiers as the world’s premier chocolate company.

    Dedicated to quality, Valrhona controls each step in the ‘Grand Chocolat’ process and own or deal directly with plantations. They have a dedicated buyer who visits the cocoa plantations regularly and works closely with them aiding and advising on the growing and treatment of the cocoa beans and post-harvest procedures.

    This attention to detail and selection of the finest cocoa beans at source combined with their unique approach to chocolate making - individual roasting of each bean type, sophisticated blending of beans and long conching (up to 100 hours as opposed to around 7 hours by others) results in an exceptional product.

    Valrhona is an intensely flavourful chocolate whose notes linger on the palate. The colour of Valrhona is perfectly uniform, glossy, dense and smooth. The aroma tickles the nose and the break is clean - intensifying the aroma. When you bite into it, you will notice how fine the texture is - creamy but not oily - quite light. It melts slowly, and you find that the flavour grows, intensifies and lingers.

    Because Valrhona focus on single-origin chocolate, they can offer very distinctive flavour profiles. One of our favourites is Manjari, a single origin grand cru dark chocolate made from rare cocoa beans from Madagascar giving it a fresh bouquet with red fruits notes and a background of sweet almonds.

    You also can’t go past one of Valrhona’s more recent creations, Dulcey. A blonde bombshell with a creamy, velvety texture and buttery, toasty notes with a biscuity flavour and pinch of salt. Simply divine!

    Sabato have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Valrhona and as part of Sabato’s 25-year anniversary celebrations, there will be 25% off the Valrhona chocolate range from 1 – 15 August 2018 both in-store and online* (excluding trade).

  • The Salvagno Story...

    The Salvagno family are one of our favourite as well as longest-serving suppliers.

    When you visit the beautiful part of northern Italy in which they live, it is immediately obvious why their extra virgin olive oil, olives: both in brine or pitted in that same oil, and their excellent olive paste are so good.

    They are a mere ten minutes from elegant Verona, the town where you can imagine Romeo and Juliet being played out. Along with the other cultural and vinous attractions - this is the area where Prosecco and Amarone rule and the home of the now very trendy Aperol or Campari Spritz - it is a must for young people to go to Juliet’s house and leave a stick-it love note on her wall and perhaps be photographed with her.

    Salvagno is located in the countryside, and the family, Gianni, his wife Elena and daughters Christina and Francesca are very well known in the area. When we walked through Piazza Erbe in Verona with Gianni, it took some time to get to the restaurant as he was greeted by so many friends along the way.

    Gianni is an innovator in the world of olives as he invented a modern version of the traditional stone wheel, feeling that his town’s olives were too delicate for modern methods of crushing.

    Certainly Salvagno extra virgin olive oil is always been quite delicately almondy but also quite rich in mouth texture and smooth and balanced on the palate. It is naturally organic and the fly they spray for normally does not exist in this climate. Or perhaps the prayers of the nuns in the cloistered nunnery we drove up to on the top of the hill near the frantoio protect them...

    The olive paste tastes as though it is a fully flavoured tapenade complete with anchovies and capers, but is in fact just olives and salt. Gluten-free and vegan as well as very moreish. One witty food writer once described it a ‘yuppie’ vegemite (a term anyone under 35 probably doesn’t know!).

    Their pitted olives in extra virgin olive oil are just sensational. They are rich and meaty, but mild served as is or stirred through pasta, risotto and many forms of grain or vegetable salads - or gain extra texture and crunch when roasted with meat, fish or vegetables.

    This brand is the ideal quality pantry staple.


  • Family wine time...

    Last year a group of our friends gathered for an enjoyable afternoon in celebration of Phil's birthday courtesy of the Rocca family at their winery which is nicely positioned just outside the Piedmontese town of Monforte d'Alba, about ten minutes away from one of our favourite spots: Barolo. The family were midway through the process of extending their facilities and the day was a sunny beautiful one, so we, our children, our friends and some of their children (all well over twenty now!) sat outside in a semi-circle and Federica, their daughter who was a few months pregnant at the time with her second child Gregorio, took us through a generous, educational tasting of their well-regarded range. Alongside was a simple, delicious lunch of fresh tomato bruschetta and a few local cheese provided by her mother Catarina who could not cook us her usual excellent pizza as the oven had not yet been rebuilt.


    We have purchased wine from the family for quite a few years now after an introduction by Gianni, a character who owns one or two of the many wine shops in Barolo. Aside from their highly rated range of single vineyard Barolo, we were also initially impressed by the quality and price of their Chardonnay, which was not a grape we had expected to find in this area. Their Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo are all very approachable wines and excellent examples of their respective grapes.

    This time Federica, whose delightful baby, Gregorio, is now six months old, told us the wood fired pizza oven was already being heated in anticipation of our arrival, so we hastened our way through the rain, down the little roads. Wow! Their new additions are very attractive as well as being functional, complete with a wine tasting room and lovely kitchen where the wood fired oven is located so they can cater to family, friends and clients. Federica gave us the short tour (they are a small winery), ably assisted by the enthusiastic four year old Tommaso, who is her brother Maurizio's child and his little dog, Jimmy. Maurizio was still out in the rain tending to the vines.

    The views just outside the new building are the beautiful, rolling, restful views, you could almost start to take for granted in Piedmont. You can understand why some of the locals never feel the desire to leave the region. We enjoyed a refreshing glass of Chardonnay, whilst Caterina took charge of the teething Gregorio, and Federica took over the rolling of the homemade pizza dough making more than enough pizzas for us all to enjoy over the 2003 Mosconi Barolo, Gianni, her father, arrived at the table with Maurizio and his partner Illaria joined us and we enjoyed a delightful evening with the family.


  • Budapest for beginners

    Budapest is a gracious city with many magnificent buildings, the exteriors of which are kept much cleaner than those of Lisbon, and it lacks the ‘killer’ cobblestones. Beware of just spontaneously hopping into a taxi however, although they are all yellow cabs, on the door is printed ‘freelancer’, and that is what they are. It is recommended to book by phone, which we invariably found to be less than half the cost.

    Our friends and neighbours from Auckland are there for a few months, living in a beautiful apartment on Budapest’s equivalent of the Boulevard St Germain, in Paris – but at nowhere near that price level we are told. It certainly feeds your soul to gaze out the window straight on to the breathtaking statues lining the exterior of the very grand opera house.

    By juxtaposition, reflecting the challenges of Hungary’s political past, but thankfully not its present, on the same street, rests a grey monolith of a building, called the House of Terror Museum. The exterior is lined with 228 photographic plaques of some of those who were killed there under the Communist regime, backed by the Soviet Army. We chose not to line up for the tour of the torture chambers. Apparently, it is chilling.


    Instead, we headed nearby to admire the Liszt Musical Academy, where daily at 1.30pm they offer a one-hour long English-speaking tour of their beautiful halls, complete with mini-concert. This particular day the performance was by the accomplished clarinetist, Dénes Antós. Our guide explained by way of background that Dénes was the first in his family to learn a musical instrument. He was a shy man, who said he chose the clarinet because it was close to talking. Dénes certainly played charmingly, and explained you could practice only four hours a day or your lips would hurt too much.

    The main market is full of the ingredients Hungarians love to eat, frequented by a mix of tourists and locals. Prominently featured in many stalls were huge amounts of meat – there is a variety of pork called Mangalitsa, which is famous. We heard about it but unfortunately did not have the opportunity to try as a restaurant we frequented had run out. At the market we did encounter lots of the local paprika (from powder to paste), goose and duck liver, foie gras (both fresh and tinned), honey and other related pollen products, caviar, saffron, poultry and meat, bread, pastries and great fresh produce. There was also a huge variety of the local fruit-infused eau-de-vie, called pàlinka, we found a shop dedicated to it when we travelled about an hour out of town to Esztergom. This place had been the capital of Hungary, from the tenth to mid-thirteenth centuries, and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, so naturally featured a huge basilica with museum.

    We stopped for a late lunch at a winery on the return journey to be told that the wine maker there had recently returned from working in New Zealand, at a winery whose style they aimed to follow – Villa Maria! Small world. Connections everywhere...

  • Giusti Balsamic

    The Giusti family have been making their superb balsamic using authentic and traditional methods for over 400 years in Modena, Italy – also home to Ferrari, Maserati and Pavarotti. Established in 1598, they still stand today at the top of the balsamic world. Their continued use of smaller wooden barrels, in preference to the more industrial approach, stood the test of time for Giusti with many prestigious awards bearing testament to this.

    Claudio, Luciano and Francesca are the 17th Giusti generation following the family tradition. Sabato have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Claudio and his family for the last 20 years and Giusti has been a key brand in our range. On our most recent trip we visited the Giusti family again and shared a hospitable, fun evening of balsamic cocktails, great food and live music.

    Because of the excellent quality grapes Giusti source, the juice from the slowly reduced grapes becomes thick, dark and sweet. They then add good quality wine vinegar to the cooked grape must before aging in the already seasoned traditional wooden barrels of various woods including those from cherry, juniper, oak, ash and mulberry. These each infuse the balsamic with its own unique flavour profile and aroma. Giusti have over 1000 barrels in use - 600 of which are over 200 years old and some dating back to the 1600s. As the balsamic ages, the liquid evaporates and the flavour intensifies. Each barrel is then topped up with balsamic from another barrel of different wood. Because each barrel contains a blend of vinegars from other barrels, it is impossible to truthfully determine the age of the balsamic in any one particular barrel.

    As part of Sabato’s 25-year anniversary celebrations, Giusti have made a special, limited edition Sabato 25-year balsamic vinegar in recognition of our long and close relationship. This is available now for a limited time only!

    We are also celebrating with 25% off the Giusti range, both in-store and online, from 1-14th June 2018 excluding the 25-year anniversary balsamic bottle.

  • Popular Portugal

    It’s always endearing when the locals love their city, as do the friendly inhabitants of Porto. From the affable guy who greeted us at our apartment with lots of handy tips - such as “use Uber when you’re sick of walking up hills, as it’s so cheap here” (it is) to “make sure you go to the market opposite as it’s closing for refurbishment soon” (killer cork product salesman there!), and “make sure you don’t miss this sight, and that sight, as they are just too, too beautiful” (they were) or “go to this too beautiful historic café and enjoy it, but only have coffee, as it is so expensive” (not really) or “you must eat at that restaurant as the food is sooo good” and “visit this port house because it is still in Portuguese hands”, This same level of enthusiasm also came with the young Uber driver who had spent a year in London, which he had enjoyed. He told us “I was so lucky to have a good job, and live with my cousin”, but he’d come home to Porto because he missed “my mother, my girlfriend and my city” (in that order!) he also advised “you will be completely safe here, not like Lisbon, which is much bigger” and he was right, we were.

    We had three days in Porto, so we walked a little, ‘Ubered’ a lot (about €2.50 to go to most places), tried many of the local specialties, both sweet and savoury: the famous little custard tarts, pastel de Nata, are available everywhere; and generally, we ate seafood – great cod and prawns, in preference to meat, as such a fresh and wide variety was offered.

    Custard Tarts 

    We found we preferred the local white wine to the red, and also enjoyed tasting white port. Two restaurants we tried, both offering very different local experiences were Intrigo, with a great view, less than one-year-old run by an enthusiastic young team, and Tapabento, a cult establishment extremely well-run by a woman veteran of the hospitality industry. We did a useful Hop-on, Hop-off city bus tour – which was an easy, efficient way to get our bearings and orientate. We visited two port houses, both of which were beautiful places, the Portuguese-owned Ferreira offered an excellent guided tour, while Taylor’s guiding was done by multi-lingual handset.


    Our three days just zoomed by and we were soon on board a train, off to explore Lisbon, where both the train station and airport are conveniently sited close to town, so it does not cost a king’s ransom to get to either. Larger, and more expensive though it is, we enjoyed Lisbon as well. Buy your cork products in Porto though, as the prices are much lower. In a busy square, we came across the most novel way to sell sardines we have ever seen; a very festive carnival-style shop with rows and stacks of tins printed with birth years. Cleverly, when you got up to the counter, the staff then upsold you a tin of the current year as well!


    We added our names to the waiting list and stood outside in the cold at the incredibly popular A Cervicheria, recommended by fellow tourist port tasters. We waited for about 40 minutes and drank Pisco Sours, made to order from own-branded ingredients and served at speed through a purpose-built double window. What a slick place with great staff, serving great ceviche.

    The following day we joined the too-large crowds at the cult Time Out Market where many of the great chefs sensibly have a side operation. Here, you queue at whichever one you choose, order your food, then hope to find a couple of seats together. By way of contrast, following a tip from an Uber driver, we enjoyed the calm, more elegant venue and style of food offered at Bairro do Avellez, the brainchild of one of the most well regarded local chefs, José Avillez. The previous night we’d sought out the octopus recommended at A Tasquinha do Lagarto, a fun, noisy, cheap place, with good local cuisine and walls lined with soccer jerseys and two televisions, in a seedier part of town. Nearby, we happened upon a pristine, clean shop, the size of a small supermarket, it was busy selling all sizes of fresh snails. Choose you own snails to cook at home, or have them cooked while you wait to take away, with white or red sangria available whilst you waited.


    After three days of restaurant hopping, with a major gallery tour and a few monuments seen along the way, we had barely scratched the surface, and can certainly see why Portugal has become a popular holiday destination as generally its inhabitants are welcoming of tourists, a large number speak extremely good English, it has much to offer in terms of sightseeing, and it is very easy to eat well without too much effort.

  • The Ferron Rice Story...

    In 1975, Gabriele Ferron recognised that mass production of inferior rice posed a serious threat to the survival of two exceptional varieties of Veronese rice. To ensure its survival he went on to establish and lead a group of rice growers in the Isola della Scala valley in Italy to protect these delicate species. It is Gabriele’s dedication that has ensured that Vialone Nano and Carnaroli rice are available today. We all have great reason to be very grateful to Gabriele as we effortlessly create delicious risotto dishes the Ferron way, using that indispensible pantry item – his unique style of rice. You no longer need to stand over your risotto, laboriously ladling in your hot stock, and stirring repeatedly, when you use this rice. The whole process is effortlessly streamlined to become quick, simple, and guaranteed to deliver a fabulous result every time. This rice is an essential ingredient for the modern, smart, sophisticated cook.

    Ferron rice is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers of pesticides. Instead their rice fields are irrigated with spring water and are full of frogs and carp, which control pests in a natural, organic way. Crops are rotated and corn and medicinal herbs are planted in the non-planting years to replenish the soil with nutrients.

    In recognition of the quality and characteristics of this rice, in 1996 Ferron Vialone Nano rice was declared a ‘PGI’ - a geographically protected, quality product. It is the only variety in Europe that carries the PGI quality guarantee and Gabriele Ferron has been knighted for his involvement in this field. We have been lucky enough to have Gabriele visit Sabato in Auckland on several occasions. He helped us celebrate our 20-year anniversary 5 years ago by taking a risotto cooking class. Gabriele is an enthusiastic, passionate, bubbly character who certainly knows how to entertain a crowd!

    Ferron rice is very different to the more commercially known Arborio or Vercelli rices. It is not a highly polished rice, therefore it retains more essential starch and vitamins on the outer part of the grain. Ferron rice gives a greater yield and has a very distinct and pronounced flavour. It also has the amazing ability to not only absorb greater quantities of stock but also to retain the classic individuality of the grain.

    Carnaroli is a ‘super-fino’ rice, meaning that it has a larger and longer grain. It has a more ’nutty’ flavour, and absorbs less stock or sauce, contributing more of its own flavour to the dish. It is produced in even smaller quantities than the Vialone Nano.

    Vialone Nano is classed as a ‘semi-fino’ rice. This describes the size of the grain which is small and oval. Its flavour is full, yet delicately herbaceous. Vialone Nano has the ability to absorb two and a half times its weight in liquid or stock, makes a naturally creamier risotto and is also ideal for desserts - especially rice pudding!


  • Fun in Barcelona

    Since our work is all about food, everything we eat could be regarded as research – and certainly in Barcelona it is extremely easy to eat very well, either traditionally, or at the cutting edge. We figured our exercise would be to walk thousands of steps everyday – nowhere near enough to counter balance our intake – however the intention was always there.

    Barcelona is both busy and friendly with great museums, galleries, restaurants, bars, port and street theatre. We had booked an Airbnb in the Gothic Quarter, with a couple of bedrooms, as our daughter Helen was joining us. Phil and I heeded advice to take the back bedroom to avoid being disturbed by the noise of the church bells from the nearby, rather wonderful cathedral. Even so, we could hear the chimes on the quarter hour all night – though they did soon fade into the background.

    Restaurant-wise, we revisited some we had previously enjoyed and added a few more to the list, including a Michelin-starred experience at Roca Moo. Our suppliers volunteered their thoughts, and over tapas I took the opportunity to suss out a list from Ramon, the husband of Susana. She and her brother Jordi, own Torres, our Spanish potato chip supplier. They took us to the very popular, very good tapas bar Parco Meralga. The Obama balls were terrific – black with squid ink. Showed a naughty sense of humour, as well as talent in the kitchen.

    Starting with an excellent mojito at one of Barcelona’s oldest nearby bars Casa Almirall, we then moved on to dine at a simple regional favourite eating spot – also liked by Ramon, Estevet. Situated in the slightly seedy district of El Raval, this restaurant is best described as casual, not sophisticated, and reliably good.

    St Jordi’s Day, our equivalent of Valentine’s Day, is hugely celebrated here, with men giving women roses, and women giving men books. There’s some wisdom in that! Booths are everywhere.

    We touched base with Eduard Pons and enjoyed more good tapas together, he may visit us in September, along with Albert Roca, maker of excellent Forvm vinegars. At this point we are intending to once again offer a couple of Albert’s fine Avgvstvs wines.

    It was also great to catch up with Javier and Carlos Oliva, the very witty La Chinata brothers, and our new friends from Torres chips have just added a very appealing spicy Pimentón de la Vera flavour, to their already upmarket range. We visited their factory and learnt the secrets behind great potato chips. They are a national obsession in Spain, and there are some very interesting flavours – fried egg crisps anyone?  For Torres, their difference starts with growing the potatoes from the best seeds. Their operation is really quite small and the attention to quality and detail is impressive. They also make their own flavourings – the popular truffle chips are made from Spanish and Italian truffles they dehydrate themselves, and in keeping with their commitment to quality – real caviar is used for their caviar flavoured chips. They take about two years to develop each flavour to the point where they are happy to release it, and a new secret one is in the pipeline for early next year!

    Both of our suppliers Cudié and Vicens have some new sweet treats and temptations for this coming Christmas. You will have a wonderful selection to choose from when they all arrive later this year.

    Helen arranged an excellent tour for us at the Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres. We had never realised Dali made a fabulous selection of jewellery as well as paintings and statues. A complex man of many talents. Our guide was very knowledgeable and it was well worth doing. We found it to be very reasonably priced as well.

    All-in-all, Barcelona was the enjoyable experience we always find it to be. We happened across a very hip cocktail bar called Dr. Stravinsky, which looked as much like an apothecary as a bar, and having asked which spirits you preferred, you were then made a bespoke cocktail. We all enjoyed our choices.

    If you’d like more details of the Dali Theatre Museum tour, or a list of places to eat and drink, just contact us and we will share our discoveries.

  • Jacqui & Phil's 2018 Adventures

    A blissful start

    Before setting off on our annual sourcing adventure, spending a couple of days with our (now firmly London-ensconced) daughter Helen was a must. However Helen had decided we should eschew London for the Cotswolds. Airbnb was consulted, a car was hired (you don’t need one in London, and unlike her Kiwi counterparts, many of Helen’s British contemporaries do not even know how to drive!) with enough luggage space for us all, she collected us from Heathrow and off we went.

    It was a comfortingly brisk, grey British day, though temperatures of up to 22 degrees were apparently promised the following week. Yeah right!

    We stopped en route at a huge service area, complete with mini supermarket and Ramada Hotel for a truly awful coffee – Allpress definitely need to expand their (understandably successful) operation beyond London. It really didn’t take long to arrive at our gorgeous destination, the accommodation being a cottage traditional to the area, complete with a modern kitchen, good heating, great water pressure – and soft beds. Bliss!


    Helen had a timetable in mind (you don’t mess with a Virgo) so after unpacking, showering and a change of clothing we set off to the train station to collect the fourth member of our party, and head to our first eating spot: The Cherwill Boathouse. We all enjoyed a hearty and tasty meal, finishing with a couple of fine British farmhouse cheeses.

    The next day we had been invited to visit Daylesford Organics and were accorded a comprehensive tour of this wonderful place. It comprises a 2000-acre organic farm complete with restful spa, as well as a restaurant, a food store and a home wares shop by Jerome, who is the export manager for one of Lord and Lady Bamford many operations – a French winery called Léoube. A magnum of their very nice Rosé had been a gift for my birthday earlier this year.


    Certainly the shop and restaurant are exceptionally attractive – and we were interested to note the presence of Torres crisps. The star of the show however was not on the food side. We had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Charlie – a chatty 10 year old on the animal husbandry side – who certainly knew his lambs, lifting one straight into Helen’s arms and enthusiastically offering to prepare a bottle for her to feed it. Charlie was not looking forward to abandoning his small charges to return to school the following week.


    We then meandered through a few of the nearby romantic Cotswold villages, complete with thatched cottages, clumps of daffodils growing in artistically-placed clusters, crows and magpies,  bridges christened with names like Tadpole Bridge and pubs called ‘The Red Lion’, ‘The White Hart’ and ‘The Kings Arms’, then headed to another of Lady Carole Bamford’s establishments, a restaurant called ‘Wild Rabbit’ to enjoy lunch in another of her very convivial settings.

    Wild Rabbit

    That night we self-catered with some of the fine fare we had purchased at Daylesford Organics and took some time to enjoy our gorgeous cottage, before we packed our bags and set off early the next morning for Barcelona.


  • The La Chinata Smoked Paprika Story...

    A defining ingredient of the Spanish kitchen, La Chinata Spanish smoked paprika is favoured by top chefs and food writers worldwide. It is instantly recognisable in its red tin and can be seen in the kitchens of the likes of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay.

    The rounded smoky flavour and intense colour of La Chinata smoked paprika make it a great addition to so many dishes. It is essential in a traditional Spanish paella and delivers so much flavour when used in marinades, rubs, dressings and sauces. La Chinata smoked paprika works especially well with fish, chicken, beef and vegetables bringing out flavours that salt and pepper alone simply cannot.

    Sabato has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with La Chinata, which was founded in 1975 by the Oliva family. Cecilio Oliva has been joined by his two sons Javier and Carlos and they continue to produce this world class spice.

    Pimentón (peppers) from la Vera in Spain, are smoked over oak for 10-15 days to intensify their flavour before being stone-ground to produce a paprika totally distinct from other paprikas. In 1993 ‘Pimentón de la Vera’ became the world’s first pepper spice with ‘Denomination of Origin Protection’ (DOP).

    There are three varieties of La Chinata smoked paprika to choose from, dulce (sweet), agridulce (bittersweet) and picante (spicy). Each variety is made from a different variety of pepper, unique in taste. We recommend starting with dulce and working your way through the range. Although if you like spicy foods, go straight to the picante!

    Paprika flakes are a NEW addition to the La Chinata range. These are packaged in convenient glass bottles with grinders and are perfect for grinding over steak, eggs and potato and for use at the table.

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