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Top Pick Of The Week

August 28, 2007

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Antipasto

For an easy hors d’oeuvre or as part of an antipasto, wrap a slice of prosciutto around these gourmet bread sticks from Starr Ridge. They are absolutely delicious unadorned, too, as you’ll see below. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

WHAT IT IS: Gourmet bread sticks.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: The slender, rectangular bread sticks are handmade in five flavors.
WHY WE LOVE IT: All natural, great taste and variety, from buttery Olive Oil to peppery Parmesan Cheese With Black Pepper. They let us match the flavor of the bread stick to whatever we’re eating or drinking.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Allen-Cowley.com and fine food stores nationwide.
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Starr Ridge Bread Sticks:
Gourmet Crunch

Regrettably, this wonderful company ceased operations at the end of 2007. We are keeping the review here because we hope someone will purchase the assets and continue to produce these exceptional bread sticks.

Most people—even those who generally resist the bread basket—have difficulty ignoring an Italian bread stick. After all, how bad could it be for you?*

While occasionally we come across an exciting bread stick in a good restaurant (generally a top brand of grissini† from Italy), most are the equivalent of bland white bread. However, they crunch nicely—and that’s a big attraction in this land of crunchy-snack lovers. With butter or a tapenade, you can get something interesting going.

*Today’s Top Pick has 40 calories per stick.
†A particular type of Italian bread stick, very slender and about 12 inches in length.

Leave it to Starr Ridge, makers of one of our favorite graham crackers, to create a line of bread sticks that need no embellishment. Whether you’re serving cocktails, appetizers, salad, Italian cuisine or want to enliven a bread basket, you can’t do better than to serve these crunchy treasures.

In five varieties—Asiago Cheese, Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese With Black Pepper, Roasted Garlic and Seed, Starr Ridge bread sticks more than crunch. You get great flavor, too. To the manufacturers in Phoenix: Grazie. Read the full review below.

     
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

 

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Starr Ridge Bread Sticks: Gourmet Crunch

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

While crunchy, unleavened bread is an ancient form of food (think matzoh, made by the Jews during the exodus from Egypt), what we know today as the bread stick originated in Italy. Bread Grissinisticks were baked so they became very dry and crisp and could be stored for longer periods. Italy has a culture of bread—there are many different types of bread to match different dishes, the way that wine connoisseurs match a different wine to each dish. While the bread stick may have originated as a digestif or a snack, today it is often served as part of an antipasto. The archetypical bread sticks, grissini, are plain, slender and long, although there are numerous other shapes, lengths and flavors of bread stick to be found, including thick, knobby bread sticks the length of bakers’ arms (think of a French ficelle, but a dry bread stick, not a soft bread).

At right, the original bread stick, classic Italian grissini (grih-SEE-nee—the singular form of the word is grissino). Photo by Martin Brink | IST.

American lovers of fine food who have had the opportunity to visit Italy invariably envy the fresh goodness of the cuisine encountered everywhere, from the biggest cities to the smallest hamlets. Yet, inevitably, this country that prides itself on its artisan food tradition also finds itself the victim of agribusiness, with huge corporations and machinery elbowing out the artisan trades, bakers included. Italians have seen their artisan bakeries close; many of the handmade grissini from small artisan companies, using time-honored recipes, are gone, replaced on store shelves by industrial bread sticks. In other words, specialty food consumers of America, just because it’s imported from Italy and has nice packaging doesn’t mean it’s good.

Starr Ridge Bread SticksEven though we have purchased our share of those tasteless imported bread sticks, we have occasionally encountered a good one—just not often enough, and generally in an Italian restaurant with sources not available to the average consumer. Finally, far from Italy—or even the gourmet centers of America—Phoenix’s Starr Ridge has brought artisan bread sticks to all Americans (wherever you are, if they aren’t sold at local retailers, you can purchase them online). They aren’t classic grissini; but there are many types of bread sticks in Italy, and Starr Ridge’s are actually more flavorful—tasty enough to enjoy with wine and beer. Like all artisan products, they are made and packaged by hand (environmentally-sensitive consumers will be happy to know that the box is made from recycled materials). They taste like pure goodness. Starr Ridge may have to ship some to Italian food markets, as foreign aid.
Back to Index

BREAD STICKS ARE GREAT MUNCHIES WITH BEER,
FROM IPAs TO DOUBLE BOCKS.
READ ABOUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BEER IN OUR BEER GLOSSARY

Bread Stick Flavors

Starr Ridge bread sticks are made by hand from all-natural ingredients—unbleached flour, pure filtered water, unsalted butter, extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt.

  • Olive Oil Bread Sticks are the “basic” bread stick, but there’s nothing basic about them. With delicate crystals of sea salt on the surface, they have a lovely buttery flavor. They’re absolutely delicious, and the universal bread stick for any purpose. Those who love salt and chocolate pairings can dip them in chocolate fondue.
  • Asiago Cheese Bread Sticks are accented with deep golden flecks of Asiago. While Asiago itself is a very flavorful cheese, the cheese flavor in the bread stick is quite subtle. As a result, it won’t conflict with cheese plates, pasta with grated Parmesan or other dishes, and the bread sticks go well with wine.
  • Parmesan** Cheese With Black Pepper Bread Sticks are much more assertive: They’re salty from a topping of kosher salt, peppery from the fresh-cracked pepper (they start out slight but the heat builds to a long, soft, peppery finish) and softly cheesy. Great for pairing with beer.

**The difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano is that the latter is a D.O.P. protected cheese that can only be produced in Italy, specifically in the townships of Parma and Reggio Emilia in the region of Emilia Romagna. It is made to the strict specifications of the Consorzio Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, which inspects and approves every wheel. “Parmesan” can be made anywhere, and can include good cheese as well as the product sold in shaker cans.

Bread Sticks - Parmesan With Black Pepper
Starr Ridge bread sticks with beer are much, much better than pretzels. Shown, Parmesan With Black Pepper. Photo by Michael Steele.
Bread Sticks - Starr Ridge Asiago Flavor
Asiago Cheese bread sticks go with just about anything. Photo by Michael Steele.
  • Roasted Garlic Bread Sticks are a crowd pleaser (we bet it becomes the best-seller in the line). With good garlic flavor and subtle saltiness, they promise to become an addiction. The garlic flavor makes this flavor an especially good variety to wrap with prosciutto (along with the Olive Oil).
  • Seed Bread Sticks blend black and white sesame seeds and flax seed.

You can’t go wrong with any of the flavors, and a fun way to enjoy them is to mix them up in a basket and (if you don’t have a good eye to distinguish them, or just want to “play the game”), pick them randomly and just enjoy the luck of the draw.

 

Serving Suggestions

Bread sticks substitute for both crackers and bread, but their graceful, long shape gives them much more elegance and versatility and their extra crunchiness provides the satisfaction of a pretzel or a chip. Serve them with:

  • Wine and beer
  • Dips
  • Fruit and cheese
  • Hors d’oeuvres (wrap prosciutto or other
    meats, including bacon, around a stick)
  • Soup and salad
  • Pasta
  • Snacks

When presenting bread sticks, you can serve them:

  • In a basket lined with a colorful napkin
  • Standing vertically in a glass or a small vase
  • In a small pumpkin, hollowed out (line with waxed paper so the bread sticks don’t get soggy)

Chicken Salad
Try marmalade in your tea instead of sugar. Photo by Kelly Cline| IST.

 

The History Of The Bread Stick

According to the history of the bread stick provided by EKO, an Italian manufacturer of organic bread sticks, the original Italian bread sticks, grissini, originated in the Piedmont region of Italy Piedmont Map(Piemonte in Italian, the extreme northeast sector of Italy, highlighted on the map at the left). There are two stories: one based on oral tradition, the other on old written records. Romantic or a logician, take your choice:

According to oral tradition, it was the year 1675, and the young duke of the House of Savoy, Vittorio Amedeo II di Savoia, was nine years old. Frail since birth, especially suffering from intestinal disorders that affected his ability to eat and thus his physical development, he was seriously ill again. His mother asked the court physician to find a remedy to feed her son.

The physician had a great insight and was able to diagnose food poisoning from bread polluted by pathogenic intestine germs. According to the story, as a youth the physician himself had suffered from similar intestine disorders, which had been remedied by his mother’s bread, “well leavened, well baked with little crumb and very crisp.” The physician had the Savoia’s baker reproduce the bread sticks; the duke recovered, his build improved and he became the first Piedmont king, in 1713. The crisp grissino became the preferred bread in the Savoia household, and thus became known and appreciated by all visiting royalty and aristocrats of the time.

Nice story, and we hope that grissini cured the young duke. However, historical records indicate that in 1679, just four years after Duke Vittorio ate his first bread stick, heavy demand for the product made it necessary for officials to set a ceiling price. It seems likely, therefore, that grissini had been enjoyed by the public for much longer than four years, and that one has to search for an origin further back in time. In another historic record, in 1643, 32 years earlier, a Florentine abbot found a novelty bread “with a bizarre shape, that is a bread loaf an arm long and thin like dead bones” in a town outside of Turin. Going back further in time, a reference can be found to a special type of bread called pane barotellatus—in the dialect of Piedmont, barot means stick. (For more historic detail, visit the EKO website.)

As with most of our foods, the exact origin will likely never be known—but we can take crunchy comfort in the legacy.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to your crunch-loving friends.

STARR RIDGE BREAD STICKS
Asiago Cheese, Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese With Black Pepper, Roasted Garlic and Seed

  • 8-Ounce Box
    Any Flavor
    $4.50

Shop online at Allen-Cowley.com

Also available at fine specialty food stores. Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional.

 

Starr Ridge Bread Sticks
Three of the five bread stick flavors.

 


Read more about our favorite
breads and other related products:


Check Out These Other Top Picks Of The Week” From The Bread Group:

 

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