Agrimontana Pistachio Paste
It all began with the Ice Cream.
I mean, many a fantastic adventure has begun this way– a first date for ice cream turns into a relationship, a craving for ice cream leads to finding a new favorite bookstore, or maybe even a heartbreak ends with an introduction to my good friends, Ben and Jerry.
Ice cream is kind of like the unspoken language that all of our hearts grow up speaking. It has the ability to soothe, heal, cool, and calm. It is the treat you crave during a diet. It is the only thing you can think about on a smoldering summer evening. It is the most requested last food on death row. It is the cool, crave-able stuff of diet busting dreams.
It also has the ability to drive you nuts. In this case, I mean that literally.
Have you ever heard of Pistachio Paste? Neither had I. But last week I decided to make Pistachio Ice Cream Sandwiches out of French Macarons. Simple, right? No. I also wanted to make my own ice cream. I didn’t want to be one of the sheep standing in line at Walmart clutching my container of pre-made Breyer’s in shame. I wanted to create this ice cream, this delectation of delight, with my OWN BARE HANDS. Of course, I also wanted to rise up rested, with my makeup already on, my hair perfectly curled, singing like Cinderella as the forest creatures helped me get dressed. But as they say . . . ahem. “This is the best we got, girl.”
Actually, my freezer is no snob to Breyer’s. But in this case my kids have been home on quarantine house arrest for months. They beg me daily, hourly, moment to MOMENT for something to do. So I said, “Of course beloved children. Your always organized mother is going to whip out the ingredients to make ice cream, and we are going to sing the alphabet song while we make it together, perfectly the first time, and take instagram worthy photos of our perfect creations!”
Ahem. I seem to remember it was more like kids pulling sleepy, bags under her eyes mom from the couch where she was nursing her morning coffee like a precious jewel, crooning over it like it was a newborn, and pulling her to the kitchen begging for something to do. Mom cleverly suggests dishes, cleaning, housework. Kids veto all ideas. Mom argues that all of these suggestions are “something to do.” She is outvoted. She argues that kid votes count as half an adult vote. She decides to make ice cream out of pudding mix because (1) the only “cooking” required is stirring, (2) she doesn’t have any eggs to make real ice cream, and (3) she’s tired and figures if the kids mess it up, the sacrifice is just a pack of pistachio pudding that has been in there longer than she cares to admit– who was even president when she bought this???
So the happy family made their Ice Cream Sandwiches with their easy, kid friendly pistachio ice cream, using pistachio pudding that ended up not being as old as she thought, since it was not yet drawing pudding social security. And the pistachio ice cream macarons were delicious. They really were.
You know the way you feel when you are driving your perfectly good Toyota Camry down the road, windows down, thinking that all is right with the world . . . and suddenly you see a red Ferrari at a stoplight, just sitting there oozing sexiness and wanderlust? Suddenly you are filled with that incredible, almost maniacal “I wonder what it feels like to try THAT one” feeling. In that red Ferrari lusting kind of way, I wanted . . . MORE.
So that led me late at night, during those precious seconds after the kids are asleep, dinner is finally finished, the dishes are dried and put away, the laundry is folded, and the day’s work is done (usually about 45 seconds) to use my MOM FREE TIME to look up a real, grown up, big girl pistachio ice cream recipe.
And THAT led me to pistachio paste.
Pistachio paste, in a nutshell (hehe. See what I did there?) is super finely ground pistachios, lubricated with pistachio oil. What you see is something that kind of looks like pureed pea baby food. But what you GET is a super concentrated, BOOM CHICKA BOW WOW of pistachio flavor, concentrated in a very small dose.
So naturally then, I started researching pistachio paste brands. The long and short of it is, there are a LOT of products out there. Many of these products call themselves pistachio paste, but they really aren’t. Many of these less expensive options have added fillers– almonds are a common filler, as are sugar and other preservatives and gums, such as xanthan or guar gums. The pistachio paste that you want to look for is 100% pistachios, with the only other ingredient being pistachio oil– no sugar, other “foreign” nuts, or gums/preservatives.
Let the pistachio stand alone, on his own green feet. (*awkwardly* um, I don’t think pistachios have feet?” Oh details details!!!! Tsk tsk!)
Unfortunately you’ll pay dearly for the real deal– it’s around 50 bucks a cup, for the good stuff. Is it worth it? Oh . . . that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it. After exhaustive research I decided to try 2 of the top brands of pistachio paste that I read about on chef’s forums, in magazine articles, and in pastry chef blogs. The first contender is what I consider to be the top American made brand, made with California pistachios– Fiddyment Farms pure Pistachio Paste. This pistachio paste is widely touted for its natural green color, its “made in America” provenance, and of course, for its 100% pistachio pedigree. Even though California products are a little late to the high end European food game (through wine, olive oil, and apparently pistachios), they have given storied European brands a run for their money, surprising both food snobs and food critics, alike. I couldn’t wait to try it.
The other pistachio paste I wanted to try is the proverbial “top dog”– the pure, unadulterated pure Pistachio Silk from Agrimontana, Italy. This baby was widely touted as the best of the best, coming straight from Italy’s beautiful shores. I first read about Agrimontana in Saveur magazine— a magazine which isn’t prone to exaggeration, or even to praise unless it is highly warranted. And the author says simply and quietly on the magazine’s instagram page that this Agrimontana pistachio paste was “the single best thing” he had ever eaten. Wow. You don’t get an endorsement like that without a reason. I had to know more.
And there I encountered my first problem.
Agrimontana pistachio paste is almost impossible to find. Store clerks hush their voices when you ask about it. Yes. I’m serious.
More than once I was told to “call for information” or “call and get the price.” I was even told, “don’t tell anyone that we are telling you this, or selling it to you.” I started feeling like I was putting $20s into grubby palms in dark back alleys, just to find out where I could buy this stuff. And that’s not all– another kicker is that a jar a little larger than a can of baked beans costs around 100 bucks. It is impossible to find, and even more impossible to buy.
Of course I was instantly dying to try some.
So how did the top American brand stack up against this storied, luxury Italian brand? Could the local underdog take on the legend? That’s what I was dying to find out.
Before I tell you how they tasted, though, a quick word on price. The Fiddyment farms pistachio paste is currently about $2.36 per oz. while I got the Agrimontana for around $2.77 per oz. (and this pricing varied wildly depending on where you buy it). But there are hidden costs here. Agrimontana cost me $35 to ship, so technically that brought my price to $3.77 per oz. If your brain is swirling from all these numbers, let’s just say that (1) the products, themselves, are similarly priced, with Agrimontana being slightly more expensive, and (2) Agrimontana was super difficult to find, and much pricier to ship, bringing its price to almost $1.50 more per oz. than its American competitor, not to mention the headache of trying to track it down and actually get someone to ship it to me from Sicily, land of legendary pistachio paste and (ahem) the mafia.
So . . . is that extra cha-CHING worth it?
My beloved children. YES. Yes, it was totally worth it.
Pistachio paste texture is kind of like the “all natural” peanut butter you can buy at the store– the kind that separates out into oil and nuts and then has to be stirred together into a soupy paste before eating. It is the most intense, pistachio tasting punch you can imagine. The paste is almost a pea green color– the natural color of the pistachio after grinding. I actually finally spoke with a member of the Agrimontana family in my desperate quest to find the stuff (yes– all those channels eventually led me to the family, itself, as Agrimontana is still a small owned family company, and almost unbelievably, someone actually called me from Sicily to hook me up, finally, with this golden green elixir), and they told me that the Italians prefer their pistachios without any added colors or flavors– that they “like their pistachios like they like their women– beautiful just as they come.”
I ordered them both (When I could finally find someone willing to sell me the Agrimontana without signing a contract in blood). As far as the American one, I clicked “order” on amazon and got it in 2 days with free prime shipping. It arrived with a little smiling arrow on the box, ready for some gelato action.
As for the Agrimontana, finally, after searching and searching, listening to Italians croon love songs for the “Pistaaaachhhhheeeeeoooo” into my ears, and wondering if I was ever destined to try this nutty nirvana, one day, finally, it came.
I watched the mailbox like a hawk all day, praying my mail carrier wouldn’t think I was stalking her as I pretty much rushed the mail truck when she arrived. I ripped open the package, my hands trembling. And there, wrapped in a million layers of plastic wrap, finally, was my Agrimontana. The copper container gleamed at me from the depths. The label was industrial and no frills. “Agrimontana Pistachio Silk.” It was mine. At last.
The American Fiddyment Farms brand was the one I tried first (honestly because I got it first). When I opened the lid I was greeted with a sweet nutty smell– pleasant and nice. It made me want to taste some (which I did). It was very “pistachio-ey” (is that a word? It should be). The flavor rolled nicely onto the tongue and didn’t make me think of almonds as some of the lesser ones had. I liked it very much.
The texture was something like homemade peanut butter– thick and a little bit viscous and “stick to your tongue,” with some nut graininess that kind of swirled around your mouth and got acquainted. The pistachio taste was strong and pure. I made gelato and strained my ice cream base through a fine mesh strainer prior to churning (I always do this to catch any possible fragments of cooked egg from the custard making process). I got a surprisingly large amount of nut pieces in this step that were too large to pass through the strainer.
The pistachio gelato made with down home American pistachios was delicious, but I did lose about a teaspoon of nuts in the straining stage which had not been ground finely enough to pass through my strainer.
Now, let’s talk Agrimontana. I’m trying to be fair, here. I determined when I tasted both of these beauties that I would have an impartial mind and not automatically assume that the more expensive one was better. I would taste with the virginal tongue of an impartial judge– someone who was truly waiting to be impressed by both (or neither). No goodwill was being given away for free! No free pistachio lunch in THIS judge’s chambers! I put on my best pistachio critic glasses to try the Italian Agrimontana. I was determined to be RUTHLESS! Well . . . as ruthless as someone trying ice cream after delicious ice cream recipe can be. And said ice cream wasn’t even fat free. What are we– barbarians!!!
So anyway, yes. I was determined to be impartial.
Until I opened it.
This is the point where I tell you to go play Etta James’ sultry, sexy, moanin’ rendition of “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” swirl an aged brandy before a smoldering fire, and gaze at these photos.
My darlings. This spectacular, otherworldly elixir almost defies description.
When I opened the container, a scent wafted out of that classic copper colored jar that actually made me close my eyes, give a deep inhale, and say “Mmmmmmmm” down deeeeeeeeep in my soul. It smelled like the old days when they had “candy stores”– the mom and pop local confectioneries with big glass cases filled with chocolates and nut clusters and candy apples. Do you remember the scent you’d immediately get when you walked into a store like that? It was a kiss of sweetness mixed with the scent of freshly toasted nuts, and maybe the breath of heaven all mixed into one mouth-wateringly delicious scent that drifted around you and embraced you when you walked in.
This was just like that. That scent hits you the second you open it.
As far as taste, I put some on my tongue, just as I had the American pistachio paste. And don’t get me wrong. The Fiddyment Farms pistachio paste tasted very good. But this Agrimontana paste stood up, beat its green chest, and screamed “I am here, and my name is PISTACHIO!” The texture was like velvet– I almost just wanted to rub its unctuous green magic on my face and lie back in pure bliss, with that sweet candy store smell swirling around me like a fairy godmother. The taste was unlike anything I have ever tried– it was assertively pistachio, but it was more than that. There was a depth to the flavor– I felt as if, after trying this, I had perhaps tried a pistachio the way it was supposed to be tasted for the first time in my life. I wanted to scream with joy and run around drizzling pistachio silk on everything, from my morning toast to my evening salad. I wanted to dive in, headfirst, and take a swim in the golden green depths, inhaling as much as a human being could possibly consume.
It was absolutely mesmerizing.
Saveur was right. It was one of the best things I have ever tasted in my entire life.
I made gelato out of both. The American brand was delicious. But, and I say this with a quiet reverence . . . with the Agrimontana I made what is perhaps the best ice cream of any flavor I have ever had in my life. The flavor was bold and toasty and deep. The texture was VELVETY and silky and beautiful. The color was natural and beautiful and truly, incandescently lovely. I think I ate the whole thing with my eyes closed.
It was true love from the first bite.
It’s that good.
So in a nutshell (hehe) my darlings, here is what this experiment taught me.
- Fiddyment Farms makes a delicious 100% pure pistachio paste that was full flavored and delicious. It was easy to find and slightly less expensive than its European counterpart. A person could eat this and definitely do a dance with the pistachio.
- Agrimontana was very difficult to find. It was expensive to purchase. It was ridiculously difficult to get ahold of. Its taste was absolutely sublime. It made the single most heavenly bite of ice cream I have ever placed into my mouth in my life.
So again the bottom line: is Agrimontana worth the money?
For me, definitely yes.
But I’m just nuts. 😉
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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