When the time came last month to go on the “Food Lovers” trip, my girlfriend was sick and couldn’t go — so, given the agenda of activities, I had my granddaughter fill in for her. She boarded the bus with me and a group of all senior ladies and didn’t blink an eye.
Our first stop was to the Ferris Coffee and Nut Co. This 60,000-square-foot manufacturing building was tucked away behind the Grand Rapids YMCA. We received a tutorial on coffee production, and the biggest “Ah ha” was the fact that coffee does not come from a bean. Coffee is the product of a fruit tree; and the seed, not a bean, is what is ground to produce coffee.
There are many different types of trees used to produce different types of coffee that a coffee connoisseur would be choosing from. The coffee trees also pick up flavors from the other trees that surround it; for example, coffee trees are intentionally planted in between macadamia trees to pick up their flavor.
After our lessons about coffee, we were able to choose a coffee beverage at their retail store on the first floor, which also included all their nut products. To my granddaughter’s delight, she got her favorite iced caramel latte and I got an iced Chai, which did not follow along with the coffee focus. However, I did purchase some macadamia nuts to snack on as we loaded onto the bus and headed to our next destination, the Local Epicurean, to learn how to make truffles.
The Local Epicurean is on Wealthy Street and is loaded with bags of gourmet noodles, which are made there. The noodles come in all varieties and loads of different flavor combinations. Scattered in between the noodles are products for making sauces. Tucked in with the noodles is a display counter featuring different noodle-based foods and chocolates. After a brief look around the store, we were ushered back to the classroom area to learn the art of truffle making.
There were large butcher block tables with individual place setting of the tools, toppings and a slab chocolate needed to make a truffle. The chocolate slab was actually chocolate ganache, which is what makes up the center of a truffle. When the ganache is rolled in your hands, it becomes soft and sticky, and so any topping it is rolled in sticks to it, thereby creating the truffle. I found this very tedious, given my lack of culinary interest; however, my granddaughter was in seventh heaven. This was like gourmet Play-Doh to her, and she loved choosing from all the toppings and wrapping the truffles up in little squares of foil to bag and take home.
When we finished the truffles, a lunch of gourmet pizza, garlic bread and chocolate-covered strawberries was served. I tried the gourmet pizza and my granddaughter made a lunch of garlic bread and strawberries, with a few truffles thrown for good measure.
Around the Local Epicurean are several shops and antique stores, which we had time to explore before leaving for our next destination — the East Fulton area farmers market.
By the time we arrived at the market, many of the vendors were packing up, since it was mid-afternoon. Our guides called for our buses early and we headed out to the Old World Olive Co. in downtown Grand Rapids. Here we were instructed in the benefits of using olive oil and how it is made. The preferred method of pressing the oil out of the olives is a one-press process. Then, the best way to store the oil is in a dark container.
Part of the store is devoted to vinegar products, which can be combined with the olive oil to make salad dressing. Their vinegar comes in a wide variety of flavors and our favorite was blueberry.
The last place on the day’s tour was the Downtown Market on Ionia Avenue. Far from looking like a market place, this contemporary glass building housed a wide range of food vendors. We were given a $10 gift certificate to spend there and it took us several trips around the market to decide what we were going to spend our money on. There was a gourmet dessert bakery, sushi stand, smoothie stand, pizza, ice cream, deli, bread bakery, fresh meat and seafood market, to name a few. We found the bathrooms were on the second level, which also housed a floor-to-ceiling windowed banquet room and a large atrium room for meetings.
This was a very full day of seeing new places and learning new things. I also learned that I was much better at keeping pace with the other senior ladies than I was with my granddaughter. “Come on, Grandma!” was her mantra. Mine was, “OK, just let me sit a minute.”
— By Janice R. Beuschel, Tribune community columnist