Spice and Baking shops, Cambridge MA

That was the end result of 4 days.

Intrigued…a timeframe I can get behind. How do I begin?

For sprouting anything (try it on your neighbors):

  1. Rinse and cover with cold water to soak overnight.
  2. Next morning, drain and rinse again. Spread on moist paper towels on a plate or in a colander and cover with a layer of damp paper towels.
  3. Crack open a few dozen beers till the evening (or, if you’re one of those, go to work).
  4. At night spritz with water if things don’t seem moist.
  5. Every morning thereafter (or go 12 hours off-schedule and do this at nights), moisten fresh paper towels and gently turn the sprouting fellas onto the new towels, and cover with fresh damp towels. The idea is to provide a clean, moist environment.

(You can also buy special-purpose sprouting jars and avoid all the damp paper towels.)


Ha! Did you buy the starters from the spice shop mentioned in this thread?

Yes – that’s why I felt free to insert this here. The pic is of sprouts from fenugreek seeds I got at Curio. You see little sproutlings emerge in a day with seeds as fresh as these.

Thanks, I appreciate the info. I plan to read more about sprouting and look forward to checking out the shop.

You’re welcome.

OK, you other folk. Nothing else to see here, fascinating as is the bloody glory of a sprout. Let’s move on back to Spice and Baking shops.

My several cents:

  1. I’ve found the quality at Christina’s to be very variable, and the ability of the staff to provide information very uneven. The spice store, and the associated ice cream store, is a curious enterprise. The owner (at least of the ice cream wing) is one Raymond L. Ford, but he operates in the deep background. His choice of staff appears to be aimed at maximizing the exotic, and minimizing the information. Personally – as someone who thinks of himself as both faintly exotic, and faintlier-than-faintly knowledgeable – I don’t think the two are incompatible. In fact, I take offense at the idea that we’re supposed to find the ignorance of the staff at Christina’s “amusingly exotic.” You don’t get that at, say, Kalustyan’s in NYC.

  2. Moving on to superior places: Formaggio does indeed carry a wide range of spices, of high quality… The tins they carry them in, though, once high-grade, are now easily dentable. Dent it on first opening, shame on FK. Dent it again, in your death struggle to reopen that damn dented tin, agony on you. I have had to break open a tin of Maras pepper from FK in order to use it a second time. But – on the bright side – how much better that pepper tasted after the struggle!

If you need one place to get a wide range of spices, supported by a friendly, very well-informed staff (some more than others – but that’s life), go here. (Then get some of that secondary item there – cheese.)

  1. I’ve been curiously unexcited by Penzeys over many visits there. For a longish period, while my daughter figure-skated at a nearby Arlington rink, I’d browse, and buy, the spices at Penzeys. Although their prices were higher, I developed no feeling that their quality was also higher.

  2. The various Indian groceries, especially the ones in Waltham, offer a good combination of quality, price and variety. I give them a half fooddabbler thumb up. (0n a quality scale that gives Formaggio the full thumb.)

  3. Which brings me back to Curio. It really is superb, and I applaud Madrid for bringing it to your attention. Their spices have fragrances that you’ll very likely not have experienced anywhere else, except at, say, spice markets in India (or, perhaps, Turkey).

How can I sufficiently praise it? …

OK, Lior Lev Sercarz. LL who, you say? Look him up. His spice boutique is on 51st and Tenth in Manhattan, in an otherwise totally undistinguished stretch. The establishment is unmarked. You press a buzzer to get in. Then you retch and cough as a powerful wind of grinding spices forces you back. Once you get past that you’re faced with a significant array of spices and spice combinations, all at a cost. But, who knew that cinnamon bark comes in soft and hard varieties? Who knew – from an overheard conversation there – that a particular spice blend that “David” wanted for his little Momofuku group would use cassia, not cinnamon? After that, "cost "seems too materialistic to mention, and you leave with a 3-figure haul of your loot.

To return to Curio, it’s smaller, but just as good.


This makes me smile because we trekked to Formaggio before Thanksgiving to restock with non-stratospherically priced balsamic vinegar (La Vecchia Dispensa, organic even) and a really silky olive oil (Merula). Both were under $20/bottle and they’ll probably last us close to a year for finishing and salads.

Cheese counter was crazy mobbed so we went home happy though cheeseless, having purchased what we came for.


You are on a roll there fooddabbler, keep it up! :slight_smile:


Thank you, young GS.

Another spice source is Sofra. They carry a small, expensive, and (as you might expect) interesting range of things. They carry some Curio spices, too. (Claire, the owner of Curio, is an alumna of Sofra-Oleana-Sarma University.)


I see Sofra supports Soom and Rumi two companies I bought products from this year. More good reading to pursue.

1 Like

The spice boutique I mentioned also attempts decency:

I know that these well-intentioned efforts are sometimes mocked. But far better the attempt to do good – however imperfect – than, say, tear-gassing.


Hey T-T D (that’s so rap),

Did you go in asking for "non-stratospherically priced balsamic vinegar"or did you know beforehand that you wanted “La Vecchia Dispensa, organic even”? Did you know, ahead of time, that Merula was the silky oil you wanted? I want to be able to go into stores confidently knowing which oil, by name, floats my boat, and I clearly have a lot to learn from you.


I agree and that support is very rare in specialty markets.


Trial and error, really. I wanted to replace a bottle of Peck’s balsamico (from Milan) that I can’t get here at all. A recent Zingerman’s catalog brought La Vecchia Dispensa to my attention. I checked out the Formaggio website and saw they too stock some of these products.

I have made a mistake before of paying over $20 for balsamic in other specialty stores, believing that a more premium price might get me something closer to my beloved Peck’s. Oh, the error of my ways.

Merula olive oil I knew about from previously taking a chance on a tin at Mill City Cheesemongers (Lowell) which no longer seems to have it. BTW, Formaggio carries Alizari olive oil that we also love. Alizari has a bigger flavor.

1 Like

OK, here I’ve been, wasting my time cultivating (aka “sucking up to”) passing_thru and GretchenS, where clearly I had the most to gain from you. Good Gray-bearded-woman-in-the-sky, where to begin? OK, down fooddabbler, make notes to yourself:

  1. “Peck’s balsamico (from Milan).”
    “A recent Zingerman’s catalog brought La Vecchia Dispensa to my attention.”
    Why? Similar taste profile?

  2. “Alizari has a bigger flavor.”
    More peppery? Just stronger on the tongue?

Sorry for the quiz. But, like a good olive oil, you’re robust enough to take it.

[quote="fooddabbler, post:36, topic:15544"] * “Peck’s balsamico (from Milan).” “A recent Zingerman’s catalog brought La Vecchia Dispensa to my attention.” Why? Similar taste profile? * “Alizari has a bigger flavor.” More peppery? Just stronger on the tongue? [/quote]

Well, I’m just following my tastebuds and a couple of hunches. Spirit of adventure!

  1. For the balsamico, I guessed that Zingerman’s might be onto something because the 10-year aged Vecchia Dispensa (which I didn’t get) is priced about $35 and my beloved yet unobtainable Peck’s was $30 something when I last scored some. I used that price band and my impression that Zingerman’s makes some solid choices.

  2. Alziari olive oil (correcting my spelling) I recall as having a stronger flavor than the Merula, which we found rather mild in a good way. That said, I just tasted from the newly acquired tin of Merula and was surprised that the oil had a peppery kick at the back of the throat—first round purchase did not have that characteristic.


Thanks. All information much appreciated.


I’m glad I started this thread. Lots of good discussion and participation! I’m really glad so many have taken part.

OK, spice fanatics here. I love it. The quality stuff is expensive, involves work sourcing, traveling, optimal storage and freshness…labor of love. As I think I said before, it’s cheaper than traveling myself and I love the sensory complexity of the tastes, smells, shapes, colors…those who prefer to buy spices from supermarkets at low cost are probably not reading this. There is an level of intensity and yes, obsession, that some people channel to cars or knitting or any number of things, mine is cooking and spices.

Yep, Sofra does have some Curio spices, as does the Sienna Farms outlet at the Boston Public Market. As you’ve mentioned, Curio is an Oleana/Sofra/Sarma PhD and the shop is amazing. The owner’s story is compelling. She started out discovering saffron in Greece while in high school then went on to work with Ana Sortun as part of her extensive spice education. Her infant daughter’s middle name is Saffron.

Interesting that you mention Lior Lev Sercarz.

Sofra used to carry some of his spice blends before Curio was born…maybe they still do…I unfortunately haven’t been to Sofra recently. He created a Turkish blend for Ana Sortun

His book The Spice Companion

can be checked out via the Minuteman Library Network. As soon as I got it from the library, I purchased it.

I won’t be able to visit La Boîte in person any time soon (adoptive parent of a special needs teen) but I can go to Curio. I feel very lucky indeed to live in Somerville.

I agree with you about Christina’s and the mostly absent owner…the few times we have encountered him, he was friendly and knowledgeable. We too have over the decades noticed the exoticism in his choice of clerks for the store; most often they have no knowledge of what is sold and just shrug. I think the owner may be losing some of his dedication; the last few times there were noticeable gaps in the inventory and yes, we’ve often encountered products that were way past their prime. Others however were excellent…you just can’t count on it.

EDIT: the owner also for years got huge jars of the sambal oelek chilli paste for my husband, who keeps quarts of it in the freezer. The owner dropped one of those huge jars once in the parking lot while unloading, and told my husband that he burst into tears.

Thanks for all your contributions here.


An opportunity to learn and get out of my comfort zone is so worthwhile! Every time I visit my son, we head to some new food adventure. The bucket list, oh man!

1 Like