What makes an excellent delicatessen? That is the concern postured by the Deli of the Year competition. This is the most recent brainwave from Giles Henschel, something of a one-man PR campaign for Britain’s independent food shops – as the owner of Dorset food company Olives Et Al, he has a vested interest in keeping as a lot of them open as possible. Henschel is the man behind Purple Love Week (don’t fret, it’s nothing dodgy, regardless of the suspicious name) and, now, this looks for the country’s finest deli.
You can cast your vote now – the winner will be revealed in June – but what would be your requirements? The modern ‘deli’ can be found in lots of shapes and types which vary extremely in terms of quality. I know what I want out of a deli, but do you? Are we even talking about the same thing?
This, then, is my deli directive, a 10 point attempt to define what the deli is and isn’t, and what separates the excellent ones from the bad.
The deli directive
- Boycott anywhere that pre-cuts and shrink-wraps it’s cheese. It’s rank laziness.
- A sandwich shop is not a ‘deli’. That’s not snobbery, it’s a fact. If you’re slinging tuna mayo on white-sliced, you’re a butty store. More than happy with that. It’s fine. Simply don’t call yourself a deli.
- At the other end of the (social) scale, a choice of chutney-based presentation boxes, cheese boards, knives, biscuits, culinary books, and celebrity chef-endorsed oven gloves does not a deli make. What you have there is a present store. For idiots.
- Classy imperious individuals make bad deli owners. It’s traumatic enough trying to cover your tongue around bresaola or boscaiola without extreme, stony-faced counter staff correcting your pronunciation.
- Talking of social embarrassment, why don’t more delis label their products like Delilah Fine Foods? Every product is plainly and concisely explained, with examples of how it’s utilized, thus reducing the need for you to stand there, like a berk, asking: “So, this, erm, things? What is it? Animal, vegetable, mineral?”
- A great deli makes things fresh from scratch: pesto, hummus, samosas, salads, quiches, cakes. It sounds obvious, but for a lot of owners more than happy to purchase in Uppercrust pies or Home Delight chutneys, rather than getting their hands dirty. If I want (which I typically don’t) a choice of specialty Italian sausages, I have my choice of delis to choose from. However how many cure and roast their own hams? Or knock out decent homemade pies?
- Ever felt like you’ve been cheated? Then spend your money in other places. These are stores, not campaigning charities. Avoid any deli that, viz Zoe Deleuil, keeps attempting to offer you 275g of cheese when you have actually requested for 200g. Avoid any deli that trims and cleans its veggies and tries to charge you double for the opportunity. And, particularly, prevent any deli that sells exactly the exact same products as Sainsbury’s Special Selection aisle (La Chinata smoked paprika? Inspect! Belazu harissa? Inspect!), only at significantly greater costs.
- A deli must commemorate the unique and specific. Why, then, do so many sell the very same stuff? It’s not simply the historic Mediterranean bias of most delis, but also the particular brand names they offer. Teapigs, Patchwork pates, Seasoned Pioneers, Steenberg’s, Maldon salt, Burt’s crisps, Fish4Ever. These are okay products – some are exceptional – but they are everywhere. Which gets boring. Deli owners, as the best do, need to look beyond the apparent circulation channels and cultivate intriguing (local, regional) supply lines (eg the godlike pork pies at the Hairy Fig in York).
- Undoubtedly, on a progressively uniform high street, there is a lot to be said for real depth, distinction and hot sauces called Colon Blow.
- Such expertise, nevertheless, is entirely various to stocking – as a considerable minority of delis do – a random collection of edible exotica. Greek olive marmalade, tortas de Aceite, dried increased petals: all well and good, however not precisely anything you can make a meal out of, is it? I desire a deli that offers specialty products, alongside (fairly priced) staples: rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, onions, garlic. I want a deli that offers a useful alternative to the supermarket.