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Shop Pig: Esmeralda at Velvet Espresso Bar

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Seems all the old cliches about pigs are true. They don't know when to quit eating, they like a cool mud bath (not because they're dirty, but because they're easily sunburned and mud acts as a natural sunscreen) and they have a proclivity for curling up inside blankets. But there is nothing commonplace about Esmeralda — or, for that matter, the high-end coffee house where she's periodically seen.

  "Everyone asks for (Esmerelda)," says Tamara Muro, the certified barista and gourmet chef who owns Velvet Espresso Bar (5637 Magazine Street, 450 -2129; throwmeacupcake.com). Velvet is New Orleans' first "third wave" coffee shop. "Third wave" refers to a specialty coffee movement: Through improved growing, harvesting, roasting, processing and preparation practices, coffee is elevated to the level of artisanal foods like fine wines, chocolates or teas. In addition to silky smooth cups of coffee, the shop also features cakes with creatively juxtaposed flavors (blood orange cake, cake stuffed with homemade blueberry jam, and saffron rice-filled cake with Creole icing, to name a few).

  Named after the Panama-grown specialty coffee brand available at Velvet, Esmeralda enjoys taste-testing Muro's recipes. The micro-mini piglet maintains a trim waistline by following a strict diet of corn-based pig food and the occasional healthy treats, like strawberries and blueberries. Her talents include standing on her hind legs, sitting on command and jumping from the floor to the bed. "We say she flies," Muro says.

  The daughter of a film and television producer who was also a skilled cook and espresso maker, Muro grew up visiting the sets of films like The Graduate and TV shows like The Beverly Hillbillies. She worked as a hairdresser on films including Dances With Wolves and JFK, and began cultivating her culinary skills at age 12. Her husband James (professionally known as J. Michael Muro) is an award-winning cinematographer with more than 70 films to his credit, and their three children, Noah, Dillon and Bella, demonstrate an aptitude for the arts, as well.

  It's not surprising that Esmeralda is something of a ham, soaking up all the attention. When she's at the shop, smiles break out, passing drivers roll down their windows for a better view, and kids line up to pet her. For a pick-me-up, few things are more effective than a cup of artisanal coffee, a gourmet teacake and a little pork belly.

My Favorite Things...

Tasting new recipes

Rolling up in my blanket

Cappuccino

My pink apron

All the attention I get

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