Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – Recap

It has been too much lately, reading the exploits of my friends who only seem to frolic, never work. My old buddy Rodrigo reportedly has some sort of high-tech job, but all I see on Facebook are videos uploaded from his surfboard-mounted digital movie camera. Another friend, Phil, now living in Oregon goes snowboarding down Mt. Hood when he’s not doing… Come to think of it. What does he do?

Though I have been known to strap on snowshoes, I’m not too keen on drowning in the surf or ending up a crumpled pile of fleshy bones after suffering the effects of gravity. This week I goofed off in my own way. I cooked, I brewed, I ate, I laughed.

I even got in an argument with a drunk guy and called him by a piece of digestive system anatomy… to his face. I’m opinionated, but I rarely share that epithet in mixed company. We made up. He bought me beer. What will our next meeting bring?

It’s Sunday now and I’m basking in the success of being in my own, indefinable way, the champion of un-work.

Here is my nugatory rundown of the week.

  • Monday I ate lunch and contemplated Tuesday.

  • Tuesday was the day for the chocolate and beer. I kept my fingers crossed that chocolates would come from Lincoln’s Chocolatier Blue and they did! The beers were a variable bunch provided by a local distributor. By his own admission, the rep stated he hadn’t much experience with chocolate and beer – and it showed. But the deeper message that was planted in my brain had to do with the biases inherent in distributor-chosen selections. I feel a bitch session coming on that I’ll have to post in my Gripefruit section very soon! However, there were two delicious pairings, both with Weyerbacher beer (Easton, PA):
  1. Belgian-styled quadrupel Quad with the holiday spice chocolate (“You got your apricot in my custard!” “You got your cloves in my peaches!”)
  2. Rum Soaked Currant praline with Weyerbacher Tiny (“Bing, bang, bada bing bing bang.”)

  • Wednesday I brewed my traditional Baltic Porter,  a dark, potent lager that will cold condition towards perfection (what, can’t I aim high?) for a couple of months. Thanks to my new book Yeast (White and Zainasheff, Brewers Publications), my yeast cell counts were (say it like Carl Sagan) in the “billions and billions.” Within six hours of pitching the fermenters were rollicking and spewing stuff that only a homebrewer could love.

  • It was also a good time to save some spent grains from the brewing. I had an idea, actually I thought it to be a revelation, that I could make pumpernickel rye soft pretzels. The trick to using spent grains in bread is to purée them in a blender with some warm water. Otherwise you end up picking coarse grain husks from your teeth. The recipe included stone-ground rye flour, molasses, caraway seeds and a few standard bread ingredients. I won’t post a recipe here, not because the pretzels weren’t good – they were delicious – but because a black pretzel has a rather unappetizing appearance. Judge for yourself…

  • While the infamous pretzel dough was rising I met up with beer maestro Jason to try out a few more of our cheese pairings. We had settled on certain cheeses but were still searching for the specific beers to knock it out of the park. We settled on a date (March 4) and number of tickets to sell (50) and we are sure to sell out early. There is a practical size to a cheese-beer tasting; even this one will have 250 measured portions of cheese, the same number of beers to dispense, plus accouterments. Then everything has to be at the right temperature. I hope we’re getting prep help the day of…
  • Thursday rolled around and there were still pots and pans to clean from beer and pretzel operations. I put off the cheese making to Saturday. But I did stick with the plan to attend a six course beer dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Parthenon. If you read my previous thoughts on beer dinners, you know that I believe it is a good idea to have some moderate strength beers in the mix so you don’t turn into a “pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course.” What I failed to estimate were the portions of food. The first course of spice-rubbed chicken drumsticks pressure-cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, sitting atop couscous flavored with lemon juice and blanched almonds was huge. What would pass for a chicken tagine entrée in some Moroccan restaurants was more food than an entire upscale beer dinner. By the fifth course, we were slung over the back of our chairs, our arms akimbo and eyes at half mast. Awesome, filling, soul-warming food. Then the soup bowl sized crème brulée, redolent with vanilla seeds. It had the consistency of melting ice cream. Here’s a similar recipe with a discussion on the key ingredient: vanilla bean paste. Oh mercy. Yes, if you’re wondering, we ate the whole thing.
  • Friday, is it Friday yet? Coasting just a bit. I spent most of the day researching an article for All About Beer magazine. Something about ancient beers and their cultural and ceremonial importance. Now, that is work. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mention the “w” word. I was trying to convince you that I am really just a professional goof-off. Back to being indolent… I made a batch of cider. Although I follow my own recipe, I’m going to let you in on a guilty little secret

  • Saturday – the Day of the Satur. I pause to imagine I know what a Satur is… some sort of man-beast mythic creature. Perhaps the body of a cow, a chalky green hide of lizard scales, angel wings, and man’s head that looks like Wallace. Or maybe I was channeling my inner cheese god. This day was for blue cow’s milk cheese in the British tradition, i.e. Stilton.

  • Saturday night it snowed again. A fair dose. After an hour and forty minutes of shoveling against the drifting snow, icicles on my eyebrows, I returned to the warm interior. No hot chocolate tonight. I have invented a new hot toddy that appeals to my woodland upbringing, my Scottish heritage, and, well, a desire to consume alcohol. I call my drink Woodsman’s Fly Dope because of its memorable aroma. First I make a big mug of strong tea using Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea has a huge pine/juniper smoke aroma and flavor. It brews a deep rust-colored tea with substantial body. So much body, in fact, that a wee dram of Scotch whisky is needed to lighten it up just a bit. The smoked tea and the peaty Scotch merge. Wisps of campfire memories wend their way through your skull like the figments they represent. Sleep will come, and dreams will weave my week into one confusing mural.

So, Rodrigo and Phil, right back atcha!

Cheers, TPJ.

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Cider, My Old Friend – Vol. 1, No. 1

• Background on Hard Cider
• Making a Rustic Cider

Poverty Lane Orchards 1

Fall is the time when the apples come in and fresh cider surely follows.

Hard cider in America is facing the same identity crisis that beer underwent thirty years ago. There was a time before craft beer when drinkers could only chose from a selection of nearly comparable neutral-flavored lagers. English brown ales and true pilsners were limited to stale imports. Sure, there was a recollection of such beers, but few, if any, domestic brewers made them.

 

In much the same way, the average person’s exposure to hard cider today has been limited to sweet, mass-market versions. Most imports have followed suit. Traditional cider in this country has been kept on life support by an odd assortment of farsighted orchardists, hobby brewers, and determined Luddites. These are ciders with complexity, acidity, and good food compatibility. As the old New England aphorism almost goes… Only good can come of this.

The widely available “cider coolers”[1] have dropped into a convenient pattern, fueled by industrial production methods, product consistency goals, perceived customer preferences, blather blather, in short, the usual assortment of cost-shaving, profit-enhancing, product-dumbing maneuvers that beverage makers are famous for. Granted, there is a segment of the populace that will always favor a sickly-sweet-fruity-something to avert the possibility of tasting alcohol, tannins, bitterness or sourness. But should the entire cider industry be geared to such sacchariphiles? Enter the other ciders.

Traditional ciders, which might also be referred to as hard, real, fine, or artisan, are a very old and very diverse dynasty. You might remember from your ethnobotany graduate studies, that apples and honeybees did not originate in the Americas, but instead were brought by early Europeans. Apples were grown and grafted by the Chinese, the Romans, and most inhabitants of Northern Europe for thousands of years.

apple stamp

Heirloom cider apples are often named for the place they originated or for the person who grew them.

The apples brought here were largely for cider making. Early settlers consumed prodigious amounts of hard cider. The notion that apples are sweet and for eating out of hand is actually a recent development.

 

At its most basic, cider is an extremely uncomplicated drink that one could easily imagine primitive peoples making. Crush some fruit, collect the juice through a basket, and leave the juice to set for a few days. That’s it. Incipient wild microbes and enzymes from the fruit, the terroir, the basket, and perhaps the cidermaker’s sweat or spittle, set the fermentation going. It was, and is, this easy. No cooking, no malting of grains (nor is spittle required). In three to five days you’ve got a cloudy, wonderfully spritzy, fresh cider with a few percent alcohol and ample aromatic properties. It is no wonder than during my high school and college years, I would see, high up on a dormitory window ledge, a jug of cider fermenting in the cool autumn air.

My cider senses have been re-awoken. Triggered by a germinal memory of that tart and carbonated cider of my youth. Or perhaps it was the tannic odor of soggy dropped oak leaves in the woods, or the cider vinegar smell arising from wet grass around a forgotten apple tree. Cider must be.

Cider, at its simplest…

cider nouveau 1

Enjoy a rustic hard cider in only a few days.

    Cidre Nouveau

Find a glass jug, 2 qts or 1 gal in size. Sanitize with a teaspoon of chlorine bleach and a cup of water. Cap, shake, allow to sit for fifteen minutes, then rinse thoroughly. There should be no residual odor of bleach.

Fill the jug 80-90% full with fresh, unfiltered apple cider. Add a sachet of dry brewer’s yeast, cap, shake vigorously until the cider is oxygenated and the yeast is not clumped. Loosen the cap without removing, such that CO2 gas can be released during the fermentation. NOTE: If you fail to do this, the bottle WILL explode during fermentation.

Place in a cool place for a week, checking on it periodically. When the gas production has ceased and the cider tastes tart and fizzy, you’re done.
Cheers, TPJ

[1] Legally, these are probably termed FABs, “flavored alcoholic beverages.” Icky.

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