Cheese and Beer ~ Far and Near

It has taken long hours in planning, scheming, and tasting, and now we’re just two weeks away from an awesome event: Cheese and Beer ~ Far and Near.

From the Press Release:

The Derailleur Tap Room at the Bricktop pairs their exclusive craft beer selection with handpicked cheeses from around the world. Cheese and Beer – Far and Near is a guided tasting designed to astound Nebraskans with exciting flavor combinations.

Five substantial portions of cheese with snifters of fine beer will be provided. The fascinating origins of traditional cow, goat, and sheep milk products will be described for cheeses from Nebraska, Massachusetts, England and France. Special ales and lagers from sought-after breweries in the US, Belgium, and Norway will be expertly matched to the cheeses and interesting facts of each beer’s production, ingredients, aromas, and flavors will be given.

The cost is $45.00 per person for the event, expected to cost upwards of $65-70 in larger cities. Tickets go on sale at the Derailleur Tap Room at the Bricktop at 4 pm on Friday, February 18th. Tickets are limited to the first 50 persons and are expected to sell out quickly.

For the past several weeks, Craft Beer Manager Jason McLaughlin, organic cheese maker Krista Dittman, and I have been tasting various cheeses against special beer selections. We’ve been looking not only for solid pairings, but pairings with synergies that release hidden flavors and liberate nuances. If you’ve ever added a few drops of spring water to a single malt whisky, or combined vanilla with lobster, you know what we’re talking about.

As a preview, I thought I’d list the courses in general terms. Maybe as we get closer I’ll provide more specifics, but that might take some prodding!

  • French abbey cheese, pasteurized cow’s milk, lightly washed rind, served with an abbey quadrupel from Belgium.
  • Artisanal chèvre log, blue mold exterior, paired with a Belgian witbier.
  • Rustic Spanish cheese, raw ewe’s milk, quite surprising with a Belgo-IPA and side condiment.
  • ‘Swissy’ farmstead cheese, raw cow’s milk, with a malty, nutty doppelbock.
  • English farmstead cheddar, raw cow’s milk, dances with a resinous American double IPA.

Jason and I will MC the event. He will describe the beer we’ve chosen, after which I’ll outline the cheese and guide the pairing of the two. We also have two special guests: Marty Wells from The Saucy Cook and Krista from Branched Oak Farm.

This is a high energy event that will last about an hour and a half. Come with an appetite and be prepared to be wowed. There will be cheese drama. Yes, that’s what I said cheese drama!

Cheers! TPJ

Advertisements

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.

Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – What a Week!

What a Bohemian week it will be… I’m reminded just how cool Lincoln-town really is.

Thankfully a homebrewing homie turned me on to the Nebraska Beer Blog, maintained by a guy named Nick Spies. He keeps up on all the area events, of which there are many. I’m already in training for Omaha’s Extreme Beer Fest coming up next month.

Tonight I’ll be at one of the area’s best package stores, The Still, for a chocolate and beer tasting. It remains to be seen what beers and what chocolate. The distributor conducting the tasting is from Omaha, so the chocolates may not be coming from Lincoln’s newest treasure: Chocolatier Blue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. CB’s chocolates rely on Italian dark chocolate and fresh, local fillings from organic cream to roasted filberts to pears and bay leaf… world class pralines and I can ride my bike there!

Exceptional cream is blended with organic butter and 70% dark chocolate for a rich ganache then encased with a dark chocolate shell. (Courtesy: Chocolatier Blue)

Then tomorrow, after an early start on brewing (I’m cooking up a baltic porter by double decoction), I’ll be heading out to Bricktop. Bricktop is a dance club at night, run by a cool guy who escaped from Patchogue, Long Island.

Bricktop owner Dave loves 80s music, beer, girls, and of course, the Huskers.

In the early evenings, before the doom-tah-doom-tah-doom-tah starts, the place is called the Derailleur Tap Room and caters to beer connoisseurs. DTR’s beer master of ceremonies, Jason McLaughlin, and I are planning a cheese-beer pairing event in the near future. We’re going over a few of the pairings with beer fresh from the taps.

I’ve been studiously developing pairings with imported cheeses sourced from The Saucy Cook and some local gems from nearby creamery Branched Oak Farm. Beer can pair magnificently with cheese – uh – much of the time. It is not as forgiving as some beer apostles may lead you to believe, however. Some of my attempts to date have brought out a stark metallic note in the cheese or accentuated oxidation in the beer. But many of the pairings exhibit dramatic synergies that release hidden flavors in both the beer and the cheese. Stay tuned for the specific pairings!

One cheese I know we will feature is this lovely sheep's milk cheese from the French side of the Pyrénées: Ossau-Iraty. Sweet, nutty, semi-hard with slight vesicles.

Thursday morning I’ll be making cheese – this time an enriched cow’s milk blue. I’m shooting for something like Saint Agur. Mine will be whole, vat pasteurized cow’s milk with some whole cream added. The blue mold (Penicillium roqueforti) is introduced during the acidification (the first step in cheese making) and will take off after the finished cheese is pierced with a sterile pick and matures for two to four months in a cool conditioning room.

The "melts-in-your-mouth" enriched cow's milk blue from france - Saint Agur. (Source: http://www.relishcaterers.co.uk)

Then in the evening I’ll be attending a six-course beer dinner at the area’s renowned Greek restaurant, The Parthenon. Thankfully we will not have to choke down salty, husky Greek beer. I look forward to meeting whoever masterminded this dinner because they have had the good sense not to choose a lineup of big beers. All too often, when strong beers are served at this sort of thing I have seen a group otherwise eager beer lovers turned into a pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course. Beers of modest strength with a good depth of flavor are what you need. That’s why I’m looking forward to the main course: grilled leg of lamb with ancho chile marinade and saffron orzo, served with Sprecher Black Bavarian-styled lager.

For Friday? I don’t know, might make a cider. Or if my venison connection comes in, it could be venison sausage with juniper and allspice.

Cheers! TPJ

Lobster off the Hook

Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces

Here it is, the massive, freaky effort of molecular gastronomy to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks. Molecular gastronomy? you wonder.

Well, to be clear, the meaning of this term has mutated significantly in the 20 years since its introduction. It can mean anything from the use of industrial gels to create new textures to the abandonment of classical cooking techniques to using biochemistry to explain or predict interesting aroma synergies between disparate foods.

I like Harold McGee‘s definition the best. He calls molecular gastronomy the scientific study of deliciousness. McGee, along with Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas (who ran a SF Bay-area cooking school) and Nicholas Kurti (an Oxford physicist with a passion for cooking), are generally considered the founders of the movement. They presented their first workshop in Erice, Sicily in 1992.

It is well-known that lobster and vanilla are sympathetic flavors. Blueberry and vanilla also work well together. As it so happens, on a desert hike long, long ago, the idea popped into my head that all three could be combined in the same dish. Sort of the mathematical distributive property applied to flavors. But it took me until this year to accomplish the dish.

From the perspective of molecular gastronomy, foods that complement each other often contain similar aroma and flavor compounds. Blueberry’s fruitiness comes from esters like 3-isopropyl-butyrate and its woodsy note from benzaldehyde. Vanillin, the principal flavor compound in vanilla beans, is 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde. Real vanilla carries with it anther 170 flavor compounds, many of which are also esters. Our body detects similar chemical structures in receptors specific for certain molecular configurations. You can read a primer here.

The real question is why do vanilla and lobster pair well. A study of lobster tail meat by gas chromatography identified 47 aroma/flavor compounds. Among the major constituents were 3-methylbutanal (chocolate, malty) and 2,3-butanedione (buttery). You can see that these are vanilla-compatible flavors.

Due to the complexities of this recipe, I ask your indulgence in not writing out the recipes for all the components and sauces. Instead, I’d rather describe the dish to you, show you a picture, and call it quits for today. Okay?

Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces

Since one of the sauces is like a bisque made from the lobster carcass, you have to poach the lobster first, reserving the shelled meat for the finish. There were plenty of good one to two-pound lobbies available. After poaching, I cooled the lobster, removed the claw, thigh (?), and tail meat, and kept it away from Dave’s cats.

The shell and lesser legs were broken up and a salmony-colored sauce was prepared with shallots, butter, saffron, a tomato, a shot of cognac, cream, tarragon, salt and crushed white pepper. The sauce was sieved and kept warm for assembly.

The second sauce was for dressing the asparagus spears. It was a reduction of blueberries and pinot noir with some balsamic vinegar added. The third sauce was based on a beurre blanc and had to be made right at the end.

Next I put together the blueberry vanilla ravioli. Most people will opt for using wonton wrappers, but if you have an Atlas pasta machine as I do, you really should roll your own. The filling was equal parts of mascarpone (sweet Italian-style cream cheese) and ricotta. I found a brand of ricotta – Calabro – with no extra additives and it was worth the few extra cents! Supple and buttery like my homemade ricotta. To this I added an egg yolk, the seeds scraped from a Tahitian vanilla bean, and a pinch each of salt and white pepper. After dispensing the mixture onto the pasta dough I added a fingerful of wild blueberries from Maine. The reserved egg white helped stick the top and bottom layers of pasta together.

Pulling it all together. I boiled water for the ravioli and the asparagus. While those were coming up to heat I began the third sauce, a butter sauce called beurre nantais after the French city of Nantes. White wine (I used the delicious Montevina sauvignon blanc) and white wine vinegar are reduced with shallots until you are left with a sticky, acidic mess. A couple tablespoons of cream are stirred in just before it dries out. Finally butter, lots of it, is whisked in gradually. The result is a luscious off-white, airy sauce. It must be served right away.

Dropping the ravioli and asparagus into their respective water, I plated onto warmed plates by first making a spider web with the lobster sauce and the beurre nantais. The asparagus was laid out like spokes radiating from the center of the plate and the ravioli arranged on top, in the center. The reserved lobster meat, momentarily reheated in a little melted butter, was placed onto the ravioli and the blueberry reduction sauce drizzled around and over the asparagus tips. A few stray blueberries and chopped tarragon completed the presentation.

Experiments in the science of deliciousness.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes 2010 – Final Tally

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.
  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…
  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

Cheers and Happy Holidays! TPJ

[Ed. TPJ has been under the weather, literally and figuratively – hence the delay. The dish was prepared before Christmas, in case it matters. Many thanks to Neighbor Dave for kitchen privileges and reader BR for suggesting the Seven Fishes thread.]

Cedar Plank Salmon with Chanterelles

Eastern Red Cedar - handsome, fragrant wood - killer of apple trees. (Source: botit.botany.wisc.edu)

While immersed in recipe selection for my Feast of the Seven Fishes I had the opportunity to cut down three “cedar” trees (Juniperus virginiana) for my neighbor Deb. The trees provided me with some aromatic firewood for future seasons. Felling them also planted the seed for the enclosed recipe, number 6 out of 7 in my countdown for holiday season fish dishes.

The trees had been planted there in the 1960s by Barnacle Bob, the former owner, and were now tall enough to block much of the light on that side of Deb’s house. Old crusty told me a cockamamie tale about how he “rescued” these three trees from NYC’s Central Park. Maybe he did, maybe not. Fact remains, this locale is within the natural range of the specie, and they could well have arrived by most any other natural means.

I was delighted to cut these trees down, since they harbor an apple-damaging blight called cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) and are dangerously close to my orchard. In the springtime, when the apples are leafing out, spores from growths on the cedar tree travel to nearby apples trees and disturb both leaf development and later, the fruit. Since I continue against all odds to attempt an organic orchard, this is one of the more bizarre steps I’ve yet to take.

As I suspected, when I began cutting into the wood, I noticed its perfumed, purple-stained heartwood. This was the wood made into hope chests and closets. It’s commonly called Eastern Red Cedar, but really a juniper. It was smelling that fragrant wood that caused plank salmon to fall on my conscious thoughts. I’ve often cooked this way, usually on a barbecue and usually with riven sheets of Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) that have been first soaked in water.

Cooking salmon on planks combines grilling and smoking techniques. (Source: greatlakesgrilling.com)

Some say it is likely that plank cooking was in use by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest long before colonists arrived. Author Hilary Stewart reports how some coastal tribes called themselves “people of the cedars.” Their entire culture revolved around the myriad uses of the tree. Others contend that the technique is Scandinavian in origin. To me, it doesn’t seem worth arguing; many cultures would have used similar methods when there was an absence of pottery or metal cookery. In earlier times, wood smoke could add flavor when there were few imported spices or herbs.

Of course those earlier peoples ate salmon. I imagine that a fish from the Pacific Northwest would be most appropriate and I am particularly fond of sockeye. It’s flesh is a deep red-orange tone with the finest grain and texture of any salmon. It possesses an earthy, piny note that works well with cedar.

I prefer salmon from a sustainable wild fishery to avoid perpetuating the pesticides and dyes commonly used in “grocery store salmon.” Wild salmon fisheries are threatened by a range of issues, including pollution from cities and riverside fish farms, over-harvesting, and migration-interrupting dams. The ethical choice of “what’s for dinner?” is not without consequence. The most vocal proponent of restoring salmon waters in the lower 48 states is Save Our Wild Salmon, and I encourage you to see what they’re up to. This recent video release from Skip Armstrong sums up one of the many watersheds being contested. Ultimately I end up purchasing far less salmon than my love for it would otherwise dictate.

As for the other ingredients, you will see that there is an undertone of pine-scented ingredients. I roasted the potatoes with sage, sautéed the squash with thyme, and used rosemary in the balsamic reduction. I served the Scots pine ale Alba to top off my homage to an evergreen forest.

A feast of simple foods infused with various evergreen aromas.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Chanterelles

Ingredients for Two

Time to Prepare: 60 min

  • a cedar plank 4×8 in, minimum (you may have to cut down a cedar tree)
  • 10-12 oz salmon fillet
  • 1 teas olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teas shallots, minced
  • salt and white pepper
  • 2/3 c high quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c pomegranate juice
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 spring fresh rosemary
  • 3 medium red potatoes
  • 2 teas olive oil
  • 6 leaves fresh sage
  • salt and black pepper
  • 3 oz fresh chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 teas butter
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 small summer (yellow) squash
  • 1 teas butter
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • salt and black pepper

Preparation

If the cedar plank is dry, soak in lightly salted water for 30 minutes. Place the salmon skin side down onto the plank, coat lightly with olive oil, and season with garlic, shallot, salt & pepper. Set aside in a cool place.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, juice, sugar, garlic, and rosemary. Bring to a low boil then lower the heat to slowly reduce. While this is taking on the consistency of honey, carry on with other preparations.

In just a few minutes of cooking the cedar aromas penetrate the salmon and the fish cooks to a delicate state.

Slice the red potatoes about 1/4 inch thick with the skins on. Brush with oil and season with sage, salt & pepper. Arrange in a shallow pan and roast in the oven at 450 deg for about 10 minutes, turning once. When you open the door to turn the potatoes, place the entire plank and salmon into the oven. While these two items are finishing you have about five minutes for the veggies.

Set two small skillets on the heat. In one cook the squash in a tad of butter, seasoning with thyme, salt & pepper. The squash can be cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds or into sticks. In the other you will simply cook the chanterelles in a little butter. Cook the mushrooms al dente, removing them before they wither and go flat.

Onto warmed plates arrange the sliced potatoes. Remove the salmon from the plank and place a portion onto the potatoes. Plate the squash and chanterelles beside the potato/salmon, then drizzle the balsamic reduction around the plate and onto the salmon and potatoes. Serve with a piny, resinous beer like Alba, Racer 5 IPA, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, or most any beer from Southern California’s Green Flash Brewing Company. Wine drinkers can go with the surprising Brut Rosé from Roederer Estate (thanks Otto for the suggestion), or a pinot noir from Oregon’s southwest corner.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.
  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon – (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…

Coming soon:

  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

Life is to be enjoyed and enjoyment is all the more savory if toil is required! TPJ

PBR and Caviar

Snack out like a rock star with affordable and authentic caviar. Wash it down with a can of beer!

It’s time for recipe number 3 of 7 in my countdown for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. If you’re checking your calendar you’ll realize that we still need two more recipes by Christmas. I will deliver on that, but it was challenging to find sustainably harvested sturgeon caviar for this dish.

Caviar (salted fish roe) is best served entirely by itself or with simple accompaniments that soften the saltiness without overshadowing the caviar taste. These sides can include blinis (small pancakes) or toast points, sour cream, and seived, hard-cooked egg. Some people go as far as to include capers, cornichons, lemon, red onion, pepper or herbs. The choice is yours, but be forewarned about criticism from caviar snobs. In truth, accompaniments of all sorts have been served with caviar for centuries.

Caviar’s flavor can range from subtly fishy to buttery or nutty, herbal, iodiney, and in some cases, very fishy. The palate development can be short or long. It is always a bit salty, although modern producers have managed to get the salt down below 3.5 percent. For the amount you will consume, this is less total salt than in many American meals.

Caviar also has a texture that contradicts its apparent soft look. Smaller grains have an almost poppy seed quality, while the large salmon roe are more surprising. You will experience how the roe explodes in the mouth releasing its nuanced flavors. Suffice to say, caviar may not be to everyone’s liking, but those who like it generally look forward to their next chance to taste it. And there may be another reason to eat caviar. As Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiologie du Gout:

…unanimous observations have demonstrated that it acts strongly on genetics, and awakens in both sexes the instinct of reproduction.

The shovelnose sturgeon, rebranded as the more appetizing hackelback sturgeon, plies the waters of the Mississippi River. Hackelback is an affordable caviar that compares favorably with Russian Sevruga. (Source: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/)

What might be called “true” or “authentic” caviar is obtained exclusively from the sturgeon, among which there are many species. Generally the larger and lighter in color the grains, the more highly valued the caviar. However with salmonid roe (derived from various salmon or trout species) the rule is reversed, whereas the darker, smaller eggs are considered higher in quality.

A third group of fish roe, that of the lumpfish, is more of a novelty and better suited as a garnish, if you even purchase it at all. It is the cheapest of all roe and is often dyed into deep colors and may have preservatives added.

Current perceptions of caviar derive from a complicated history of royal families, issues of rarity among certain types, and taste preferences of disparate cultures. Hanging on to these traditions is one reason that sturgeons in the wild are on endangered species lists around the globe. So a new caviar ethic is in order, one in which you know where your caviar originated, i.e., that it came from a sustainable fishery (nowadays often a fish farm).

Considering that caviar was once so common it was served in Colonial American taverns instead of pretzels or peanuts, it seems fitting to pair it today with the quintessential blue collar beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon – PBR. This notion should agree even with those who hold conservative views about what to drink with caviar, seeing as ice cold vodka or frosty Champagne are traditional. I’ve simply substituted another very cold, bland drink. Do you like the irony of this suggestion as much as I do?

PBR and Caviar

Ingredients for Four

Time to Prepare: 30 min

  • 4 slices firm white bread
  • 2 tbls sour cream
  • 1 oz caviar (Hackelback Sturgeon,$30 at Whole Foods)
  • 1 hard-cooked egg, shelled and pushed through a sieve
  • 2 teas chopped chives
  • 4 cans cheap American lager packed in an ice bath

Preparation

Remove the caviar from the fridge, allowing it to warm up while making the toast. Toast the bread to medium toast, cut off the crusts, and cut each into four triangular toast-ettes. Place the sieved egg in the middle of the plate. Arrange the toast around the egg. Carefully place a dollop of sour cream on each piece of toast. The amount you want is about 3/4 teaspoon and should be equal to the amount of caviar you will place on top. Using a slim, non-metallic implement (I used the handle of a plastic spoon), place a wad of caviar on each bit of sour cream. The eggs stick together pretty well, so this is easier than it sounds. Sprinkle the chopped chives around the edge of the plate. Provide a knife for people to place egg on their morsel, if they so choose.

Serve immediately with very cold bland beer!

Get it on with caviar this Holiday season.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar – (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.

On deck:

  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon – (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…
  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

More coming at you! TPJ

Embracing Diversity in Beer and Food

The diversified Bill Owens. (Source: switchimage.org, photo with permission by Guillaume Ehrenfeldt.)

Does the name Bill Owens sound familiar to you? It might, if you know something about the renaissance of craft brewing, or the emerging microdistillery movement, or publishing, or photography. Owens is man who can keep reinventing himself, all the while remaining in touch with his other personas.

Owens founded Buffalo Bill’s Brewery way back in 1983. He is the creator of that brewery’s well-known Pumpkin Ale, inspired by George Washington’s brewing methods. He explored publishing for 17 years, founding and running American Brewer magazine. More recently he established the American Distilling Institute as a trade organization for small distillers.

I think I first met Owens at the Mondiale de la Bière festival in Montréal about a decade ago. He was dressed in colonial period work clothes making a porter in an iron pot suspended over a wood fire. The next day (yes, the very next one) he ladled out barmy, fresh beer for me to try. It was, in a word, astounding. The only anachronism to the whole experience was the way his gray hair was cropped short on the sides and spiked high on his head. Spiked, like some sort of beatnik-punk retrograde. He intrigued me, but his constant leering at my girlfriend made me uneasy. It remined me of that Modern Lovers song…

Well some people try to pick up girls
And get called assholes
This never happened to Pablo Picasso
He could walk down your street
And girls could not resist his stare and
So Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole

Was it mysogyny or ego or the fearlessness that comes from success? Or was it simply the photographer’s eye? I’ve seen him work through a group with a camera. Like other highly talented photographers I know, he has a disarming way of interacting that doesn’t effect the flow of events.

This morning I received an email from Owens. It referred to an article in Smithsonian Magazine last month. It was another commendation for his ca. 1970s candid images of American life in California’s burgeoning suburbs.

One of the most famous images was young Richie Ferguson, sitting on his Big Wheel, BB gun in hand, surveying his domain and looking for outlaws.

A kid in 1971. (Source: smithsonianmag.com, photo by Bill Owens.)

Twenty-nine years later Owens went back and found him. He lived less than a mile from where he was raised three decades before. Ferguson had graduated from Big Wheel to motorbike and finally to tricked out Harley.

Same kid in 2000. (Source: smithsonianmag.com, photo by Bill Owens.)

As I look at his face, his hairline, his furrowed brow and suspicious glare, I begin to contemplate to what degree we are formed early on and whether that upbringing causes unavoidable conclusions later in life. Yet I do believe we can enforce change when and if we so choose. Which brings me to today’s thesis on beer and food choices.

I don’t know what Richie Ferguson prefers for dinner or liquid refreshment. That isn’t the point. The point is that we can either go through life sticking with familiar choices or we can decide that while familiar is okay, sometimes we want a change of scenery.

Despite the layers of insight Owens’ images provide, I introduced him in the beginning of this article because of his approach to life. He is one of those people that can languish in the familiar for a while, but then the urge to explore rears its multifaceted head and he’s off again on another adventure. There is a lesson in this for us all. And don’t argue about personality types or economic means or Catholic upbringing. I’m suggesting no “degree” with which you have to adopt diversity. For some it will be a little, and for others of you, you don’t need to even hear this from me, you’re already there.

Then I get a text message from an old friend who is now a wine merchant in Maryland. When I asked him about it, he said it was told to him by another wine merchant, whose wife is herself a beer merchant in Wisconsin.

men who only drink hoppy beers are like women who only drink buttery chardonnay.

Ouch! But then, aren’t these the Richie Fergusons of the world? They found one little flavor niche and can’t or won’t make the small effort to explore. If you will only drink a hoppy beer and you came to that decision by open-mindedly trying many, many types of beers. Good for you. You have explored and now rest in your comfort zone.

But I think this is rarely the case. People who only drink hoppy beers have only made one step in life: from beer that doesn’t taste like much to beer that is overfull of flavor. This embraces the American ideal that excess is good. It does not represent any real risk taking. Same goes for the aforementioned chardonnays. For the longest time I have referred to these as “IYF,” meaning “in your face.” These are among the most unsubtle of wines.

The kind of beer (or wine) lovers I want to be around are unconditional in their love for beer (or wine) and diverse in their explorations of it. They want to try new ones. They are inquisitive about the story behind the drink, just like Bill Owens, who brewed his Pumpkin Ale because he was inspired by our Founding Father.

When I head out for beer and a meal I usually want to try something I haven’t had before. I am aware that by taking small bites out of fear I evolve. But if the beers aren’t that great, I’ll just as soon drink the hoppiest thing they have. Those hops can camouflage some of what’s wrong with a beer. And if the menu is not very inspired I can always default to my comfort food – buffalo wings – no relation to Buffalo Bill’s Brewery. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if he invented those, too. Cheers. TPJ

The Parlance of Pairing

Much has been said lately about pairing beer with food. The principles include:

• Intensity – stronger flavored beers go with stronger flavored foods.
• Complementarity (or Harmony)– pairing items with similar flavors.
• Contrast – using opposing flavors to create interest.

But the real jewel of beer-food pairing, according to my outlook, is the less predicable creation of flavor synergy. Synergy is the cooperation of agents that produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

Synergies can occur regardless of whether you’re focusing on intensity, harmony, or contrast. These are flavors that only reveal themselves when the comestibles are brought together. By my reckoning, synergies fall into three modes of expression: mutation, rebirth, and reduction.

Mutation

In mutation, the combination evokes altogether new flavors that seem unrelated to the flavors of either the beer or the food. It seems to me that these new flavors are not hidden in either product, but are a collective sensory reaction to sense organ stimuli interpreted by the brain.

My earliest memory of this experience occurred in high school. A student I didn’t know gregariously foisted upon me a piece of sourdough bread, a slice of lemon, and some salt. She made a little sandwich and fed it to me and said “See, doesn’t it taste like plums?!” Oddly, it did.

I admit to only retrying the experiment once and I was unable to reproduce the effect, but my ingredients were from different sources. I remember thinking about the various ingredients and being unable to reconcile the new flavor. Yes, she was cute. Could it have been the power of suggestion?

I tasted an example of this effect more recently when I enjoyed a cold peanut and shrimp soup with a hoppy Belgian ale. Neither had saffron in it, but the flavor of saffron was evident in the combination.

Rebirth

A second sense of synergy is rebirth. In rebirth we experience the primal ingredients in the beer and/or food. We might detect hops that are unusually bright and green. Or maybe field-fresh grainy or grassy flavors derived from the malt.

Barrel-aged beers with sherry and old wood notes might taste suddenly of pristine, new oak. Or an aged cider might explode with freshly pressed apples. This last example happened to me last week with Farnum Hill Semidry Cider and French cornichons. The acidity, mustard and tarragon of the pickles remained, but the cider went back in time, like biting into a freshly picked apple.

Reduction

Reduction occurs when complementary flavors in both the food and drink cancel each other out. After this neutralization, what is left is an expression of some of the unique ingredients or underlying flavors.

In one event I paired smoked almonds with a smoked porter. I was going for matching intensity and complementary flavors. I thought it would be an easy pairing. In fact, as huge as the smoke flavors were in the nuts and the beer, the smoke almost completely vacated when the two were tasted together. This left a fresh almond flavor from the nuts and a chocolatey-caramelly-nutty malt base from the porter. Those flavors were always there but they were hidden behind the intense smoke.

Another time I was asked to pair a beer with a challenging dessert course: grapefruit meringue pie. I chose Great Divide’s Titan IPA, a beer with an overdose of those hops and high enough alcohol to balance the intensity of the pie. Here again I was shooting for harmony with the grapefruit.

I really was taking a chance, because my audience was more accustomed to wine. I was fearful of the strong bitterness of this beer. But the grapefruit flavors diminished and the graham cracker piecrust came to the fore, nicely matching the sweet malty backbone of the beer.

Synergies do not occur with every pairing. But do be on the lookout. When they do happen you will be left with a lasting impression of your meal. TPJ.

Recent Postings

September 2017
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930