Skinny Finny from Doolin Town

August 27, 2010

I’ve been a tentless vagrant for about a week now, contributing to Ireland’s racked economy like a rogue lion, as I wander the countryside living off handfuls of wild blackberries and long slurps straight from the cow’s teet.

But of course this isn’t true – except for being on the road for about a week now. And the blackberries. And Ireland is in a downturn, it does ask a lot of its tourists, which is perhaps why a cup of chips costs four euro and Dublin is home to a leprechaun museum. However it doesn’t really explain why Lucky Charms have been discontinued here, as a young fellow named Pip informed me when I was in the Wicklow Mountains (“They’re named after us, we should at least get to eat the fuckin’ things.”) Word is that someone is smuggling the cereal into Dublin and selling it for 8 euro 45 cents per box. To the locals and tourists alike.

And Ireland gives a lot back too. Gracious Pip drove me through the Wicklow countryside in his battered Red Opel, which he acquired for 350 euro and plans to drive into the ground. I admired the land’s heather and shades of green and brown like swatches in a book of wallpaper samples. They’re minor, gradual, damp mountains with lots of gray rocks on the green. Boulders inscribed with the names of Irish revolutionaries like Michael Dwyer are scattered around. It showers during the sunlight, enough for twenty wipes of the windshield wipers.

On the cheese making front, it was a challenging but satisfying first month in Ireland. I worked at a dairy in County Cork where I butted heads with a persnickety milkmaid, and came to terms with udders. I smeared countless cheeses the size of small tires and scrubbed hundreds of wooden boards with handfuls of salt and boiling water. I was mortified by the screams of the (pre-War?) steam boiler. I was docked imaginary sums by the farmer for saying “like”. He enjoyed nothing more than taking the piss out of gobshites and railing against schoolteachers and civil servants. I admire him! He had a breathtaking vintage copper cheesemaking vat from Switzerland that we ceremoniously filled to the brim with 1300 liters of raw milk twice a week. He had a milking parlor with 14 places on each side, and a herd of American Holsteins that they are phasing out in favor of British Friesians, which are less prone to health problems. I think if the Holsteins didn’t go out to the pub every night they’d last longer.

The demanding schedule of 65 hrs a week took its toll. There were moments when I felt like uniting with the workers of the world. Some say that a new apprentice is a liability to a farmer. But if you come in with demonstrable goodwill and an appetite to learn and work, you are an asset. Don’t undervalue that. That’s why I was so unhappy to read that Arnold Schwarzenneger vetoed overtime pay for California’s many (mostly migrant) farm workers last month:

“The legislation, known as the Senate Bill 1121, reportedly would have required that agriculture employees in California who work over eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week receive overtime benefits, which would have made California the only state in this country mandating these overtime regulations for farm workers.” [Read more HERE]

There are reasonable economic arguments against overtime for farm workers that government and big farm groups site in the above article. There are no good moral or democratic ones. Civil rights call for better compensation for farm workers, period. If officials in government and big advocacy groups had a better grasp of what it is like to work long physical hours for indefinite days, we would see action on this. Even in a big wobbly country there are ways to pay people for their time.

I also did some thinking about the more general matter of workers’ rights. My premise is that the employer always has the upper hand in the relationship at the beginning, regardless of how nice he or she is, and that matters. The challenge for a worker and for society is not primarly defining what the worker’s rights are – we do that pretty well I think – but figuring out how to assert these rights in context.

I believe farm apprentices especially would benefit from a formalized support network that could be as simple as a dial-in hotline.

I’m in the Burren now, near the Cliffs of Moher, and next week I’ll begin a month of work at the farm at Ballymaloe Cookery School – if I can figure out how to get there. It’ll be grand, like.

-Patrick

I remember…

April 28, 2010

by Patrick

A young tragic writing teacher I had in college once showed me how to get my pen flowing when I was in a creative rut. You just write “I remember…” followed by whatever memory comes to mind, and you keep going with that memory until it stops, then you start writing “I remember…” again until a new memory pops up.

Convenient method, because today while making cheese I had some good memories. Perhaps it began with Cinderella. As I scrubbed the floor in the dairy, my cheesy colleague Punsi commented that, stooping to labor so low, I resembled the fairytale darling. Cinderello, I edited her.

The mention of that character conjured Disney’s cartoon simulacrum in my imagination – and with that image I was in the realm of my six year-old self, who was growing hungry for a design lunch. This term, I have just confirmed with my big sister via transatlantic SMS, is the name my dad gave to the edible gallimaufry we sometimes made up when I was about that age, from refrigerator flotsam: pickles, olives, leftover cold cuts, cheese, and whatever else was at hand. Design lunches were a happening, I remember, like an indoor picnic. The goals were playfulness and instant comestibility.

After work I made a design lunch for myself: Stayman apple, hot green olives, carrot, our sheep’s milk blue cheese with spicy pineapple mostarda, and bread with butter and jam. It was a great lunch.

Designed and consumed in 16 mins

Which leaves me free to pursue a different memory. It is this: when I was in middle school, the worst thing to be called was a poser. I don’t know if the term is still slanged. It meant one who was fake – an inelegant striver for social stats – and you can imagine what its opposite was: the authentic cool dude.

This comes to mind now because I feel with every little muscle of my being that I am flirting with the authentic life of a cheese maker and a man of earthy means. The art of flirtation must be one of the most egalitarian, requiring only the wit, charm and affection that are available to the humble rustic as much as the beau or belle of high society. And as one of the most widespread arts, I think flirtation must also be one of the most misused.

Flirting with authenticity. I turn the cheeses in the evening, when they are still wet and supple, but firm enough not to break under careful handling. Getting in and out of the walk-in refrigerator where these fresh curds are resting for the night is like trying to sneak into a nursery without waking the babes. The chill air refreshes me and the steady dripping of whey onto the floor or into a bucket lends a laboratorial air that makes me feel like a true professional.

After the dairy and my design lunch I head to garden and plow sheep shit into the beds, and weed, and stretch in the sun, and spread sheep shit under the burgeoning rose bushes. And then I go back into my Etruscan lodgings and again I feel like a pea shoot growing out of a pinch in an old castle wall, alive and green and climbing up the cool world.

A dash of…..

April 18, 2010

….smoked salt. Yes, that’s it. Add a dash of smoked salt to that pot of beans and you’ll feel like you’re right back on the road again, knapsack on your shoulder, bumming rides and cooking vermin over campfires.

As per usual, when there is something I ought to be doing, I do everything else. This weekend I ought to have been rewriting my resume to send off to potential employers back in the states, but instead I was huddled over a makeshift smoker (affumicatore) in the rain loading up on man-smell and smoking some salt. There seem to be a wide array of table salts on the market these days, hailing from all ends of the earth. They’re mining the himalayas for quarts-like rock salt, scraping the seaweed tangles for authentic celtic sea salt, and even powder coating pacific ocean salt with volcanic ash to make Hawaiian salt. Go figure.

Since my world of dry cured meats is currently infused, rubbed, dosed and hung with salt , I figured I would add my favorite cologne to the world of salts, Smokey Mountain Man # 5. A little searching on the web reminded me that all things under the sun have already been done, but I wasn’t in it for glory, (not too much), so I boned up and set out. I found a 12 gallon metal barrel appropriately discarded in the creek buy my house. My bosses mom foolishly lent me an all-metal cooking pot, and Mauro, my boss, being slightly intreged by the idea of a new niche product lent me some REALY nice screens that are supposed to be use in the brine injefcting machine. I took a hack saw to the metal barrel, poked a fair amount of holes in the bottom, added some tinfoil to the screens and put them all together.  That, and a day of experimentation in the ways of the Deep South produced the following.

making fire! Bowdrill style

This little bit took a while to put together right, but it had been on my to-do list for a while now. I produced a lot of smoke and some nice ashes, but in the end what I was going for was a flame in the ball of dry stuff. I blame the extreme humidity for my failure. Luckily this little scout had a lighter in his back pocket.

Next is a series of shots showing the setting up of the whole thing-a-ma-bobber

The first picture shows the cut open barrel set up on bricks. I put balls of newspaper in the barrel and then coals on top and lit it through one of the wholes in the bottom. The pan of water was placed directly on the coals once they got hot. Then the screens were placed on the barrel. I placed the cut end of the barrel on top of the screens to increase the draft and create a chamber. The coarse-grain salt was then poored in a thin layer on the screens. The idea being that you want smoke to pass through and then escape, not sit around. I used a wood board for the top to control draft and keep off the rain. Wood worked well because moisture didn’t condense on it and fall back on the salt.  The last picture is of the soaked, cherry wood chips that I saved from a carving project, to smoke with. The finished product was beautiful:

Next stop, the salami room, to make some authentic Californese salami with my mountain man salt.

back to the resume,

Aaron


Dwelling in Milk

April 10, 2010

“Praised be man, he is existing in milk / and living in lilies – / And his violin music takes place in milk / and creamy emptiness…Praised be my fellow man / For dwelling in milk”

– Jack Kerouac, Mexico City Blues, 228th Chorus

I have learned that cheese making, even artisanal cheese making, is highly routinized. It seems to be necessarily so – and this says as much about the changeable nature of milk as the constancy of cheese makers. I imagine myself experimenting with my own cheese recipes one day, when I finally fulfill Kerouac’s prophetic ramblings, join humanity, and give myself over to “dwelling in milk.” Right now, though, I am part of a cheese making process that has been honed in this spot for twenty years prior to my arrival. Toni, the cheese maker, has been dwelling in (sheep’s) milk for quite a while now, and her routine accounts for all its local varieties of composition, which depend on many factors including the season, the weather, and the sheep’s birthing cycle. I don’t understand any substance that has two-volume technical tomes written about it, as milk does; I understand how to turn still-warm, slippery cheeses in their plastic molds much better than I understand milk. But I can still exist in it, I think.

Last summer I worked with Ruben and Roberta, a young Italian cheese making couple. They homestead in Champremier, population 25, in the country’s alpine northwestern region of Aosta. In six years they have progressed from living in a roadside trailer and testing their first cheese recipes in a ramshackle laboratory to selling every round robiola or crusty tomme they make. They transform milk from their 42 Camosciata goats.

Ruben kept such good work routines that even a job as humble as cleaning the stable reminded me of the Italian word opera. Like ‘opus,’ the word descends directly from the Latin for nitty-gritty ‘work,’ perhaps on a grand scale. (If nothing else, it is the apprentice’s job to tease out the etymologies of farm labor.) The giornatta di merda, or ‘the long day of shit,’ was Ruben’s dysphemism for stable-cleaning – so accustomed to the task that he sounded like an office bee remarking on ‘a day of meetings.’ In this biweekly shit-cleaning procedure, there is a ‘piler’ and a ‘driver.’ The piler uses a pitchfork to heap the soggy straw bedding into a yellow wheelbarrow, one load at a time, which the driver then expedites to the dunghill through a series of Jedi mind tricks. It’s a wobbly, smelly, and physically exhausting job that culminates when you spread out fresh straw bales with a feeling of great benevolence towards the goats. Voilà, Ruben would say, la stala d’oro!

I say a feeling of benevolence, but my memory of the giornatta is more cathartic than anything else. Just look at how much shit we cleaned! To explain the lasting effect this relatively small experience had on me, I’m tempted to assign some totemic power to the tools we used – fork, rake, broom, barrow – or special aura to the mote-strewn stable itself. But even more than these I am captured by the idea that routines, even brief ones, have an uncanny power to orient us toward satisfaction. After all, what could be both more routinized and more satisfying than the proverbial fat lady’s song?

The opera metaphor is especially true because you can fall for a good routine as a spectator as easily as you can as its main performer. These well-worn paths have a way of drawing us in. Again I come back to Ruben, who became for me an amalgam of John Henry, Old MacDonald and MacGyver. I noticed early on that he did everything well and never seemed to strain, although he probably smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day of Old Holborne tobacco. But of course his nicotine habit became part of the opera. I was struck by the reliable speed with which he could roll a perfect smoke, just as I was impressed by his ability to milk 42 goats in an hour. In fact, he often did both at the same time, one hand working the ciggy like a piece of origami and the other a jangly udder, sometimes with his cell phone pinched between ear and shoulder – all of this appearing natural and replicable from my vantage on a little wooden stool beside his own. Not so, I learned. Like a seasoned performer, Ruben cast over that space a bit of illusory magic – call it stablecraft – which was really just a refined series of expert movements and a lot of hard work boiled down to simple, elegant routine.

I fell into my own routine, literally, on the steep meadows where we went haying in July and August. Again and again I scratched at those hillsides with quick grazes and long lunges of the rake, sweating with satisfaction as my knee-high tangle of dry grass and thyme became a messy, head-high rick. Grasshoppers squirmed through the green wave and launched themselves off like single notes escaping crescendo. One day, I was so rapt by the raking rhythm that I must have been on the verge of a fugue state myself, when I stepped on a hill of fire ants and ran around in circles flailing wildly like Aosta’s mythical Dahu under the full moon.

This spring in Tuscany I have a new work routine, a new opera: a long spell of “violin music” in the dairy (work) in the morning and afternoon, followed by a soothing stretch of “creamy emptiness” (rest) in the evening. I find that three weeks into my new apprenticeship, I am hungry for the unexpected and intangible milkiness of life. I don’t know how the routine plays into this, and I’m inclined to leave the theory I set out to describe above untouched for now. I’m off to bed, where I look for (and often find) the syncopated beat.

Spring Sense

April 1, 2010

I am doing some walking and looking here, and most of what I encounter I cannot put an accurate name to. My working companion, Irene, pointed out that the pretty yellow wildflowers growing in the olive orchards and vineyards are jonquil, and the white ones anemone. She seemed to recall the names the same way I would recall a character actor from the Eighties – dusty knowledge, but ingrained. Indeed, she did grow up in this place of rolling hills. The land is verdant now with shoots and sprouts. It is a much more sensual landform than the flat one I found in Piemonte. With its ample slopes somewhere between gently rolling and formidably steep, and its rich patchwork of pasture, orchard, and woodland, I feel like I am traversing a huge, well-groomed body.

The farm (fattoria) is called Corzano e Paterno, and each of those names represents a different hilltop where old stone buildings endure like sentinels. You can look from Corzano to Paterno (or vice versa), your gaze crossing over a valley in between. It takes me roughly half an hour on foot to get from one to the other, on a road of hard clay and stones that meanders past some Etruscan ruins (I have not found them). But Corzano, where I am staying and where the dairy and winery are located, is less than a mile as the crow flies from Paterno, where Machiavelli once lodged during hunting season and where, today, the six hundred or so sheep are housed and milked.

Today after work in the dairy I went to Paterno to pick up a bicycle called Pamela Anderson. A guide that used the bikes for local touring groups gave each one a popular American name (Bugs Bunny, Brad Pitt) before Paterno got a hold of them. I road Pamela back to Corzano the long way – that is, around the valley rather than through it. Lulu, a golden Labrador who is in love with another dog at Paterno, accompanied me home through the intermittent wind and rain and sunshine. She found a hunk of molding bread on the road, carried it with her at a trot for more than a mile, then suddenly dropped it and never looked back.

In my walking and looking I have been struck by both the force and the subtlety of the spring, and humbled by my ignorance of so many wonderful things in it. It is a tantalizing experience to be ensconced by this onrush of unknown sensual things. Some I know better than others. Grass, Flower, Sky, Yes. Pamela Anderson?

Cheese and Risk

March 27, 2010

I just finished reading Matthew Stadler’s novel The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee, in which the title character begins by visiting his local insurance agent. (Actually, he begins “by leaving”: it is a story that gets farther and farther from anything resembling a secure home, beginning with the opening line). Dee seeks a policy to guard against personal loss, and, after a few questions, the agent obliges him with a reassuring printout of numbers that calculate his embodied capital risk. (The ultimate number, of course, is an insurance premium, a price.) More accurately, the numbers calculate the convergence of two different risks, one dependant on the other: Nicholas’s risk that he might lose some of his possessions, and the insurance company’s risk that it might have to reimburse him.

A visit to an insurance agent is not a promising beginning for a protagonist. It is tempting to read the rest of the story as Dee’s incurrence of risks which, if not inherent in his initial preoccupation with personal loss, are still contingent with it. As soon as he leaves the agent’s office, mysterious and sometimes menacing figures begin to take an interest in him. He is worried by insecurities. However, if the rest of the novel does in fact chart the course of Dee’s inevitable risk manifesting, it does so in terms not mathematical but rather aesthetic and historical.

The implication is that, while Dee might be able to insure the overall capital risk of his being in society and owning things, he cannot insure the fluid personal risk of all his incalculable attachments and affections. Personal risk is incalculable. Fortunately, though, it is extremely narratable.

I was reflecting on all this today while turning and cleaning cheeses that have been aging and essentially decomposing (recomposing?) for the last few weeks – ever since they were first made from milk and rennet. Some of the younger, wetter ones were really drippy, and the older ones had accumulated a layer of fluffy gray mold called pelo di gatto (“cat’s fur”). They were circular cheeses the size of small dinner plates, a few inches thick, with a predominant layer of white penicillium candidum mold blanketing them like freshly fallen snow. Tray after tray, I rubbed each cheese on the top and bottom and side, tamping down the various fungi vying for supremacy, then flipped it over to give its underside a better chance to breathe.

This cheese is called Buccia di Rospo, which translates to “Toad’s Skin,” because of the wrinkly, liver-spotty rind it eventually develops. The invention of Buccia was accidental. The cheese maker was trying to make a normal pecorino, but a mistake set the curd on a whole different course.

Certainly not all mistakes in cheese making are so fortuitous. There is always this risk of messing up your cheese, and perhaps ruining the good milk you started with. And I suppose a cheese maker could calculate that risk and take out a policy to guard against the loss of good milk through unforeseeable catastrophe or sheer artisanal negligence.

But this risk and its (absurd) solution is not the cheese making risk that has been on my mind for most of this week. Rather, I have been more concerned with the risk to my own body. Making cheese is really hard! We are four people working with about 800 to 1000 liters of sheep’s milk per day. The equipment is mostly stainless steel and includes a couple of huge cauldrons that are big enough to go swimming in. The lira for cutting the curd is as sharp as knives. Four water hose pistols could knock you right into the tub of corrosive alkaline water that we scrub everything with. My hands are all tore up and my back feels like a gravel road.

Come to think of it, I did take out an insurance policy on my body before I came here. Italy required that I do so. With MultiNational Underwriters StudentSecure policy, all my 64 kilos of flesh and bone are insured for up to $250,000 in damages. It appears that this prospective sum may come in very “handy.” MultiNational would probably prefer it if I, as a “student,” was stationed safely behind a desk somewhere – but I will not give them the satisfaction!

The invention of Buccia illustrates something dynamic about cheese making: it is a process in which the taking on of risk can render rich, unanticipated gains. Furthermore, if you taste the creamy, salty, mushroomy interior of a two-month old Buccia, it is evident that cheese making’s rewards are best described in terms aesthetic and historical, rather than purely mathematical.

I wonder if the same can be said for the risk to the cheese maker’s body. By committing myself to this rigorous work and riding the edge of atrophy for the next three months, am I inviting some hidden reward? Maybe I will become strong and develop character. Maybe I will become more “cultured” during my apprenticeship in Chianti, or undergo a deep personal “ferment.” More likely, though, I will probably just make and eat a lot of excellent cheese, and keep telling my own story. This evening I feel very lucky to be here.

From Pecora to Penny Pouch

February 8, 2010

By Aaron Gilliam

The reawakening of my crafty inner self, was, as usual, brought on by the restraint of sickness. When my body fails to provide me with the daily freedom that I so easily take for granted, and I am forced to be still, my mind regains its place of balance in my being, often bringing with it much appreciated clarity. Today it motivated me to recapture the desire for learning and creating.
Thanks to the world wide web through which I connect to you now, I was able to bone up on a bit of my favorite pastime activities from my sickbed this morning. Unfortunately I didn’t have the energy or means to easily procure sinew for making cordage or strengthening wooden bows, nor could I practice my tracking and trapping skills within the confines of the house. But I was reminded of another project that had gone forgotten and was perfect for a slow day at home: Felting.


On the Sheep farm in Tuscany where Patrick and I spent a good chunk of our winter vacation, I had filled a grocery bag to the gills with stinky, oily sheep wool. Nothing that you would willingly purchase from a knitting store or online catalog, this stuff with 50% sheep-turd dreadlocks, 20% alfalfa flakes, and 30% greasy mutton fluff. Our first step of the process was nit pickin.’ Of course finding a suitable work space that could smell like dirty sheep for the next month would have been step Zero had we the foresight.  Evading step Zero we settled down in the dinning room with a bag of sheerings, a garbage bin between us, and two hair nets into which we stuffed our “cleaned” wool.


Next was the true cleaning process, which we hoped would remove the infamously smelly and permanent lanolin oil from the wool. For me it was actually quite calming to have my nose registering farm smells again, and as the sun began to sink towards the snow covered Alps in the west, a faint light inside of me burned brighter with the sense of connection to the earth.

As recommended by a handful of ladies on YouTube videos from the mornings info reconnaissance sessions, we soaked, without agitating (much), our hairnet baggies of wool, first in very soapy, hot water for an hour, and then two half hour intervals of clean hot water. What we got was a slightly cleaner, yet still speckled with flakes of debris, mat of sheep wool.

From here we pulled our soggy mats into strips and began wrapping them in opposing directions around a bar of soap. When the soap was completely hidden by the layers of wool and straw bits we double wrapped the wooly buggers in two hair nets and vigorously rubbed them on a washing board for 7 minutes or so. Then we passed our hair-covered soap bars through a few hat bath – cold bath – hot bath treatments. It seemed like everything was holding together pretty well so we removed the hair nets, cut slits in the end of the wool bars, and with a bit of luck forced the cores of Dove out of their cocoons.
With a few more hydrotherapy sessions, a series of vigorous massages, and a couple of minutes relaxing next to the heater we found our bundles of smelly sheep dreads looking like something entirely different: two scrotum shaped, fuzzy, penny pouches.

Bisalta Blu – Part 1

January 29, 2010

Post by Patrick

This cheese is named after a mountain (Bisalta) in the Ligurian Alps of Italy (although it lies in the Piemonte region). It is similar to Bleu d’Auvergne and other famous French blues. For me it is a notable recipe for using both Mesophilic (mid-heat-range loving) and Thermophilic (high heat loving) bacterias, as well as Penicillium roqueforti (the mother fungus we find in all blues) and lots of agitation. Many of the pictures below correspond to the recipe that follows.

  1. We heat 100 liters of fresh cow’s milk to 65°C (Thermalization temperature). In her book “Milk,” Anne Mendelson does a good job of explaining how a light thermalization differs from the ultra-pasteurization method prevailing in the milk industry. Basically it means lower temperature for a longer period of time. It prevents the burned flavor of ultra-pasteurized milks and it leaves many more of the milk’s fats and proteins intact.
  2. Now we allow the milk to cool to between 36° and 36.5°C, the temperature the bacteria like. (Although we haven’t added them yet.)
  3. Now we add the Mesophlic bacteria (ferment) called ‘Flora-Danica’. This is a mix of Lactococus and Leuconostoc bacteria that we have cultured in milk. We add 1.5L of this yogurt-smelling milk to our milk batch. (Note: Normally we would add only 1/3 of this amount of Flora-Danica, but today we are compensating for not having two other kinds of mesophilic bacterias that play a role in the recipe.)
  4. Now we add the Penicilium roqueforti. Just 10mL dissolved in some milk is enough to inoculate our 100 liters.We wait half an hour before adding our Thermophilic ferment (Liofilizzata??)
  5. We wait another half hour, maintaining the temperature of the milk at 36°C, then add our rennet.
  6. Hypothetically the time from the moment of adding the rennet, to first cutting the curd, should be three times the time of ‘la presa.’ La presa is the appearance of initial coagulation in the milk, and today that took 13 mins (so total time should be 42 mins.) However we made our first cut after half an hour. Cheese-making is not always an exact science.
  7. We cut first with the spada (sword) into big squares, then immediately with a lira, the many fine wires of which quickly reduce the curd to the size of corn kernels or smaller.
  8. Now we agitate (stir) the curd continuously until the temperature has dropped (passively) to 32°C and the curd has reached a nice firmness (like warm, small curd cottage cheese). This whole time the curd is expelling more and more whey.
  9. With a ladle or small bowl we remove much of the expelled whey (it is probably too acidic to make ricotta from). We leave just enough so the curd is still submerged in liquid. Then we keep stirring. (Use your hands!)
  10. When the curd feels just right (and is at a pH of about 6.4), we pour it into the molds (forms) using big ladles and filtering cheesecloth. The curd quickly sets together, and we assist in this by flipping the fresh cheeses in the molds, so they distribute their weight evenly. A quick test with the pH meter shows a pH of 6.41 and a temperature of 30°C.
  11. The new cheeses are covered (put in stufatura) for a night to retain as much heat and humidity as possible.  The next morning it should reach a pH of 5 to 5.10 before being put in moist refrigeration for aging.

Hopefully a future post will explain the second part of this recipe. That will include the salting and the piercing of the cheeses, which lets in oxygen for the Penicillium blue fungus to feed on. The first piercing should happen after about a week.

Starling days

January 27, 2010

The days are getting longer. We haven’t posted in a while, although we have many stories to tell and continue to make meaty and cheesy discoveries. The flu has made its rounds, and we are all busy with projects in addition to school. Michael is hard at work finishing his salumi book, Aaron is leap-frogging towards utter pork proficiency, and I am collaborating on a collage book and staying up too late. We’ve also had a guest for the last two weeks. My friend Doug hails from Maine and does an awesome impression of an abusive grandmother at the end of a lifetime of smoking.

Doug and I went on a nice long bike ride this past weekend through the Piemontese flats. We pedaled our susies to and fro, high and low, left and right, day and night. Here is a poem the ride inspired and some pictures from along the way. We’ll be back soon with more meatncheese.

-Patrick

Starling

Oh plague of one starling,
We are an egret.

We had the flu together.
We sweated through the winter.

My friend shows me the hens and chicks
Growing in pink pots on the gray steps–

Oh,
Today the white plain has a chorus.
It says, Oh, we are egrets
And there should be more of us and

Oh,
We are crows growing old, nothing less.
We are thistle, we are dandelion, we are pappus.
We are the wind blowing through the great bird’s crest.

Oh plague of one starling,
The day is round and white without you.
I flew it all the way through.

We had the flu together.
Do you remember?

You are the cold gust in summer.

Puncheon (when punch was in)

January 10, 2010

Here is a recipe for a ‘company’ punch taken from American Regional Cookery (1946) by Sheila Hibbard (quoted in M.F.K. Fisher’s notes in Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste).

1½ gallons green tea
2½ pounds light brown sugar
juice 3 dozen orange and 1½ dozen lemons
1 quart Gordon gin
1½ gallons catawba wine
1 quart Cognac
½ gallon St. Croix rum
½ pint Benedictine
1½ quarts rye whiskey
1 pint brandied cherries
1 case champagne

The tea, sugar, and fruit juices are well mixed, and everything else is added except the cherries and champagne. The whole stands in a closely covered crock for one week. Just before serving, the last two ingredients are added and the whole is poured over a block of ice.