Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two steps forward part 2: experimental hazards

Part of my mindset is a strong bid for self-reliance. That is, I like to learn how to do things and actually put those into action. Well, as long as the union lets me. Anyways, I have trouble understanding the modern obsession with convenience, the one that makes you go out and get things pre-made, pre-packaged and pretty much pre-digested, all in the optic of saving time. Saving time to do what? Waste more money of child-labor products? On shoddily produced mass-marketed junk that is push upon the viewing public as entertainment or foodstuffs? I just dont understand what is so special with one's life that you cant take the time to learn to, and do things right.

Particularly food. I love cooking, but I also take great joy in food preparation. I enjoy preparing my own food products, as much as I love preparing dishes that take hours to cook. Take cheese for example. Cheese is what I do for employment. I could be a simple man and just cut the stuff that's bought from suppliers. But I find that highly impersonal and a betrayal of my own self. So I go a step beyond and transform the product.

Lets be honest, there are many, many cheeses that really, really boring. There are plenty of people that like those, and I guess that's fine, but there are plenty of people that love Celine Dion, and that doesn't make them cultured or interesting, now, does it? Good. Cause I hate such poptart blandness. What I do is add to the basic cheese, kicking in some flavor, generally by creating a crust, or outside layer that will add to the flesh of the matter. Wine is a favored medium of mine. So is Porto. I have done some work with a sort of strongly flavored paste that has worked well in the store.

The things about that sort of work is that I'm practically working blind. While that technique certainly exists and is used by certain products, there is no DIY resource out there really to do it yourself. There's plenty of make-your-own-cheese resources (and I certainly plan on doing that myself) but their idea of flavoring a cheese is to toss it in the curd, so that the flesh is flavored equally all the way through from the get-go. And that's fine too. But I find it a little... boring. Its pretty much all based on common denominators and scale production. What's popular. Its like ice cream; what you see in the store is just the stuff that they know for sure that will sell, based on market research and other mathematical esoterica. But go to a good parlor and what you'll find out is that there are a lot of different flavors, most of which you'll have never heard of, or even considered.

And that's what I'm all about. Experimentation.

The tricky thing about experimentation, especially when you're doing it way off the beaten path, is that you dont know what the end result will be, its it'll even work. But in a way, that's part of the game; sometimes its works as planned, sometimes it turns into something different and unexpected, and sometimes, it just crashes and burns. Wine-soaked goat cheese is pretty much a given winner, once you've figured out the right soaking period. Stilton O Porto is a winner too, and happens pretty fast, and is very delicious, if you have the taste for a good blue. And wine-soaked Friulano... is a fail. Especially if there's a crust of fuzzy mold that develops on top. Oh, sure, it wasn't on the cheese itself, there was a layer of wine to isolate the flesh, but still.

It wasn't a complete loss, and that's an important lesson that has to be absorbed when experimenting with food. You have to know when the dish is not worth salvaging and should just be tossed in the bin. Just like you have to admit that even if the cheese isn't moldy and rotten, that the wine didn't help the flavor. Friulano was selected for experimentation because of the material cost (about $20 a kilo, so a wheel is a little over 2 kg) and the fact that its about as flavorful and a mild cheddar, minus the salt. So prefect candidate for flavoring.

Previously, my experiments with Friulano involved a thicker sort of flavored paste that did usually come out fine, but given that its a pretty thick wheel, I wondered how it would turn out if I poked channels through it and soaked it in wine. Well, the holes did what they were supposed to do, but the flesh sort of absorbed too much of the acidity and so, the flesh was not great. So I tossed the lot. Sure, I wasted a full wheel of cheese, but trying to salvage it would have been impossible, just like trying to make a remake to the Breakfast Club would be a complete waste of time.

Its not a complete loss, as I found that some basic techniques do work; its just that I'll have to be more careful in the flavor selection and aging process. Lets say that a mini fridge for that purpose is on the future agenda. Room-temperature flavoring works on hard goat cheese, but not on softer-fleshed relatives. But the channels work just fine. Just gotta figure out the right flavoring combo.

And use smaller wheels.

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