Food Art: My Delicious Kentucky, a food photography exhibit by David Cronen | No category

Food Art: My Delicious Kentucky, a food photography exhibit by David Cronen

By Wednesday, February 29, 2012 Permalink

David Cronen spent his formative years as well as his adult life in Kentucky. He is originally from Chicago.

In high school, he picked up a certain camera and knew what was what he wanted to do with his life.

He has free-lanced since college, with an emphasis on politics, and done various radio shows. The last was an
interview program (Off the Cuff) on the NPR affiliate in Louisville. It had a 10-year run.

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David Downie: Truffles in Black and White: Part Three: the Truffle Heartland of Southwest France

By Wednesday, February 29, 2012 Permalink

David Downie: Truffles in Black and White: Part Three: the Truffle Heartland of Southwest France

by David Downie

“Even an expert has difficulty distinguishing brumale from melanosporum,” growled Pierre-Jean Pébeyre, France’s leading dealer of fresh and conserved melanosporum. I met Pébeyre on a freezing day in February in Cahors. Like many traditionalists Pébeyre expressed hostility to spore-impregnated trees, the probable source of the brumale infestation.

Pébeyre estimated that 5 percent of the black truffles he buys at premium prices turn out to be brumales. “You buy truffles when dirty, and you can’t tell. The ugly truth comes out after brushing.”

The Pébeyre truffle plant, founded in 1897 by Pierre-Jean’s great-grandfather, is based in central Cahors, capital of the Lot département. The Lot’s pre-Revolutionary name was Quercy, a deformation of the Latin quercus—oak. The scenic, oak-covered Quercy and abutting Périgord are France’s main melanosporum source. Another common name for this truffle is truffe noire du Périgord.

With a sense of humor as noir as the truffles he trades, Pébeyre, in a blue lab coat taut over his stout frame, walked me through the sorting, grading and brushing processes. He held up two black truffles that appeared identical, with rough patterned skin like a dog’s nose. “Brush a brumale and the skin detaches,” he grunted. With a pocket knife he sliced the brumale, pointed out the dark brownish exterior and flesh, and the thick, white veins within, and offered a taste. It was crisp, smelled unpleasantly of alcohol, and was flavorless.

Pébeyre then sliced a melanosporum, noting how the outside was asphalt-black, the flesh gray-brown, the pattern of veins fine. It was crunchy, smelled pleasantly of mushroom, and, I suggested, tasted something like strawberry jam and chocolate. Pébeyre fought back a frown.

Mélanos smell and taste like mélanos,” he said, using the regional abbreviated form for melanosporum. “Why make taste or nose associations?”

The Pébeyre plant once processed tons of local melanosporum. With dwindling supplies, however, sourcing has widened to Italy and Spain. “The Italian and Spanish mélanos are just as good,” Pébeyre insisted. “The problem is brumales and others.”

Such is the demand for truffles in France that brumales and many undesirable truffle varieties are not discarded. They find their way into pâtés and truffled foods where they cannot be identified readily. France also imports around 50 tons per year of Chinese T. indicum; Pébeyre sells indicum worldwide. “Some people actually prefer it because it’s mild,” he shrugged,  “and everyone likes the price.” In Europe, Chinese truffles fetch a fraction of the price of melanosporum. Boosters say Chinese indicum taste of moss and undergrowth, are not “bad” merely “different” from melanosporum.

However some unscrupulous retailers and restaurateurs fraudulently pass off lesser truffles as melanosporum. “It’s bad for business,” sighed Pébeyre, whose products are clearly labeled. “And in this business reputation is everything.”

Over lunch at Pébeyre’s comfortable house we savored delicious tastous, sandwiches of long, thin, lightly buttered country bread and shaved raw brumale seasoned with salt and pepper baked in a very hot oven for about two minutes. We followed with hearty truffled cervelas sausages and truffled mashed potatoes.

As with white truffles, the food melanosporum accompanies should be simple. Unlike whites, however, blacks stand up to cooking. “Cooking melanosporum transforms the flavor,” said Pébeyre, citing a handful of classic French recipes including poulet en démi-deuil (roasted chicken with sliced truffles under the skin). “Cooked truffles, whether they’re fresh or conserved, are different, more complex, less forceful than fresh, raw truffles.”

Conserved melanosporum are sterilized in 115° C boiling water for 2 1/2 hours. The juice is sold separately and is, to my palate, as flavorful as the conserved truffles themselves.

The French melanosporum harvest has at times dipped to or below a mere 10 tons in bad years. There have been many bad years in recent decades, and very few good years. Pébeyre ascribed the decline to rural abandonment, meaning demographic shifts of farming populations to cities. He also cited unsuccessful propagation efforts, and changing weather patterns. “There are fewer summer storms and to thrive all truffles need heavy rainfall in July and August,” he explained, adding, “it’s possible one day we’ll simply run out of melanosporum.”

About 10 kilometers by road due south of Cahors at the government-funded Station d’expérimentation sur la truffe, chief botanist and trufficulteur Pierre Sourzat, an excitable, sinewy man in his 50s or early 60s, showed me spore-impregnated seedlings he was growing and took me to visit two truffle plantations. An affable zealot whose mission is to unravel the mystery of mycorrhization and bring back the days of 1,000-ton melanosporum harvests in France, Sourzat radiated optimism about boosting truffle production worldwide through scientific methodology, soil preparation and fertilization, and summertime irrigation. He spoke in a rapid-fire tenor voice, pulling me along as he raced to keep up with Boubou, his trained golden retriever. Within minutes Boubou had unearthed a dozen small brumales, melanosporums and other truffles.

Peak truffle production in France coincided with the phylloxera outbreak that decimated vineyards in the late 1800s, Sourzat explained. “Desperate grapegrowers replaced vineyard tracts with truffle-oak plantations. They bore fruit for decades but after World War Two weren’t well maintained or replanted, and we’re suffering the consequences now.”

Host trees take 5 to 15 years to bear truffles, producing for 40 to 60 years thereafter. “If we hadn’t reforested with spore-impregnated trees decades ago we might have no truffles at all by now,” Sourzat insisted. “Mycorrhization does work. Look at Spain. Soon plantations in Oregon, Texas and New Zealand will be commercially viable.”

In the fourth and final segment of Truffles in Black and White I travel to the legendary truffle town of Lalbenque and meet truffle-hunter Marthe Delon and her truffle-hunting pig.

The photos in this series of articles on truffles were taken by Alison Harris. You can see the entire set as a slide show in Food Art: Behind the Scenes of the Noble Truffle, food photography by Alison Harris.

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Simon Says: Daily Food Quote, February 29, 2012

By Wednesday, February 29, 2012 Permalink

by Simón de Swaan         

The art of using up leftovers is not to be considered as the summit of culinary achievement.–Larousse Gastronomique

The Larousse Gastronomique is an encyclopedia of gastronomy. The majority of the book is devoted to French cuisine, and contains recipes for French dishes as well as detailed, illustrated explanations of cooking techniques.

 

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Newfangled Food Vocabulary: What’s a Carnevoyeur?

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

According to the Urban Dictionary, a carnevoyeur is “a vegetarian who derives satisfaction from watching other people eat meat or hearing about the eating of meat.”

It refers to the type of person who says she’s a vegetarian and talks about it ad nauseum, but can’t resist asking if she can have a taste when she sees a plate of boeuf bourguignon or crispy fried bacon.

 

 

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Geneva, Switzerland: How to find food producers near you

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

The agricultural promotion office for the canton of Geneva (OPAGE) lets you fill out this A variety of punpkins at the Portland Farmers ..., telling them what you want, where, the producer’s or company’s name, etc. so you can find just about any local agricultural product you want. It makes it so easy!

A variety of punpkins at the Portland Farmers ...

 

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Stalking the Black-Eyed Villnösser Brillenschaf Sheep

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

by Diana Zahuranec

The most terrifying ride of my life was up a slick, steep mountain road in Alto Adige. Alto Adige is the northernmost region of Italy that touches Austria and melds with its language, architecture, and mountainous geography. This little-known region to the usual American tourist is prosperous, picturesque, and culturally stimulating. Before its annexation from Austria-Hungary as part of the Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1919, Alto Adige had been part of the Austrian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire for centuries. The identity of the region has been tugged between Austria and Italy ever since its annexation, a dual identity that is seen on everything from road signs to cultural heritage sites.

The charming architecture of Alto Adige

 

Alto Adige itself is divided into two other regions, Südtirol, or South Tyrol in the north, and Trentino in the south. The closer one gets to Austria, the stronger the Germanic influence is. In the northernmost parts of Alto Adige, the Austrian culture can be seen as the primary one, while the language and culture of Italy is definitely secondary.

The field trip that took a class of 26 and I to the Dolomite Mountains of the region was part of the curriculum of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, a school in Piemonte, Italy. Our journey was to begin with a monster of a man at odds with his traditional wear of embroidered, tan leather lederhosen, and end with the rare Villnösser Brillenschaf sheep breed with black fur “glasses” framing their dark eyes and black-dipped ears.

The man was burly, tall, straight out of a German-Austrian fairy-tale that could involve lumberjacks fighting giants, and he was our driver. We stood huddled in a damp group at the bottom of a hill, ready to be transported to the top of the mountain to see the sheep and learn about them. The charter bus we usually took could not go up the mountain, because it was too big. We were ushered into two large vans. The driver of mine was Herr Lumberjack (he was not a lumberjack, that I know of; but for lack of a name, this is it). I regret that I didn’t take a photograph of him, but he was a bit intimidating even with embroidered lederhosen. I felt – we all felt – we were in sure hands up this mountain road that grew steeper every ten feet, and which a charter bus could not hope to climb.

 

View from above: the Dolomites as seen from the bus

 

The road was much like other frightening mountain roads: unpaved, steep, narrow, and sans guardrail. I was not nervous at first, but the road was longer and steeper than we thought. The rain came down heavier and our breaths fogged the windows as we climbed in altitude into cold clouds. The hairpin turns were stomach-churning when Herr Lumberjack stopped, backed up a few inches towards the cliff – and a few more for room to turn – and looked back, grinning widely through the hand-wiped back windows to determine how much further he could go (answer: not another inch).

Looking over the edge from up high in a large van, my stomach dropped. It seemed from the high vantage point that the road’s edge was exactly at the tire’s edge. The trees were cut back at intervals, and the cliff of the mountainside fell away to reveal beautiful, jewel-toned landscapes, wet and saturated with color. I snapped a few hurried photos when I wasn’t gripping the headrest in front of me, because it was safer than closing my eyes and less frightening to look through a lens. All the photos turned out blurry; and talk about a photo not doing the real thing justice.

When the last switchback was so narrow that the inching, maneuvering wheels were too close even for our driver; when there was actually not enough room to turn at all; when Herr Lumberjack’s face was serious in concentration and not grinning manically; and when we were all sweating and silent from nerves was when we stopped to walk the rest of the way to the top. My legs were shaky, and the gravel slippery when I climbed down to solid ground from the steamy van. The air was cold, colder on the top of the mountain, and our breath came out in foggy, hot puffs. We hiked to the top.

Mountain top with Villnösser Brillenschaf sheep

 

We were greeted with a beautiful pastoral scene. In the dipping center of two hilltops was a small, wet wood cabin. Scattered between and up the vibrantly green hills was a small flock of sweet, white sheep, all with black glasses patterns circling their eyes. We walked with restraint, eager to see the peaceful scene with the stormy backdrop while not frightening the animals. Threatening, grey clouds opened to a steady, cold drizzle as the shepherds told us the history of the sheep. We huddled under shared umbrellas.

The Furchetta company, named after the mountain chain, tends to one of only two flocks of this breed of sheep, which is the oldest race in Alto Adige. It is seemingly a mixed breed with its black markings on white fur, and so had a tough time surviving during the Second World War when Hitler was bent on eliminating anything not of “pure” race. The Villnösser Brillenschaf was nearly eliminated, and about 400 survive today thanks to the shepherds and farmers of companies like Furchetta. The particular breed is also a Slow Food Presidia, which both protects and promotes it.

Villnösser Brillenschaf sheep are a Slow Food Presidia

 

Furchetta’s main product is cooked lamb prosciutto, which we had the pleasure of eating at lunch only an hour later at a restaurant in the foothills; but the farmers also realized that the high-quality wool was often going to waste. The price of wool has dropped significantly in recent decades and producing wool products is expensive. Furchetta strives to capitalize on the fact that, because the Villnösser Brillenschaf breed has extra-oily wool, its heat-retention and water-wicking properties are superior. The high quality and excellent taste of the prosciutto and various lamb salumi have encouraged chefs of Michelin star restaurants of the area to purchase the meat.

Cooked lamb salame

 

I would like to experience a little adventure like this for every food I eat. The harrowing ride into the clouds and the perfect scene at the end, offset to biting cold and wet weather with the promise of a full, hot meal at the end, were stimulating. The memories of the Villnösser Brillenschaf sheep and how we arrived to see them in their mountain environment connect to the meal we ate later, a meal whose memory would have already faded had it not been for all the elements of the experience.

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Simon Says: Daily Food Quote, February 28, 2012

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

Simon Says: Daily Food Quote, February 28, 2012

by Simon de Swaan

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be in the kitchen, because it is warm, and that’s where my mother was. You never lose that feeling.–Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is an American singer-songwriter, author, multi-instrumentalist, actress and philanthropist, best known for her work in country music. She starred in the Dolly Parton 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Steel Magnolias, Joyful Noise and Straight Talk. She is one of the most successful female country music artists of all time, with an estimated 100 million in album sales. Dolly is also one of the bestselling artists of all time. She is known as “The Queen of Country Music”.

She opened a movies theme park in 1985, and was later inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

Watch a video performance of Dolly singing her great hit “Jolene” below.

 

 

 

 

 

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Food Art: Lamb Mint Meatballs, food photography by Meeta Khurana Wolff

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

See more food photo compositions at Meeta K. Wolff or in our Food Art category.

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Food Art: Pizza Cones, food photography by Sandeea

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

Sandeea is our latest food photography discovery. A woman of many talents, she is also author of the Food Play column. She writes in both English and Spanish.

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The Best Kebabs in Paris

By Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Permalink

Good kebabs do exist — with homemade sauces, fresh vegetables, and high-quality meat — and this site has tested them for you. The Parisian version is also referred to as “Greek sandwich.”

Click here to go to site.

Kebab

 

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