Immortal Cheese with Eric LeMay: A pithy and picky video tour through everything worth knowing about cheese.
Immortal Cheese with Eric LeMay: A pithy and picky video tour through everything worth knowing about cheese.
Jane Le Besque hosted a “mesolithic dinner” on June 30, 2013, in her home in the Pays de Gex just over the border in France, an event sponsored by Slow Food Geneva. The dinner was cooked using ancient flavor combinations and techniques, and served on split logs onto which slate plates were placed and used as plates.
Although Jane’s dinner was labeled “Mesolithic”, it was indeed much more than that. She covered the evolution of food from the post-glacial hunter-gather periods, through the Mesolithic and Neolithic, and going on to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, centering on Europe.
It started with the Mesolithic era, with an assortment of coastal and lake fish, eel, root vegetables and wild greens. The meal then slipped in to the Neolithic era with galettes made from ground lentils, peas and barley, served with spit-roasted boar. The menu ended with an Iron-Age “travelers pack” of dried fruits and dried-porridge slices fried in cumin and butter. The Bronze Age brought blue cheese and butter.
Drinks consisted of mead, more often referred to as “honey wine,” more in the style of the ancient Greeks and Romans than of more ancient peoples, and beer.
As a reminder, the Mesolithic Age refers to the pre-agricultural period between 10,000 and 5,000 BCE in Europe, and variations of this period in other parts of the world. The term “pre-agricultural” is key in understanding what ingredients were available. The three terms paleolithic, mesolithic and mesolithic refer to what is generally called the “Stone Age,” i.e. the post-glacial hunter-gatherer period, when humans started to use stone tools and food was gathered rather than farmed.
During the early Stone Ages or paleolithic (2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 BP), humans used some stone tools and utensils, but many tools were made from organic matter such as bone, fibers, and wood. Hunting and gathering were the chief ways of providing food. During the neolithic, starting around 10,200 BCE and ending between 4,500 to 2,000 BCE, depending on the location, we saw the beginning of farming. The mesolithic overlapped the other two ages, once again, at different times in different places. Metal tools brought these three Stone Ages to an end.
Early Stone Age cooking was generally on leaves or directly over the embers, although clay cookware has recently been found in China dating from 19,2000–20,000 years ago, during the ice age. Stone Age plates usually consisted of a rock or other flattish surface found in nature, such as the flattened split logs Jane used in the same manner as we use wooden tables today. Earthenware did not appear on the dinner table until much later.
What did they eat? Pretty much whatever they found and killed that was edible: meat, fish, wild plants. The specifics of this depended on the location, climate and season. Meals included the day’s finds. This might consist of berries, wild greens and other wild vegetables and plants.
Meat and later fish were not an everyday affair. They were difficult to come by and difficult to preserve, depending on the location (salt was found in Romania as early as 10,000 years ago). Stone Age people ate very little grain, since agriculture didn’t exist yet. Hazelnuts and other nuts were often roasted, and stored for winter. Wild boar was common; dairy products and cheese were on the menu, although a limited variety.
Jane Le Besque lives and works with her family at the foot of the French Jura, a few minutes from Geneva, in the foothills of the Jura mountains.
She was born in England and has a Breton grandfather, hence the name. Since graduating from Birmingham Art College in 1986, she continued her studies at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. She afterwards lived and worked in Toulouse, London, and now outside Geneva.
Jane has always painted. She is her happiest walking through the woods and gathering berries, mushrooms, acorns, flowers and leaves to use in her cooking and painting.
One might say Jane has been interested in mesolithic cooking even before she learned the word. As a child, she spent her time gathering the wild things she now uses in her paintings, making dresses out of them.
Her paintings are an intense reflection of her “gatherer” spirit. The Mesolithic dinner was held in her studio, lined with her paintings of flora of all types.
Salone del Gusto ended on Monday 29, but I can’t stop thinking about it.
Salone del Gusto, held in Turin, Italy, is a Slow Food biannual food fair and conference. To sum it up in these few words undermines everything else it is, too, and its importance as an event that brings together producers from all over the world. These are producers that grow ancient varieties of grain to save genetic biodiversity, that make Slow Food Presidia cheeses or salumi, that pipe their cannoli full of the freshest organic ricotta you’ve ever tasted, and whose principles and values align with your own and, it goes without saying, Slow Food’s – good, clean, and fair food for all.
This year, Salone del Gusto was a marriage of the original Salone del Gusto, first held in 2006, and Terra Madre, first held in 2004. While both events had food artisans and producers from all over the world, different activities were held at each and were not all accessible to the public. Salone del Gusto focused more on the exposition and sale of high quality foods and products, while Terra Madre was a gathering of a network of food producers from around the world. Having never been to either of these before, I can’t offer judgment on the differences of before and after. What I would love to do is share my first-time impressions of this year’s.
To say Salone is a food fair means that, like your down-home county fair, the place is jumping with activity – with a few notable differences. The funnel cakes are replaced with French butter cookies in 20 different flavors, the groundhog whacking game is replaced with the foodie’s (divisive word, I know) form of fun, that is vertical Barolo wine tastings, and that feeling of riding the Zipper right after you eat your funnel cake is replaced by the feeling of pressing up against crowds right after you drink your Barolo wines.
Fribourg-style Swiss fondue is referred to as moitié-moitié. Unlike fondues from other regions, it is made with a hard, cooked cheese native to Fribourg, known as Vacherin Fribourgeois (not to be confused with Vacherin or Mont d’Or). The recipe calls for half Vacherin Fribourgeois and half Swiss Gruyère.
In this photo, Raphael is making fondue using the handmade cheeses he makes himself, at the Slow Food Switzerland stand at the Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy last week. The visitors ran to his stand every time he put a new pot of fondue out. Obviously, it was very good!
As I stood in the crisp air and bright sun of a Portuguese farm with the other Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences students, a single question popped into my mind. We were learning about the Churra da Terra Quente sheep breed, an indigenous and endangered animal with tangled wool and long, dirty tails. They were a rough-looking lot, but watched us curiously and weren’t as shy as other sheep I’ve unwittingly terrified just by standing by them. Some scratched their dirty wool on dry tree trunks, and others flopped down onto the dry soil that was bereft of rain for 4 ½ months, unconsciously dirtying themselves even more. They had curly horns like trofiette pasta. I got the impression that they were happy, or content, to be out in the sun watching us watching them.
In an indigenous flock – or group, or pack, or what-have-you – the purity of the breed is kept by inbreeding. In dogs, I know this leads to some odd character traits: Dalmations, for example, can be suddenly temperamental; my family’s Vizsla at times suffered anxiety and, strangely for a dog, psychological problems – and was also, of course, the most intelligent dog on earth.
by Amanda McInerney
Whenever anyone asks me what were the high points of our recent trip to Europe I always answer with two simple words: the food. We happily indulged ourselves whenever possible, knowing we would be walking it all off within days, and I was pleased to note that I came home carrying no extra baggage except for my shopping.
I was having a conversation about our foodie finds with my friend Kris Lloyd, the cheese-making talent behind South Australia’s multi-award winning Woodside Cheese Wrights, not long after we got back and was waxing lyrical about some butter made from clotted cream (cultured butter) which we had bought on our last day in London. It was part of a significant haul that we took home from London’s Borough Markets for a final feeding frenzy before we flew home and had made quite an impression. Kris commented that she had recently been “playing around” (her words) with cultured butter, including one which she had washed in whiskey. With the taste of the delicious, golden London lipids still lingering, to say I was eager to try Kris’ efforts would be something of an understatement.
Cultured butter is something of a recent discovery for many Australians, but has been in use for hundreds of years in Europe. The butter we are used to is what Europeans refer to as “sweet cream butter” — delicious, but lacking the depth of flavour of cultured butter. Cultured butter is made in exactly the same way as ordinary butter, but a live culture is added to the cream which is allowed to ripen for some time before being churned, salted (or not) and rinsed. Kris adds the culture to her cream 24 hours before she uses it to make butter, giving the cream time to “clot”. Cultured butter has a richer, deeper flavour, which some find somewhat tangy, and also comes with a little probiotic boost from the addition of the live culture.
Kris gave me three different batches to play around with — an almost unsalted butter, salted butter and the remarkable whiskey-washed version — and I’ve had a very happy day or two getting to know them. They are all truly delicious and definitely add an extra facet to the dishes I used them in: a Mushroom and Almond Bruschetta with Chèvre and Vanilla-Poached Oranges with Pikelets. I kept these recipes fairly simple in order to let the ingredients do the talking. There’s no point in using outstanding produce and then smothering it with other flavours and fancy techniques; good food doesn’t need to be tricky. The mushrooms I used came from Marco the Mushroom Man in the Adelaide Central Market and the sublime oranges were in our CSA box from Jupiter Creek Farm, all fresh, local and fabulous. I couldn’t help adding some wonderful Beerenberg Caramelised Onions to the mushroom dish. They finished it off perfectly.
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Total time: 15 mins
This made a good lunch for 2, but would also make an entrée for 4.
Click here for metric-Imperial conversions.
The whiskey-washed butter was used in an even simpler dish of pikelets (small bite-sized pancakes) with vanilla-poached oranges, but the combination was absolutely stunning and much appreciated by the guests to whom I served it yesterday for afternoon tea. My good friend Meg is very partial to a wee dram or two of whiskey and her eyes glazed over just a little while eating these.
I’m sure everyone can work out how to make basic pikelets.
As for the vanilla-poached oranges: the oranges were simply peeled, making sure all of the pith was removed, sliced about 10mm thick and gently poached for ten minutes in a syrup made of 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, 1/2 cup of water and one vanilla bean, split open and scraped – hardly a recipe at all! I cooled them slightly in the syrup, buttered the hot pikelets with the whiskey-washed butter and layered the oranges and pikelets, topping with a dab of the precious butter. Eat, then swoon.
Quick, name the 5 basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty…and the fifth one is umami. Umami is the word that describes the savory taste of food, or perhaps “meatiness” of a food. It is the taste of the amino acid L-glutamate. The Japanese singled out this flavor in the early 1900s thanks to a chemistry professor from the Imperial University of Tokyo, Kikunae Ikeda, who isolated the glutamic acid compound C5H9NO4. Glutamic acid is found in both free and bound forms. The free form, which is formed when the protein molecule breaks down and releases glutamic acid, is the one we taste. “Umami” means in Japanese, literally, deliciousness.
A few years ago, I remember there was some hype that spread virally through America’s highly-informed (and often misinformed) consumer culture about MSG.
What is this lethal-sounding additive in the foods we eat, so cleverly covered up by only using three letters to trick us when we know better? It was soon known that MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is an ingredient added to most processed foods in order to enhance their flavors. In the media, MSG was linked to many ills, including migraines, nausea, and cancer, among others.
Wariness and fear of MSG actually began in the 1970s, after Dr. Ho Man Kwok wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that he was experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable after-effects from a Chinese dinner, including numbness, weakness, and palpitations. He did not specifically link his symptoms to MSG, but a year later a study was done on baby mice by injecting high dosages of MSG (up to 4 grams per kilogram of body weight) and observing the brain lesions the mice suffered afterwards. Thus was born Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS). Studies, anecdotes, and reports were quick to follow suit afterwards, claiming that MSG was linked to all sorts of ills. Some prominent nutritionists today are convinced that added MSG is harmful, especially for children.