Mouth-gasmic Mozzarella di Bufala


Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, white stringy pillows of comestible bliss. This is not your ordinary tasteless zombie mozzarella, but rather a rich, flavorful cheese that can only be produced in designated areas of Italy’s Campania, Lazio, and Puglia regions.

Produced from the milk of a domestic water buffalo, the flavor of Bufala mozzarella cheese is much richer and creamier than its cow milk (Fior di Latte) counterpart. What makes this mozzarella so particularly special however, is its characteristic texture. Heating milk curd in boiling water (temp of curd must reach at least 180F), it melts and is pulled into the stringy recognizable mozzarella consistency. Formed into a large ball, the cheese is then hand pulled and thrown into a pool of cool water by the famous and well respected “Mozzarella Men”. Describing the scene, it was something of an Italian Willy Wonka.

After being formed into various sizes and shapes, the cheese is left to in a bath of salt water for a minimum of 4 hours to acquire its acidic, salty, and creamy taste. Mesmerized by the pulling and plucking of the cheese from its ‘mother ball’, I could barely wait to CONSUME.

Some Bufala Mozzarella Facts for the Ignorant Eater:

  • Never put mozzarella in the fridge, if its the fresh kind thats sold in a plastic bag full of water. In cold temperatures the cheese becomes dry and flavorless. It can last outside the fridge for 4-5 days at a room temp of 60-68F.
  • When cutting into a piece of fresh mozzarella, finding water in the cheese mass is not an indication of high quality.

Though this product has seen a lot of controversy in the past, with tainting and impure milk scandals, it remains nonetheless the pride of Campania. To be honest after a week of eating this stuff I can’t look at it for a while, but oversaturation of the product by no means it isn’t good. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana makes string cheese seem like a white stick of plasticized doom.

Foie Gras: France’s Deviant Delicacy

Foie Gras: Fatty Duck Liver

Foie Gras, a French word that rolls beautifully off the tongue but not so easily into the stomach, at least for some. Translated from French, Foie Gras literally means “fatty liver,” specifically speaking, the fatty liver of a duck or goose. Though the original notion of creating the delicacy was born in ancient Egypt, contemporarily, France produces the highest amount of this product per year (producing almost 19,000 tonnes and 78% of the worlds supply in 2005).

Both within France and abroad, this delicate slice of buttery liver is not only a prized delicacy but also a controversial culinary concoction. Topping the list of the world’s most disputed foods, Foie Gras has been continually denounced by animal rights activists who argue that its production methodologies are in violation of regulations that protect the humane treatment of animals.

What is it about Foie Gras that separates it so distinctly from other forms of liver preparation and consumption? What makes this product so abhorred by animal lovers and squeamish eaters? The answer is simple: production, production, production. Foie Gras earned its namesake because of the effects of intentional force-feeding (in French this process is called gavage d’oie) on the livers of ducks and geese. Force-feeding techniques are the key contributors in rendering an incredibly oversized and highly fatty liver, ultimately creating the rich, creamy and delicate texture of the consumable product.

Using specially designed machinery, a long feeding tube is inserted into the throat of farm-raised ducks and geese twice a day to fill them to capacity with a strict diet of corn. While producers claim that this force-feeding process is painless to the animals because they lack an esophagus and gag-reflexes the practice is nonetheless concerning, especially regarding the harmful effects of an oversized liver to the animal.

J.Barthouil's Foie Gras

Based on my prejudgements, it was difficult to enter the heart of a land that held foie gras to a different luxurious standard, and went against activists’ requests to cease its production. The duck farmer and producers at J.Barthouil were wary of the issues their product has caused, and are working hard to change its internationally notorious reputation.

In foie gras’ defense, we were told that ducks and geese are migrating animals, and therefore are naturally equipped to store fat for long periods of migration. Therefore, their livers are easily enlarged by the gavage force-feeding process. As far as the animal’s health was concerned, the producer at J.Barthouil assured us that, “If we were to let these animals free, thus stopping the gavage feeding techniques, their livers would return to normal in a matter of days.” This statement seemed hard to believe but was nonetheless accepted by the majority of those who listened.

On the company’s brochure, it is advertised that foie gras is “in fact the healthy liver of an adult duck or goose,” however, seeing the large, fatty, beige mass that they defined as liver, the optimal health of the organ was marginally apparent. Emphasizing the fact that animals are not stressed during this force feeding process, the producer underlined the fact that a stressed animal would produce a low-quality tasting product.

A Healthy Liver?

Not surprisingly, the producers at J.Barthouil lamented that while their product is made without the use of chemical additives and organic feeding, the foie gras itself cannot be registered as an organic product. Regardless of details in feed and the free-range living conditions of animals used for this particular company, it cannot receive an organic certification because of complaints made by animal rights activists.

It must be said however that the duck farm we visited in Domezain-Berraute was a small-scale production facility which allowed for ducks to roam freely in a large area of land before their ultimate fate in the gavage room. Unlike industrial manufacturing of foie gras, one could definitely acknowledge a different quality of care and respect that this farm had for its animals. The final consumable product however, was nonetheless created using the same basic methods of force-feeding.

Corn: The Main Feed

Entering the gavage room on the duck farm in Domezain-Berraute, the pungent and absolutely nauseating smell of the caged animals overwhelmed my senses. As my eyes began to water, the kind farmer boasted that the quality of his foie gras cannot be met by industrial manufacturers. While this statement was confirmed by my classmates, who happily enjoyed the fruits of the farmer’s labor, I could not help but ignore the underlying truth and reality that goes into making foie gras.

The facility was vast, and divided into small cages each housing seven ducks. The room was equipped with large industrial fans that the farmer told us were necessary to cool the animals who were overheated due to their extensively large diet. Looking up close at the animals, I was almost frightened by their size. Never had I seen a duck that large in my entire life. Their backsides almost sagged from their bloated internal organs. I continued to hold my breath.

Leaving the gavage room and liberated into the fresh air of the outdoors, we learned about the traditional conservation methods of foie gras. While it can be whipped into a mousse, packed into a confit, or preserved whole, the most important conservative is duck fat. It can be packaged into cans which extends the conservation of this product to well over a year or jars filled with the duck fat that can be kept for many months.

The final question of consumption remains that the disposal of the consumer, based on his personal preferences, beliefs and priorities. For some, specific issues of animal rights are not considered when eating luxury products such as foie gras, after all humans are carnivorous beings. The concept of consuming a fine delicacy holds high importance for food lovers, especially professional gastronomes therefore making the controversial debate surrounding foie gras seem superfluous.

Others however, dance to a different beat, allowing themselves to enjoy eating meat products while still remaining wary of the places from which these products come. Being that foie gras is a major staple of French cuisine, it would be useless to make a successful campaign to abolish its production altogether, but a knowledge about the facts that go into making a product of this kind is important to understand the origins and sacrifices that go into the foods we eat and the choices we make as informed consumers.

My liver hurts….and something tells me it’s not the fault of my lush-inclined habits.


Honey Tasting: Pooh Bear’s Paradise

Friday we were graced with the presence of a Piemontese honey producer (Miele Thun) that came in and gave us the low down on honey production as well as a very thorough tasting session. We tasted 9 different honeys, 2 cheeses made with honey, candied orange peels, and a honey mead alcohol that kind of tasted like lighter fluid…

Me and Honey
The tasting palate

p.s. The situation with the volcano and European airspace seems to be getting worse and without a clear end in sight. Will we make it to Spain? The uncertainty remains….

Professional Cheese Tasting: The Fundamentals

Though many people might think that wine tasting is the most complex form of high cultured experience, the world of cheese tasting is an unexplored gem that in fact exceeds the intricacies of the wine world.

In class yesterday we were given the pleasure of meeting Mr. De Riccardis, a professional cheese taster here in Italy, who gave us a detailed lesson on how to properly taste and evaluate top quality cheeses. For this particularly tasty lesson, we evaluated 4 different Italian cheese varieties: Raschera d’Alpeggio, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, and CastelMagno.

Before I go into detail about each cheese, there are several rules for tasting and evaluating cheese properly.

First and most importantly, cheese must be eaten alone (no bread or wine) and using ones hands… forget about cutlery folks, this is the real deal.

1.) Evaluating Shape: There are 7 different shapes of cheese. These include

  • Sferic (stretched curd): ie Mozzarella
  • Oval: ie Provola
  • Cylindrical: ie Parmagiano Reggiano
  • Parallelepiped/Square Slab: ie Taleggio
  • Log: ie Goat
  • Truncated Pyramids: ie Valencay
  • Undefined Shape

2.)Evaluating External Surface:

  • Is the cheese with or without rind?
  • Smooth or Rough surface?
  • Crust with natural molds or no molds? (90% of molds come from Penicillin family)
  • Dry or Moist rind?
  • Paraffin wax covering?
  • Washed rind? Washed with water/brine solution

3.)Evaluating Undercrust: If the cheese has a present rind.

  • is the depth/distribution of the rind uniform? If the cheese fails this test then it cannot be considered a top quality cheese (though is usually still edible)

4.)Evaluating Colors of Cheese Paste:

  • Milk white, Greyish white, Ivory white, Straw Yellow, Orange (Mimolette), Bleu

5.)Evaluating Eyes/Holes:

  • Absent (Parmagiano Reggiano)
  • Round: (range from dot size-nut size) ie Swiss.
  • Lengthened Partridge Eyes: ie Asiago
  • Irregular: ir Roquefort

OK! so now that we know the physical regulations for evaluating cheese, let’s get into the good stuff. How does it TASTE! What I found particularly interesting for all of our tasting samples was that the smells of the cheeses sometimes differed entirely from their taste. In other cases, the tastes became far more complex and defined when tasted.

Raschera D’Alpeggio:

Raschera D'Alpeggio
  • Production Area: Piedmont, Italy city of Cuneo
  • Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 7-8 Months
  • Production Period: June-September
  • Average Weight: 12-13 Kg

Personal Notes: This cheese is delicious, milk, and soft. Would have gone great with a Pinot Noir and a piece of bread but also was delicious on its own. Comparable in taste and texture to Asiago.

Taleggio:

Taleggio

  • Production Area: Lombardia, Italy
  • Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 2 Months
  • Production Period: Year Round
  • Average Weight: 2.5 kg

Personal Notes: I really enjoyed this cheese, the texture reminded me of Brie… despite a somewhat strong smell this is a relatively mild cheese. Delicious

Pecorino Toscano:

Pecorino Toscano:

  • Production Area: Tuscany, Italy
  • Milk Used: Whole ewe (sheep) milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 3-5 months
  • Production Period: March-November
  • Average Weight: 3.5-4 kg

Personal Notes:
Personal Notes: This cheese has a texture similar to Parmagiano Reggiano but a much heavier taste. I don’t particularly like it but it can be good in certain dishes as it adds a particular complexity that can’t be found in Grana or Parmagiano.

Castelmagno:

Castelmagno:

  • Production Area: Piedmont, Italy
  • Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 7-8 months
  • Production Period: July-Sept
  • Average Weight: 2 kg

Castelmagno is considered one of the most expensive and rare cheeses in the world. Sold at 60E/kg only 600-700 wheels are produced per year.

Personal Notes:Though this cheese is considered one of the most rare and expensive in the world, I couldn’t get myself past the first bite.. The cheese was so pungent it actually burnt my tongue, and though I tasted the mushrooms, the overwhelming taste of soap kind of killed my appetite. Others in the class seemed to like it though.

OK enough cheese for one day, but to say the least I had a very tasty lesson. The first of many “Quality Food Tasting” lessons that we will have throughout the course of the year. I am going to go and buy some cheese from the market across the street to continue my ‘studies’. I am a very good student. 😉

Organic Cigarettes: Saving your American Spirit, One Puff at a Time!

The Santa Fe Tobacco Co., manufacturer of American Spirit, has come out with a new line of cigarettes featuring organic tobacco, advertising their product as a ‘healthier’ alternative to regular blend cigarettes. What exactly is meant by healthy here?

American Spirit Organic Light Blend
American Spirit Organic Light Blend

Cigarette smokers unite! Now American Spirit cigarettes are not only additive free, but use organic tobacco! Sure, smoking cigarettes isn’t a health choice, but if you are already addicted, why not support environmental sustainability?

I was at the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, CA this weekend, and I saw enough hipsters smoking these things to know they are catching on like wild fire. Apparently, hippies, hipsters, bohemians, junkies, and your average smoker are hopping onto this organic tobacco trend. Just think, at least in these cigarettes there’s no rat poison, cyanide, OR pesticides!

According to the guys over at Sante Fe Tobacco Co. the new American Spirit line has contracted with many small independent organic farms to produce hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic tobacco per year. As larger companies partner up with small organic farms, the opportunities for small farms in other business endeavours are exponentially increased!

Looking over the company’s website, I was particularly impressed with the amount of background info they give on the process and overall purpose of organic farming. Check it out here.

I suppose it seems pretty hypocritical to author a health-focused website and then write a press-release for cigarettes, but you know what? I am not one to judge people for their addictions (we’ve all got somethin’) so if you are having a stressful day at work and are in need of a good lung blackening, at least smoke for a good cause!

Healthy Chocolate Chips, A Sunspired Sweet!

Shopping at the supermarket can sometimes be a dangerous endeavour. Weaving in an out of isles chock full of obesifyingly delicious and tempting treats. I may, however, have found the cure to  my intense calorific cravings: Sunspire Natural Chocolates.

Sunspire Chocolate Chips
Sunspire Chocolate Chips

Sunspire chocolates are all organic and grain sweetened.

-“Michelle, did you just say grain sweetened?”

Indeed, indeed I did. 😉 These babies don’t use refined sugar that is overprocessed and stripped of nutritional value, but by no means does this indicate a loss in taste. In fact, I actually enjoy the grain-sweetened chips more than regular chocolate. They have a deliciously rich and earthy taste that’s lacking from your typical Hershey’s.

Plus, eating this stuff isn’t going to boost your blood-glucose levels to a Kamakazi-esque demise. They are such a healthy alternative that Chef Jason Graham of world famous Cal-a-Vie spa uses them in his cookies for spa guests.

No, I am not being paid to endorse Sunspire (though this would be nice!!!!) but I just thought this product could be appreciated by more people than just me (as a pour half the bag of these chocolate chips down my throat, Gluttony? indeed.)

You can even use the chips to bake, which is nice considering my after graduation life is going to consist of living with my parents and baking copious amounts of cookies to ease the pain of unemployment. haha oh the cynicism is running hard this morning.

Anyway, the company makes more varieties of their chocolate chips including caramel, peanut butter, and even white chocolate. They have single-serving candy and chocolate bars too.

ISNT THAT EXCITING?! AREN’T YOU MOTIVATED STOP WHATEVER YOURE DOING AND RUN TO THE GROCERY STORE TO BUY SOME RIGHT NOW?!

haha. sorry folks, sometimes life is just a little too entertaining. but seriously, this stuff was a great find, check it out.

Ah, and a recipe, to leave you with something sweet: Taken from the Sunspire website.

Sunspire® Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) organic butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup organic brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 extra-large organic eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half
  • 2 cups organic all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Sunspire Chocolate Chips – Organic Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips or Grain Sweetened Chocolate Chips
  • Optional: Chopped pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts or coconut. You can also replace the butter with an 8 oz. jar of Maranatha® Macadamia Butter for a great dairy free cookie.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine in a large mixing bowl, softened butter and sugar. Cream until a silky texture appears. Add eggs and vanilla into the sugar and butter and mix thoroughly.

    In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until completely incorporated.

    Now add your favorite Sunspire Chocolate Chips and other ingredients, if you wish. Bake for 9-11 minutes on an un-greased baking sheet. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

    Enjoy!