Saturday, March 31, 2007

Philosophy and Wine

At the 2007 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, which I will be attending next week, there will be a mini-conference on Philosophy and Wine. Various philosophers will be speaking on the aesthetic, perceptual and even metaphysical properties of wine. Some non-philosophers will also be on the program, including enologist Ann C. Noble, author of the well-known Wine Aroma Wheel, and winemaker Randall Grahm from Bonny Doon Vineyards--makers of Critique of Pure Riesling. (You have to know your philosophy to appreciate the humor of that label.)

The mini-conference appears to be organized by philosopher Fritz Allhoff, editor of Wine & Philosophy: A Meritage of Vintage Ideas. In 2005 I drew up a book proposal entitled "Wine and Philosophy" and submitted it to Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series. I was told: (a) that Fritz Allhoff had beaten me to the punch and (b) that wine was too "high brow" for Open Court's series. That's why Fritz had to take his project to Blackwell.

Even though the program for the mini-conference sounds interesting, I will not be attending. Instead, I will be busy touring the wineries in Napa Valley and drinking lots of great wine before making my way to the APA meeting. I'll tell you all about my travels and tastings when I return.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The World's Greatest Cheese

My wife and I recently sampled what is ostensibly the world's greatest cheese--at least according to the panel of judges at London's 2006 World Cheese Awards. Ossau Iraty beat out more than 1,500 cheeses from around the world, earning 90 out of a possible 100 points, to become the 2006 World Cheese Champion.

Ossau Iraty is a raw sheep's milk cheese made in the Basque region of France. It is a blonde, medium-firm cheese with a rind that has been washed in brine. It is intensely flavored but has a very mild aroma.

Judges at the World Cheese Awards described Ossau Iraty as "a privilege to eat– sweet, nutty, complex and long-lasting flavour." This cheese literally melts in your mouth.

If you want to try this world-class cheese, Premier Gourmet still has some in stock. But I suggest you hurry. Because this cheese is a bit more expensive than other cheeses at Premier, I doubt it is an item Premier is going to keep on hand on a regular basis.

The Basques serve Ossau Iraty with black cherry jam. In order to appreciate the full flavor of this cheese, do not serve it chilled. Let it warm up to room temperature first.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Justino's Madeira

Last year my wife was making a dish that called for some Madeira wine. So, she went to our local wine retailer, Prime Wines, and bought a bottle. I expected her to buy a cheap bottle from the Paul Masson isle. Instead, she returned with a bottle of Justino's Madeira. Naturally, I insisted upon trying it.

I never knew that Madeira could be such an interesting wine to drink. The few people in America who have even heard of Madeira know only of its use in cooking. Fewer still have ever sampled a glass of it. For those of you who like fortified wines--e.g., ports or sherries--I highly recommend that you take the time to get to know Madeira.

Madeira wines are made in the Madeira islands of Portugal from grape varieties most Americans have never heard of--the most common one being Negra Mole. As with all fortified wines, the fermentation process is stopped by the addition of a high alcohol grape spirit. After fortification, the wines achieve between 17% and 18% of alcohol by volume.

Prior to being aged in oak casks for at least 2 years, Madeira wines undergo the process of "estufagem"--a traditional method of heating the wine that is unique to Madeira. The vats are heated for up to 3 months in large stainless steel vats to temperatures of between 104 and 122 F°. Because of Madeira's exposure to oxygen and temperature during this process, an opened bottle can last longer than any other wine.

The Madeira my wife bought was aged only three years, the youngest version sold by Justino's. It was labeled 'Fine Rich,' which means it belongs to the sweetest category of Madeiras. The folks at Justino's describe the Fine Rich Madeira this way: "A translucent wine, with a strong amber colour. A fruity nose with some toasty notes. Soft and balanced on the palate, with a good length of flavour. Sweetness well balanced by the acidity of the wine."

Madeira is best served chilled.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Homemade Vanilla Extract

OK, this entry has nothing to do with either wine or cheese, but I'm going to post it anyway. I'm making my second batch of homemade vanilla extract with a 375ml bottle of Buffalo Trace Bourbon and four vanilla beans. The vanilla beans will steep in the bourbon for about six months.

I got the idea from John Folse, who in 1988 was declared by the Louisiana Legislature to be "Louisiana's Culinary Ambassador to the World."

The whiskey I used for the last batch I made was Jack Daniel's. The aroma was so rich and enchanting that I asked my wife to stop cooking with it so that I could enjoy the rest of the bottle for aperitifs. However, the flavor didn't match up to the aroma, and I have now given it back to her for baking.

I hope that by using a superior spirit the end result will be better. Few people realize that the Buffalo Trace Distillery makes almost all of the world's greatest bourbons, including Blanton's, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg, Pappy van Winkle, and W. L. Weller. I'm also using more vanilla beans than before. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Triple Cream Cheese: Spreadable Butterfat?

Unless you have the eating habits of Homer Simpson (who spreads butter not only on his bacon but also on his hamburger patties), you probably won't find the idea of spreadable butterfat to be very appealing.

However, as I have explained before, at least 75% of the solid material (i.e., the components other than water) in a triple cream cheese is butterfat. (Remember that approx. 50% of the average cheese is water.) For reasons I cannot yet appreciate, some people actually like triple cream cheese.

I recently bought a "wedge" of triple cream cheese from Australia, and my tastebuds had difficulty finding anything else to focus upon besides the butterfat in it. I say I bought a "wedge" because the cheese was so oozy that it had difficulty holding its shape. And it was so sticky that when I spread it on a cracker, I had difficulty detaching it from my butter knife.

I didn't taste a strong creamy flavor in the cheese--in spite of what the name "triple cream" might lead you to expect--and there wasn't anything particularly cheesey about its flavor either. I just tasted fat. I will sample other triple creams, perhaps some from France, but I can't recommend them to you at this point.

One small caveat: I'm not a big fan of soft-ripened, bloomy-rind cheeses in general (e.g., Brie and Camembert). So, perhaps I'm not the best person to pass judgement on the soft-ripened triple cream cheese I bought. (I'll explain in a later post what 'soft-ripened' and 'bloomy rind' mean.)

In case you do have the eating habits of Homer Simpson, you might enjoy the following recipe for Homer's Hamburgers.

1/2 lb. buttered hamburger patty
Canadian Bacon
Fried Egg
Cheese Whiz
Brown Gravy
Pork Rinds
Grill burgers. Top with bacon, Canadian bacon, fried egg and Cheese Whiz. Then smother the whole burger with brown gravy and garnish with pork rinds. Best served with cold Duff beer.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Artisan Cheese in the Buffalo News

Today's Buffalo News contains an interesting article on artisan cheeses, where to buy them in Buffalo, and which kinds to try. The article can also be viewed here.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Marques de Moral: A Great Party Wine

What sort of wine should you bring as a guest to a dinner party? If you're like me, you don't want to spend too much money on a wine that may not appreciated by those who drink it. On the other hand, you don't want to bring a wine that is too cheap because then you might have to drink it. What to do?

Bring a bottle of Marques de Moral. This very nice Spanish wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes and aged 6 months in American oak barrels. According to the importer, Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd., you will encounter "Aromas of strawberries and dried cranberries enhanced by obvious spiky American oak."

This wine sells for $10 or less but tastes like it costs a good bit more. Prime Wines recently had it on sale for $5.99, so I bought at least four bottles.

Not only do you get a great deal of quality for your money, this wine is also a refreshing change of pace from the standard line-up of Merlot and Shiraz (or Merlot/Shiraz blends) one typically encounters at parties. In fact, since other party guests may not recognize the name 'Tempranillo,' they might drink less, thereby saving more of it for you!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Monty Python's Cheese Shop

If you're a cheese fan but have never experienced the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch, allow me to enrich your life:

In case you're not already convinced that Wikipedia editors have too much free time on their hands, you should know that the Python Cheese Shop sketch even has its own Wikipedia entry.