Saturday, December 27, 2008

Moderate Drinking May Decrease Brain Size

According to a recent study published in Archives of Neurology, even moderate drinking can decrease the size of your brain. A team of researchers led by Carol Ann Paul of Wellesley College asked 1,839 participants between the ages of 33 and 88 how much they drank per week and used MRI scans to measure their brain volumes. They found "a significant negative linear relationship between alcohol consumption and total cerebral brain volume." In other words, the more people drank, the more their brains shrunk.

As people age, their brains normally shrink about 2% every 10 years. However, Paul's results show that the brains of heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week) were 1.5% smaller than those of non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers (8-14 drinks per week) also had smaller brain volumes than non-drinkers. Since decreased volume in certain areas of the brain is associated with memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease, these results raise some questions about the touted health benefits of moderate drinking. Those benefits are usually associated with the human cardiovascular system. However, it may be that what's good for your heart is not so good for your brain.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue Cheese Videos

Corks and Curds is proud to announce a new partnership with iFoods. In the coming weeks we will feature some of iFoods' Irish Farmhouse Cheese videos on the blog.

Our first video installment features iFoods chef Niall Harbison interviewing Sarah Furno, whose parents, Louis and Jane Grubb, invented Cashel Blue, Ireland's original artisanal blue cheese, in 1984. Henry and Louis Clifton Browne, nephews of Louis and Jane Grubb, invented Crozier Blue, a blue sheep's milk cheese, in the 1990s.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Insect Sushi, Anyone?

The following story has nothing to do with wine or cheese, but I couldn't resist including it.

The insect sushi platter pictured above was created by Shoichi Uchiyama, author of a recent Japanese cookbook on bug cuisine. Featured insects include a spider, a cockroach, a cicada, and cicada larvae.

Mr. Uchiyama's says he especially likes to eat female spiders that are carrying young in their stomachs. He says they taste like simmered soy beans. (This must be the Japanese equivalent to "It tastes like chicken"--the most common line given by Americans eating some weird type of meat, e.g., alligator, snake, possum, rat, etc.)

There are apparently about 1,000 different kinds of insects that are considered edible. Mr. Uchiyama's wife insists that deep-frying is the best way to enjoy most of them.

When I was in China earlier this year, I looked far and wide for a snack shop that would sell me fried scorpions on a stick. But I wasn't actually going to eat them. I just wanted to have a photo of me pretending to eat them!

Mr. Uchiyama maintains that insects are nutrionally balanced and low in fat. He does, however, admit that anyone eating one of his cockroach recipes should probably not think about what they're eating. No kidding.

Photo credit: Rex Features

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hot Chili Wine: A Spicy New Treat

After enjoying samples of several New York wines at Chateau Buffalo a couple of weeks ago, Carl Schmitter (owner of Chateau Buffalo) invited me to sample a unique concoction that one of his friends had just brought in: Hot Chili Wine from Disaster Bay, Australia.

The wine is made from nine different varieties of chilies, and is simply delicious. I've never tasted a wine that burned as it went down! The folks at Disaster Bay say that the wine leaves a "warm inner glow." That's one way to put it! They describe the heat level of the wine as being around 5/10.

The Hot Chili Wine has a sweet, citrus aroma and contains a fair amount of residual sugar. Carl believes that sugar from something besides chilies must have been added in order for fermentation to be possible. Regardless of what their secret recipe calls for, this is a sweet and spicy treat. Served ice cold, it is lots of fun.

If you can't find Disaster Bay Hot Chili Wine at your local wine shop, you can order it online here. Consider giving this as a holiday gift to that special someone who likes fiery cuisine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Alfred le Fermier

The best Canadian cheese I managed to obtain on my Ontario Cheese Adventure was Alfred le Fermier, produced by Fromagerie La Station in Compton, Quebec. This semi-firm cheese has a pleasant floral aroma and a robust, sweet, buttery and nutty flavor.

A true farmstead cheese, Alfred le Fermier is made from the raw milk of Holstein cows that graze in organic pastures filled with white clover, wild clover and alfalfa. After the heated, pressed curds are shaped into molds, it is aged for eight months on spruce planks. During that time its rind is periodically brushed and washed (with brine?).

Alfred le Fermier goes well on a cheese tray and with fresh fruit. I recommend pairing it with medium- to full-bodied red wines (e.g., Syrah, Cabernet). A recipe for a farmhouse salad that uses Alfred le Fermier can be found here. Fromagerie La Station also provides fondue and panini recipes on their website. I highly recommend this wonderful, rustic cheese.