Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Exploration of Cheese (A GSW 1120 Honors Collaboration)

As I’ve hinted at in my Connotation Press column as well as in an episode of Spatula, I’m addicted to cheese. I eat it at least once a day, and sometimes well more than that. What’s beautiful about cheese is that no two are the same. I’ve even found very different flavor profiles among the same brand of cheese; for example, I’ve had Grass Point Farm Sharp Cheddars that are perfectly tangy and rich and others that taste like lavender dish soap; it all depends on the grass the cow ate. 

In an attempt to introduce source synthesis to the students in my food-themed Honors writing course, I took my love of cheese into the classroom. This past Thursday the nine of us chowed down five different cheeses and talked about the similarities and differences between them. Because they are an awesome, talkative, sharp bunch, our discussion was lively and intelligent. And the writing was even better.

The five cheeses we tasted and critiqued were:

Raw Milk GoatCheddar by Rosewood Products, Ann Arbor, MI bought at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor. 15.99/lb (Can be procured at Happy Badger too.)

Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese bought at The Anderson's. 10.99/lb

Naturally GoodKosher Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Meijer. 4.99/ 1/2 lb

Kraft Easy Cheddar Cheese from Kraft Foods Global bought from Kroger. $4.29 a can.

Kroger brand Marbled CheddarCheese by Kroger bought from Kroger. $1.88 1/2 lb

Without further ado, I welcome the following guest writers to The Everyday Palate: David, Kara, Alyssa, Laura, Tiffany, Spencer, Sarah, and Jess. Please enjoy these reviews of our tasting. Preferably with a glass of red wine (or sparkling grape juice, if you’re under 21.)
From The Cookbook Chronicles
"Photography internship
with Clare Barboza"

Cheese reminds of us many things: our grandmas, recipes, pizza, crackers, and, as Alyssa pointed out, mice. (Think about all the children’s books about mice can cheese!) While the French are the true connoisseurs of cheese, Americans have just as much love for this dairy product—we just show it in a different way; Spencer pointed out our love of fried cheese on a stick, when he jotted down his top five things that come to mind when someone says cheese. Tiffany, however, thought of France, and Sarah was reminded of the cheese tastings she had in high school.  Laura brings together Tiffany and Sarah’s thoughts when she recalled, “My favorite memory of cheese is from my French class. Every year, over the past four years, my French teacher would always take one day off of teaching the class and let us have a ‘culture experience day.’ That day would consist of eating or trying different types of cheese and crackers/ bread. Along with the cheese we would try different types of drinks and such as well. It was always a fun day every year of just hanging out with my friends, spending time with our awesome teacher, and discussing with each other. This is one of the things that made this my favorite class (aside from bio) in high school.”  But the sacred cheese dish that ignited ignites our senses and memories the most was Macaroni and Cheese. Jessica wrote, “A memory I have attatched to cheese is the paula dean mac and cheese my best friend makes it's my favorite mac and cheese, and she spent 4 hours making it for me for my graduation party.” Elaborating on Jessica’s memory that addressed the sacredness of Mac and Cheese is Kara who said, “My cheese memory that comes to mind is my Grandma's mac and cheese.  It is gooey and has bread crumbs on the top and is baked and really delicious.  I love it when I'm sick or if it is a cold winter day and I keep getting cravings for it while I'm at school, but I would have to go home to have it.  It also helps that Mac and Cheese is my favorite food, which is why I probably crave her Mac and Cheese so much.” For me, Mac and Cheese has always been attached to nostalgia; it was the first food that ever appeared in a poem on mine, and it remains a meal that conquers so many memories I don’t know where to begin. Essentially, cheese is part of the foundation of American food culture, and will probably always remain as such.

During our tasting we learned many things about our palates and the cheese we liked and didn’t like.

David and Kara ate Raw Milk Goat Cheddar, which is produced by Rosewood Products. For this review, we purchased it at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, MI, but it can also be purchased at Happy Badger.  We would describe this cheese as being chalky and dry with a slightly grainy texture.  It also has a very distinct taste.  The distance to travel to get it is a little ridiculous as well.  David said that he thinks that "it was my favorite of all the cheeses, however I would not pay that much for any type of cheese."  Kara agreed about the price; however, she disagreed with David when it came to the goat cheese.  She said that it had a "strong aftertaste" and was only "good if you prefer the taste of goat cheese."  Essentially, this cheese is good if you have the palate for it; otherwise, there are better options available that are easier and cheaper to get a hold of.

Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese from The Anderson’s receives different reactions from altering consumers, making it hard to determine it’s worth. Alyssa, not an avid cheese taster, says that the Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese was “too strong for me and was dry in texture.” Laura disagrees with Alyssa saying that it “was creamy and had a slight taste, but not to strong taste.” Due to the differentiating reaction from the tasters, this cheese is not only easily favored but can also be disliked. When it comes to texture and taste of cheese, the two disagree. However, the two do agree on the fact that the cheese was not worth $10.99 per pound.

Tiffany considers Naturally Good Kosher Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Meijer to be quite delicious because of it's sharp, prominent flavor. Tiffany believes that this sharp flavor is the reason that this cheese went so well with the cracker it was accompanying. Tiffany also believes that this specific cheese would be a great addition to a fondue party. In concordance with Tiffany's opinion, Spencer finds the flavor of this cheese to be well worth the price, at $4.99 for every 1/2 pound. Spencer's opinion reflects on Tiffany's statement about the use of this cheddar for a fondue party because the flavor obtained is worth the amount spent on it and will ensure that the party will be a success. These two individuals both agree that Naturally Good Kosher Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Meijer is a fantastically delicious cheese.

During the cheese tasting experiment, Jessica and Sarah both refused to try the Kraft Easy Cheddar Cheese From Kraft Foods Global. This cheese can be purchased at Kroger in a can. Jessica stated, “I did not eat the spray cheese, because it is so processed.” Sarah agreed with Jessica, and further went on to state, “ I try to eat foods that are pretty healthy and that do not contain ingredients I have never heard of, as well as unhealthy chemicals.” The ingredients in this cheese include calcium phosphate, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, and sorbic acid as a preservative. In trying all of the cheeses, we chose not to try this cheese, because it just does not seem natural compared to the others. 

(During our writing time, Amanda said, “I did it. I ate the spray cheese. And, honestly, I had to stop myself from having more. I have no clue what that says about my food ethics. Here I am a true locavore, all-natural, gluten-free-endorsing home cook, and I could easily become addicted to spray cheese…”)

Overall, our exploration of cheese let us see the many flavor profiles cheese can have. And it showed us how essential cheese is to our diets here in the Midwest, which was more proof of how food has meaning beyond it’s nutritional value. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reflection: The Food Lover's Guide to Wine by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

Photo from
I'm obsessed with the end of the world. It's probably from the lack of oxygen while not breathing during movies about the apocalypse. The suspense in end-of-the-world movies about kills me. Zombies, aliens, natural disasters, diseases: they all seem possible to me.

And so I find myself considering, if I had to pack a bag in twenty minutes, what would I shove in it. Sure, Smartwool base layers, socks galore, and water are all viable options, but I know to stay sane I would need a few books. Jane Kenyon's Otherwise, Jane Austen's Pride and Predjuice, and definitely THE ultimate in cooking reference Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible. Yes, I would choose The Flavor Bible over any of Nigel Slater's, Jamie Oliver's and Alice Waters' cookbooks. If you know me, that's says volumes about how much I respect and use The Flavor Bible. I've cited in many of my BG News articles, and I've opened it countless times while developing recipes or planning elaborate Sunday evening meals. Want to know what flavors are compatible with rosemary? Look up rosemary and you will find yourself immersed in a list that will NEVER lead you astray. God bless you, Karen and Andrew.

When Sarah L., co-star of Spatula and dear friend, showed me the latest addition to the Page and Dornenburg collection of food books, I flipped my lid: The Food Lover's Guide to Wine. There's no doubt I'm a food lover. And there's even littler doubt that I love wine--maybe to a fault at times...But as a food lover, I've been really wanting to work on collecting awesome wines and, better yet, pairing them with food that would create a holy matrimony on my palate. Additionally, becoming a gluten-free household has made us much more aware of wine's radness! As Page and Dornenburg share through quotes from Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Julia Child (aka gods of food and wine), food is better when paired with wine AND, when consumed moderately, wine is actually good for your health. In the preface, the authors thoughtfully and intelligently spell out the benefits of drinking wine and defend wine as something that is accessible to Americans --" 2010 the United States became the world's largest wine-consuming country for the first time in history..." (x).

In the following chapters, the authors include a timeline of notable events in American wine history; reflections from articulate, down-to-earth sommeliers; a how-to for talking about wine; and the beauty of winemaking. These are the chapters I really found myself lost--in a good way--as I read and reread passages, taking notes. What I really enjoy is the authors' writing style. They identify with their audience  by using casual diction, a relatable tone, and humor at times. At least I laughed out loud when I read the last point in the "What Information Is Required on a Wine Label?" box: "The government warning ('Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery')" (95).

Probably one of my favorite lists is the "Wines Under $15." As someone who does not drink commercial pop (soda) and who is on a budget, this list of over 150 wines really hit home. I realized many of them were ones I have found and bought at my local Kroger or better yet at The Anderson's. Also, I'm a fan that the authors championed boxed wines. Too often boxed wines get bad reputations, when, many times, they can stand up a good bottle of value wine.

Finally, I like how the wines are listed. The authors provide pronunciation, country, region, color, grapes, weight, volume, dry/sweet, acidity, tannin, flavors, texture, temperature, comparables, season, pairings, tips, aging, producers, and iconic examples for more than 250 wines. AWESOME, right? I've learned a lot from just nonchalantly flipping through Chapter 4 a little bit each evening, sometimes while listening to tunes or watching Law & Order. I do have one criticism, though; for a recent dinner party I hosted, I referenced The Food Lover's Guide to Wine for what wines to serve with each course, but because the lists are arranged by wines rather than food, it was a bit difficult. I do feel, though, that's an easy fix; next time I'll reference What To Drink With What You Eat, another book by Page and Dornenburg, one that's definitely on my wish list. For The Food Lover's Guide to Wine what I have been doing and plan to continue to do is find a wine that sounds interesting to me, and then plan a menu around its "pairings", of course, using The Flavor Bible to help me fully construct it.

Which reminds me. My next blog post should be a menu that's worthy of the end of the world...with a stellar wine list.