From the outside, it looks like a castle. The first things you see when you walk in the door are cases of Michigan beer – three from Shorts and two from Atwater. When you look to your right, you see racks and racks of wine. Beyond that, more beer and liquor waits for you behind the counter.
Every party store should look like this.
A&L Wine Castle has served the Ann Arbor area since 1984, which has provided owner Maher Jaboro and his staff with a unique opportunity to observe the evolving market for quality spirits, beer and wine.
Click to read more of my May column for iSPY Magazine.
Take the beer, wine and spirits lists, for example. Head bartender Travis Reeves reports that people will look at the draft beer list and ask “Don’t you have anything local?” Three of the six beers on the list are local, but it’s not obvious because they’re not the usual suspects. The spirit list is similar. You won’t find many of the big names, but you will find some amazing gins and vodkas that don’t have enormous marketing budgets. What they do have are great stories, and the knowledgeable and friendly bar and service staff can not only help you pick a new spirit to try but also tell you why it’s different and interesting.
Click to read more of my April column for iSPY Magazine.
Jeff Paquin is the creative force behind The Ravens Club’s many unique house-made ingredients. When The Ravens Club opened in May of 2011, it was the culmination of several years of planning and dreaming for Paquin and fellow managing partner Chris Pawlicki. Cocktail culture was taking the coasts by storm and sweeping slowly inland to the Midwest, and Paquin was determined to be on top of it. A lifelong food lover and cocktail connoisseur, he’d grown up watching his parents host cocktail parties and putting up brandied cherries in the kitchen with his mom.
Click to read more of my January column for iSPY magazine.
A year after opening, The Bar at 327 Braun Court has settled into itself and its space. It’s the kind of place where you instantly feel at home – if your home has funky décor and a fetal shark on the bar. After a few visits, the bartenders and servers will welcome you back and greet you by name.
We were on the bus at 5:30 in the morning, so we could arrive at the Poggio Castro cheesemaking facility by 6:30 am. That's when they start making the cheese, and we were there to witness Italy's most famous cheese being born.
The milk for parmigiano-reggiano comes from two milkings. The milk from the previous afternoon sits out in large metal trays overnight, and the cream skimmed off in the morning for other uses. The remaining milk is combined with the whole milk from that morning's milking along with some whey from the previous days cheesemaking, and is poured into large copper kettles.
Rennet starts the reaction that leads to cheese. We watched Christien pour the rennet into the kettle, and in just moments the milk had set up into a kind of gel - the curd. How you treat the curd varies from cheese to cheese, but for parmigiano, you want a very fine curd, so Christien used a whisk to break it up into small lumps, then attached a flat mixing head to the mixer atop the kettle.
As the mixer stirred the mixture, the kettle was heating the contents, and gradually the curds and whey started to separate. The creamy white milk became yellow whey, with tiny specks of white curd floating in it. Christien would reach into the kettle ever few minutes, squeezing the curds in his hand, testing their consistency.
When the appropriate texture and temperature has been achieved, the mixer was turned off, the edges of the kettle were brushed down, and the curd was left to settle to the bottom of the kettle for an hour. Then it's time for the birth.
Using a large wooden paddle, Christien lifted the coagulated mass of curd (weighing over 200 lbs) from the bottom of the kettle to the surface. The moment when that white round breached the surface really did feel like a birth, Parmigiano-Reggiano emerging from milk and rennet. Or proto-parmigiano, to be precise, because it has several steps to go before it can rightfully claim that name.
Each large kettle makes enough curd for two finished cheeses, so after the curd is contained in cheesecloth and left to drain for a few moments, it is cut into two. Then each batch of curd drains for a moment before being transferred into the first mold and wheeled into the draining room.
Here, the cheese gets its first markings, and is weighted and left to drain. It will be transferred to another mold that will give it the customary shape and imprinted dots that mark it as Parmigiano-Reggiano. When it's ready, it moves to the brining room, where it will spend 22 days in salty brine, being turned regularly.
From there, it's off to the "bank" - a large climate controlled room full of 100 lbs wheels of aging Parmigiano. Called the bank because each wheel will sell for 500 euros, and in this room there are thousands of cheeses. After 12 months of aging, they are tested by the consortia that will certify that they qualify to bear the name Parmigiano-Reggiano. They don't test by taste, but by sound - using a special hammer on the outside of the wheel to determine if the cheese meets the standard. Those that pass receive a brand, while those that do not will be inscribed with horizontal lines indicating the cheese is of second quality, and in the worst cases, the words marking the cheese will be completely removed.
We got to sample the cheese at 4 stages. The first was basically un-aged - perhaps just out of the brine? In any case, it didn't taste like much. The cheese aged 12 months was tasty enough, but not really what I think of as Parmigiano-Reggiano. By 24 months, it had started get the intensity of flavor I associate with the cheese. And by 32 months it was chock full of those crunchy amino acid "flavor crystals" that I love. Delicioso! (And only about $10/lb from the factory store!)
(Originally posted on my Tammy's Tastings blog on November 7, 2006)
I named this blog Tammy's Tastings for a couple of reasons. One, I like
alliteration. And two, and perhaps more importantly, because I think
that consciously tasting is the best way to learn about food.
I've run and attended tastings of a huge variety of foods - olive oil, vinegar, bacon,
maple syrup, to name but a few. When my husband bought me a four pack
of single origin chocolate bars for Valentines Day, the first thing I
did was invite friends over for a side by side compare and contrast.
Blind tasting in particular is important. Every month I learn something new from the blind tastings we use in my wine club.
Whenever we eat or drink something, we bring to it a lifetime's worth
of experience and emotion and knowledge. I "know" that I like French
wines better than domestic. So hand me a glass of California Chardonnay
and a glass of White Burgundy, and I'm going to look for things I like
in the Burgundy, and things I don't like in the California Chard. It's
human nature. Hiding all the identifying features of a wine, or a food,
or whatever it is, really lets you taste it on its own terms.
was inspired to write this post by a recent experience with apples. I
grew up eating McIntosh apples. That's what my family bought, and I
barely knew that other kinds of apples existed! (Okay, I knew about Red
Delicious, but even then I recognized that they were a triumph of
appearance over flavor.) When I grew older and more worldly, I started
eating other kinds of apples. Jonagolds, Empire, Pink Lady, Granny
Smith. I found a couple that I particularly liked - Golden Delicious
and Honeycrisp - but for the most part I wasn't an apple fan. But I
never bought McIntosh. Those were the "average" apples. The "regular"
apples. I was a gourmet. I was too sophisticated for the simple Mac.
couple weeks ago, someone put some apples out for dessert. The package
just said "apples." I took one, and it was the best apple I'd tasted
in years. And - as I'm sure you've guessed - it turned out to be a Mac.
Tasting is important.