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Saturday, April 26, 2003


big book of cheese

i was saving this for my big train journey to the scaa boston, but it was just fascinating. i ended up reading it all in one sitting.

yup, you guessed it: home cheesemaking. even tho' i don't have a mini-dorm-type fridge, i wish i did so that i could manufacture a beautiful brooklyn blue cheese.

or even a "moonstruck" parmesan! i'm actually good to go on the parm until i get to the part that says "age for 10 months on a cheese board at 55 degrees f." i guess i could find some geek friend with a really big server room and just stash it in the corner?

long-time readers will have long figured out that i have a "fuzzy thumb" -- some people are good with orchids; me, i can grow all kinds of yeasties and moldies. if it's fermented, i'm gonna make it.

which naturally leads the more discerning to ask: when is she planning to make her own wine? the answer: as soon as i get a space big enough for a little oak barrel. . .

i'm aiming to perfect the mozzarella. but i do have my eye set firmly on mascarpone, feta, and then maybe some kind of soft sheep or goat cheese.

luckily, i live in new york, which means i should -- can -- get sheep or goat milk. i mean, everything's for sale in this town, somewhere, at anytime, for some price. . .

finally, on to the hard stuff. . .cheddar. all i need is a way to figure out how to weight it to 10 and 20 pounds.

bricks -- there must be bricks around here. . .heaven knows, foam yoga blocks don't whey anything. . .

footnote: i keep getting these dorky email alerts that someone is searching about me on that stupid, stupid site word-of-mouth. what's that about? i mean, everything's right here, posted fresh every day. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 5:42 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, April 25, 2003


go (upside) down, moses

"moses brown is 48, portly and nearly bald. which makes him an inspirational yoga teacher, especially for men."

this from a delightful article on yoga. i know nothing about washington, d.c.-area anusara yoga teacher moses brown, but i like his general 'tude!

why do men come to moses? back pain, is his reply. i hear ya. back pain from sitting and typing all day drove me to yoga too.

posted by fortune elkins | 4:24 PM | top | link to this |


Thursday, April 24, 2003


is the coffee crisis about to end? not unless we save gillies!

when will the world-price depression, known as the coffee crisis, and its attendant human suffering, end? one analyst (is he really the russian prince serge cantacuzene?) argues very soon.

for those new to the idea of the coffee crisis, let me refer you to a great link about this important subject.

of course, after reading this stuff, you get a little bummed. you think that there's nothing you can do personally, and turn away. not so!

nor do you have to load up your donkeys with coffee beans and march on the exchange, as protestors recently did in melbourne, australia. and you definitely don't have to harass bored kraft executives at the stockholders' meeting. . .tho' with chevy chase there, it was probably pretty funny. . .try the new coffee-flavored oreos, any one?

instead, you can best help by making a small donation to that greaty charity, coffeekids, which doesn't offer just handouts, but unique microcredit and educational opportunities to turn coffee farmers and workers into entrepreneurs.

and of course, you can drink more high-quality specialty coffee! i've heard it said that if everyone drank just two more cups a day, the price of coffee might rise enough to help farmers out a lot. . .

following up on other extremely important news, gillies coffee has lost this round of the battle with the new york environmental department.

the city has foolishly cited gillies -- not for polluting the air with roasting odors or smoke -- but for the sheer perfume of fresh coffee. that's right -- the delicious aroma of fresh coffee that you savor every morning as you sniff your first cup is now deemed an illegal odor in the big apple.

smell the fresh coffee from your office coffemaker? it's terrible pollution, according to the great new york inspectors. is this crazy or what?

i urge everyone to email mayor mike bloomberg to protest the outcome in the case, ECB NOV #00152932K. long-time readers know i'm quite environmental myself -- always pushing organic food, slow food, sustainable development, save the arctic from drilling, etc. -- but this is just the most crazed mis-reading of what pollution is i've ever seen.

especially as the new york times and associated press recently reported that real air pollution -- esp. particles from diesel-burning engines -- is to blame for a massive increase in asthma among children in harlem. where is mayor mike's head at?

posted by fortune elkins | 4:00 PM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, April 23, 2003


a midspring night's dream. . .

"It sounded like a dreamy invitation: to be a judge for the second annual midwest regional barista competition. . . ."

and a dream it would be. in an amusing piece, writer lauren chapin discusses being a judge at the recent barista qualifying round. while i'm sure she's a nice person, after reading it, i do wonder if she is actually qualified to be a judge!

all she knew about espresso she learned in a "quick lesson" beforehand, she says. this is worrisome to those of us who feel strongly that the barista competitions should be used to reward great baristas and convince others that being a true barista is a worthwhile career path.

as for the professional judges, who feasted on the famous arthur bryant's bbq -- all i can say is that i heard about this just the other night from one of the pro judges herself at my own dinner after the cupping. yup, i'm talking about sherri johns! (it seems like she needs a website for her barista training program, wholecup!)

posted by fortune elkins | 4:41 PM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, April 22, 2003


more on the cupping. . .

from yesterday: it was amazing. they did indian arabicas and robustas, including monsooned malabars.

unlike wine tasting, which is snobby and usually hard to learn, i found coffee cupping to be user-friendly. many of the tastes are obvious and easy enough for any one to immediately understand. plus the coffee people i have all met are welcoming and friendly to novices. they are not scorn-filled sommeliers!

on a fashion note, current scaa president steve colten of atlantic had the most beautiful personal tasting spoon, made for him esp. by an artist named joe spoon -- i'm not kidding! this spoon will soon be the latest must-have on alt.coffee, i think.

it was incredible to hear the avuncular ken davids talk about the coffees. in general, he said, indian coffees are mild (here i wasn't sure if he as referring to the tasting term, mild or to the definition of mild as "any arabica coffee grown outside of brazil"). the cupping showcased some special coffees that might have potential in the future, or that might have some use in a complex espresso blend.

as he explained it, the problem with most indian coffees, besides quality and processing issues, was that they arrive to market about the same time as central american coffees do. but because of shipping and processing costs and delays, they are almost always going to be slightly more expensive than the centrals.

he also noted that in general some indian coffees have a bit of undesireable liberica in its genetic heritage, but did note that one of the coffees tasted might have some ethiopian in its genes. and in fact, when i cupped it, i did actually notice a sort of your-maiden-aunt's-dried-potpourri dusty floral taste in it. since people often describe ethiopian coffee as flower-y, ken was obviously right.

anyway, ken was interested in a coffee that has a lot of potential, one grown basically organically by tribes people in orissa. he thinks this coffee, "agro builders plantation bulk orissa" was worth considering hooking up with fair-trade organizations. this would give the people the resources to develop the coffee and improve it.

but of course this means fair trade buyers would in the meantime be supporting an undistinguished coffee. so there was some discussion about this, fair-trade vs. quality vs. the need to develop origins. the coffee pros were divided on this, naturally. i hesitantly ventured to ken that maybe the indian government should support this coffee for domestic consumption until the quality comes up.

the pros all looked at me politely and then resumed talking amongst themselves. because that's obviously not feasible to those who understand the situation, i guess. anyway, they were all very courtly and pleasant, which is one nice aspect of the old-fashioned way the coffee industry still does business.

the espresso was made on a faema legend, which was manned by sherri johns. she is the barista. she pulled the best espressi i have ever had; the woman's amazing. so i didn't get to play with the faema because this wasn't amateur hour.

ken and the pros had to do their business. i mostly hung around and tried not to make a fool of myself or get in the way. . .i quietly took my own notes and a few times they actually were in sync with those of ken or steve colten. a very few!

i discovered that i had trouble detecting brightness (aka, misleadingly, acidity) correctly and seemed over-sensitive to astringency. of course, the pros were looking at these coffees as blending components as well as interesting coffees on their own. they had a greater tolerance for these things and an amazing knowledge of how they would balance other parts of a commercially viable blend.

anyway, the coffees we tasted were: tata jumboor malabar nuggets extra bold (mneb) from tata coffee, washed arabica; badnekhan estate plantation bulk sl9, washed arabica (sl9 is a variety that ken thinks has potential); the orissa coffee, washed arabica; mylemoney estate plantation a, washed arabica; rajagiri estate plantation a, washed arabica; badnekahn estate plantation bulk sl795 (sl795 another variety that interested ken), washed arabica; sln exports robusta kappi royale, washed robusta; yemmigundi estate robusta parchment ab, washed robusta from tata coffee; aspinwall malabar aa, monsooned arabica; coelho gold malabar aa, monsooned arabica; a monsooned arabica from malabar that dallis had on hand, i didn't get the estate.

i was surprised to discover that all the robustas tasted way weird and funky, with the exception of the kappi royale, which i could barely tell was robusta. i was afraid i wouldn't be able to tell the arabicas and the robustas apart, but for the most part, yuck!

a robusta, even a supposedly good one, left a tar-like taste down the middle of my tongue. only the kappi didn't make my face immediately squinch when i slurped it. which i guess shows it is an exceptional robusta, one that might be worth using as part of specialty espresso blend. the monsooned coffees were also easy to note, having a really unique musty taste. again, not so good on its own, but in the right espresso blend. . .

once again, i have to give tons o' thanks to dallis coffee, who was so kind to invite me to peek in at this time-honored coffee ritual.

posted by fortune elkins | 4:24 PM | top | link to this |


Monday, April 21, 2003


mozz & a cup

ok, i think the ideal home mozz recipe might be made with of all things, 3 quarts dried reconstituted milk, and 1 quart half-n-half. also, when heating the cheese in microwave, make it hotter.

heat it 4 or even 5 times; it has to be hot, hot, hot; so you can barely touch it. stretch more than knead -- stretch it gently, even out to as much as a foot, but don't let it snap or break. think taffy. fold it back together on itself like a ribbon and then knead lightly! i'll be trying this myself later next week.

but today's big big -- let's just say huge -- news is that i this morning i attended my first formal coffee tasting, known as a cupping, and with no one less than ken davids, the ultimate coffee guru. . .and a few other notables, like david dallis and jim munson of dallis coffee, steve schulman of kudo beans, as well as steve colten of atlantic, the current president of the scaa.

we sampled various indian coffees. i'll write more about this later. but it was just an incredible experience, one for which i owe many thanks to dallis coffee! they are the greatest. . .later we went out for a fantastic dinner. just all fun: coffee's such a party, doncha know!

posted by fortune elkins | 4:56 PM | top | link to this |


Sunday, April 20, 2003


more mozz

i'm beginning to think making mozzarella is the ultimate italian process: the less you do to it, the better it is. i've done this a couple of times now -- more results!

first, whole regular supermarket milk -- not ultra-pasteurized -- is crucial. all the organic milk in my supermarket sez ultra-pasteurized on it. avoid it.

second, add cream to the whole milk. 1 pint of heavy whipping cream added to the recipe (1 gallon of milk) noticeably improves flavor. this morning the only cream i could find was ultra pasteurized. so i tried it anyway. the recipe still worked -- but you can't use anymore ultra pasteurized stuff than 1 pint.

it's probably much better to get high-quality raw milk and cream, which can be found sometimes at the health food stores.
of course, fat is what we want, which is why buffalo milk -- it's got much more fat than even unseparated cow's milk -- is so delicious. anyway, get as much non-ultra-pasteurized fat into the pot as possible.

third, heat gently. overheating/heating too quickly seems to help make the cheese tough. stir the curd as lazily as possible.

fourth, getting some lipase helps make the cheese softer/less rubbery, and it gives it a sweet but very light tang. i am ordering some lipase myself next week.

fifth, knead as little as possible, just until shiny and smooth. too much kneading also contributes a rubbery result. and try not to squeeze all the whey out of the cheese. otherwise you get something sort of like havarti in texture. . .

sixth, make sure to add some salt to the cheese.

you'll get about 14-1/2 to 15-1/2 oz. cheese. it's delicious warm. but after about 4 to 6 hours it does toughen up, which is why i now understand why anna del conte in her big book of italian cooking scorns "old" mozzarella.

to keep it soft longer, divide the cheese into balls, cover them with spring water (mozzarella hates chlorine, gives the cheese a bad flavor) and add some salt. this helps keeps the nicer texture. for best results, buy some calcium chloride to add to the spring water. this also retards spoilage and lets you keep the cheese for more than a day or two.

you'll be hearing more as i refine my technique. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 5:09 PM | top | link to this |

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