Curing Olives, Conclusion

Back in December I posted about starting the process of curing olives from trees in our front yard. Well, they’ve been sitting in salt brine for a couple months now, quietly, unassuming, on our kitchen counter, and occasionally we pull a couple out and do a taste test. Well, a couple days ago I popped open the big jar with the big green olives and there were few small floating islands of white stuff; bacteria or fungus, not sure which. Some people (not I) might have been brave and just scooped this stuff out, rinsed off the olives, and moved on. But I decided that I wasn’t going to chance it and, sadly, discarded that jar. The other jar, with the small black olives, looked fine. I took these, rinsed them, and put them in a mason jar with fresh water in the fridge. A couple days later now, the saltiness has mellowed and they’re pretty darn tasty.

So, I would call this a success, overall. The instructions I worked from did warn about making sure the fruit was submerged in the brine and limiting direct exposure to air to avoid spoilage, so lesson learned.

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ESB: Extra Special Bitter

Beer Advocate describes Extra Special (or Strong) Bitter (ESB) as:

…essentially more aggressive and more balanced Bitters, both in alcohol and hop character, but nothing overpowering. Color range will be similar, though leaning towards the darker end of the scale; dark golds to copper. Low carbonation. Malts tend to be more pronounced, often toasty and fruity, with maybe some notes of diacetyl. And despite “bitter” being in its name, ESBs are not really all that bitter. The key to an ESB is balance.

When Shawn, my brewing buddy, suggested that we brew something other than a “typical San Diego strong ale” like Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, or Double IPA, ESB is what came to mind. After living in England for six months, drinking many a pint of, just below room temperature, cask-draught, ESB in many a pub, I’ve developed a sentimental and nostalgic attachment to ESB. I was also inspired by New English Brewing, a newish San Diego brewery that I think does a tasteful job of melding traditional English ale styles with subtle San Diego influences.

We hope to soon (perhaps in the next batch) make the jump to all grain brewing. So this ESB will likely be a bridge between the malt-extract and all-grain domains. The ESB recipe we worked from came from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, which conveniently includes recipes for both malt-extract and all-grain processes.

Now, I’ve always boiled a full 5 gallons; I’ve heard of people boiling less and then adding cold water at the end of the boil to help chill the wort, but I always dismissed this as an inferior cheat. Also, I’ve always boiled all of the malt extract for fear of insufficient pasteurization. Shawn, however, has approached brewing with fresh eyes and is a very diligent researcher. He came to the conclusion that, at least for malt-extract brewing, a low-volume boil may be best and it may be better to only add half of the malt extract at the beginning of the boil. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that steeping relatively small amounts of specialty grains in a full 5 gallons of water can lead to over-extraction and, thus, off flavors (tannins?). And, perhaps more importantly, boiling all of your malt-extract for a full 60 minutes can lead to over-caramelization because presumably the stuff has already seen quite a bit of heat while it was being extracted from the grains and condensed down to a syrup during production. It actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it, and he’s shown me various blog postings where people have scientifically demonstrated through varying their process in multiple batches, that this late extract addition can give lighter, brighter beers with less of the over-caramelized darkness that I associate with homebrew.

So, in summary, we steeped our grain tea with 2 gallons of water, then added another gallon of water and half of our malt extract at the start of the boil. At the end of our boil, we turned off the heat and added the rest of the malt extract, letting it sit 10 minutes to pasteurize. Then we added another ~2.5 gallons of water to bring us to 5 gallons. When we added this cool water at the end we ended up at about 160degF, so we still used our ice-bucket hybrid counter-flow type chiller to get us the rest of the way down to ~70degF, but we were able to do this with very little ice and without limiting the rate of wort flow through the chiller.

Now it’s in the fermenter, happily bubbling away, so we’ll see in a couple weeks whether this new process is any good. The wort looked and tasted nice (as far as unfermented wort goes), so I’m optimistic.

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One of my favorite parts of brew day, is going home with a growler of the last brew we made, and the spent grains. I figured out that an unoccupied baby seat is the safest way to restrain a full growler. I’m not sure what the State of California has to say about this though.

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Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge

My wife bought me Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge in paperback (thanks honey!). It’s about a political-activist punk rocker turned Cheesemonger at a grocery cooperative in the Bay Area. It’s a nice mix of personal memoir, cheese picking/eating guide, behind-the-scene stories about the cheese business, and humorous commentary about hippies, foodies, yuppies, hipsters, homos, and any other stereotype-able or non-stereotype-able person who might end up in the cheese department of an employee-owned food cooperative in hippy-ville. I’m about half-way through and I’m really enjoying it. It’s a fun, easy, read. Two thumbs up!

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Cheese Addiction, It’s Real People!

This is the first I’ve hear of this, and it explains a lot!

The dedicated affinity for cheese can be traced to casomorphins, chemicals released when humans digest casein, a milk protein. Casomorphins are said to produce a calming, almost morphinelike effect. Dr. Neal Barnard, founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said cheese is “an incredibly concentrated source of casomorphins — you might call it dairy crack.”

Source: Looking Glass adds a cheese tasting room, by Mackensy Lunsford, Citizen Times, originally blogged by Wedge in the Round.

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Everyone in San Diego Should Have a Garden

I grew up in a foggy little town on the Central Coast of California, growing vegetables in a small shaded, poorly draining, clay-soiled, corner of my parents’ backyard. My aspiration was to commercialize the operation. Actually, I did sell at Farmer’s market, with a hand-painted sign taped to a card table, but I don’t think my take would have covered the $15 fee for the license to sell at the market.

When I moved to San Diego County and started gardening, I was blown away at how easy it was. There is a TON of sun. Now I try to keep the garden going year-round. I start a Summer-Fall garden in May and a Winter-Spring garden in mid-October before the first chill.

Today, when I walked outside at lunch and picked Arugula for a salad, after having Kale and Swiss Chard from the garden with dinner last night, I felt pretty damn lucky. It was seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit earlier in the week, then the rain came; mind you, it’s January! Today there was drizzle and the plants in the garden were glistening with water droplets. It’s a beautiful sight!

There’s been a bit of a learning curve to figuring out what grows best when, and it’s a bit of work to turn the soil, plant the seeds, thin, and weed (I have the irrigation setup on auto-pilot…it’s the only way to fly). But I wish all of my fellow San Diegan’s had a backyard garden, because I’m not sure there’s an easier place to do it and having a garden is such a wonderful gift for yourself and your family.

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Tasting Home-brewed Stout; A Good Excuse for a Cheese Pairing

Last weekend it was finally time to taste our second batch of home brew (our first Stout), and what better excuse could one have to go out and blow $20 on cheese!

I didn’t do much research before buying the cheese for this pairing, mostly just went by my instincts and took some guidance from the proprietor at La Costa Wine Company. We ended up with three cheeses, and below are our tasting notes for each.

First, the beer. Kudos to my brewing buddy Shawn for an excellent beer. This is tasty stuff and would go toe to toe with any commercial Stout.

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Just The Cheese

Chocolate Stout Cheddar, Central Point, OR: The Stout flavor in this cheese is very mild balanced against its sharpness; it just adds a roasty coffee/molasses note to what would otherwise be a nice sharp cheddar with some complexity from aging.

Coconut Gouda, Netherlands: The coconut in this cheese tastes crisp and fresh and intense; while pleasant and not overbearing.

North Hollander, Netherlands: This is a long-aged hard cheese, so it’s reminiscent of Parmesan, but is darker and more nutty, with those crunchy little embedded crystals that I love so much.

The Pair

Chocolate Stout Cheddar, Central Point, OR: The flavor of this cheese is a bit lost against the beer; only the sharpness comes through.

Coconut Gouda, Netherlands: This is our favorite (and most unexpected) pairing. The coconut is actually very complementary with the Stout and the combo is quite addictive.

North Hollander, Netherlands: The nutty character of this cheese plays well with the roasty notes in the Stout. This is my favorite cheese (I’m just a sucker for this style), and I enjoy it very much with the Stout, but it doesn’t make you say “Wow!” like the Coconut Gouda does.

On a final note, as I write this I see a number of recent posts on beer and cheese from Wedge in the Round, including this one on Beer and Cheese Pairings, put out by the Brewers Association. Cheers!

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Cheap, Great Tools for Cheesemaking at Ikea (Did I mention they’re cheap?)

Ikea FANTAST Meat Thermometer/Timer, $6.99

This thermometer works great, is pretty accurate, and includes an alarm that goes off when you reach temperature…and it doubles as a timer. Can’t go wrong for the price. I bought one, then went back for another.

Ikea 365+ HJÄLTE Skimmer, $2.99

I found this skimmer on their website, but didn’t come across it in the San Diego store. This would be perfect as a small curd skimmer.

Ikea 365+ HJÄLTE Deep-Fry Skimmer, $2.99

This is the skimmer I picked up. It has a mesh sieve, rather than the larger draining holes typical of a curd skimmer. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it will do the trick. The only risk is that the sieve might clock up with small curd bits.

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