Thursday, January 31, 2013
The heat of the southern colonies and the long distances between settlements in colonial times contributed to a reliance on rum and madeira rather than on the beers and ales favored in Britain or the unfortified wines common on the continent, both of which perished quickly without refrigeration. It was no help that despite the abundance of wild grapes in the United States (none of which made good wine), European grape varieties stubbornly refused to take hold in the New World, repeatedly falling victim to the vine diseases that attacked the native varieties (which have developed immunities European grape varieties lack).
As a result, Americans on the whole never developed a solid tradition of drinking light alcoholic beverages (beers and wines) with food, as an ordinary part of a leisurely meal. That tendency, exacerbated by prohibition (and the partial prohibition of alcohol to teens and into the early 20s that continues today) has left most Americans with a binge drinking mentality focused mostly on hard liquors that, ironically, was precisely what the original prohibitionists aimed to combat. I've long thought that college binge drinking and other abuses would be far less prevalent if we taught our children about responsible, pleasurable, moderate alcohol consumption from the early teen years. Barr makes this same argument cogently and with much evidence to back up his claims. Chock full of interesting detail about drink and our attitudes toward alcohol. Well worth a read. Recommended.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Friend: "I had this wonderful wine the other day..."
Me: "What was it?"
Friend: "I don't know, but it was REALLY good."
Me: "Where was it from?"
Friend: "I forgot."
Me: "Why didn't you look at the label and write down what it was, so you'd remember, or keep the label, or take a photo of it?"
Friend: "Well, you know, we were all having a good time and talking, and by the time we'd paid the bill, the waiter had already taken the bottle away." or "Yeah, I didn't think to do that. That was last week. I think the trash has already been collected...."
I never have this problem with wine. First, I know an awful lot more about wine than I do about cheese. There aren't that many wines I've never heard of or for which I have no points of reference. Second, I'm not shy about securing evidence when necessary. I never hesitate to take the empty bottle home from a restaurant or to set it aside at home or to remove the label from the bottle, for future reference. If an unfamiliar wine is different and compelling, I usually write something about it--on this blog, in many cases--which preserves the information. When it comes to cheese, however, I'm much less careful, too often to my later regret. I've encountered countless delicious cheeses that are lost to me forever for want of information about what I was eating. Recently, I've tried to do better. Sometimes, however, the cards just seem stacked against me.
A few days ago I sampled a number of tasty-looking cheeses at the cheese counter of The Pasta Shop at the Rockridge Market Hall, in Berkeley (510) 250-6005, and bought a few that I liked. The problem with cheese is that the label on the cut pieces you buy at a good cheese shop are almost invariably slapped on to the package at the folds, to hold the wrapping closed. As a result, the label usually has to be ripped to pieces to open the cheese. In this instance, I particularly enjoyed a smoky, pungent blue cheese I bought, that, judging from its color, is a goat cheese. Thinking myself very smart this time, I retrieved the paper it had been wrapped in as soon as it dawned on me that I especially liked this one. I was determined to remember the name of the cheese, but I picked the paper out of the trash only to find that the tasty little brick had been labeled "Cheese!"
Not very helpful, to say the least. With an exclamation point, no less. I was being mocked.
I want to believe this was just a freak error on the part of the helpful young woman that wrapped the cheese for me, but I'm feeling vaguely persecuted. The other two cheeses (a Cabot "Cheddar" from Vermont and a French cheese called Brebirousse d'Argental) were properly labeled. I grant you that. Still, I feel laughed at....