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September 2001

 

A Victory for Cheese Choice
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration got nervous about food-borne illnesses and floated the idea of a zero-tolerance policy that would outlaw selling any cheese made from unpasteurized milk, including Parmigiano-Reggiano and Swiss Gruyère. When the Feds started talking about cheese in language they usually reserve for drug dealers, you might have wondered if something was awry in Washington. The government, though, claimed it had scientific evidence that raw-milk cheese was a menace to society.

In response, a group of cheesemongers, cheesemakers and cheese lovers formed the Cheese of Choice Coalition to defend these strange, stinky and delicious dairy products. One of its first moves was to ask a microbiologist at the University of Vermont, Dr. Catherine W. Donnelly, to take a hard look at the scientific record. Donnelly has now finished her work, to be released later this month. While Factors Associated with the Microbiological Safety of Cheeses Prepared from Raw Milk: A Review may not be the season's sexiest page-turner, Donnelly's demonstration of the way scientific studies were misused to give raw-milk cheese a bad rap does make fascinating reading. In case after case of food poisoning from cheese tainted with salmonella, E. coli or other pathogens, Donnelly points to factors other than unpasteurized milk: contamination during or after cheese making, careless milk storage, poor sanitation practices. In fact, her analysis raises the possibility that raw milk is actually safer than pasteurized, because it contains microbes that fight dangerous bacteria.

The only raw-milk cheeses U.S. law now permits for sale are those that have been aged for at least 60 days. Pro-pasteurization forces argue that this restriction is insufficient, citing an experiment showing that raw-milk Cheddar inoculated with E. coli remained tainted even after two months. Donnelly pulls that study apart too, pointing out that the dose of E. coli was far higher than any that would naturally occur in milk.

An advance copy of Donnelly's review is already in Washington, where it seems to have hit its mark: Agency sources have told the coalition's cochairman, K. Dun Gifford, that the FDA is holding off on enacting the ban until it can give the issue a closer look. In the meantime, artisanal American cheesemakers are working up a set of self-imposed quality-assurance standards. By policing themselves, they hope to keep the cops off their cheese.

—Pete Wells

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Bookmark: Taking the Cake
Some artists use paint, some clay; Margaret Braun works in sugar. Braun creates vividly hued cakes extravagantly adorned with edible pearls, scallop shells, tassels and swags, and topped with chalices or crowns. (Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick commissioned one for their wedding.) Braun's new book, Cakewalk, reveals her inspirations, from Antonio Gaudi's architecture (F&W once sent her to Barcelona to create a cake) to the Argo cornstarch box. An entire 60-page chapter focuses on decorative elements—doves, paisley—with photographs superimposed on illustrations in a fun, eye-popping way. Lucid, step-by-step instructions bring Braun's cakes (almost) within reach of ordinary cooks, who shouldn't have any trouble with her chapter on simple, homey sweets, like her grandmother's cherry crescent cookies. Paging through Cakewalk while nibbling one of those cookies might be less ambitious than constructing one of Braun's King-Arthur-on-Ecstasy cakes, but as armchair adventures go, it's hard to beat.

—Pamela Kaufman

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Editors' Pick
This gleaming chrome machine, the latest espresso maker from Gaggia, is notable for more than its Tin Man hat. With a professional-style handle to release pressurized water, the Factory, as it's called, makes eight cups of rich, foam-topped espresso ($620; 800-500-6309). It may look high-tech, but it's not, compared to Gaggia's Synchrony ($1,200), which grinds the beans, makes the coffee, then cleans the grounds to get ready for the next cup, all at the touch of a button.

—Monica F. Forrestall

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Drinks: Malt Master
Even in a business noted for colorful personalities, Jim McEwan stands out among Scotch distillers. An Islay native who worked his way up to master distiller at Bowmore, McEwan won his employer many awards through his experiments with older whiskies and new kinds of casks (port, Bordeaux). A sort of ambassador of whisky appreciation, McEwan radiates a passion for Scotch that has made converts worldwide.

Now McEwan has set a new challenge for himself: reviving a defunct distillery. Early this year, a group of private investors acquired the Bruichladdich Distillery, which had been closed since 1995, and hired McEwan to start it up again. McEwan plans to make "a pure whisky, the old-fashioned way," without chill-filtration or caramel coloring. The news both excited and teased whisky connoisseurs, who will have to wait years for McEwan's first spirits to mature. But he has something to help them pass the time; with the acquisition came thousands of casks that have been aging for years. McEwan drew on those to bottle three distinct expressions of Bruichladdich. The 10-year-old whisky carries a whiff of sea air, while at 15 years, it turns warm and toasty. The 20-year-old has rich, sweet aromas of ripe fruit and lemony shortbread. "I want to let the character of each whisky come through," McEwan says, "to show the stillman's craft in the glass" (www.bruichladdich.com).

—William Loob

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Address Book: Rio de Janeiro
For a city whose name is synonymous with sensualism, Rio has only recently become enamored of its restaurants; people do most of their eating at open-air bars, lunch counters and elbow-to-elbow cafés. But Cariocas are becoming as passionate about restaurants as they are about the bossa nova; I even got dining tips from fellow tanners at Ipanema Beach.

Careme is a cheery (if tiny) new bistro with walls the color of yellow bell peppers. But the real exuberance is in Flavia Quaresma's wonderful French-inspired cooking. Tomato and basil consommé is garnished with chèvre agnolotti; an herb-crusted leg of lamb is sumptuously paired with eggplant charlotte and hazelnut sauce (14 Rua Visconde de Caravelas, Botafogo; 011-55-21-2537-5431).

Satyricon was just remodeled after two decades; now the setting's as fresh as the Italian-accented seafood. Fish comes in every guise imaginable: carpaccio of tuna or amberjack; salt-crusted pargo; pargo baked with tomato and hot peppers (192 Rua Barao da Torre, Ipanema; 011-55-21-2521-0627).

Cafe Laguiole is the power brokers' downtown lunch choice. The wine list is the main draw, from deep holdings in Pétrus to affordable Sicilian reds. Deraldo Bonfim's cooking reflects the influence of France and other global cuisines in such dishes as quail in sweet-and-sour sauce and chicken stew with cachaça (63-A Rua Sete de Setembro; 011-55-21-2509-7215).

—Rob McKeown

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Restaurants: Parker's Hometown Hang
Although he can (and does) eat all over the globe, influential wine critic and F&W contributing editor Robert M. Parker, Jr., is particularly happy at a restaurant called Charleston in his hometown, Baltimore (1000 Lancaster St.; 410-332-7373).

If chef Cindy Wolf is daunted by cooking regularly for one of the world's most famous palates, her bold, confident approach doesn't show it. A few Parker favorites that reflect Wolf's predilection for full-on flavors are crispy cornmeal-crusted oysters with lemon-cayenne mayonnaise and a fried green tomato "sandwich" with lobster and lump crab hash. (Wolf, by the way, also does well by her city's ubiquitous staple, the crab cake.)

The wine list at Charleston wins Parker's accolades as well. Assembled by Tony Foreman, Wolf's husband and partner, it's among Baltimore's best, notable for its reasonable prices and impressive selection, says Parker. Even small sections such as "Italian Whites" showcase top producers like Schiopetto, Valentini and Jermann. Of special note are Foreman's Rhône pages, with an impressive 22 vintages of sought-after single-vineyard Côte Rôties from Guigal—La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne. And, as of this fall, Charleston customers looking for a great bottle to take home can walk up the block to Bin 604, a new retail wine venture from Foreman and fellow oenophile J. Miller. The store will specialize in hard-to-find wines from around the world—at some very fair prices, if Charleston's list is any guide (604 Exeter St.; 410-576-0444).

—Lettie Teague

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Travel: Free at Sea
Someone at Norwegian Cruise Line evidently endured one too many "formal nights with the captain." Just look at the line's first specially designed Freestyle ship, Norwegian Sun, setting sail for New York City from Southampton, England, this month. Specifically created to pluck passengers from assigned-table, 6:30-sharp, dress-code dinnertime purgatory, Norwegian Sun has nine—yes, nine—restaurants, not counting the Internet café or the wine bar. There's Ginza for teppanyaki and sushi; Las Ramblas for tapas; Pacific Heights for California-style pizzas; Adagio for posh Italian; East Meets West for the obligatory Asian fusion (complete with a pick-your-own-lobster tank). The ship offers die-hard traditionalists two old-style formal dining rooms, one traditional, one contemporary. With two more Freestyle ships on the way, Norwegian is betting heavily on the modern palate of its passengers.What next? Floating farmers' markets? (800-327-7030).

—Kate Sekules

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Taste Test: Salsa
Since it's so easy to make your own salsa when tomatoes are in season, it's no surprise that in an F&W staff tasting of store-bought products, our favorites offered something extra: vegetables roasted over an open flame, unusual varieties of peppers or tart green tomatillos.

ProductStaff CommentInteresting Bite
Coyote Cocina Fire-Roasted Salsa"I'd put this on anything—bread, chips, chicken, veggies."Was invented at chef Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe from chipotle chiles and fire-roasted tomatoes.
Green Mountain Gringo Salsa"Tastes bright and fresh."Made with tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapeños and pasilla peppers in the back of a Vermont grocery store.
Valley of Mexico Fire-Roasted Salsa"Good texture and body; well-rounded blend of smoke and heat."A straightforward mix of roasted tomatoes and jalapeños with a curveball thrown in: sesame oil.
Frontera Hot Habanero Salsa"You can taste the flowery flavor of the habaneros."Chef Rick Bayless of Chicago's Frontera Grill fell in love with the fiery taste of roasted habanero salsa in the Yucatán, where it's a staple.

—M.F.F.

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Published September 2001
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