Something that weirds people out, without a good reason, is the idea of food that has been matured past the point where you’d normally eat it. People are most familiar with this concept when it comes to blue cheese, but there are several other interesting examples of food which has been allowed to continue past the point where it is most normally eaten. I think this is exciting stuff, and while I haven’t tried all of it, I’d certainly be inclined to give it a shot if the opportunity arose. What’s really interesting about this sort of thing is that “over ripe” foods like these are often considered more of a delicacy than the food would otherwise be.
Images: blue cheese (from Wikipedia article, public domain pdphoto.org), century egg (from Wikipedia, CCSA), and black garlic (from Wikipedia article CCSA).
Blue cheese has a much sharper flavour to it than regular cheese, it’s actually made most often by poking holes in soft cheese and spiking it with penicillin (some varieties just have the spores added to the curd).
The century egg shown above is a particularly interesting specimen. They are made by burying an egg for about three months in mixtures of clay, mud, rice husks, brine salt, lime and/or chalk. The resulting egg is something of a delicacy, with a lighter flavour and a jelly-like consistency.
Black garlic is something that’s starting to pop-up in restaurants at the moment (well, very late last year was the beginning of it). Regular garlic is hung and air dried until the resultant product is a less strong tasting garlic with a texture reportedly like vegemite. Sweeter and less acrid than traditional garlic, it’s something of a delicacy as well – particularly when it’s made into a sauce.
I think in part, some of the terror of food that has been air dried or not frozen to death in santitised environments is due to the fact that we are obsessed with everything being cleaner and safer than it is. A friend was telling me the other day that the concept of raw eggs is something that horrifies people – who think that it’s a salmonella risk. Of course raw chicken and raw eggs are somewhat a salmonella risk, but the risk doesn’t warrant the level of hysteria that surrounds the idea. I think part of this germaphobia that we have is what makes us reluctant to try ingredients like the above. Ingredients that I reckon are full of potential. I hope those who dabble in this stuff continue to take a “wider look” at the lifecycle of food and ingredients and how it might be applicable to modern life.