First off, I need to welcome my colleagues and the owners of the cheese store to the blog! And, now that I have their permission to say it, I can tell you I work at the Cellar in downton San Clemente, California. My trainer also let me use his name, Carlos Valencia. He’s not going to sue me over it. I have been in a setting for so long where you have to ask permission for everything, and make sure your rights are squared away before doing anything, and then resolve any privacy issues, etc. etc. etc. I guess that’s just my cautious side!
So today, Carlos and I continued our chutney adventures, and made fig chutney. I got to practice my knife skills again. I guess all it takes is practice; I just haven’t taken too much time to finely chop vegetables before. I usually am too hungry by the time I start cooking, and just get impatient. It will take some time before I can chop onions like Carlos! However, I did manage to peel ginger with just my little cheese knife. At least I learned that while in France. :) Other people have told me that my knife methods are distinctly French. Well, maybe I can post a video of that one day to compare, but it’s not the most interesting topic out there. ANYWAY, we chopped everything, threw it on the stove, and, after what seemed like forever, we finally got a fine fig chutney. The figs we had gotten were so fresh and juicy that it took them a very long time to reduce! That is good news, though. The clients will be getting a great fresh fig chutney this week!
OK, I admit it, maybe the second picture doesn’t look all that super. The chutney is still reducing, not done yet, and I got a bunch of steam on my lens as I tried to take the photo. Believe me, though, it will be stupendous on the plates this week! Maybe the next batch will be made by me, and not Carlos. One of the owners of the store, Dawn, when she learned of this blog, said the concept reminded her of the film “Julie and Julia,” except in this case, it’s “Carlos and Vero”! I am working through the motions Carlos goes through, while trying to pick up the history and other information (about cheese and wine) in my spare time. Oh, and speaking of motions, I think I may have mastered the beer tap today. We’ll see the next time a customer comes in asking for beer. (Just as a sidebar, “Julie and Julia” is directed by Nora Ephron, a Wellesley alum!)
As for the store, we received some new products, including a delectable confiture-type product of walnuts in honey, from Spain. I haven’t had the chance to try it, but it sounds delicious. The store has a pretty interesting variety of products imported from Europe including fleur de sel from the Camargues region (a swampy area, one of my favorites, where they hold bull fights and show a strong Spanish/Roman influence!}, and a variety of imported honeys, including from briar, lavender, orange blossom, and cherry blossom. We also received some new cheeses today, some bricks of Leonora goat cheese from Spain, and Bucherondin, also a goat cheese, from the Loire Valley in France. I love when new cheeses come in. Each cheese is a perfect, new form, and a new living entity to be taken care of. Cheeses are like flowers, they need love and nurturing.
The novel event of the day was, without a doubt, a course about sake. Those who know me know I have no alcohol tolerance. Well, today was no different. However, I did still manage to learn plenty about sake, and different grades of sake. In short, the level of quality depends on how much the sake rice grains have been polished. A higher polish means that more of the rice’s starchy center is exposed, which results in higher grade sake. The lowest grade has at least 30% of the grain surface removed. The medium grade has at least 40% removed, thus qualifying it for the “Ginjo” level. The highest grade sake has about 50% of the grain removed, and falls under the “Daiginjo” grade. Of course, there are slight variations among grades, and there are higher qualities of sake than the 50% grade. A sake that is slightly better than Ginjo, but not quite Daiginjo can be referred to as “Tokobetsu” because a sake producer might want to reserve the “Daiginjo” or “Ginjo” labels for another sake instead.
There was plenty of background information as well. Similar to the concept of grapes as a reflection of terroir in winemaking, water reflects the terroir in sake production. Each producer chooses to supply its sake with very specific water sources, depending on the qualities it is looking for. The harder the water, the more aggressive the sake. Moreover, alcohol content varies among different sakes because producers can make decisions about how much they want to filter their sakes, or stabilize them with water.
We tried about 7 or 8 sakes. The one Daiginjo sake on the tasting menu, Kamotsuru Gold, actually has small gold flakes shaped like cherry blossoms! Edible AND beautiful, they just float lazily about in the sake. I was lucky to get one of them in my tasting glass, but was unable to take a picture for you, or fish it out. I felt like I had caught a shooting star (like in Howl’s Moving Castle!). All in all, it was an interesting experience. Never in my wildest dreams have I imagined I would sit through a class about sake, and concurrently try to figure out cheese pairings for each one. I got some ideas, but the only way to really know is through experimentation! Bring on the sake!