Aged Butter part 2: the science of rancidity

by Johnny Drain This series is about oxidation, rancidity, and aging butter. In Part 1 I gave some background about butter, rancidity and the cultural context for eating aged butter. In this second part, I’ll explore the science of oxidation in fats and the safety of eating them. I’ll then describe the results of my work on culturing butters with unusual sources of bacteria in Part 3 and on aging butters in Part 4. In Part 1 of this series, we examined how rancidity, culturally speaking, is rather poorly defined: foodstuffs can be seen as rancid depending on historical precedent and context, even though they may involve similar or identical chemical processes in foodstuffs we regard as delicious. From a scientific perspective, rancidity can be defined a little more strictly, though we will see that discussing the science of rancidity, oxidation, and their relationship to each other can still become … Read more

Aged Butter part 1: background and basics

by Johnny Drain This series is about oxidation, rancidity, and making aged butter. In this first part, I’ll give some background about butter, rancidity, and the cultural context for eating aged butter. In the second part, I’ll explore the science of oxidation in fats and the safety of eating them. I’ll then describe the results of my work on culturing butters with unusual sources of bacteria in Part 3 and on aging butters in Part 4. Butter. A symbol of purity in India and of depravity in the hands of, amongst other things, Marlon Brando. Butter is a vector for taste. It carries fat-soluble flavour and odour compounds and therefore facilitates the expression of non-water-soluble flavours and aromas, such as of spices and herbs, in our food. In this role it is a workhorse of many classical canons of cookery, most notably that of France. It’s also delicious as a … Read more

Sex on the Beach

by Josh Evans and Guillemette Barthouil It must have been in the spring of 2013 when one of our hunters, Jesper Shytte, brought on board a beast none of us had ever worked with in the kitchen. Late April and early May, he told us, was the best time to hunt beaver, and he had brought us one, along with its castor sac and a sample of castoreum tincture he had made. The beaver tail, prior to cooking We cooked the tail for staff meal (it takes some finesse, we later learned; Jesper has since offered to show us how) after immediately popping the castor sac into 70% ethanol to make tincture our own. Castor tincture, day 0 The sac Castoreum is the secretion of the castor sacs of the Eurasian and North American beaver (Castor fiber and Castor canadensis, respectively), which they mix with urine to mark their territory. Beavers … Read more

Charisma and conservation

by Anna Sigrithur and Meradith Hoddinott In the quest to obtain sensory pleasures, the seeker sometimes puts ethics aside. This conundrum is especially true when it comes to food and eating. But what if taste could help us participate in flourishing ecologies by attuning us to when and how best to eat certain organisms? The answer is complicated, in part by our human tendency to assign value unevenly to different organisms—a phenomenon aptly described as ‘non-human charisma’ (Lorimer, 2007). In this episode, we explore how non-human charisma colours the tension between deliciousness and conservation. Our main story takes us to the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic sea, the site of a troubling drama between cod, local fisherman, a lot of worms, and an overpopulation of protected grey seals. But first, we take you back up into Sápmi where, for Sami reindeer herders, the endangered golden eagle is less majestic treasure, more economic … Read more

Birch buds

by Josh Evans It was in the heart of winter of 2013, just after solstice. Guillemette and I took up to Nordskot in Norway, above the Arctic Circle, to visit our supplier Roderick Sloan for the first time. L to R: Guillemette; Pawel, Roddie’s assistant; and Roddie. The sun would not rise, per se—more approach the horizon asymptotically from below, hover for a while under the glow, and descend again. There was, for a few hours if there was also luck, some light, and none of it direct. Sometimes we used our brief day out on the water, checking sites, scouting new ones. Others we spent walking the wet heath, fishing with the kids at the fjord’s inlet, and stumbling upon things surely known to others but not, at that time, to us. The birch bud was the primary one. Birch trees surround Roddie’s property. As we walked through the brush we would absent-mindedly … Read more