Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Booze in my backyard

So this is pretty neat: an article in The Atlantic about the Finger Lakes wine growing region.

I’m not particularly partial to Finger Lakes wine, being a California native and working in Napa and Sonoma for a couple field seasons. But the Reislings are notable, and I do try to support local wineries and businesses.  So maybe I need to take another look, or drink, around the region.

Eat more bugs?

This is an article from Good about the possibility of including insects in our diet as a form of protein to increase food supplies. It’s an interesting proposition, as there are already several countries where insects are regularly consumed, either as a delicacy or as a staple for particular dishes. Here’s a list of the many edible insects from Girl Meets Bug, though I can’t say I’ve tried many. While this may be a way of addressing hunger issues, it doesn’t directly address many of the political challenges associated with food distribution nor the nutritional requirements for a balanced diet.

The Good article also highlights some other common uses of insects, including cochineal. It should be corrected that cochineal are not beetles, they’re scale insects in the order Hemiptera.

Genius

Robert Krulwich of Radiolab was recently awarded the Macarthur Genius grant.  Bravo!

His most recent post on Krulich Wonders, an NPR blog, presents a beautiful and delicious meal.  Complementary dishes for vegetarians and meat eaters, what Studiofeast calls their Doppleganger Dinner.  Looks like something I could really get behind… Duck breast with celery and sweet potato vs. grilled watermelon with fennel and carrots.

Image courtesy of NPR

 

Not only does this seem like a fun culinary exercise, it makes a statement about vegetarian diets.  That doesn’t seem so bad in light of our expanding agricultural environmental footprint (more on that later).

Who’s Who #2

That cute little critter from Wednesday is a pest of the plant below!

If you’ve never seen asparagus growing in a field, this is what it looks like (picture was taken about a week ago in western New York).  It’s asparagus season, and in fact I had some deliciously prepared asparagus at a tapas restaurant in town last night.  My favorite preparation of asparagus is quite simple.  I arrange the stalks on a baking sheet, drizzle with some olive oil, squeeze some lemon juice over them, sprinkle a bit of garlic powder and pepper, then bake for about 30 minutes at 375º until tender but crisp.

Wednesday’s bug is the spotted asparagus beetle, Criocercis duodecimpunctata.  Here’s our spotlight pest on the crop itself.

Photo courtesy of Insect Images

The beetles are quite small, about 6-8mm in length.  Spotted asparagus beetles are in the family Chrysomelidae and may resemble ladybugs to the untrained eye.  It is distinguished from ladybugs by the six spots on each wing with longer antennae and an almost rectangular shape.  (Ladybugs tend to be more oval or almost totally round with similar but varying coloration.)  This particular species of asparagus beetle is often considered a secondary pest of asparagus, with the asparagus beetle Criocercis asparagi the most common pest (below).

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Both these pests directly damage the asparagus crop by feeding on tips and spears.  Furthermore, C. duodecimpunctata feed on the asparagus berries of the male plant.  Cutting stalks close to the ground is a good way to manage for asparagus beetle, not allowing larvae to establish in the crop.  Removing dead stalks over winter can also help reduce success of overwintering populations.  Particularly for the spotted asparagus beetle, removing asparagus berries can help reduce pest populations in home gardens.

Now that the weather has finally warmed up, it’s time to get working on the summer garden.  As soon as these thunderstorms let the soil dry up.  Happy gardening!

Mite-y Cheese

Here’s a road I never thought I’d go down: using arthropods to flavor cheese….WHAT?!  Most excellent.

Photo Courtesy of Cabot Cheese

Last night I went to the Science Cabaret with a friend to learn about the art and science of cheesemaking.  There was chemistry, food science, tasting, and to my surprise, entomology as well!

Enter: cheese mites.  At first I was wondering if they were just referring to unknown creatures as “mites” but indeed, cheese mites are truly mites in the subclass Acari.  Often times, these cheese mites are considered a pest of stored food (maybe in this case aged food) if their arrival is unexpected.  The best way to deal with mite pests is to vacuum the cheese to remove mites (no joke) and make sure to keep the aging shelves clean to prevent mites from recolonizing.

But sometimes, cheese mites are good.  Really.  In fact, cheese makers will purposely introduce mites as part of the maturing process to flavor the cheese and get a good rind.  A study published recently identified two important cheese mites: Acarus siro on Mimolette cheese and Tyrolichus casei on Milbenkase cheese.  These two styles of cheese are specialty cheeses from France and Germany, respectively.  Section a in the figure below illustrates a mite specimen of A. siro. b, c, and d illustrate identifying morphological characteristics of cheese mites.

Photo courtesy of Journal of Dairy Science

There are a few other arthropods associated with cheese making, including cheese flies in the family Piophilidae. These flies are not specific to cheese and may be pests of cured meats or cause intestinal damage in humans.  But the intentional introduction of maggots to pecorino cheese yields the Italian delicacy casu marzu.  See Gordon Ramsey’s segment below.

Mmm cheese.  Even Mental Floss is blogging about it.  And Tina Fey.  Better get working on my night cheese.