What a hectic past few weeks it has been. From Whisky to vegan ‘cheese’ tastings, to a discussion on when food starts and stops being ‘food’, oh, and two 4,000 word papers; suffice it to say, my brain is a bit mushy.
Monday (Nov 28) – Whisky day
Our penultimate Monday class was spent learning about (and drinking a bit of) Scotch Whisky. First, we went on a tour of Glenkinchie Distillery, just 20 mins away from the university. There we took a tour of the factory and learnt the history as well as the process that goes into making whisky. Scotch Whisky is comprised of three simple ingredients: cereals (typically malted barley), yeast and water. For those of you who don’t know, for Scotch to be labelled as such, it must be aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks; many of them coming from Bourbon producers in the States.
After a quick lunch in town, we then went on to The Scottish Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). There, we were guided through a tasting of whisky from their cask collection, one comprised of 2500 barrels of whisky, the largest casked whisky collection in the world. The SMWS only filters wood chips out of the whisky, making for a very potent dram. They also make it a point to label the bottle with numbers that represent the distillery the whisky has come from as well as what number cask, kind of like a boozy Dewey decimal system.
Annabel Meike, the Director of the Keepers of the Quaich, joined us in the tasting and told us more about the tradition and current state of the Scotch Whisky industry. She told us that like many large-scale farmers with crop outputs, distillers have to hit a certain level of alcohol yield per barley. She also told us about the changes that have taken place since global alcohol companies have bought ownership from many of the whisky distilleries in Scotland.
Tuesday (Nov 29) – Scotch Beef
On Tuesday, we had a guest lecture from Laurent Vernet, the head of marketing at Quality Meat Scotland. He spoke about flavor and taste, particularly what qualifies as good tasting or ‘quality’ (a theme for this session) beef…he said Japanese wagyu in his opinion is highly overrated. Like Scotch Whisky, Scotch beef is a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). Any Scottish beef can include any beef that has been born, raised, and butchered in Scotland, without any guarantees of animal welfare or raising practices. Scotch beef is held to a much higher standard with good animal welfare and natural production methods.
That evening, a few of us went to a special dinner held by last year’s Gastronomy cohort who went to Terra Madre, the international Slow Food festival promoting the diversity of food traditions and ways of production. The dinner, held at Ostara Cafe in Leith (owned by another gastronomer, David McVey), was a trip through Scotland with influences from dishes and drinks they had on their trip. One memorable dish was a palate cleanser of sea buckthorn pineapple weed sorbet and larch sherbert packed into small snail shells collected from a snail feast the group enjoyed in Italy. We were very thankful to have taken part in this dinner as well as see how we could possibly present our trip to the Bra Cheese Festival (!) next year.
Monday (Dec 5) – Reflection
Our last Monday class of the semester was spent reflecting over what we had learned and experienced over the last 15 weeks. Through our discussion, we revisited favorite class days and memories (the class with Barry Graham from Loch Arthur Creamery and our trip to Lewis were my top two), as well as examined the connection of each topic to Gastronomy as a whole.
Tuesday (Dec 6) – What is food?
In our last Tuesday class, we asked the question, what is food? When does it start and stop being food? Everyone wrote their own definitions of food; I decided that anything that requires minimal effort, care and love put into it (if any at all), no chewing, no enjoyment or savoring, is not food.
Before lunch, we had a ‘food’ tasting. Items included Twinkies, vegan cheese, Jalapeño cheese puffs and liquid smoke. As much as I loathe Twinkies (anything decades old that can still be consumed is a complete non-food to me), the vegan cheese we tried may be the worst thing I have ever eaten.
In our afternoon session, we continued our discussion of food while enjoying a snack of mealworms followed by another tasting, this time with meal replacement shakes. Ranging from tastes of cake batter to dirty cardboard, let’s just say many of us aren’t converting to any Soylent or liquid meal replacement related diets.
Well that’s it for the first bit of the course! Thank you to Charlotte, Donald and Stan for an eye, mind and mouth-opening (vegan cheese, blech!) experience thus far. And to my fellow gastronomers, thank you all for the kindness and generosity you have all shown me in and outside of class, allowing me to see and taste the real Scotland. Can’t wait for the gastronomic adventures that lie ahead in 2017!