Saturday, August 29, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Manchego Cheese and Some Sheep Information

     Manchego cheese comes from Spain.  Like tequila (which only officially comes from certain parts of Mexico) and champagne (which must come from the region of the same name in France), there are very specific conditions that must be met before it is designated "Manchego Cheese."  It must be made from whole sheep's milk, of the Manchego breed of sheep, and originate from registered farms in the La Mancha region of Spain.  Furthermore, the cheese must be aged 60 days to 2 years, usually in caves, and be pressed in a cylindrical mold with a height of 12 centimeters, and a diameter of 22 centimeters.  Other countries, like Mexico and other Latin American nations, sometimes call cheese made from cow's milk similar to Monterey Jack "Manchego," but this is not considered official.  Manchego is very old--it's been made for over 2000 years.
     There are actually four subtypes of Manchego, based on how long the cheese is aged.  "Fresco" style is only up to 2 weeks old, and so it's a soft variant.  This is basically only found within Spain.  "Semicurado" is aged 3 weeks to 3 months, and is semisoft, with a mild flavor.  "Curado"is aged 3-6 months, is also semisoft, and is considered to have a nutty and sweet flavor.  Finally, "Viego" is aged over 1 year, is a hard type of cheese, and consumers report a sharper, peppery flavor.  (I realize these aging number have some gaps in them.  For example, what subtype is a 9 month aged Manchego cheese considered?  Evidently these labels aren't superstrict, and some "wiggle room" is allowed.)
     The label on the package I bought didn't note which subtype of Manchego I had exactly.  But since it was aged 3 months, and its flavor seemed mild rather than sweet and nutty, I'm guessing it was "semicurado."  It was made by Corazon De Ronda in Spain, and imported by ANCO Fine Cheeses out of N.J., U.S.A.  The price was steep--a half pound of it set me back almost $10.
     It should surprise nobody, given my extremely vocal appreciation of all cheeses in general, that I really liked Manchego.  The texture was firm, and it was slightly flaky.  It was salted the perfect amount--enough to give it some zest, but not too much.  It had a distinct flavor, but reminded me slightly of Parmesan.  It was good on crackers, or plain.  The price of it is admittedly high, but I would still have it again, and I definitely recommend it to others.
     While reading up on this cheese, I also took some time to look up sheep.  Evidently they're not as stupid as I'd thought.  They're considered to be about the same intelligence as cows.  (Which isn't saying much, but still.)  They are capable of recognizing other sheep faces, and human faces.  With training, they can even learn the names given to them by their farmers.  Like "steer" for cattle, and "capon" for chickens, there is a separate term for a castrated adult male--"wether," as opposed to "ram" for an intact male.  There's also an odd condition that arises when a sheep is pregnant with twins that are male and female.  Because of cellular material transfer in the womb, the female fetus gains male XY chromosomes.  As a result, after it's born, this female sheep is infertile, with nonfunctioning ovaries.  It will also display masculine sheep behavior.  This individual is then referred to as a "freemartin."  This condition also occurs in cows, pigs, and goats.  The opposite effect doesn't seem as potent; the male fetus usually has smaller testicles from the mixing with its female twin, but it's not otherwise infertile or feminine in behavior.  Apparently up to even a couple of hundred years ago it was sometimes thought that this same twinning situation would cause the same freemartin effect in humans.  However, this belief is not true.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Literary Hatchet #12 is Now Available


     I'm a bit late on this, but the August Issue of The Literary Hatchet is now available.  As before, you can either pick up a free online copy at, or get a paper copy (for $14) on Amazon (, of course).  Once again, I'd like to thank the staff at the Hatchet for publishing my story--Publisher/Executive Editor Stefani Koorey, Short Story Editor Eugene Hosey, Poetry Editor Michael Brimbau, Humor Editor Sherry Chapman, and the rest.
     My contribution, "St. Vincent" concerns a Mob hitman, with a big twist.  This one is definitely not for the kiddies!  I'm sharing the magazine with some illustrious authors, too.  Bruce Boston is an awards magnet--4 Bram Stoker Awards, a record 7 Asimov's Reader's Awards, a record 7 Rhysling Awards, and a Pushcart Prize.  And it runs in the family, as his wife, Marge Simon, kicks in another Rhysling, and 3 more Bram Stokers.  Wayne Scheer and AJ Huffman have each been nominated several times for Pushcart Prizes.  Other writers include Rick McQuiston, Lawrence Buentello, Ryan Falcone, Michael Fantina, Gary R. Hoffman, Matthew Wilson, and Michael Lee Johnson, to name just a few.  It all adds up to dozens of stories, poems, and nonfiction articles--300 pages, all for no cost to the reader.  And while you're on the website you can pick up the earlier 11 issues (also for free online), or learn more about the infamous Lizzie Borden double murder case, and/or the history of Fall River, Massachusetts.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Lebanese Soft Drinks

     Recently I noticed a small, non-chain grocery near the area where I'm currently located.  It's Nadia International Market in Winooski, Vermont (a suburb of Burlington).  I was hoping to find lots of new products for post subjects.  Alas, it wasn't as fruitful as I'd hoped.  Most of the foods were either foreign brands of common things I've already had, or were things that needed more preparation than I could accomplish with only a microwave oven.
     Fortunately, there was an exception in the beverage section.  I was able to get some exotic soft drinks.  Oddly, I think these were basically all Lebanese, even though, true to its name, the rest of the market includes foods typically eaten by Somalis, Congolese, Bosnians, Turks, and folks from various Middle Eastern countries.  I went with a fair sampling of sodas-- 4 total, from two different companies.  Both of these produce both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  Most of the breweries that survived Prohibition in the U.S. were forced to switch to soft drinks and other products during that time, but since then, that isn't that common here in America.  But it's evidently more common in the rest of the world, especially with Japanese companies (Kirin, Suntory, Asahi for example) and in the Middle East (where due to religious restrictions many countries don't allow the production of alcoholic beverages, of course).
     Anyway, let's get to the ratings.  I'm using my usual rating system of "F" for failing, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, "C" for average, "B" for good, and "A" for excellent, with pluses and minuses as needed.

1) Freez Pineapple flavor, made by Kassatly Ghtaura:  C+.  Has a strong, distinctive pineapple taste (it does contain 2% pineapple juice).  Since pineapple isn't one of my favorite fruit flavors, this was a bit of a risk going in.  It was okay, but not dazzling.  The serving was a little smaller than I'm used to--9.3 ounces, or 275 milliliters.

2) Freez Lemon Mint flavor, also from Kassatly Ghtaura:  C+.  I was a little surprised by this flavor pairing--I've never seen this before.  The lemon definitely dominated.  It tasted kind of like 7UP or Sprite.  Rather like its comrade, I had a "meh" reaction to it.  It was alright, but neither great nor terrible.  I could pick up on the slight mint tinge as an aftertaste, which did bump it up a bit to a C+.

3) Laziza Regular, made by Brasserie Almaza S.A.L.  Listed as an 0.00%, non-alcoholic malt beverage:  D-.  This was strange.  It had barely any taste.  Like water with a hint of corn, with vaguely beer-ish undertones.  It was like the lightest of light beers (See June 19, 2014 post for more information).  Also, according to Beer Advocate, there might be false advertising going on, as they list an alcohol content of 0.10%.  (This is barely worth mentioning, as this would mean that 40-50 of these would equal the typical "real" beer's 4-5% alcohol content, meaning I think even a premature baby could probably drink a six pack of Laziza and not get drunk, but still.  I couldn't discover if Beer Advocate's assertion is true or not, but I pass it along just as a possibility.  (Also, for legal reasons, I don't recommend giving Laziza to infants for real.))

4) Laziza Raspberry flavor, again made by Brasserie Almaza S.A.L, again listed by them as 0.00% alcohol, and by Beer Advocate as being 0.10%:  B.  This was definitely the pick of the litter.  Unlike the Regular type, this one did have a significant taste, and it was pleasant.  Mild yet tasty.

     To sum up, then, the Regular Laziza was bad, the Freezs' were just okay, and the Raspberry Laziza was good.  I would consider buying the latter again, and perhaps trying the other fruit flavored Laziza's that Nadia carries.  Furthermore, I did have one of Almaza's alcoholic types, their Pilsner.  I found it to be mediocre at best, maybe a D+, or a C- if I was feeling generous.
     Finally, when I googled Nadia International Market, I got an unusual amount of background about the family that owns and runs it.  According to the U.S. Committee to Refugees and Immigrants, they're political refugees from Iraq, by way of Jordan.  Not shockingly, they found the colder temperatures of Northern Vermont (especially in winter) to be quite a switch from the hot desert climate of their homeland.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--More Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Beers

     Sometimes, we follow traditions not out of respect for the past, or nostalgia, or even from force of habit.  Occasionally, it's out of a sense of morbid completism, to see something through because you've already wasted time and effort on parts of it.  Like, back in the days of rental videos, when you gritted your teeth and watched a crappy movie to the end because you paid a couple of bucks for it, and had already spent 45 minutes watching it.
     So it is with me and the Rogue Voodoo Doughnut beer series.  The first, the Maple Bacon flavor (see September 10, 2012 post) was a traumatic but important milestone for me--it was, without doubt, one of the very worst beers I've ever had, maybe THE worst.  Because of this, and also because it became a social event with my friends and coworkers, I'm oddly tempted to try subsequent Voodoo Doughnut attempts (but not to try the Maple Bacon one again--all these feelings and opinions I'm talking about are significant, but there are definitely limits).  They're always extremely overpriced--$12-13 for a 25 ounce bottle, and yet I know that, sooner or later, I'll give in and buy each successive one.  I doubt there's a limit to this.  I think Rogue could do a special heated Lima Bean/Carrot/Soup/Coffee flavor (my least favorite foods/food qualities or forms) and still I would grudgingly punish my taste buds with it.
     I have been a little remiss, though.  The Pretzel/Raspberry/Chocolate type actually came out over a year ago, and I tried it, but I neglected to post about it.  (I did post about the second one, the Peanut Butter/Banana/Chocolate flavor, and that's discussed in my September 8, 2013 post, along with more background about the separate Voodoo Doughnut shop.)  Today I'll be discussing the Pretzel one and the latest, the Lemon Chiffon Crueller Ale.
     So, you may ask, how does a brewer get pretzel, raspberry, and chocolate flavors into a viable beer?  As it turns out, not very effectively.  I detected a hint of chocolate, and some raspberry taste, but I couldn't discern any pretzel.  Although, that doesn't mean this beer was terrible--despite the disappointment about the lack of advertised weird flavors, it still wasn't bad.  I had no problems finishing it.  It was a bit worse than the Peanut Butter/Banana/Chocolate one, but still okay.  An average "C" rating for it.
    I had a similar reaction to the Lemon Chiffon Crueller Ale.  Despite the presence of actual vanilla beans and marshmallow, at best I could taste a tinge of sugary sweetness.  The lemon was apparent, though.  This beer grew on me.  At first I thought it was average, like the Pretzel/Raspberry/Chocolate one, but by the end I promoted it slightly to the Peanut Butter/Banana/Chocolate type--a C+.  Not great, but decent, slightly better than average.  Its' citrus flavor also reminded me of a shandy type of beer (see August 31, 2014 post), which made it an appropriate choice for a summertime beverage.  But the price is a deterrent--I would consider buying the Lemon Chiffon Crueller and the Peanut Butter/Banana/Chocolate beers again, but not very often.  There's too many other beers out there that I haven't tried, or have tried and enjoyed more.  But, the Voodoo Doughnut series has definitely seen dramatic improvement--it's odd when the first one is terrible and the "sequels" are vastly better.
     Again, though, I do give Rogue and Voodoo Doughnut props for making an entertaining package for their product.  The characteristic, striking pink bottle with the fun Voodoo character on the label surely attracts the eyes of potential customers walking down the aisle, and helps convince them to give it a try.  For example, in one beer section I observed a little girl trying to grab one of the Lemon Chiffon Crueller bottles.  Hopefully it was because of the bottle's color and presentation, and not because she's the only kindergartener who needs to go to the Betty Ford Center.  Also, the label notes that the Voodoo Doughnut beers are made with "free range coastal water," so even the most moralistic drinker can rest assured that they're not contributing to the cruel exploitation of caged water molecules.
     And I'm sure Rogue is busy at work on the next Voodoo Doughnut creation, so expect another one of these posts in 2016.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum-Conch

     The state of Vermont is continuing to pay dividends for blog post topic fodder. I was in the canned seafood section at the local Shaw's grocery when I beheld something new--conch.  Well, sort of.  After I looked it over I realized I'd actually had it before, about six years ago in Philadelphia, PA, at a restaurant.  But I obviously gave it another try, in a different format.
     "Conch" is an umbrella term for a wide variety of sea shellfish.  Some varieties are even called, "true conches."  But, basically we're talking about different kinds of sea snails.  And while the structures vary in appearance, they're known for forming their own, often quite elaborate shells.  They do, however, differ from regular snails in another way.  Instead of gliding along on a slime-lubricated foot, conches use their bodies to move about in a leaping fashion.
     Conches are one of the more widely used animals to humans, in certain defined areas.  They're extremely popular in East Asian countries and the Caribbean.  Their flesh is consumed raw as ceviche (see August 4, 2013 post) and in salads, cooked in soups, stews, gumbo, or as "burgers," but probably most commonly fried up as fritters.  And then there's the shells.  Throughout history, they've been used as house decorations, jewelry, money, building material, ritual objects (in Buddhism and Hinduism), and as musical instruments, after a hole is cut in them to make a natural "trumpet."  The shells even serve as offensive and defensive weapons.  In Mayan art warriors are depicted as wielding the shells as pseudo-daggers, and some current homes embed the sharp shell edges in the tops of outside walls to deter would-be thieves from climbing over them.  Conches even make other forms of jewelry--pearls.  These pearls come in a variety of colors, but the most common one is pink.  Gemologists draw a distinction between conch pearls and the traditional oyster pearls, though.  The former are called "non-nacreous" (having a shiny, ceramic-like appearance) while the latter are "nacreous" (having a pearly luster).
     The first time I had conch was in the traditional fritter way.  Although it was some time ago I recall being very favorably impressed.  With the canned kind I went through my usual lengthy and complicated preparation ritual, consisting of opening the container and pulling the conches out with a fork.  Mine were listed as being manually harvested, and hand selected, from the "clean and fresh waters of the Chilean Pacific Ocean."  These were good as well.  They not surprisingly reminded me of regular land snails (see May 7, 2012 post)--white and black curls of meat, with a pleasantly chewy texture.  They had a nice, slightly tangy flavor.  It was a bit better as a fritter, which makes sense because in my opinion many foods taste better when they've been seasoned, battered, and fried.  But canned is good, too, and I definitely will be buying more in the coming weeks.
     Or, to make a literary reference, forget Ralph, Jack, and Piggy--I will be having the conch.