Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cambridge Brewing Company: A Tasting and Tour

Cambridge Brewing Company: A Tasting and Tour

by Sarah Kasten

Last Saturday, a group of us gathered at Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square for a tasting and tour led by CBC head brewer Megan Parisi. She and fellow CBC brewer, Jay Sullivan , gave us through a full introduction to the art of brewing and a tasting of CBC's diverse beers. We walked through CBC's brewing facilities, learning all about how this brewery makes and stores its many varieties. A great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. Here are some highlights:

-Megan showed us three malts that they use in varying combinations to create a variety of beers: Regatta Golden, a light, crisp Kolsch-style beer, the cararmel-like Cambridge Amber ale, and the Charles River Porter loved by the coffee fiends among us. Malts can add a range of flavors and colors to the finished beer. The malts are all created from the same raw grains (usually barley, but sometimes wheat or oats) and then roasted. The different flavors and colors the different types of malts are created entirely by the temperature and length of the roasting process. Megan was keen to highlight that brewing really is about taking a raw agricultural product and turning it into something entirely new. CBC works closely with its suppliers to maintain consistency through growing seasons and sources, adjusting their own recipes in some cases in order to stay true to their well-known beers.

-CBC was started 22 years ago, before the model of the brew-pub had become popular in the U.S. Not knowing whether the restaurant would be a success or not, the main brewing kettle was stationed in the center of the dining room. The gas burners and the kettle of steaming wort generate so much heat that CBC's brewers are up at the crack of dawn to brew so that the dining room has cooled down by the time the restaurant opens for lunch.

-When asked about current brewing trends, Megan and Jay were thoughtful in their responses The industry has definitely benefited from a surge in consumer interest in microbreweries. On the one hand, this has led to some consolidation in the industry as large beverage corporations seek to expand their market share. On the other hand, the brewers named several examples of start-up breweries in Massachusetts alone, noting a trend towards nano-breweries, who typically produce just one or two barrels at a time. Either way, it seems like an exciting time for beer in America with high-quality beers becoming increasingly available to consumers and a new generation of producers striking out on their own!

Thanks to Cambridge Brewing Company for hosting the event! Check out their website for more information about their beers:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Olive Oil: How Much Do You Know?

For SF Tufts April meeting, Olive Oil Importer and Governor of Slow Food New England Rosemary Melli came to teach our group how to properly taste olive oil, and tips and tricks for purchasing good olive oil (even on a budget). Here's a little taste of what we learned at the event!

Intro facts about olive oil:
*Most of the olive oil in the United States is actually vegetable oil (either canola/other vegetable oil or olive oil made from lower quality olives) mixed with up to 30% real olive oil to impart the signature color/taste of olive oil.

*Extra-virgin olive oil has an acidity of less than 1%. Good EVOO will have an acidity of around 0.3%. The acidity comes from a certain amount of oleic acid in the olives. EVOO olives will be picked and then taken to the mill between 24 hours to 3 days after being taken off the tree.

*It takes 3 kilos of olives (about 6.6 pounds) to produce one bottle (about 1 liter) of olive oil.

*Olive trees take about 20 years to become mature enough to bear fruit.

*The California olive oil industry is growing, and is starting to produce high quality olive oil. Look out for this oil in the future!

*The National Organic label in Italy is called "Biologica"

The life of an olive oil importer
Rosemary goes back to Italy every year to check in with olive oil growers and producers to see how their product is made. She shared pictures with us of beautiful olive trees, families working in the field, and the Italian countryside. But the best olive oil does not always have to come from Italy-- it depends on what tastes you look for in olive oil. Spain exports some great olive oil, and Rosemary mentioned that she has started to explore Turkish olive oils as well!

Rosemary has noticed that the olive oil industry has become more mechanized. The children of families who used to pick olives now all work in cities in the IT industries, so olive oil producers now hire Slavic workers or purchase machines to pick the olives.

Tips for purchasing/storing olive oil
1. Look for the harvest date on the bottle. Olive oil has the best nutritional and taste properties when consumed less than 18 months after harvest. After that, the oil will lose some flavor and antioxidants.

2. Pure olive oil will congeal when stored in the fridge-- this is an easy way to find out if your olive oil is pure or not!

3. Store your olive oil away from oxygen, light, and heat. Metal containers imparts a certain flavor to the oil, so store your olive oil in ceramic, glass, or even plastic. Olive oil should be stored away from the stove. Good places to store oil are cool cabinets, a basement, or the fridge.

Steps to tasting olive oil
The International Olive Oil Council will have a tasting yearly to test different varieties of olive oils from around the world. Here's how they do it (notice the similarities to tasting wine).

1. Color: Look for a fresh green or golden color. In a real competition, a blue cup would be used to mask the color of the oil so that the judges aren't biased by a brighter color.
2. Circulate the olive oil in the tasting cup to release odors.
3. Add a little bit of heat to the oil by rubbing the cup on the palm of your hand.
4. Smell (enjoy this step!)
5 Sip the oil out of the cup by breathing air in as you sip. The oil will hit your tongue-- swallow!
6. You'll notice a peppery flavor at the back of your palate. This flavor is stronger after harvest and can be overwhelming for people who are not used to the flavor. What you're tasting is the antioxidants in the oil!