Lavorazione Artigianale

As regular readers know, I’m a fan of from-scratch standards (often sandwiches, for some reason) as an ideal format for drilling down into the essence of food while following it up the supply chain as far as possible. It helps me understand cooking better. More often than not it also tastes really fucking good, so there’s also that. In this instance, to celebrate the ninth anniversary of our fun summer wedding (we had the legal one the previous December while my Mother was still alive), I prepared what was by any measure a simple meal. But it technically took seven months to make it.

The fettuccine were a mixture of white and whole wheat flours mixed with egg yolks and a little water with a pinch of salt. Simple enough. The peas and garlic scapes were from the garden, and you’ve probably read about ninety thousand posts about one or both of those ingredients recently so I’ll leave it at that. The lamb bacon was from the last hunk of the most recent batch: cured with salt, pepper, coffee, cumin, coriander, fennel, rosemary, and garlic. Since it is almost gone, there is another slab curing in the fridge right now and I will smoke it on maple tomorrow. It’s a beautiful thing. I rendered lardons to a compelling crispness, then tossed the peas and scapes in the fat to seduce them.

The best part was the cheese. This was a Gouda I made in November, and it was a bit of an experiment. After the usual process–inoculating and curdling the milk, stirring, heating, and straining the curds into a mold, pressing them overnight, and then floating the cheese in a strong brine–I let it air dry for about a week. Normally a day or so is sufficient, but I wanted to accelerate the drying/aging process to see if it would yield a harder, gratable result in less than a year. Once it was good and dry, I waxed it and then aged it in the wine fridge.

It tastes like a cross between Gouda and Parmigiano, and grates superbly into a salty and pungent little blizzard of umami. Little wedges make an appealing nibble with an aperitif. The only problem is that I fell out of the cheesemaking habit over the winter so it will be a while before there’s another wheel of this on hand once this one is used up.

Once the pasta was cooked, I moved it into the other pan to toss with the bacon and vegetables. Just like that, it would have been an excellent plate of dinner, Then, however, I added a pat of homemade butter from my stash in the freezer (now sadly depleted) and then a generous precipitation of cheese. These embellishments took the meal to a pretty phenomenal level of satisfaction in both the gustatory and “job well done” categories (and food always looks better on the plates I made, especially on top of the slate roof tiles I turned into placemats).

Peasant food like this is, by definition, not difficult to make; anyone could assemble this meal with store-bought versions of these products and it would be an excellent meal (though lamb bacon might be tricky to find). But when everything is homemade, using pastured eggs, local flour, and homegrown plants picked à point, the amount of flavor and pleasure in each bite is much higher. This density and richness of sensory information is the drug that fuels my pursuit of these techniques, and keeps me (mostly) diligent in ensuring that I always have some form of homemade meat, cheese, bread, pickles, vinegar, and preserves on hand. Their presence in fridge and pantry allows the humblest of weeknight phone-ins to attain the lofty status of memorable meals with no extra effort since such labor as they require takes place beforehand, in discrete parcels of activity when time allows. The ongoing practice of adding value to staples by fermenting, curing, or smoking them is a way of banking flavor equity for future evenings when time is short and hunger is long. And the results mean you can enjoy the surprised reactions when you tell friends that you cooked pasta for your anniversary dinner.

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  1. David
    July 2

    Great post, Peter! It’s one of the better ones I’ve read recently. I really admire what you’re doing.

  2. July 2

    no one likes a show off

    • Peter
      July 2

      You’re just mad because you didn’t get any.

  3. July 2

    I like these “simple” meals as much or more than your more complicated ones. Bravo.

  4. July 2

    I hate to be one of those “recipe, please??” people, but: would you consider doing a primer of sorts on hard cheeses? I’ve made many batches of soft cheese, but have yet to try to age anything. I tell myself this is due to the lack of a wine fridge or other, suitable storage environment: but I think I just haven’t found sufficient inspiration.

    So, what I’m saying is: be my muse, Peter. My cheese muse.

  5. July 2

    So the crumbly texture is a feature, not a bug. I thought I had screwed up.

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