Cheers, it’s Oktoberfest!
Let’s drink up some knowledge.
Today, Oktoberfest celebrations feature large quantities of pumpkin-spiced beer, but behind that is the fascinating geologic process of making the beer and wine used to celebrate with each year.
A mid-17th-century Jamestown family harvests the fruits of their labors, including squash, pumpkins, apples and corn (Sidney E. King, artist)
Hops: The Geologic Ingredient
Hops, the flower of the common hop plant (Humulus lupulus L.), is best known for its use to flavor beers. It is a female plant species that grows as a vine and is native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, such as North America, Europe, and western Asia.
There are many varieties of hops, which are used in the flavoring process of brewing beer. Each variety, grown in various areas, provides a different accent of flavor, contributing to the different flavors for each brand of beer. Other factors that can affect flavor are ingredients, such as barley and wheat, and the different brewing techniques.
Hops are a species of vine, whose flowers are used in the beer-brewing process. It provides flavor to beer, and has several varieties. This variety is called Cascade.
As hops plays an important role in the flavor profiles of beer, the alcohol and viscosity (thickness) are a function of other ingredients such as initial sugar content, which is then fermented by yeast into alcohol.
The Cascade variety of hops can grow to be extremely large and provide a great harvest and flavor for nearby breweries. Each type of hops requires different soil conditions, but hops in general share some broad requirements.The soil must be crumbly and well drained with low soil acidity. Hops also require access to a lot of water, so the presence of surface water is extremely beneficial.
In addition to its geologic mapping, soil geochemistry, and national streamgage network USGS, tracks flood and drought conditions that can significantly affect the growth of hops.
Geology Makes a Fine Wine
It’s not just hops that rely on geology, not all grapes are ideal for wine-making. In fact, the soil, geology, and climate combine to make the difference between low-value table grapes and delicious wine. Most winemakers will say that nature and the Earth are as important as people in making the best wine.
Unlike hops, though, cultivators need to be concerned about giving grapes too many nutrients. In this video, USGS scientist Larry Meinert describes how grapes, when supplied with too much water and nutrients can over-produce and result in mediocre wine. Unlike most gardening, the more stressed the grapes, the better they become for wine production.
Wine-making grapes, like these Syrah (or Shiraz) grapes, require different growing conditions than grapes meant for eating. Cultivating wine grapes involves trying to concentrate sugars and encourage thicker skins, because these are what give wine its flavor. To do that, one of the most important factors to look for is the drainage of the soils. These grapes are grown on a greenstone schist formation in northern Maryland.
To do that, one of the most important factors to look for is the drainage of the soils.
Proper Soil Means the “Sauce” Won’t Spoil
Soil chemistry and nutrients play a big role in the taste of the various hop and grape varieties. Soil drainage is an extremely important factor in the success of grape growing.
The better the drainage, the more concentrated flavor can be in grapes and therefore the better the wine. Better drainage is usually found in loose soils where the water can flow away from the vines. When wine grapes have access to too much water, the sugars are diluted and the grapes grow too large, meaning the skins aren’t thick enough to provide proper flavor and color.
Soil drainage can be studied either through geologic mapping or through remote sensing surveying, like 3DEP. The 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) initiative is being developed to respond to growing needs for high-quality topographic data and for a wide range of other three-dimensional representations of the Nation’s natural and constructed features through high-quality light detection and ranging (lidar).
Diatomite: The Natural Filter
Filtering is a key step to the beer and wine-making process. It is important to make sure that these beverages are clean and healthy. Luckily, the Earth has provided a natural filter in the process, a mineral called Diatomite, or diatomaceous earth, used in agriculture for grain storage as an anticaking agent, an insecticide, and as a natural de-wormer. Some farmers add it to their livestock and poultry feed to prevent the caking of feed. Diatomite is a chalk-like, soft, and very fine-grained sedimentary rock, usually light in color (white if pure, but usually gray, and rarely black). It is very finely porous, very low in density (floating on water at least until saturated), and essentially chemically inert in most liquids and gases.
The principal use of diatomite is as a filter aid, an absorbent for industrial spills, and in toothpaste. It is also used as filler in a variety of products from paints to dry chemicals, and as insulation material. USGS tracks these uses as well as the supply and production of diatomite in its annual Mineral Commodity Summaries.
Start with Science
Amidst all the fun and festivities, there is still much to learn. USGS provides the science and information to understand the potential, production, and consumption of all minerals, water, and climate conditions in the wine and beer making process.
So whether you’re celebrating Oktoberfest with a cold pumpkin-spiced beer or a glass of red wine, make sure to learn some science with every sip!
A film that reminds us that “food is memory.”
At the movies with Covo & Covo
By Delia Covo and Frederic Covo
In every issue, we screen and review a film related to food. For our reviews on current feature films, check www.EdibleSA.com and sign up for the free Edible SA newsletter, which premieres in late August.
Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) directed The Hundred Foot Journey, easily one of the best films of the year so far. The foodie film underscores the joys of cooking and absolutely showcases food as the universal language, with the power to tear people apart and, well, you’ll have to go see this magnificent film to learn more.
The movie tells the story of a successful restaurateur family from Mumbai whose lives are turned upside down when tragedy strikes. To restart their lives, they decide to leave the land where their roots ran deep and travel through Europe to find a home. They are of course, the ultimate foodies, and their mission is to return to the culinary landscape where they are most likely to succeed again. Papa, played perfectly by Om Puri, decides the family will settle in a quaint town in the south of France. Madame Mallory, the not-so-welcoming neighbor, owns the Michelin-starred classical French restaurant across the street. And the battles begin.
Foodies will certainly understand this quote, delivered with great aplomb by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) in the scene above:
“In this restaurant, the cuisine is not an old, tired marriage, it is a passionate affair.”
Juliet Blake, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey produced this charming film that embodies cooking as an art, local and fresh foods, complimentary flavor sensations, modern techniques and the power of emotions while cooking. Add fabulous cinematography to the mix — and audiences will enjoy the bonus of being carried along the tranquil and bucolic scenery of southern France, giving all a moment to appreciate the farmers markets and fresh foods growing in the nearby pastures.
The compelling screenplay is based on the delicious novel “The Hundred Foot Journey” by Richard C. Morais, who recently released his second work, “Brooklyn Buddhaland.”
The movie runs about two hours and 30 minutes, but the time flew by. The entire staff agrees this is a must-see film for our readers.
We were sad to see it end. Splurge and go enjoy “The Hundred Foot Journey,” which opens nationwide August 8.
“CHEF” serves up warm delights
At the movies with Covo & Covo
Every issue, we screen and review a film related to food. For our reviews on current feature films, check www.EdibleSA.com and sign up for the free Edible SA newsletter, which premieres in August.
By Angela Covo and Frederic Covo
Jon Favreau, writer, director and lead in the new film “Chef,” gets back to his cinematic roots and serves up a delicious indie based on an idea “that hit me all at once.”
“And then I wrote this thing (I have a lot of really, really good 8-page scripts, by the way). I didn’t want to lose the scent, I was tracking it like a creature in the woods — and in less than a couple of weeks it was written,” he shared.
After a couple of huge films (think Ironman), the friendly, easygoing filmmaker said the landscape is ripe for doing smaller films.
“You can do smaller movies now again. I think that’s really good for all of us, because the big films have to appeal to everybody … to make its money back. But little ones like this, you can create for you and for an audience that will connect with it more personally, even if not everybody feels it,” he said.
And he assembled a stellar cast to get the job done: John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Scarlett Johansson, Emjay Anthony, Robert Downey, Jr. and Bobby Cannavale. (A little trivia: NY Times food critic Andrew Platt is the brother of Oliver Platt, who plays the food critic).
The plot is easy to swallow too – a chef is already a little estranged from his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) because he’s always so busy. But when he lets the pressures of work and a well-meaning food critic (Oliver Platt) completely dominate his vista, he loses sight of what’s important and hits rock bottom. His evolution is the feel good part of the film, but there’s so much more.
Part road trip, part drama, part comedy and commentary on the techno aspects of today’s society, Mr. Favreau succeeds in his endeavor. He created a terrific, light-hearted film that tells a story and shares the passion of the culinary world, from the inside out.
You won’t find shoot-‘em-ups or explosions here. You will get to see a father-son relationship develop (kudos to the wonderful young Emjay Anthony for a great job), the inner workings of a professional kitchen and the mind of a chef, some pretty amazing dishes and how wonderful life can be when you just let it happen.
Oh yeah, and remember to not to go see this film hungry, because you will suffer. We could almost smell the delicious meals and those Cubanos on the screen, thanks in no small part to Chef Roy Choi.
Culinary prep for the film
Mr. Favreau wanted to depict the nitty-gritty side of being a well-known chef. So he roped in Chef Roy Choi, affectionately known as the king of food trucks in LA, to teach the cast everything they needed to know to make the film as real as possible.
Chef Roy jumped right in as the culinary and technical advisor and put Mr. Favreau through an intense training period.
“It was more like a boot camp,” the actor said. “Roy said I ate like a 9-year-old boy, because I had this whole list of things that I wouldn’t eat. I wanted to show I was serious about this thing because a chef will taste anything and eat anything especially if it’s being served to them by somebody. That’s because it’s a medium, it’s an exchange.”
Together, the duo created kitchen scenes that ring true, and will certainly resonate with many of our professional cooking friends. Chef Roy shared everything, from the proper choreography and etiquette in a professional kitchen to the proper knives to use and when. The degree of authenticity they achieved alone makes this film worth your time and trouble.
And most important, the passion and dedication required to be successful in today’s culinary scene shines through.
Note: There is a free online cookbook available with Chef Roy Choi’s recipes for the movie at www.bakespace.com, no need to sign up for free access to the book. Bonus tip: Make sure you stay for the credits, it will be worth your while.
We rate this a must-see film for all foodies and anyone who enjoys a good film.
And for those of you inspired to start your own truck … Ms. Lakendra Lewis will have all the information you need in the August/September issue! Also see page 53 in the June/July issue for the recipe to make the perfect Cubano sandwich.