Student Blog: Food Science Course in Italy
ryan o'hare '11 — theatre arts
"It was pretty amazing to wake up during the last leg of our air-borne to Italy and look out of the plane window to see nothing but endless white mountains."
Eight Days in Italy
A Gastronomical Journey Across Tuscany
March 25th, 2010 — Acknowledgments
After returning to Catawba from the Eating in the Arts and Sciences Italy trip, I began to reflect upon my travels abroad, what I learned, and how this experience was made possible. I need to acknowledge the many people who put forth their own time and energy, capital and resources so that I and other students could participate in a unique and exceptional educational experience.
The Honors Program deserves some of my deepest gratitude. Entering the college I have greatly benefited from the program, steered by Dr. Brownlow and many other supporting professors, who believe in a multidisciplinary approach to higher education. Their concept of a rigorous education that synthesizes different fields of study to create individuals who have an informed world view and engage in critical thinking, is the foundation this course and its travel component were created on. I am grateful for these educator's investment in their students, their time and effort put into the planning and administration of this trip; and along with the generous donations of Debra and Dyke Messinger, their great efforts to secure resources so that this experience could be affordable and made available for the benefit of me and other students.
Finally without the support and encouragement of my parents and grandparents I would not be in the place I am today. Their efforts to bring me to different parts of the world at an early age to explore the heritage I grew up in and where my family came from grew into a desire of mine to travel; a continuing experience of personal growth which continues to inform my world view and which they have always supported and acknowledged.
It is with the efforts of these individuals that I was able to take part in a truly unique and transforming educational experience. Exploring the cuisine of Italy, my travels informed my views and understanding of that cultures traditions, history, geography, art, economy, industry, political climate, and philosophical values surrounding family and our connection to the earth and what sustains us. It was invaluable, and its impression will be visible and long lasting.
Day 1 – Continental Transit
It was pretty amazing to wake up during the last leg of our air-borne to Italy and look out of the plane window to see nothing but endless white mountains. I tried to sleep on the 9 hour flight from Charlotte, NC to Munich, Germany but only managed a couple of hours. Since arriving in Munich I was subjected to constantly nodding off whenever I sat for more than a couple of minutes. Now minutes away from arriving in the airport that serviced Milan all I could see below the plane was a landscape of impassable snow covered mountains that separated Italy from Switzerland to the north.
Then suddenly all of the jagged terrain gave way to a sprawling plane of green. Little clusters of homes became visible here and there with tan colored vein like roads running between them. Almost immediately after we cleared the mountains the plane descended upon the landing strip at the airport. Getting off the plane I could still see the whole line of mountains which seemed to just start at some point in the near distance, no hills foreshadowing their arrival on the horizon. Even our tour guide would remark shortly after arrival before leaving the airport, that we were actually closer to Switzerland than we were to Milan.
Standing in line at the very quiet immigration room we were subjected to treatment that only European foreigners get. As we stood in line to get our passports stamped the returning Italians and even the Germans who sat next to me on the plane breezed right past us with no trouble to collect their bags. It kind of creates an odd mentality for a visiting American: you can live many countries away and speak a different language, but you still belong to a European community so in a sense you aren't really returning because you never left. Americans are the only real foreigners – a thought I expected to be reinforced continually throughout my stay in Italy.
As soon as we left the airport, a long bus ride (as the guide pointed out, we still needed to get to Italy). Everyone was happy when we finally reached our hotel. After a short unpack a group of us walked through the small town we were staying at. There were some industrial businesses, homes, and old churches or farmhouses long abandoned. Walking down the road a passing car honked its horn, I looked up in time to see four teenagers, one of whom was gesturing at us with his fingers. I guess coming into any one's home and looking at their lives with some fascination and interest can make people feel condescended, uncomfortable.
Day 2 – Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto
In the morning we bussed to a Parmesan cheese factory. I was struck by how small the operation was, only a handful of people working there, yet the tour guide stated that this was a medium size producer. The factory room consisted of two areas, holding trays for the milk and then on a lower level, cone shaped cookers for the cheese. I was interested to learn that when the milk was brought in twice a day it was poured out into these shallow vats and left there for a time. During this time period the bacteria and proteins in the milk would begin to liven up and with the exposure to open air, absorb some of the land. This product like many of the other products we would see are regulated by the Italian government and labeled DOC. The abbreviation assures that the product made comes from a specific region and the process involved in making the product adheres to the traditional standards set by the government. Sort of an Italian
counterpart to the USDA. After the cheese sits out it is then cooked in the vats for a time and let to rest so the protein falls to the bottom of the cone and is then cut and put in wheel like forms. At this stage the cheese is manipulated to remove as much of its water content as possible, this has historical beginnings because of course refrigeration is a new technology and by removing the water from the cheese it was able to last longer. After squeezing the water out of the cheese, the wheels are placed in a salt-water mixture. As the salt moves into the cheese, the water moves out. I thought it was very interesting that no artificial casing or packaging was put on the cheese at all. As the cheese aged the protein on the outside of the wheel would continue to let water out while hardening and protecting the inside.
After tasting a large amount of cheese we moved up into the hills to a prosciutto factory. Here the operation is a little more simple but the aim of the process is largely the same. The producer would receive hams from local farmers only, again the source and quality of the pigs used in this process are regulated by the government stemming from the preservation of traditional practices. These practices govern where the animals are raised, how they are treated, and what they are fed. As the hams enter the factory they begin a process where they are salted, rinsed, salted again, rinsed and left to cure in the air for no less than 12 months. The factory we toured was a more modern construction, a lot of metal and forced air movement however the principles we had seen in the cheese factory were again
impressed upon us: using simple unaltered ingredients the process of aging was allowed to take its time – transforming the product by exposing it to the qualities of the region.
Here again salt would be a key factor in the peoples ability to take a perishable product and through the use of salt, greatly increase the life of the food by removing water from it. I found the prosciutto to be tasty but during a tasting in the hall above the factory I was really drawn to the cappa cola (the neck meat of the pig prepared in much the same way as the prosciutto).
By late in the afternoon we arrived at a small house with an accompanying vineyard where the owner produced his own balsamic vinegar. Along the same lines as the parmigiano and prosciutto, unaltered ingredients were left to time and the environment to produce a pure product. The traditional balsamic vinegar produced here was the result of grape juice left in a series of barrels with a hole in the top and just a simple cloth draped over the hole to prevent intruders. Each batch would slowly travel through a series of sequentially smaller barrels to the end. The producing continually reminded us that unlike the balsamic vinegar in the grocery store, his traditionally produced product contained nothing artificial and nothing added to it, just the beginning component of grape juice. Here as I
had seen all day at each of our stops, we were instructed as to how to identify the real traditionally produced and regulated product from other cheaper industrial alternatives.
As the darkness descended we bused to Florence. After checking into our hotel, a small group of us ventured out to a restaurant I had visited in my previous trip to Italy a year earlier. I was still able to remember exactly where it was on the river. The food and the service was excellent. An appetizer of crustinis with artichoke, patte, and tomato, then a course of spaghetti carbonara, followed by filet steak topped with a grilled mushroom. I ate so much food but never felt that full for long, I think the continual movement and being active for so long each day allowed my body to absorb and place all of those calories. Dinner was very nice although the only thing out of place to us was the old American pop music that played on the speakers, this was quite unusual and certainly colored a very nice dinner in Florence in a certain light. Having decided that we didn't have quite enough to eat, we stopped by a stand
and bought gelato on the way back to the hotel.
Day 3 – Slow Food in Florence
I was not anticipating the cold weather in Italy, when I visited a year ago in December I remember the weather being much more temperate. Our guide would repeatedly remark that it was kind of unusual and the presence of snow in the hills around Florence was unheard of for that time. Nevertheless with no winter clothing to speak of we departed the hotel for a walking tour of the city.
Standing inside the Duomo looking up at the inside of the painted dome, a scene from the last judgment, I wondered about the art these people chose to put in the most valued places. Here was a picture of God sitting on the throne of the world, beneath him father time handing his hour glass back to him now that the world would turn no more, and death breaking his scythe because there would be no more death. It seems to me that they were so focused on the end, the final judgment, nothing in that church told me what life was like for the people who lived and built it and worshiped in it at that time. Or is that my American mentality?
After our tour was over a group of us went back to the Uffizi gallery by the river. After waiting in line for a long time we were set loose inside. The most striking aspect of the works we saw there was the similarities and differences to the biblical characters. We began to notice that John the Baptist was continually portrayed somewhat disheveled, distraught, as one person put it "jeez he looks like he really needs a cigarette." In other pieces the crucifixion of Christ was shown differently, a wound in his side or not, the presence of a lot of blood or only a little? Many of the compositions and colors seemed simple and uninteresting, the art that I am used to seeing goes far beyond in content and form.
That evening we had what I believe was the best meal of the trip. After a couple confused phone calls as to the location of the restaurant, we were ushered into a room with two large tables. Served wine and an appetizer of prosciutto, salami, mozzarella and tomatoes. Then came the pasta, my favorite of which was the wild boar sauced ribbons. All of the pasta was cooked much less than I am used to in the United States, its quite a bit firmer. Barley soup was served with the pasta, it was very tasty although I was hard pressed to point out any other clear ingredients besides barley and tomatoes, it was very simple but there was so much flavor. Next came a giant tray of meats, chicken, pork, veal, beef,
rabbit. I was excited to try the rabbit but it wasn't very unique in texture or flavor, an animal with not a lot of fat. And then of course a tray of deserts and biscotti was brought. The entire dinner was very enjoyable. Our tour guide reminded us- "Take your time guys, remember: this is slow food." The food was enjoyable but I think the most enjoyable part was being there with the company. I guess this made me feel a little guilty, I was enjoying the people I came with, not just the Italian culture and food. But then I realized, I was enjoying the Italian culture- enjoying peoples company at the table, that's what this dinner was all about. I took away from the dinner a sense of the Italian value in family and communal eating. In America I don't have nearly as much an expectation or investment in who I eat with, a fair number of my meals I eat alone. Maybe eating for them extends far beyond just nourishing the stomach.
Day 4 – The Hillsides
The next morning we bused out to an estate in the hillsides around Florence. On the property they produce olive oil and wine. As we were walking through the process of creating the olive oil I felt some what of a strain fall on our previous visits to other food production facilities. In the other places we'd toured I'd repeatedly heard the emphasis on time and traditional methods, here I saw new technology eclipse the old practices. The guide explained that many people were once needed to go out into the olive groves and shake the olives down from the trees, catching them in the net. This was somewhat dangerous as the ladders were not built for safety and a person could break an arm by falling out of a tree. However, now a new device allowed a person on the ground to mechanically shake the tree releasing the olives with less danger and less manpower. Although this doesn't alter the product in any way, just speeds up the
harvesting, to hear that less people were needed in this yearly task made me feel as though a community component was being discarded.
The press that is used to extract the olive oil from the fruit is also completely mechanized. But there were also old components as well, such as the very old clay pots that the oil was housed in immediately after being squeezed, some over a hundred years old. I was also very interested to learn that as the olives are harvested each harvester from the locale made sure to write his/her name on the crate of olives before they were processed. It was explained that this was to ensure that that laborer received a share of the olive oil produced. Because it was so essential to their diet, and because a lot of labor is needed to harvest them, the people who live around the estate help harvest the olives and in return a large portion of the oil produced goes straight to them. This was the community aspect I had
been waiting to hear, a component of production and consumption staying within a small locality that is very missed in the agriculture of the United States. I should think it gives the people an empowering sense of ownership in what they produce and consume.
We then moved into the winery housed in the same building. Here again a mix of modern equipment was necessary. I was interested to learn that Chianti is not just a regional wine, but it is also a wine produced by a certain grape, the Sangiovese grape must comprise at least 80% of the grape content in the wine. To age the wines the now fermented and alcohol containing wine is transferred into oak barrels. The wood of the barrels gives off some of its characteristics to the wine and mellows the tannins in the liquid while further developing the flavor over time. So here as in the Parmigiano and prosciutto factories, the longer a product is allowed to mature and age, the better product you will get upon consumption.
The ride from the wine tasting to a home in the Tuscan countryside was extremely rocky. We climbed up along one ridge only to dive in the valley below and up another hill. Finally we pulled up to a stone house which overlooked a small valley to its front and a large grove of olive trees behind. We descended into the basement of the home to prepare our own pasta. Making the pasta was a pretty simple process, mixing the egg with enough flour to absorb the liquid while maintaining an elasticity. One of the problems I had was learning the limitations of the dough, how far it could be stretched before it tore, and when it tore how to repair the piece. A lot of my raviolis had tears in them.
After we finished making our pasta we ascended the stairs up to the residence of an Italian woman who, while we were making pasta, had been making everything else. She served us pizza, stuffed tomatoes, and zucchini frittata before she even started to prepare the pasta we had just crafted in her basement. The pizza was very good, it was much less greasy than the pizza I am used to eating in the United States. It seems to me that Italians don't use a lot of mean (if any really) and they also use much less cheese. The great flavors seemed to come from the simplicity of the ingredients and how flavorful those were on their own. As cooks are we trying to get more out of our food by putting more into it? What if we just let the food be the food?
All of the dishes came across as clean and light. I was very full at the end and although some things had a richness in butter or cream to them, they didn't seem to weigh me down. The tirimisu topped the mean perfectly, the espresso coming through in the soaked cookies but again I could observe that something with cream as such a large component didn't have the weight to it that I would have expected. The woman was very hospitable and I only really recognized later that during the meal she never sat once, just hovered around in the kitchen. More than just that we were on a tour and were her guests, I got the feeling that she would behave the same for her sons or for visiting neighbors. Something about her duty in her home, that as her guest (no matter how much of a stranger you may be) she had a responsibility to you, a responsibility she owned wholeheartedly.
I was really interested in looking around this ladies home, which apparently had first been inhabited about a thousand years ago. Of course, updates, renovations, and maintenance was done since then, but there was a very old feeling there. The walls, and the tiles seemed to absorb the age. In the house there were pictures of a man, he looked kind of like Paul Newman and in my mind he was romanticized as such. She only mentioned him once. Along with the pictures of her young granddaughter, hung next to many old black and white photographs of other family members going back to before the 20th century.
I found myself wondering at rich the history and life must be living here. The commercial world seemed so far away. But I definitely felt America calling me back. How nice it would be to live here like this, but for how long? How long could I stand out here in the evenings looking at the hillsides before I wished I was back in the televised cement landscape of car smog and McDonald's?
Day 5 – The Horse Race and Wild Boar Sausage
Before jumping on the bus to leave Florence and begin our trip south toward Rome, I got to witness an interesting piece of Italian culture I had seen glorified in many a film before. On the sidewalk outside of our hotel our bus driver, Claudio had negotiated a spot for the huge tour bus in front of an underground car park. The car park attendant was not pleased with his choice of location and the two of them were on the sidewalk yelling at each other before our diplomatic tour guide entered into the fray. Although I couldn't understand what they were saying the hand gestures and tone of voices were very funny to watch.
A few hours down the road we came to Siena, now raining continuously outside we left the bus and huddled down the medieval streets passing people and cars. We shuffled into the amazing Duomo with its unique eastern inspired black and white marble striping. It was a very dark space and reminded me of the San Marco church in Venice. So very ornate but with a dark feel and tone to it.
The most interesting part of Siena to me was the tour guides depiction of the twice annual horse race in the large town square. All of the rules were flipped around, for amusement and intrigue bribes were a must, the winner paid the losers, and bragging rights seemed to be the only real prize. Such an event seemed so unusual and yet could only be perpetuated by how original and unique it was. For hundreds of years the people of this town had kept this tradition, however obscure it was. I think I would like very much to visit the event one day.
We moved on from Siena to the hill top town of San Gimignano. Whose long history during the medieval period forced it to erect walls and towers to protect itself and its residents. After a bit of cappuccino we started exploring the different streets and ally ways. Eventually we came to an battlement which overlooked part of the town and the surrounding countryside. From there we got a very good view of the towns that have sprawled out from San Gimignano, each occupying a nearby hilltop with residences and vineyards stretching down into the valleys. Looking into the different places we came across a small courtyard which housed a giant bell, a well, and numerous paintings on the walls of different
things. Family crests could be seen in one part, it was very quiet and unclear if people lived behind the couple of doors that led into the buildings.
On our way of the town we purchased dinner, I bought some wild boar sausage that a small shop owner had insisted I sample earlier. That along with some cheese, olive oil, bread, and a pear made up my dinner that night in the hotel room. It was the same kind of meal we had had so many times on the trip, we even joked of how sick we were of it. But compared to the usual meal back in the United States it was so welcome for its freshness. Nothing was cooked or over done, just meat, bread and cheese.
Day 6 – The Dying City
The next morning we arrived at a large chocolate factory, which created the famous Italy candy, Perugina Baci. Baci I would learn was just hazelnut paste, topped with a whole hazelnut and covered in chocolate. During the introduction to our tour I couldn't help but laugh at this ridiculous display of a giant Baci that was created by the company and which set some kind of record for size or weight. But the thing looked so darn absurd. The tour of the plant left something to be desired. Although the process was explained it was really only a surface level description. I would have really liked to know exactly where the chocolate flavor is coming from inside the cocoa bean and how the process they used was able to bring that out. Instead I got a lot of big machinery and conveyer lines covered with lots of little dots of chocolate.
Our next stop brought us to the town of Civita. We were dropped off in a neighboring town and walked along the ridge until the town came into view. It was truly extraordinary. Standing out in the middle of this wide valley on the top of a virtual mountain stood this small and isolated town. The only was into the town was a small foot bridge that spanned maybe 100 yards. The only way in and out. The town was completely old stone that had stood there for I don't know how long.
On the way into the town the tour guide pointed out a road sign that indicated Civita ahead. Underneath it read — "the dying city." A run down school building lurked behind the sign. Indications of the declining youth population of the area over recent years. And even in town itself, despite evidence of occupation very few people could actually be seen about. But the decay was two fold, examining the volcanic stone the town and houses were build with, I found I was able to crumble pieces away with my fingers, feeling them break apart in my hand. The stone, our guide explained was unique to this area and would eventually wash away over time. So the population decline of the town was coupled with its literal erosion. There was no immediate threat, but the place had a definite tone to it, a sense of being defeated by the elements.
Looking past these dark thoughts we cheerfully stopped for lunch at a small place in the cellar of a building. There a young woman toasted Tuscan bread for us on an open fire and topped the toast with an array of things. I received olive paste on one piece and cherry tomatoes in oil and herbs on another. It was a very simple lunch but very flavorful, the tomatoes had a definite spice to them that was very enjoyable but the language barrier kept me from finding out exactly what it was.
The bus ride down to Rome was very lively, out guide shared his view with us on a number of different issues, mostly political. It was interesting to hear him speak of the economic crisis which had not spared the Italian peninsula. Many of the repercussions of the situation were the same in the United States as they were here, people out of work, debt difficult to acquire and so on. But he made a strong assertion that the value placed in a family unit in Italy held the people together. He said that you know if you lose your job that your family, your brothers and your sisters and parents will be there to help you out. You may not have a job but your family will make sure you are alright and eventually something new will come along. He asserted this point very strongly because he did not believe there existed a parallel in America. I think there are some family values in America that can relate but I have certainly not
felt the kind of familial responsibility he was talking about in my own life.
We arrived in Rome late in the evening and decided to go out for dinner. I was lucky to stumble upon a small place located on a side street near the Plaza Navona. We shared an appetizer of mozzarella and bacon, and a number of us ordered the pear risotto. It was absolutely delicious. The rice was cooked as well as I could expect or decipher with my experience, sweet pear had been incorporated into the risotto as well as topped the dish along with a drizzling of balsamic vinegar. There was enough salt to balance the sweetness and the dish was very filling. Afterward we had some of the best tirimisu I have ever had (on this trip I felt like I kept repeating this every time I tasted another one).
Day – 7 Ancient Rome
In the morning we entered the Vatican Museum amid crowds and crowds of tourists. The whole tour was one big blur, most of the time I felt like I needed to pay more attention to the foreign tourists I was bumping into than the art I was passing by. I guess the real notion I was able to take away from the whole thing was the idea of showing moral pain in art. The guide pointed out a couple of statues in which the central figure was crying out in agony, only he was doing so with his mouth open. An apparently new idea at the time. I was amazed at how a figure or two carved out of rock could convey so much movement and action. Here these figures have sat for hundreds of years yet when I walked by I could actually see action in their limbs.
Leaving the Vatican Museum for the light in St. Peters created a magnificent sight. The green and white marble was very bright in the mid-morning sun. I was surprised to learn that there were actually no paintings in the basilica. All of the religious depictions were done in mosaic so their brilliance will not fade over time or in the light which unlike so many other churches I have been in shone in through a number of windows along the top the far reaching structure.
Unfortunately, the coliseum we would visit next, did not have nearly the spark of magnificent. A large part of the materials in the old building had been recycled and reused by ancient residents, large gaps and damaged rocks remained. The coliseum holds a certain impression on people because of its standing in history I guess. One of the students on our trip was very excited to see the old stadium. Seeing films such as Gladiator give a person a certain expectation about its size and nature- expectations that are kind of let down when you actually stand in it looking at a moderately sized structure that has lost much of the power I feel it must have had in its own time about 1700 years ago. I thought the most interesting part of the tour was the idea that the guide kept trying to impress upon us: that although men fought and died in extremely violent exchanges, these men often chose to do this and were not seen as
human. So the ancient Romans could not be seen as evil, he explained, these people were not seen as human because they were not citizens, they were viewed in the same way as the animals which they fought beside. To us today this is a very difficult idea to grasp because our values are so different. It is hard for us to imagine their lives, but wouldn't they have greater difficulty imaging ours? I hope that in my studies I am able to adopt that third viewpoint. A point where I can step back and view the values and culture of another people in its own light instead of letting my own origins color my judgment of them.
That evening we walked across town for a pizza dinner. I was pretty excited to create my own pizza but the experience let something to be desired. The restaurant was a real tourist depot and we certainly got a surface display of pizza making with no depth in science or method at all. I could see a bin of portioned pizza dough lumps, of which the pizza maker would pull up and throw into a pile of flour. One by one he would work the dough between his two hands and even tossing it in rotation over his head. This stretched the dough out, but the elasticity of the gluten was very visible as he set the dough back down you could see it pull back into itself very quickly. On top of this a ladle of sauce was spread along with a series of toppings such as ham, salami, mushrooms, peppers, etc. Despite the lack
of pizza instruction, the pizza was tasty and the company made the evening successful nevertheless.
Day 8 – A New Outlook?
I was jerked awake at 2:45 am the next morning with the horrible electronic ring of the hotel phone. Pulling myself up out of bed having slept only a few hours I jumped into the shower and grabbed my bags before joining the others in the lobby for our 28 hours of travel back to the United States. Patches of sleep here and there as we journeyed through Frankfurt, Germany and Dulles airport in D.C. Waiting in Washington we ventured into the main terminal for cheeseburgers and french fries. We admitted kind of sheepishly that having left the 7 days of extraordinary food in Italy, there was something we all missed about our flat top cooked beef patties and oil drench potato sticks. Having returned so hastily to our culinary habits, days later I would feel a sort o withdrawal from the normal Italian fare. Whereas I was now back to continually eating over sauced and over greased food, I really missed the light and fresh cuisine
that I had regularly encountered in Italy. So I wonder, do I have enough ambition to change the way I eat? I don't think so, not now anyway. I don't even think its a question of effort so much as its a clear cut case of finance. I don't pay a lot to eat the way I do here, but to try and adopt some of the food values I experienced over there, I would need to greatly increase the amount of capital I put into my food. Maybe one day I'll be prepared to make that shift.
Food Tradition Essay
Growing up, my father was always into food. He used to participate in chili cook-off competitions and the whole family would travel around during the summer and fall to a number of events. My father wasn't a very competitive person, he would always enter hoping to win but that isn't what really drove him to put in all the time and money to haul a bunch of cooking equipment around. For him, it was meeting all the different people along the way, sharing food and drinks, listening to music and having an enjoyable time.
Recently his interest has shifted away from chili and into barbeque. I think what attracted him to this food was the meticulous science behind the process. With chili, the focus is mostly about flavors and their development. And while flavor is certainly a huge part of cooking successful barbeque, you need to understand how heat will affect the meat you are smoking in order to succeed. So now instead of hauling a bunch of equipment around to various chili competitions, we were hauling even more equipment around to a bunch of barbeque competitions.
I was a sophomore in high school when we entered our first competition. It was in Madison, WI, and after a couple weekends of practice cooking in our driveway with a used smoker my father purchased from a classified ad with the neighbors poking over the fences, we packed up everything and hit the road early that morning. It took all day to prep the meat, start the cookers and begin to cook. Barbeque lives in the timing, your given a 30 minute window of time to turn in your submission so you need to start early enough to finish. After putting the meat in the smoker in the afternoon, it would cook all evening and into the next morning for turn in at 12:30 pm. My father is the first one to admit, we had absolutely no clue what we were doing. So sitting there later that afternoon listening to all the winners being called out, we were sure we were out of the running for anything. Then all of the sudden they call the first place
winner for beef brisket, a thousand dollar prize and trophy, and it us. My father jumps up screaming and some seasoned barbequer behinds us goes, "Who the heck are these guys?"
After that my father was really hooked. He now has his own company, Hickory Kist BBQ, and does a number of events including public festivals and private caterings. If I am available I always help him out. He certainly isn't shy about paying me, and although the work is often laborous with long hours I doubt I could find boss that will pay me more than I'm worth and pick up the beer. He still competes in a number of competitions but he's really positioning himself now for the business. He's got plans to retire from the financial firm he works for and sell barbeque full time to pad the retirement fund. He'll call me on a Sunday afternoon while he's out on the back porch with the smokers going away in the driveway, talking about so-and-so from over where and how they did in the competition last week and what not. I know he loves to cook, but he loves the people even more, and trust me the barbeque community is full of personalities.
When people hear what I've done they assume I must really like barbeque. I like the science behind barbeque because if you know your timings and temperatures then its hard not to come out with great tasting tender pieces of meat. But when I think about it, barbeque is certainly not my favorite food. Most of the time when I go to a place that serves it I don't even really think about ordering it. To me it's just always been something that I share with my father.
Food Tradition Recipe
Barbeque Pork Shoulder
Pork Butt Rub
- 1/4 cup ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1/4 cup Turbinado sugar
- 2 Tablespoons table salt
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix ingredients thoroughly. Makes enough rub for one pork butt.
To prepare a Boston butt pork shoulder trim excess fat from the meat. There should be a healthy layer, about 1/4". Hard white fat is desirable, thin elastic connective tissue should be trimmed as it will not add flavor and will detract from the texture. Cover the shoulder in a healthy layer of rub and let sit for 3-5 minutes, this will give time for the juices of the meat to wet the rub. Now vigorously rub the mixture into the muscle tissue of the meat, covering all over. Wrap the butt in plastic wrap and let marinate over night.
Place in smoker at 225-250 degrees F, fat side up. Cook time may vary but it will take about 8 to 10 hours depending upon the size of the cut, for the internal temperature to reach 185 degrees. At this point the meat will be cooked enough that fat will have rendered through the meat, and connective tissue should be sufficiently broken down. Remove the meat and rest on a cutting board under foil for at least 15 minutes. Then pull the meat apart, sauce if you wish, and serve on sandwich buns or any way you like.
Basic Vinegar BBQ Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Stir the brown sugar into the hot water. Continue stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and heat on low for a few minutes. This perfect to coat pulled pork, but don't add so much that it gets soupy.
PHOTOS: Food Science Course in Italy