Thursday, May 22, 2014

For the Young and Old

Recently read a profile of the chef, Flynn McGarrie, in the New York Times magazine. Much was made of his age. He is fifteen years old. He is being hailed as a wunderkind.

Most of us have heard about dreaming Jiro and his sushi. He is the oldest Michelin three star chef at 82. This is also claimed as a miracle. We seem to live in the era of miracle children and never aging seniors. This could be a product of the baby boomers on both ends. As they age, the society switches it focus from boundless youth to the fountain of youth. The biggest bulk of North Americans self indulgent focus shows up in the reflections of the products and stories they consume. The advent of youth focus and teenagers grew with the baby boomers and now they turn to aging.

There is still a preciousness that is attached to young people. In the New York Times article, it is noted by one of the European chefs that this would not be such a big deal in Europe. Not that he is saying that this is a product of electronic media saturated USA nor that Flynn McGarrie isn't gifted but I feel that there is an unstated thought that this should not be as big of a surprise as it has been made out to be. As far as aging, it seems that we have forgotten that the concept of retirement for the masses is relatively new.

This attitude towards age extends to foodstuffs and beer. There is the exultation of fresh cheeses such as burrata and curds to the mature bleus and cloth bound aged cheddar. In the beer world, cask beers and real ale campaigns bracket the one side while sours and barrel aged beer squeeze the other.

There is a cost to age. Shelving, storage and the work required to ensure there is no spoilage make these expensive. The sales cycle is long. It can take years to finish the first sale and unless you are sure of your product, it is very hard to make changes. It takes a while for changes to happen. When you factor all these in, it is easy to see why these things cost money

Both artisianal cheese and craft beer are still fairly young industries in Ontario and I've noticed a trend. In cheese making it takes time to raise a herd. In beer, the sour lambics take time to age. I have recently tasted some noted Belgian lambics that have tasted thin and unaged. In a rush to meet the new demand for these products, not enough time is being spent waiting. A large brewery has recently bought many of these breweries for their portfolio and I wonder if profit is being put before product. We have isolated some of these yeasts and are now using innoculation methods that take the guessing about what critters are in the air and reducing risks for bad tasting ales. The traditional method means to expose the beer to the air and let wild yeast do the work.

Are we, as consumers, too impatient? I have tasted a cheese from a newer cheesemaker and can tell that the cheese still hasn't got there. It will. I'm not going to give up on these Ontario dairies just because their cheese doesn't have all the ripeness that is promised. It takes some years. In the meantime, I'll enjoy where they are in the process and support them when I can.

Producers risk new consumers tasting their products to be let down on what all the fuss is about. The producers are relying on the neophytes not knowing any better and leave old curmudgeons, like myself, sounding dated with 'they don't make it like they used to'. A funny thing though, this hypermediated environment may cause them to rethink their strategies. As more people get together in virtual bars and discuss relative merits of this over that, there will be a gravity towards clusters of products. They risk not being old enough or not popular enough. People will see through strategies that only serve the interest of the producer's pocketbook.

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