The Food Almanac: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Irish Whiskey, National Cappuccino Day, and Words to Eat By

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of The New Orleans Menu, notes food facts and sayings.

Annals of Spirits
Today in 1789 is supposed to be the day that a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig distilled the first whiskey made from corn mash. This was in Bourbon County, Ky. Craig was quite a businessman. It is not known, really, what year he started his distillery, let alone the day, but this date is traditional as the birthday of Bourbon. There's an expensive, 18-year-old, single-barrel Bourbon named for him that's pretty good.

Edible Dictionary
Irish whiskey, n. A high-alcohol (at least 80 proof) whiskey made from a variety of malted grains. It's usually compared with Scotch whisky, but it's different in several ways. First, the malt isn't dried over a smoky fire, which gives Scotch its distinctive flavor. Those who don't like Scotch for that reason may well like Irish whiskey. Second, Irish whiskey is usually distilled three times, making it less assertive in its flavor again. Third, Irish whiskey is a much smaller industry than Scotch. Finally, there's an "e" in "whiskey" when it's Irish. Irish whiskey is probably used more for making Irish coffee than any other purpose, but it's underrated for making cocktails. I like Manhattans made with Irish whiskey.

Today's Flavor
This is National Cappuccino Day. The combination of espresso coffee with foamed milk is often had after dinner, which is the wrong time. It's really a morning beverage, with the milk and all. It also works if your system can stand the caffeine as a late-night drink, in sort of the way we drink café au lait here in New Orleans.

Most cappuccinos are made with far too much foamed milk. It should form a layer, not a pile, as it does in the contemporary American coffeehouses. Here's my test for telling when the froth on a cappuccino is just right. Sprinkle two packets of sugar over a circular area an inch in diameter. It will sit there for awhile, then slowly start sinking, while at the same time moving toward the center. The sugar ultimately falls through a small hole, rather suddenly. If the sugar just sits there interminably, the froth is too thick. If the granules fall right through, the froth is too thin.

The name "cappuccino" is a reference to the Capuchin monks, whose hooded habits were the same color as that of a well-made cappuccino. However, an alternative explanation is that "cappuccino" means "out of order" in Italian. (The early machines often were.) But that's just a joke.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Just as is true with wine, a coffee blended from several kinds of beans will always have more interesting flavors than one that's all from one kind.

The Saints
This is the feast day of the Four Crowned Martyrs: Castorius, Claudius, Nicostratus, and Symphorian. They were stone carvers, but they're also patron saints of cattle for some reason.

Food Namesakes
Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on this date in 1977. He was openly gay, which was a big deal back then . . . Today in 1990, Darryl Strawberry signed a five-year contract with the Dodgers . . . Alan Berger of the rock group Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, was born today in 1949 . . . Frank Gouldsmith Speck was born today in 1881. He was an anthropologist who specialized in Eastern Native Americans. (Speck is smoked prosciutto.)

Words to Eat By
"The truffle is not a positive aphrodisiac, but it can upon occasion make women tenderer and men more apt to love." Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French culinary author and chef.

Words to Drink By
"A drink is shorter than a tale." Unknown.

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