Sunday, September 10, 2006

the Ark of Taste

Back around the other side of the convent, Orlando and I entered the Ark of Taste. It was all quite mysterious: we queued for about ten minutes to get in, and stood in a dark confined space surrounded by red velvet curtains whilst a woman called Astrid explained what we were about to see.

The idea of the Ark of Taste is to try and protect some of the world’s food which are endangered. The International Ark Guidelines state that to be accepted onto the Ark of Taste all products must be:

- Outstanding in terms of taste
- Endangered or underthreat
- Related to or part of the history of a group of people
- Related to or part of the history of a place
- In limited production

Inside, we were given tasting implements (spoon, dipping stick etc.) and wandered from stand to stand tasting and hearing about the many foods which are endangered.

An elderly lady from the Australian Countrywomen’s Association explained that backing skills were being lost as so many people were too busy and relied on shop-bought cakes and sponge mixes instead of using the old methods. She patiently explained not to “go at your sponge mix like a bull at a gate” but to stir it gently so as not to remove the air from the mixture. Certainly the sample I tried was as light as a feather.

The aged beef was unbelievably tender and full of flavour. I asked the man what the ideal time was to hang beef, and how long the usual supermarket meat had been hung. His reply was that three to six weeks was a good time to age beef, whilst the stuff we buy in the supermarket was so fresh it was “still yelling” as he put it.

The leatherwood honey from Tasmania had a distinct smoky flavour to it. The rare smoked eelhad a distinctive and delicious taste.

A poignant stall showed Mount Emu cheese which used to be made in rural Victoria, by introducing a particular mould into the cheese making process. When the cheese-maker’s lease expired they had to move to new premises, and the new local council would not allow them to use this particular mould for health and safety reasons. Without it, the cheese was no longer special. The last of these amazing cheeses were manufactured in 2004, and the cheese maker has not gone out of business permanently. And we think that the EU has the monopoly on bureaucracy.

Orlando got chatting to a man called George from up near Albury on the border with NSW. He was there with his wife and daughter. The daughter had just graduated and was finding it as hard as we had to get a job in Melbourne, where who you know is more important that what you know. The man’s sister and brother-in-law had a stall in the Ark of Taste with locally-produced fortified wines, a fino, an amontillado and an oloroso. We tasted all three and Mena squirreled two of their tiny tasting glasses away in her pockets.

I tasted some real butter, made from the milk of a single jersey herd, and never frozen like the mass-produced butter we buy. What a completely different taste.

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