A Class Project with Some Beef

Woody’s Whine – A Class Project with Some Beef

As most of you know I’ve hosted, taught seems so over the top, classes on wine and wine and food matching at a community college, in our state’s capitol city and in the kitchen facility of a religious order. The experiences have always been positive and usually great fun but I am amazed to see that some factors have become repetitive. The demographic composition of each group is charitably the same and no matter how big or small the group, 90% of the questions are the same. So I thought I’d share some of the answers in hopes that if and when you and I are in a class situation you’ll have some new questions to ask. Oh, please read to the end to see the results of my ground beef tasting.

Most commonly asked questions:

1. What do you think of the wine “Two Buck Chuck” sold only at the Trader Joe’s Stores?

WW: This is one of the cleverest marketing efforts ever conceived. A savvy business man figures out how to produce wine that most people would shy away from at a tasting, puts a clever name to it and sells (currently @ $2.49) it for less than what it costs to produce, package and ship and makes a fortune doing it. As for the wine, I don’t care for it, it has no fruit and is at the edge of acidity, it’s what I call “man-made” wine, all kinds of chemistry, good for a cheap drunk but really!

2. Do you like red or white wine more?

WW: This is a personal feel good question, if the questioner drinks white wine and the teacher drinks white wine then all is well, but if the answer is red then the questioner is haunted by not drinking the right wine. Get over it, there is no correct answer here. For the record I’d walk across the street to drink red wine although I enjoy whites they are just not as satisfying to me. For those of you up dating your gift list – California Cabernets and Zinfandels.

3. Why do I get a headache when I drink red wine? (99% asked by female)

WW: You have an allergy, really. Red wine contains small traces of histamines that occur naturally in the wine making process and they really can’t be filtered out. Cabs and Zins will have more and Point Noir and Merlot seem to have less, all in a very broad, general sense. Research (science guys) shows that women are overwhelmingly more affected by this fact than men. Men certainly can be affected; in fact I am aware of one man who could die if he drank red wine, much like some people and bee stings. One way to handle the situation is to take an OTC antihistamine before imbibing or test your tolerance starting with PN or Merlot.

4. Which is a better place to visit Napa or Sonoma?

WW: Yes is my answer, blondes or redheads, hotdogs or hamburgers. Both are lovely and wonderful places right next to each other but really worlds apart.

Napa is the hip sort of jewel like area and Sonoma is much more cowboy and earthy. Napa is upscale and getting rather pricey, high end lodging and restaurants and almost all of the wineries charge for tasting. It is truly the center for great Cabernet and is the location for many of the heritage wine making families such as Mondavi.

Sonoma, separated to the west by the Myacamas Mountains has the Pacific Ocean on one side and really takes on a different vibe as a result, it’s much more down to earth and not so worried about perception, yet that to is changing. Wonderful Zins and Cabs too, great food and oh, yes the ocean just a few miles west. To me if you can only go one place go here – Google the Russian River Wine Road and take it from there.

How’s the Beef?

While working on a meatloaf recipe I took the opportunity to purchase ground beef from three distinct local markets and along with the tasting panel made some truly unique discoveries.

We tasted ground beef from the Caputo Cheese Shop in Melrose Park Park, IL. which makes it’s own sausage and has a small meat counter in the deli area; Jewel Foods, a huge Chicagoland chain store and Caputo’s Fresh Market, a suburban family run grocery chain related to but independent from the Caputo Cheese Market.  All of the beef was labeled “Ground Chuck” and in the 80% lean range, which is what you want for burgers. We tasted the beef raw, raw with salt, cooked and cooked with salt, remember salt.

The subtly of the beef to fat mixture shows up right away in the raw tasting, the Jewel brand had a bit of a waxy taste as the result of what could be a bit higher fat content and the actual quality of the beef. The Caputo Grocery meat had a very neutral or lack of flavor and the Caputo Cheese beef was very fresh and had good beefy flavor. We add a sprinkle of salt to the next raw bite and everything changes. The Caputo Cheese beef is outstanding, with the Jewel and Caputo grocery better but still behind.

I now saute three small burgers, the Caputo beef goes no where, the Caputo Cheese beef gets better but the Jewel beef is suddenly tasty, the fat he says? OK now a little salt and the Caputo Cheese beef comes back but Jewel is right behind.

So what? Well if price is no consideration and you are making plain burgers, I’d buy the higher price and better taste from the Caputo Cheese shop but if you’re going to flavor the beef and mix it with a lot of other ingredients the everyday Jewel brand is just fine, which is of course just what they wanted. I can’t really explain the effect that the salt had in scientific terms except that the salt may react with the higher protein content of the better beef and or neutralize the lesser flavors of the cheaper brand. I also like to mix in ground sirloin to my burgers for added depth and richness but that’s a whole nother article.