An odd little parade

This parade is a glimpse into the culture of Madison, Wisc.’s near eastside neighborhood, Williamson Street. As you will hear one of the parade watchers say, “You see anything and everything on Willy Street.”

The parade, on September 16, was part of the neighborhood’s annual fair. It looped quickly around a few blocks, and dissipated into a street party back on Willy Street. Standing on the curb, some parade watchers whooped while others stood dumbfounded. The odd mix of parade participants gave witnesses sense of the unique and expressive atmosphere cultivated by neighborhood residents.

Championing the world of cheese

A cheese championship placed in the pastoral dairyland of America makes sense. A few short miles from the contest’s urban Madison, Wisconsin location, dairy cows lined up for their second milking of the day. The cows yielded the warm, sweet liquid cultured into the over 2,500 cheese and butter products vying for gold. As a spectator of last night’s championship, dozens of those entries lay before me in bite-sized cubes, beckoning to be tasted and contrasted to their neighbors. I tried 15 cheeses in one blissful hour while I soaked in the remarkable atmosphere of the event. My tasting began appropriately, with a local cheese from Middleton.

1. Carr Valley Airco, a smooth blend of sheep, goat, and cow’s milk finished with applewood smoking. Middleton, WI.

Living up to its world championship title, cheesemakers from 23 countries displayed carefully crafted wheels for appraisal. Wisconsin and other domestic cheeses bordered the room and two long curving tables snaked through the center laden with the international offerings.

2. Landana Red Pesto, a shocking crimson compared to its pale neighbors and carried a full-bodied basil flavor. Netherlands.

Wandering among the among the attendees, my nose alternatively filled with red wine aromas and varied bouquets from our sliced and cubed samples. Though the judges would only assess the previously-determined top 16 cheeses, dozens were out for sampling.

3. BelGioioso Burrata, served on Beglian endive and the epitome of creamy, perhaps simply describable as cream. Green Bay, WI. Continue reading

Artisinal sausage’s charged relationship

Cross-posted from another blog, Eating Science, which just began at the initiative of Kate Prengaman (a UW Journalism colleague) and myself.

If there’s one thing a science education teaches you it’s that pH is crucial. The concentration of hydrogen ions has everything to do with, well, everything. So I wasn’t too surprised to find that pH is the star of the show in old world dry sausage techniques.

During an interview with Jeff Sindelar, assistant professor and meat extension specialist at University of Wisconsin – Madison, I was looking for a more explicit explanation of the science involved in artisinal meat curing. Turns out, it comes down to diffusing a very charged relationship between meat and moisture. To smoothly convince water to walk away, it’s important to understand two things: the chemical nature of water and the effect of pH. Continue reading

My Favorite Wisconsin Science Festival Moment

Enthusiasm and hands-on activities were in no short supply today at the the first-ever Wisconsin Science Festival. With a new, acute understanding of “hot bone, pre-rigor” bratwurst, blogging and story-writing will commence tomorrow. But today, I at least want to share my favorite moment of the whole shebang. It was watching Tom Bryan, a Bottle Biology volunteer, show kids how to make succulent plantlet necklaces and handle manduca worms. If child awe and parental gratitude were currency, the guy would’ve made six figures today. Below is his three-part, wonder-filled necklace construction process:

Step 1: Pluck a plantlet from the Mother of Thousands (aka Mexican Hat Plant and Devil’s Backbone) specimen. The kids were already hooked at this point, here was a plant producing fully-formed prodgeny by the thousands free for the taking! Continue reading