To kick off 2022, the US Department of Agriculture has some good news about our food supply. The agency has committed at least $5 million to build a new California shipping port. The funding was sparked in part by the unavailability of US grocery items climbing up to 15% last year. Unavailability rates usually hover around 5% to 10%. The USDA has also introduced a new food label this year. As of January 1, "GMO" or genetically modified food labels must be replaced with "Bioengineered" labels instead. You know what else is new? French salad dressing. The US Food and Drug Administration recently deregulated French dressing, dropping the requirement that it contain at least 35% vegetable oil and at least some vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice. Who knows what will be in a bottle of French dressing from now on? And who knows what will be in a bottle of fancy bourbon, either. Lab tests show that coveted bottles of Pappy Van Winkle, Double Eagle and other rare bourbons increasingly contain counterfeit booze. Buyer beware.
As 2021 comes to a close (good riddance!), food media churns out the inevitable year-end best-restaurant listicles and food trend predictions for the year ahead. But among the predictable stories, you can also find some delicious reads like this takedown of the "world's worst Michelin-starred restaurant", along with a few hard-to-swallow nuggets like this indictment of a South Georgia crime ring that ran a $200 million "modern-day slavery" farming operation. We humans can be maddening! But we can also be amazing, like this Vermont chef cooking with European green crabs and other invasive species to help repopulate the planet with more appetizing foodstuffs. And this thirsty author who wrote an entire book on how to turn your Christmas tree into cocktails instead of just kicking it to the curb. Those are stories to celebrate. And that's what I'm choosing to do as 2022 comes into view. Time to make Christmas tree mimosas. Cheers!
I thought I knew what a food book was. It's a cookbook, maybe a food history tome, or a chef's memoir, right? Think again. Ben Denzer’s edible book 20 Slices of American Cheese brings new meaning to the term. Thanks Ben. And thank you to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi for repealing three misguided agriculture laws and ending a year of bloody protests. Score one for rice farmers. In other food news, Consumer Reports has found high levels of heavy metals in common herbs and spices like oregano. To be safe, grow your own. And you might want to ditch a few avocados for fava beans in your guacamole. The delicious nutritious Instagram darlings have lost ground in the carbon footprint wars. But plant-based meat is still winning. A new survey of studies shows that, yes, it is better for the environment. Mushrooms are winning too, especially at this Jersey Shore BBQ joint where they're smoked, seared and served alongside house-made snags (that's Aussie for sausages).
Lava cake, anyone? It seems the cuisine of the 1990s is back on America's tables. That's not so bad. At least we're not reverting to the 1950s. I prefer to leave jello ham salad in the past, thankyouverymuch. Maybe I don't like it because jello is too quiet. Science shows that loud food tastes better. Could it be that crunch is the secret to Noma's success? The Copenhagen restaurant just nabbed the #1 spot on the prestigious World's 50 Best Restaurants list for the fifth time. If, like most of us, you can't afford to fly to Denmark to find out, Uber Eats may be able to deliver a loud, crunchy, satisfying meal to you tonight, plus drinks. The food delivery service just acquired Drizly for $1.1 billion, allowing its app to deliver beer, wine, and spirits to your door along with your restaurant takeout order. Well now, it seems there's no reason to leave the house anymore! I wonder what the ever-opinionated Anthony Bourdain would say. Alas, we'll never know. However, we can listen to what those closest to him said about the chef's final year in this excerpt from Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography, written by his longtime writing collaborator, Laurie Woolever.
Have you noticed beef prices climbing up and up? This article explains why. And this one examines how Joe Biden's latest executive action may help keep US beef prices in check, or at least help cattle ranchers keep their fair share of the profits. Meanwhile in Nashville, chef Nick Guidry just wants to keep grilling his 18-ounce, 35-day dry aged steaks over an open fire. Check out this video to see how Guidry does primitive live-fire barbecue. Or for a roundup of all the best new barbecue joints in the South, see this smart Southern Living article by barbecue historian Robert Moss. If you're more into eating plants, here's a review of world-class NYC restaurant Eleven Madison Park's new all-vegan menu. Spoiler alert: food critic Ryan Sutton was not impressed. Maybe EMP should bring on one of Food & Wine's newly minted "Best New Chefs 2021" as a culinary consultant. Or maybe EMP just needs to round out the menu with some great tasting water. Yes, water can taste exceptionally good and professional water judges assemble every year at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting to evaluate the world's top tap, bottled, sparkling and still waters. Here's one judge's reflection on the 31st annual H2O gathering.
Ever wonder how your indispensable, indestructible cast iron pans get made? Watch and learn in this short, engaging video. Or maybe you're more curious about regional American BBQ. Just how does an area become known for a particular style? Southern California has the answer in this deep dive into the region's unique history of smoking meat...and other things. Lawmakers may soon be credited with shaping those BBQ traditions. California's new animal welfare laws take effect in a few months, and only 4% of US hog operations comply. Will pork take a back seat to beef in the state? We shall see. Elsewhere across the country, restaurants are still caught in the crossfire of vaccination debates, Congress thinks it can define "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods, and further north of the border a biophysicist is transforming apples, asparagus and other produce into functioning medical implants. August is usually a slow news month but not in the food world. There was even a pizza delivery to the International Space Station!
Summer's in full swing and BBQ is booming so much that both the Weber and Traeger grill companies recently filed IPOs to go public. These days, I guess it makes sense to enjoy a backyard meal at home. The cost of eating out just saw its biggest surge in 40 years. But for those who can afford it, please do visit your favorite restaurants. They need the money. COVID quarantines pummeled the industry and not just because of closures and restrictions. In 2020, American food spending overall dropped to historic lows. Of course, not everyone's pinching pennies. Reservations for the new $800 tasting menus at Per Se and Masa restaurants in New York City are booked out for months. And the world's oldest bourbon, circa 1760, was just auctioned off for $137,000. Yowza. If you got it, spend it.
July 4th is one of my favorite holidays. With hot grills and cool fireworks, it's a pyromaniac's dream! Before you settle into this weekend's festivities, have a look at these top grilling tips from BBQ Hall Of Famer Meathead Goldwyn [full disclosure: Meathead owns AmazingRibs.com, which publishes this newsletter, but he doesn't work on the newsletter.] If you haven't tried reverse searing your burgers, you really should. And lemme guess, you're going to sip a cold beverage with that burger, right? Go ahead. It's been a tough year. In fact, a new report shows that the pandemic drove Americans to drink more alcohol than ever this year. Just don't rely on getting your alcohol to go if you live in the northeast. Pennsylvania and New York ended those policies. But Colorado extended them for another 4 years! Coloradans really know how to party. They must've learned something Californians, who not only revolutionized the American wine industry, but are now remaking the weed industry. Napa Valley winemakers are working with Cali weed growers to establish "cannabis appellations" in a new state sponsored program. I can already hear the connoisseurs claiming, "You can really taste the terroir in this Humboldt County kush, man." "Yeah, dude, my Mendocino indica is bursting with blueberry terpenes." There might be a hint of truth in those statements. Cannabis happens to be loaded with terpenes, a class of aroma compounds common in herbs, spices, and fruits, including blueberries. Interesting fact: blueberries and coriander are both high in linalool, a terpene that gives them their floral, citrusy aromas. Linalool is so prevalent in blueberries and coriander that adding a pinch of ground coriander to blueberry muffins or pancakes can make them taste more blueberry-y. Seriously. Science shows that it works. Try it on whatever blueberry dish you're having this weekend. Because what's more American than blueberries, strawberries, and whipped cream on the 4th of July? Want to find out? Take a peek at these amazing visual graphics of the American diet over the past 50 years. It's all there in red, white, and blue: Which foods have fallen out of favor and which we've fallen in love with. Hint: yogurt overtook cottage cheese long ago, and American cheese still reigns supreme above cheddar, mozzarella, and all other cheeses. Happy Birthday, America!
One of my favorite junk foods, Cheez-Its, turns 100 this year. Can you believe these crackers were originally invented as a kind of shelf-stable Welsh rarebit? In buzzier news: cicadas are back this summer and may be coming to a menu near you. Chefs in the eastern US have gone crazy for cicadas, serving them in everything from tacos to sushi. They're local, sustainable, and nutritious. But delicious? Possibly. Plant-based? Definitely not. And that means Chef Daniel Humm won't be serving them at New York City's Eleven Madison Park when the three-Michelin star hotspot reopens this month as a vegan restaurant. Humm has pivoted from foie gras torchon to clay roasted beets. The popular recipe website Epicurious has also announced that it will stop publishing beef recipes in the name of environmental sustainability. "Does anyone really need another beef recipe?" ask the editors. Put that question to this year's Barbecue Hall of Fame inductees and the answer is probably a resounding yes! Maybe Epicurious and chef Humm are more interested in hot trends like mushrooms. We're living in the Golden Age of Shrooms, where everything from mushroom jerky, mushroom bacon and mushroom beer to medicinal mushroom coffee and therapeutic psychedelic shrooms are driving the functional mushroom market to an estimated $70 billion. Yowza. Even their fungi cousins, truffles, have been in the limelight lately. French scientists have found a way to cultivate rare white truffles, which had previously grown wild only in a few coveted regions of Europe. Get ready for white truffle tagliolini to go global. Meanwhile, on the other end of the food spectrum, canned SPAM has sparked the interest of artisanal butchers. Can the much maligned marvel of canned pork be improved through reverse engineering? Watch this video to find out.
There's a new taste in town: kokumi. Japanese scientists have identified a taste receptor for kokumi, so you're likely to hear more about it as research continues. Kokumi is similar to umami but more about mouthfeel. It can be described as the mouth-coating fullness you get from foods like chicken soup and Gouda cheese. Kokumi is also what makes sautéed onions taste so good. To see what I'm talking about, try some sautéed wild ramps while they're still in season. Use these tips for foraging wild ramps in your region. And if you're sautéeing ramps in olive oil, choose your fat wisely. Extra light? Extra virgin? Pure? This article points you in the right direction for the best olive oil. If you're more likely to find ramps at a local restaurant, go ahead and book a reservation. But go easy on the place if they don't have ramps. Most independent restaurants are still struggling to survive the pandemic, and now they're facing a major labor shortage. Over the past year, nearly 2 million restaurant workers found jobs elsewhere, and many aren't coming back. Take it easy on your local brewery too. It's been a tough year for beer. Total craft beer production is down for the first time ever in the industry's history. Let's hope craft beer sales pick up as people start going out to brewpubs again. That's what's happening with hot dogs. Ballparks are reopening, and demand for ballpark franks is going up. But the overall pork supply is down, which means that pork prices are rising. If you're a fan of homemade pork BBQ, you might want to stock up on pork shoulder now before prices climb higher. And while you're shopping for grillables, pick up some cheese. Salty, firm halloumi cheese is one of the few varieties that grills up beautifully, and halloumi just been given the distinction of PDO status by European lawmakers. That means cheap imitations can't be labeled as "halloumi." Skip the "halloumi style" knockoffs, and get the good stuff from Cyprus. It's reasonably priced and worth every penny.