When restaurants and schools went under lockdown, demand for cheese plummeted and the market price of block cheddar dropped to near 20-year lows. Shortly afterward, consumer demand for cheese skyrocketed, and market prices followed suit. By June 8, cheese prices reached a record high when a 40-pound block of cheddar went for $2.585 a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a 160% turnaround from mid-April when the same block of cheese sold for just $1 a pound. Block cheddar prices influence the entire wholesale and retail market for all types of cheese, and according to Phil Plourd, president of Wisconsin dairy consulting firm Blimling and Associates, “It’s the most volatility that we’ve seen in the cheese market ever.”
After cheese prices reached their low point in April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plan to spend $3 billion to purchase food from farmers, including $100 million a month on various dairy products. Analysts say the decision put a floor under prices, preventing them from dropping precipitously low. Meanwhile, consumer demand has remained relatively high with consumers buying 20 to 30% more cheese at stores compared to last year, according to market research firm IRI. Restaurants reopening around the country has further increased demand, and cheese prices have now begun to climb again, remaining just 3% under the record high levels of early June.
Two families of women who have portrayed Aunt Jemima for the Quaker Oat’s syrup and pancake brand say they disapprove of the company’s plan to retire the racist brand. The original logo depicted Aunt Jemima with a wide smile and a bandana, an image based on Kentucky native and Civil War-era slave Nancy Green. Later, in 1925, Lillian Richard of Hawkins, Texas, became the face of the brand, and Richard’s family recently spoke out against the rebranding decision. “I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything,” said Vera Harris, the Richard family historian, “because good or bad, it is our history. Removing that wipes away a part of me. A part of each of us. We are proud of our cousin.”
In 1989, the Aunt Jemima brand image was redesigned again with a new model wearing pearl earrings and sporting straightened curly hair. Anna Short Harrington is believed to be the model in the 1989 logo, and her family has also spoken out against the rebranding. “This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history,” said Larnell Evans Sr., Harrington’s great-grandson. “The racism they talk about, using images from slavery, that comes from the other side – white people. This company profits off images of our slavery. And their answer is to erase my great-grandmother’s history.”
While Daniel Castillo was working as a corporate chef for Whole Foods in California, he held weekend barbecue popups in Orange County. Soon, his Heritage Barbecue venture became so popular that Castillo quit his dayjob to pursue his barbecue dreams. The coronavirus threw a wrench in the works, but Castillo still plans to open this July and in the meantime, he developed O.C. Smoke Kitchen to serve hospitality workers who are out of work due to COVID-19. At one event, Castillo and his team prepared 800 smoked pulled pork tortas, smoking 360 pounds of pork butt to get the job done. When Castillo received a full packer’s cut brisket, his team turned it into a brisket roulade stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, caramelized onions, rosemary, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bourbon. Castillo says, “Being one of the few craft barbecue destinations in southern California, I want to push the boundaries of what American barbecue can be.” Castillo even bakes cheesecake in his smoker, a dish unique to Heritage Barbecue. Bourbon smoked ham is another specialty, featuring ham cured for 14 days in a bourbon barrel from Texas, then smoked and glazed with Texas bourbon.
Two weeks ago, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Andrew J. Ginther, announced that the city would remove the statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus outside of city hall. Soon afterward, a petition on Change.org sought to change the official name of Columbus, Ohio to “Flavortown.” So far, more than 115,000 people have signed on, easily reaching the minimum 50,000 signatures required for the petition to be accepted for consideration at city hall. Why Flavortown? Celebrity chef Guy Fieri is a Columbus native, and his fans call him the “Mayor of Flavortown.” Plus, the city is a well known test market for new food products. “Why not rename the city Flavortown?” said Tyler Woodbridge, the petition organizer. “The new name is twofold. For one, it honors Central Ohio’s proud heritage as a culinary crossroads and one of the nation’s largest test markets for the food industry. Secondly, cheflebrity Guy Fieri was born in Columbus, so naming the city in honor of him (he’s such a good dude, really) would be superior to its current nomenclature.” Fieri himself has yet to publicly comment on the petition.
The roe from beluga sturgeon is the world’s most expensive caviar. Prior to 2005, the U.S. imported 80% of the world’s beluga caviar supply. When the U.S.S.R. eased its strict fishing regulations, beluga sturgeon became overfished quickly and put the endangered species list. A vigorous black market for beluga caviar exacerbated the problem, causing beluga sturgeon to become so endangered that the U.S. banned imports entirely. Prior to the prohibition, Mark Zaslavsky, founder and owner of Marky’s Caviar, harvested some beluga sturgeon from the Caspian Sea and brought them to the U.S. for sustainable reproduction. This species of sturgeon is the biggest freshwater fish in the world, requiring a narrow range of temperature of other environmental conditions and taking 10 to 15 years to produce eggs. Zaslavsky has spent the last 17 years watching over his fish at Sturgeon Aquafarm in Florida. He has now successfully produced homegrown beluga caviar that is available in America for $420 per half ounce. Zaslavsky’s farm has also donated over 160,000 fertilized eggs for sturgeon repopulation efforts.