Beer drinking habits are hard to break. My father, back in the early seventies, when he went out, drank only Guinnessâ€”there was only one bar in town that had it, and it was the only beer in town that wasn’t old-fashioned upper-midwestern lager. Those were dark days. But, it was the early seventies, and home brewing was ramping up, soon to be legal. My father made stout, once a year, in a food grade black plastic 50 gallon barrel. And for twenty years, for the most part, that’s the only beer he drank. Stashed it away in the root cellar, put some age on it, some real age, some of it, (he swears it only ever got better), and quit only when advancing middle age (beer, he says) started to influence his waistline. Unfortunately, this quitting coincided very closely with my own interest in beer, and I never got to taste his as an adult. People say it was the best.
Of course, then it was the early nineties, and the craft beer movement was in full swing. That bar with the Guinness turned out to be owned by another, and considerably more obsessive home brewer, Ray McNeill, for instance, and so I had no shortage of good and diverse beer on which to cut teeth. But still it would be another ten years, almost, before my father would consent to drink aught but dark beers. Habits are stubborn things.
For myself, it took me years, as I outgrew the prejudiced (and slightly precious) palate of my late adolescence, to realize that IPAs were not to be drunk sitting down at table, unless perhaps there was pizza or bar-food on that table. That beer shouldn’t be drunk cold in winter, or for much of fall and spring for that matter. That (a crisp, light) lager has its placeâ€”particularly with Mexican food, with which there is nothing on earth better to drink, I am firmly convinced.
As, in my old age, I have started to drink considerably less beer, having finally realized that not every afternoon does a beer really agree with me, so has my desire for that beer to be the right beer increased. And so, this week, finally, I have come around to the idea (very late in coming) that I ought to keep any number of different beers on hand, more beer collectively than I’ve ever kept on hand, really, at exactly the time I am drinking the least beer of my life since age fourteen.
What a pleasing prospect.
“Plum-pudding is the term bestowed upon certain fragmentary parts of the whale’s flesh, here and there adhering to the blanket of blubber, and often participating to a considerable degree in its unctuousness. It is a most refreshing, convivial, beautiful object to behold. As its name imports, it is of an exceedingly rich, mottled tint, with a bestreaked snowy and golden ground, dotted with spots of the deepest crimson and purple. It is plums of rubies, in pictures of citron. Spite of reason, it is hard to keep yourself from eating it. I confess, that once I stole behind the foremast to try it. It tasted something as I should conceive a royal cutlet from the thigh of Louis le Gros might have tasted, supposing him to have been killed the first day after the venison season, and that particular venison season contemporary with an unusually fine vintage of the vineyards of Champagne.”
â€”Moby Dick, chapter 94.
I don’t even like to write the word bacon, here. I’ll have bacon nothing, please, or plain with eggs &etc. It can be made at home without difficulty, and keeps in the refrigerator for a good long time. That is about enough said about bacon. Or close enough, rhetorically.
Pork belly, however. The thing bacon is made from. That.
A friend of mine, recently visiting, inventoried my freezer, saw my pork belly. Pure fat, rhetorically, barely struck through with pinkâ€”not even struck all the way through, to be clearâ€”the fattiest piece of pork belly I’ve ever handledâ€”gorgeous, perfectâ€”(raised by these friends of mine, incidentally)â€”how about we roast it, he said.
Roast a pork belly? Interesting, thought I. He took a pound, lacerated it, rubbed it with salt, lavender, (he is a lavender sort of fellow), let it sit. I don’t remember his roasting regimen. It’s not important.
It was exceptional. I mean, memorable. The culinary high point of a high week, culinarily. Nearly spreadable. We ate it on bread, some of itâ€”we ate it as one of several things at a meal. I came back to it throughout the meal. I started the meal with it, and I ended with it.
It was less strange than it might sound, oh timid reader. Bacon in another form, my lamb, except tender, moist, melting.
I believe this will become an annual feast dish in this household.