Crème de la crème


“Always drink your best beer,” says my buddy Chad Harder. “That way, you will always be drinking your best beer.”

This mantra is as close to religion as he may ever get. Its wisdom is available to all, including non-beer drinkers like myself. But as a wine drinker, I have faced similar calculations when deciding which bottle to drink, and Harder’s algorithm takes all the stress and guesswork out of that ordeal. Don’t overthink it. Drink your best stuff. Always. That’s it.

The same logic applies to most other foodstuffs as well as elsewhere in life. You can take it as far as you wish.No matter where you apply it — in the kitchen, dining room or any other stage — you should go for the crème de la crème.

Restaurants don’t have this luxury. In the food-service business, success often hinges on using food before it rots, which means doing the exact opposite of Harder’s principle: Always eat your worst produce first, and you will always be eating your worst produce. Yum!

But at home, we have no need to eat our worst food first. We can and should focus on the absolute best of the fridge. If that means some other produce goes south, so be it.

You can recover the less appetizing food in some fashion, such as putting carrots, celery, onions and other suitable vegetables into stock or baking those wrinkled cherries that got pushed aside by golden raspberries. You can also do this with dairy products, including cream.

I know this because last week I had both whole milk and heavy cream in the fridge. Which do you think I put in my coffee? That’s right, folks. Always drink your best cream.

The boys didn’t get to the milk last week, either. The chickens started laying after a summer hiatus, and I had some really good bacon from the farmers market. Then they had an opportunity to eat ice cream for breakfast in exchange for some early morning manual labor.

That gallon of milk ended up in a cooler when we took a camping trip by the river. But since we forgot ice, the clock was ticking on that poor gallon of milk — and everything else in the cooler, for that matter.

My old milk made it through the night and was fine in my morning coffee. After breakfast, I heated the milk and added the juice of a lemon I’d brought with me. The acid curdled the milk. I added salt to the curds in order to preserve them, strained them in a dish rag and twisted the rag to squeeze out the water. This process is the first step in making most types of cheese.

I took the salted curds home and crumbled them upon a batch of couscous that I made with the freshest vegetables I had on hand: purple bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and zucchini. Since my cheese was so salty, I made the batch of couscous salt-free.

In the recipe below, I don’t salt the cheese out of an abundance of caution. I find it easier to add more salt than to remove it if I’ve added too much.

So, that’s the recipe I’ll be leaving you with, along with a reminder to drink your best beer. Always.


Cheese curd couscous

The lemony cheese makes a lovely summertime complement to the vegetables and couscous.

  • Serves four
  • 1 gallon milk
  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • 1 pound large-grain couscous
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes, pierced
  • with a fork
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 purple bell pepper, sliced into
  • spears
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into rounds

In a heavy-bottom pot, heat the milk on medium, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. When it starts to foam, turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should instantly separate into curds and whey. Lay some cheesecloth over a colander and pour the curdled milk through it. Save the whey. Tie the corners of cheesecloth together and hang the ball of curds to drain.

Put the whey in a pot, add the couscous and heat on medium. Add the garlic, tomatoes, butter and oil, mix them well and let everything cook until nearly all the whey is absorbed. Add the pepper and zucchini, mix them in and cook for five minutes, covered. Crumble the cheese on top and cover again. Turn off the heat and let everything rest for 10 minutes, then serve.


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