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Cheese And Rum Aged At Sea In Ancient And Modern Times

 

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(image) images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/1-sailing-ship-anonymous.jpg

This is not only an idea whose time has come, but it is an idea I have used in three novels starting over three decades ago. In my novels, I have some edible substance aged through transport at sea.

In A Lost Gospel, set in the time of Christ, I have seafarers strengthen an unnamed gruel stored in a barrel that is used to relieve the effects of seasickness. It tastes vile.

In my two  historical “Onion” novels, I have special cheeses aged during the two year long sea trips my characters take for trading purposes. They return tasting right (and ripe) fine.


Here is a current news story set along the same lines.

A Nova Scotia distillery is sending its spirits out Monday on an around-the-world trip on a tall ship, promising it will taste better for the journey.

Four barrels of rum from Lunenburg’s Ironworks Distillery will spend the next 15 months in the cargo hold of the three-masted tall ship Picton Castle.

https://www.halifaxtoday.ca/local-news/nova-scotia-distiller-sending-four-barrels-of-rum-on-round-the-world-voyage-837196?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Email

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And here is an excerpt from my novel, China Lily.

The storage hold for the cheese is actually a room partitioned from the main hold by thick oak planks. Its back wall is the side of The Pegasus. There is a raised floor to keep the cheese from the bilge, and a barred door with heavy locks. The Cannaras had the room designed, and placed specifically, so it would not hinder the running of the ship through either weight or volume displacement. In addition, the Cannaras paid the other owners an impressive surcharge for the space.

Matzerath steps back as Cepa unlocks and opens the door. The cheeses have not been moved for over two years, except through the motions of The Pegasus itself. They are tightly packed with straw and wax, three to a wooden crate. The crates are kept in place through the use of ropes and webbing that allows them to move with the motion of the ship. If they break loose they can dent, break, or even shatter their thick outer shell of wax. The exposure to air would turn them to rot.

The two and more years of exposure to the sea salt atmosphere tightens the ropes and webbing. They reach a point where it is not worth the effort to unbind them. Cepa begins to use his knife on all the ties.

He is quickly followed by Matzerath, who does not question the reason for Cepa’s actions, but just follows suit. Together they make short work of the ropes and webbing. Matzerath gets by the doorway and takes his place in the human chain. Cepa hands a crate of the cheese to him. He carries it to the first man on the steps who, in turn, takes it up the steps to the next man. In this way the cheeses go from man to man until they are placed in the carts. It is not backbreaking work, but it is awkward and exhausting enough that Cepa eventually calls for a break. They all go up to stand on deck to take advantage of the fresh air.

“How long have you been selling this ‘voyage cheese’?” Matzerath is watching the frenzied activity on the dock.

“Over two hundred years.” Cepa keeps an attentive eye on the cheeses already on deck. “But never any trip as long as this one.”

“Any magic secret in making it?”

“The choice of the onions. But I don’t actually make the cheese – that is for others in the family.” Cepa smiles. “I help create the mystique.”

“Mystique?”

“Yes.” Cepa turns to scan the dock. “Look at those three men on horseback.”

“Yes?”

“One is a priest; one from the noble’s house; and the third leads the cheese maker’s guild.” Cepa holds up his hand to shade his eyes from the morning sun. “Their sole reason to be here is to verify that these cheeses actually come off The Pegasus. They will affix a seal onto each crate.”

“They don’t trust the Cannaras?” Matzerath turns to Cepa in surprise.

“They trust us because this was our idea.”

“Ha! You Cannaras are crafty.”

“There are few questions asked about items brought back from far away. They are so foreign they have to be authentic.”

“But cheese made right here …” begins Matzerath.

“Yes – anyone can make cheese.” Cepa indicates that he wants to walk around the deck. “And it all looks the same once covered and waxed.”

 

The Good Ship “Pegasus”, In Story And For Real

 

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In my historical novel, China Lily, set in the 13th Century, I have spent a good deal of time writing about (and thus aboard) the good ship Pegasus. It has been on a trading voyage from Europe to China for nearly three years. I have become quite acquainted with it.

Currently, a manuscript  about the same European trading family, though set a thousand years earlier, is at the historical (though they do other genres) is being considered by the publisher, Pegasus, in New York.

And, this morning, the good ship, The Atlantic Pegasus, is in port.

Let these winged portents coalesce.

Following is a brief portion of China Lily.

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Excerpt from China Lily

Cepa is tending to the onions, even as the waves make Pegasus shudder from bow to stern. He knows many members of the crew begrudge his use of fresh water. He has heard the comments about him using buckets of deck wash for the purpose. A couple of the more unimaginative seamen have suggested that salt water will add to their taste. Cepa has so far refrained from asking how they would feel with no onions at all.

Pegasus makes a huge yaw to starboard. Cepa grabs for the support of his hammock hook. He holds on with his left hand as he watches the braces securing the onion boxes. Of the many things that make the crew question his sanity, perhaps the most talked-about is that he has given up the privilege of having one of the few bunks as a place for the onions. Space is so scarce on the Pegasus that he removed the wooden bunk and put in tiers of shelving of the onion setts. He even devised some crude trickle-down tubing so he only waters the top tier. So far he can claim that not one dipper of water has been wasted.

When Cepa had explained to the captain of the ship what he wanted to do, the man had not scoffed as did many of the crew. He had seen the effects of scurvy on many  voyages, and understood that this type of fresh produce did something to control it. In fact, he was very pleased Cepa was willing to sacrifice his bunk space for the purpose.This was not the typical action of the merchants he was paid to transport from Italy to China and back. It usually took half the out-voyage to get these self-important wealthy people to realize that their opinions and needs were of no importance in the world of the ship.

Some sat back and made threats of what retribution would occur when they finally reached port. They always changed their minds after experiencing the first storm at sea. Most soon realized the new world of the ship, and did what they could to fit in.

DE

(image)https://balticshipping.com/uploads/ships/d/a/a/a/7/e/e/c/4/3/1/f/d/5/f/7/3/4/a/8/1/c/5/c/9/a/a/d/f/7/d/2/176447_1443024569_2007.jpg

Onions And Eggs And A Cook On The High Seas

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In my novel, China Lily, the good ship, The Pegasus, makes a voyage from Italy to China a number of years before Marco Polo. This is a taste.

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The cook, Matzerath, was a thin and abrasive man from some vague Northland who was not a particularly good cook. His selection of dishes was limited, and his ability to make meals taste appealing was hit-and-miss. He would probably not have had much success in a village or a town, but he had abilities that made him sought-after aboard ships. He could make dishes – if not tasty, at least palatable – from the poorest of ngredients. He could feed many on scant provisions. And the crews he worked for rarely became ill from the food.

Cepa did not know what methods Matzerath used to achieve his ends. He did possess a chest of herbs and spices and dried plants, but they seemed to be used to either stop putrefaction or make putrefaction edible. He took as many onions from Cepa as he could, but the results were rarely rendered up in the taste of the dish. In many ways his skills were more of an apothecary or doctor, though he did not possess the temperament to acquire their knowledge.

 

Matzerath did have one trick of the trade that continually amazed Cepa. He could take basic eggs and make a dish you could put down in front of a prince. Perhaps the opportunity to use eggs was rare enough that it interested him, or perhaps he just liked eggs.  At any rate, for a few days after they left any port, the crew was blessed with egg as part of their diet. Matzerath served them fresh, on their own, and also made omelettes and frittatas with them. He also – to make some last longer – boiled a number when their worth was near exhaustion.

 

He had an odd method of boiling eggs, to which Cepa became a party because Matzerath used onions. Not fresh onions or green shoots, but the outer layer of brown skin and some inked parchment into boiling water.  After a vigorous boil that leaves the eggs overcooked but more durable, the shells become a mottled brown colour. Cepa can’t tell if this is a deliberate decoration or a side effect. Matzerath did not seem a person concerned with beauty, but Cepa didn’t see how onions helped the boiling of eggs – they did not alter the taste. He queried Matzerath about the procedure, but the only answer he got was that was the way it was done ‘where he came from’.

DE

(image)http://pngimg.com/upload/egg_PNG24.png

Alison Alexandra and Harrison Ford Cast Off Lines To Get To Sea

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Alison Alexandra, the main character in my current Work in Progress, is about to set out on a sea cruise. She wishes nothing as boring as a Cruise Ship, so she is going on a freighter that has room for twelve passengers. She gets accommodations as comfortable as the ship’s officers, plus decent food and some entertainments. The drawback – which she does not consider a drawback – is that she goes where the freighter goes as it drops off and picks up cargo. Not necessarily fancy ports of call.

Alison Alexandra has just spent my week of writing watching the business on the dock as the freighter gets ready to cast off. For this scene I have stolen (and greatly altered) an incident that happened to me. I hear that’s what authors do, but it seems a rare situation for me.

I previously described what happened to me those many years ago, and do so again. Alison Alexandra is actually watching a crewman named Ellerton do what I did, when I stopped a submarine from running amok.

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Harrison Ford And Me

In 2001/02 the movie, WIDOWMAKER K-19, was made, much of it filmed in Halifax harbour and out on the nearby ocean. It deals with submarines and an in-ship disaster, staring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.

I was not aware of this when I visited Halifax. I went down to the waterfront and went along the boardwalk. It was very foggy on the water (which it can be without having much on land). I was exceedingly surprised to see, looming out of the fog, a submarine next to the wharf. There are submarines in Halifax, but they are berthed at the naval dockyard a couple of kilometers from where I was walking.

It took a couple of minutes to realize that it was not a naval submarine (no markings). What was happening was that the submarine was being turned by a couple of tugboats. I read later that each side of the same submarine was altered differently so, in close ups and aerial footage, it could appear to be two different submarines.

However, there quickly appeared to be a problem. From the shouts and gesticulations of a man on the wharf, I found out that one of the mooring lines had not been cast from the wharf. The submarine was being pulled away from the dock, but it was still attached. It was a gigantic and thick mooring line, and I do not know what damage would have been done to either ship or dock.

The man was yelling to another man on the deck of the sub, who had a bullhorn and in turn was bellowing to the crew of the tug boat. However, nothing was heard over the roar of the engines (tugboats have powerful engines). The man on the wharf was trying to lift the mooring line from its post before it got too taut to move. I ran over and helped him, and we managed to get it from the post just as it started to be pulled into the water.

Of course I watched the movie credits closely, but I was not mentioned.

No famous movie actors were involved in this incident.

DE

(image)https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3f/Mooring.jpg/200px-Mooring.jpg

“Say Cheese!”

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(image) https://3wheeledcheese.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/the-wheel-ready-for-cracking.jpg

Thank you reality!

In my historical novel trilogy about onion farmers, which stretches  from the 3rd Century to the present day, I have my main characters, the Cannara family from Italy, invent an “onion cheese”.

In the second part of the trilogy, I have the Cannaras take some of this cheese on a trading voyage to China. Theses voyages could last well over a year. I have them forget some of the rounds of their cheese, and they makes a return voyage. To their surprise, the Cannaras find that the length of travel and the motions of the ship have produced superior cheese. This they sell at a high profit.

Immediately following is a current news article about some cheese found on a ship that sank 340 years ago.

Below that is an excerpt from my novel, China Lily.

DE

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Wednesday July 27, 2016

340-year-old cheese discovered at shipwreck site and, man, does it stink

A dairy product, believed to be cheese, has been discovered at the wreck site of The Kronan. The Swedish warship sank before a battle with the Danish/Dutch allied fleet in 1676.

A dairy product, believed to be cheese, has been discovered at the wreck site of The Kronan. The Swedish warship sank before a battle with the Danish/Dutch allied fleet in 1676. (Kalmar County Museum)

Listen 5:22

Divers exploring a sunken 17th-century gunship from Sweden say they have discovered what they believe to be cheese.

“The smell and the texture of the material really points in that direction,” Lars Einarsson tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

“I don’t know if anyone is going to taste it.” – Lars Einarsson

Einarsson, the marine archeologist who heads up The Kronan Project, thinks that the cheese smells like a mix of yeast and Roquefort.

“When it was opened the first time, it was really overwhelming, in a positive way. It was smelling ‘live,’ as opposed to dead organic material, which doesn’t smell very nice. It seemed to be alive.”

The material was found in a tin at the wreck site of The Kronan, the largest ship of its time. It sank in 1676 in the Baltic Sea, which helped preserve the cheese all these years.

The Baltic Sea is a ideal for preservation of the cheese, according to Einarsson. The low salinity, along with the fact that the ship sank in clay, helped seal the pewter canister away like a time capsule waiting to be opened.

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Lars Einarsson is a marine archeologist and director of The Kronan Project. (Lars Einarsson)

When asked if anyone would dare bite into the 340-year-old cheese, Einarsson paused.

“I don’t know if anyone is going to taste it. We are quite optimistic about getting an analysis of the chemical makeup of the product though.”

The cheese has been sent to a lab and Einarsson hopes to have the results of what exactly they have within a month. He adds that it may wind up on display some day.

“If it’s possible in terms of preservation, we’ll definitely [put it on display.] But first of all, we have to safeguard the material.”

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-thursday-edition-1.3699151/340-year-old-cheese-discovered-at-shipwreck-site-and-man-does-it-stink-1.3697365?cmp=rss

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Excerpt from China Lily:

Just as he did on his last two voyages, Cepa will also bring a few wheels of the onion cheese back to Europe. He has established an authentic pedigree, with the local bishop stamping a date on the sealing wax of the cheese. Assuming there has been no damage by seawater (which has happened to a few of the wheels); the “onion cheese” has such renown the Cannara’s joke that they can almost sell it for its weight in gold.

The “ocean cheese” came about through an accident. On the first voyage Cepa had taken, some of the wheels of onion cheese had been swamped by seawater. The storm was so rough their wax had gotten chipped and cracked. Cepa instructed that they just be thrown overboard. However, before that happened, other crew members shifted cargo and the cheese was shoved into a corner and hidden. Other goods, purchased at different ports, kept obscuring the cheese. When they returned to Europe the cheese wheels were revealed. In the process of throwing them into the harbor, Cepa discovered a half dozen wheels in the middle had not actually been damaged.

A couple of months later, when the Cannaras decided to cut open one of the wheels, they found the cheese had acquired a piquancy and an oddly smoother texture. Speculation was that the motion of the ship, the salt in the air, and the additional years of ageing made the essence of onion permeate the cheese more broadly.

Cepa tried half the wheel on the extended family. The other half he proportioned out to the three medicinal bathing lodges the Cannaras owned, scattered through the foothills of the Alps. He had thought of just using it in Cannara taverns, or even as a supplement to the mid-meal at some of their businesses. The response he received from both the family and patrons of the spas changed his mind.

Even though the onion cheese had been touted for its “medicinal properties” at the spas, and promoted as an “oriental delicacy” elsewhere, the enthusiasm with which it generated proved that everyone reveled it its taste. Cepa was well-aware that part of the family lore concerned an Enaiy of centuries ago who had tried making cheese under water. He wondered if there was any part of the process that might be similar to the sea voyage. Perhaps the amount of additional time was part of her attempt, or bring rocked by the waves. He had no idea if the Cannara’s current recipe for onion cheese had anything to do with her underwater process.

His “ocean cheese” had been so well received that the Cannara family put a small sample on display to taste. Then they began to auction it off. Because most of those who used their spas were wealthy, or nobles, or rulers of the church, members of this social strata had already heard of the cheese. It was as rare as spice. It only appeared in small quantities every few years. Having no way to calculate a production cos, the Cannaras started at the base price for their regular onion cheese. Those of wealth and appetite took care of the rest.

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