A side-effect of making your own food and drink is that supermarket stuff becomes less and less appealing. When you make your own you can tweak the recipe to your precise tastes. Another big part of this is that real food tends to have a lot more taste than the processed varieties that many people are accustomed to.
These days lots of people will tell you that they started eating free-range eggs for ethical reasons and find that they now prefer them as a superior product with their perky whites and bright yolks. Others are swapping out their Wonder White bread for a nice Helgas or experimenting with the more exotic varieties available from an actual bakery. Sourdough is winning friends and influencing people.
There are many things that I have been making for a while that I no longer consider that there is a suitable bought substitute for. I have never really liked the taste of regular cow milk, but now that I drink raw goat milk I find I can barely even stand the smell of supermarket milk. Don’t get me to sniff the carton in the work fridge to tell you if it has gone off, because to me it smelled bad the day it was purchased.
I stopped buying the regular sweetened processed yogurts years ago. For a while I stuck to locally made brands and then hid in the corner with the pot-set Jalna, made from real milk and sweetened with fruit juice. About a year and a half ago I bought some yogurt culture and started making my own. Lightly sweetened and gently flavoured, I perfected the mix. Now not even my old favourite, Jalna’s full-fat vanilla, can get past my nose.
When it comes to cider, though, my palate has really developed. I cut my drinking teeth on Strongbow Sweet, and when cider made its grand comeback a few years ago I tried a few of the sweeter varieties. Then I started brewing my own. My summer cider is a dry, crisp, beautifully finished example of the genre. It leaves a slight draughty aftertaste but is far from bitter. In winter it is not easy to get it as well-finished due to the cooler weather. In winter I can quite happily drink Bulmers. But by the end of summer, as the batch ages and my taste buds acclimatise, only my Sticky Fingers home-brew will do.
I’ve done the mixed half-dozen, I’ll try whatever is on tap when I go out, and sometimes I find something good. When I do, my comment is usually ‘this tastes like mine’. I have people sing the praises of Rekorderlig (too sweet), Magners (smells like wee), and the other high-end imported ciders. But in the absence of a bottle of my best, I find there are a lot of good local dry ciders that are well worth a try. And don’t say ‘pear’ or ‘berry flavoured’. Those are for people who don’t really like cider but are too proud to drink Cruisers now that they are past a certain age.
Eating out can be hit and miss too when you realise that you may have become a food snob. As someone who cooks, I can tell you that there are few greater pleasures than going out to eat and actually being impressed by the food. I can also tell you that there are plenty of places that serve food seemingly without any real idea of what it actually tastes like. Over-dressed salads are an epidemic. Extravagant pizzas with several flavour themes fighting for supremacy in the one bite are also popular. Less sophisticated eateries seem to err on the side of making sure your taste buds are busy, rather than letting the basic ingredients make their own impression.
One of the best meals I ever had was at Dyers Steak Stable in Ballarat recently. It was a special-occasion dinner, and we made the most of it, with three courses plus a very good bottle of bubbly.
I openly admit that I am not the steak-eater of the partnership. This limited my menu choices somewhat. We chose an entree to share featuring smoked salmon, and then I asked what the fish of the day was. Atlantic salmon. I ordered the duckling.
When the main courses arrived I was a little surprised and very pleased to see very simple food. Alongside the meat was one roasted potato, half a grilled tomato and half a dozen long green beans. That was it. The potato and tomato were lightly seasoned with herbs. The meat itself was clearly the main event.
As a duck breeder I was well able to appreciate the well-conditioned cuts of what was most likely a young male Muscovy. I am a big fan of duck meat, and the bird on my plate was clearly a very good size for his age. The meat itself was pale, tasty and tender, the skin perfectly crisp and the delicately sweet sauce complemented it perfectly. I hope that one day I can cook a duck that echoes this high standard.
The steak, I am reliably informed, was also cooked to perfection, and despite its size was comfortably consumed.
In too many restaurants these days the meals are huge and I almost never order dessert. But on this occasion I put my hand up for the champagne poached pear. This was another triumph, with the strong but balanced blend of spices in the sauce really catching my attention. It might be one of the pricier places to eat in Ballarat, but I will definitely eat at Dyers again.
Just quickly, if you are after a less extravagant experience I can also recommend The Unicorn Hotel on Sturt St. I love their all-day breakfast; the eggs are always perfectly poached and the sourdough bread is an ideal base for their current twist on Benedict or Florentine. The home-made dips, sauces and chutneys are reliably awesome. The music and the decor create a great atmosphere that completes the experience.