Thursday, February 02, 2023

Time was that the critic had it easy. He got to taste the best wines, eat in the best restaurants, and see the best shows—true he also had to drink wine that tasted like sewer water, dine in restaurants that looked (and smelled) like sewers, and watch Spiderman Turn Off the Dark, the musical. By and large, though, the good far outweighed the bad; but not anymore.

Newspaper editors are becoming far more demanding of their critics, wanting reviews of experiences that had never before been reviewed. The Denver Post, for instance, now employs a Mr. Jake Browne as their Cannabis Critic—imagine having to come up with descriptions like “rubber and pepper dominate the jar like a bunch of green army men relegated to miniature mess hall duty,” on a weekly basis.

As I knew that the editors at the JLNJ were aware of my sensitive palate, and of my intimate knowledge of fat (they’d seen my body mass index score) I cannot say that I was wholly surprised when they asked me to write a review (perhaps a whole series of reviews) on the new breed of schmaltz that is sweeping the culinary scene. While I was initially reluctant to accept the assignment, they somehow talked me into it (I think it must have been the offer of a 25% off coupon to Smokey Joe’s) but I did insist on one condition: they were not to bill me as their “fat critic.”

One of the hottest culinary trends these days is the return to animal fats. With the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee easing restrictions on cholesterol-rich foods, and the influential Slow Foods Movement pushing for a return to traditional cooking techniques, the once dominant margarine is rapidly being replaced in the kitchen with butter, lard, and schmaltz.

“People are starting to eat like my Bubbie again, and I think that’s great,” says David Greasman, the slight, balding, 43-year-old man behind the creation of what some have termed “Nouvelle Schmaltz.” Greasman is the Chief Operating Officer of Edible Animal Fats, LLC (a wholly owned subsidiary of Schmutzco Industrial Solvents, Inc.).

On a recent tour of Edible Animal Fat’s production facility in Hoboken, NJ, Greasman explained how his company came into existence: “I used to be the head of research for Schmutzco’s line of dry-cleaning solvents. We always had a lot of edible animal fats lying around the lab. We’d use them to stain clothes in order to test our new solvents. One day I was in the lunch room, making myself a roast beef sandwich, and realized that we were out of mayo. The roast beef was kind of dry, so I was not sure what to do. Then I remembered that my Bubbie had always schmeared schmaltz on to her sandwiches, and that we had a whole vat of the stuff back in the lab…it was the best roast beef sandwich I’d ever had.”

Greasman quickly became what he describes as a “Schmaltz Evangelist. I’d try to talk everyone I knew into giving schmaltz a try,” says Greasman. “My wife threatened to leave me if I did not shut up about the stuff. But when I could get people to try it, they would always be surprised as to how much they liked it.”

One of Greasman’s first converts was Jacob Gussik, the President of Schmutzco, whose company put up the seed money for Edible Animal Fats.

At Edible Animal Fats, Greasman is not attempting to produce traditional schmaltz (i.e., chicken fat rendered with a bit of onion). “Empire Poultry already dominates that [traditional schmaltz] market, and has far better distribution than we can ever hope to have,” says Greasman. “I’m trying to create schmaltz that is gourmet and cutting edge.”

While at the production facility, I had the opportunity to taste the four different varieties of schmaltz that Edible Animal Fats currently produces. Greasman hopes to have them on the shelves of kosher markets throughout New Jersey in time for Pesach.

Ball Park Schmaltz: This dark-yellow-to-golden-colored schmaltz is intended to be used as a condiment for hotdogs and hamburgers. It is a blend of 83% chicken fat and 17% beef-neck fat rendered with red onions, ground mustard seed, and liquefied sauerkraut. The nose is pungently sour, with strong notes of cabbage and onion, while the flavor is all mustard up front, with sauerkraut dominating the back of the palate, and a light note of onion running throughout. Well structured, with a texture that is both denser and more satiny than traditional schmaltz (no doubt a result of the beef-neck fat content), this would indeed go well shmeared on a hotdog. Score B/B+ ($12 for an eight-ounce tub)

Super Onion Schmaltz: Made of a blend of 90% chicken fat and 10% duck fat rendered with an abundance of red onions, then blended and homogenized with a liquefied mixture of caramelized Cippolini and Vidalia onions, this schmaltz simply reeks—in the best sense of the word—of sweet oniony goodness. With its ruddy orange color, and rich, lingering, caramelized onion flavor, this would be a great shmeared, by itself, on a piece of matzo or challah. It is marred only by a slightly grainy texture. Score B+ ($10 for an eight-ounce tub)

Foie Schmaltz: Clearly meant to be an homage to pate de foie gras with truffles, this decadent blend of 60% white goose fat and 40% duck fat is rendered with a small amount of black summer truffle essence. With a pale-yellow-to-almost-white color, a rich, a velvety texture, and an intensely earthy, truffle-like flavor, this schmaltz has real depth and character. While the truffle flavor was a bit too intense to use it as a shmear, melted over a bit of pasta, with a pinch of sea salt, it became a decadent pasta sauce. While not the least bit reminiscent of pate de foie gras, this is a darn fine schmaltz. Score A- ($38 for an eight-ounce tub)

Grease-Fire Schmaltz: In my decade-long career as a critic this was the first time I’d ever been asked to sign a waiver of indemnity before tasting a product. I wish I’d never signed that waiver. Made from 100% chicken fat, rendered—or should I say weaponized—with Indian ghost peppers, this golden-yellow-colored schmaltz is pure liquid heat. At first taste, the fat generously coated my tongue, while the pepper particles seared it. It took 12 days, including a trip to the chemical-burn unit, for my sense of taste to fully return. This schmaltz would best be served to someone you truly despise. Score F- ($18 for an eight-ounce tub)

Schmaltz is scored on an “A”–“F” scale where “A” is excellent, “B” is good, “C” is flawed, “D” is very flawed, and “F” is worse than margarine.

Please keep your eyes posted for my forthcoming feature on the new world of ptcha—it’s not just garlic flavored anymore.

By Gamliel Kronemer

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