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Food on The Verge of Decay; a Delicacy

We have always been told that food is supposed to be eaten fresh, that the more fresh something edible is, the better it will taste, this concept is so well-engrained into our minds that the we shun away stale food, thinking of it as a disease ridden piece of filth. Despite this generally accepted way of perceiving food, there is a whole category of food items that has its very foundations based on food going stale and growing old. The act of ageing food items in order to transform them into something completely different has been in practice for a really long time, nowadays it is not as common as it used to be, but it is still in practice.

The concept of ageing food comes from olden times when we did not have refrigerators and other means of preserving food, people still needed some way of storing food so that they could stock up for the winter. Taking vegetables and dousing them in vinegar to preserve them laying out tomatoes under the sun in order to dry them up, these methods are still in practice today, if you stop and think about it, a number of well-loved food items that we use on a daily basis are in fact the products of various ingredients that were coaxed to the verge of decay and then brought back.

Cheese is created by adding bacteria into milk and leaving it in dark places for long periods of time so that the bacteria can wreak havoc on it, similarly, wine is created from fermenting grapes; the process of fermentation involves leaving the grapes to rot, converting the glucose in them into alcohol. Wine, cheese and pickled vegetables are still used quite commonly, but in some parts of the world people age meat as well, nowadays anyone would feel nauseous at the thought of eating meat that has been left out to age. However, by letting meat age in a proper manner, one can create a taste and texture that fresh meat will never be able to deliver.

Beef used to be aged for a month or so to let bacteria breakdown its muscle fibres, resulting in softer meat, but in one case, a French butcher named Alexandre Polmard offers meat cuts that date back to 2000, aged in an innovative method that involved freeze blasting meat in controlled environments. Another example of aged meat can be found in Iceland where people ferment herring meat.

Chefs across the world have started to explore this branch of cooking once again, realising that by letting food go bad and then bringing the decaying process to a halt, they are able to bring about a taste that nature simply cannot provide. Meddling with things and converting them into something else is a part of human nature, a part that has enabled humans to open doors and form paths that lead to new experiences, this form of meddling with food is a great example of such behaviour.