Moths and Vinegar
Debbe's moldy cheese was gathering the weeks in a closed porch behind her house that also served as a workshop. The handle of her hammer had grown a knot of wax halfway towards its head, where a small woman would most comfortably grasp it after working with her beehives. She cut us each a slice of the aged cheese. Its sharp, dry, goaty flavor made us thirsty, and we moved inside.
Mead was fermenting in several twenty gallon bottles underneath her kitchen table, each bottle fitted with an intricate bit of tubing fitted into the top that relieved the pressure. She counseled us to hush.
“They talk to me. Shhh and you can hear them.”
A few long moments of expectant silence passed, and then the mead found its voice.
“Gung-gu-glunk?” It inquired, the sound echoing bright and round off the sides of the plastic bottle. Debbe was giddy as a new mother at her mead’s performance. In order to find “the good one,” she had to tip each bottle over and pour out a taste, often swirling with bits of wax. Scott and I each had a canning jar from which to drink, and sampled most of the bottles along with Debbe. Each batch shared an alcoholic strength, but the flavor, thickness, and shade of amber varied greatly. The alcohol went immediately to our heads, clandestinely preparing us for a transformational experience. Finally, she came upon the object of her search. As soon as the liquid conformed to the shape of our jars, we could tell that this mead wore a different cloth than its brothers that it was a drink as fair as Joseph. The liquid shined like polished mahogany. A delicate froth burst audibly on the surface, releasing a rich, yeasty scent. Scott and I raised the jars to our lips with reverence and sipped. An autumnal flavor emerged, as if the honey we had always known and loved was but a child—this was a taste still unquestionably honey, but aged and hoary, a honey with wisdom and forbearance, but delicate as an old man’s bones or the powder on a moth’s wings. Debbe, oblivious to us, gazed at her creation with an admiration softened by the fondness that often accompanies friends of long-standing.
“It’s in its second fermentation,” she informed us, and then moved some papers around on her table so that we would have a place to sit down.
--From the forthcoming Edges of Bounty: Adventures in the Edible Valley