Monday, October 6, 2014

Avoiding "Blaand" Puns Because They're Cheap

I'm not the first person to want to research blaand, and I'm not the first to blog about it. But this is my journey as I discover a new beverage and find out what online people know about it.

I discovered this drink because of Dungeons and Dragons. My wife has never played, and I used to run a 2nd Edition campaign, but I only have 3rd Edition rulebooks which is a d20 system and almost entirely foreign to me. But I swore I'd start a campaign, so I researched the demographics of a sustainable medieval village and created a reasonable community of a town and some villages.

Then I decided the base town would be quite liberal in accepting demihumans, so there's a half-orc blacksmith, a halfling cook and a half-elf head of traders... but I know that etymologically, "elf" comes from "alp" and these creatures merely originate in mountains. Like dwarves, or "dwarfs" in the pre-Tolkien spelling. And the root word for dwarves and elves also comes from alp, and I wanted to know what differentiated them. There are Ljósálfar (light elves), Dökkálfar (dark elves) and then Svartálfar (swarthy/black dwarves). You can see the elf/alf/alp root in these, so where did the division arise?

They're mentioned in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, which I had to borrow from my friend Troy since there are only three copies in the Hennepin County Library system (two are waiting to be checked in, one has been stolen). Over the course of some beers he explained to me that the dark elves were also known as drow/trow long before AD&D was a thing, and he sent me a link to look this up. And that link led to a shepherd's fiddling song about a group of trow that sneak into a peasant's cottage and drink all his alcohol, which is not beer or ale or mead... but blaand.

And I'm all, what the hell is blaand?

And it turns out no one knows for sure.

That is, they know the rough concept (cheesemakers didn't want to waste their surplus whey, so why not make booze out of it) but the precise recipe has never been recorded. There's one man who makes it on a commercial scale in Glasgow, but he is... less than generous with the recipe. There are several message boards that refer obliquely to other message boards but, after much tooth-pulling, cough up a couple ideas. So this is a short record of my own evening-long quest, and this is what I know so far.

From Downsizer:
This drink is simply the whey of buttermilk left to ferment in an oak cask. To make the whey, pour enough hot water on the buttermilk to cause it to separate. Drain the whey off the curd (which may be pressed and eaten with cream). Pour the whey into the cask and leave undisturbed until it reaches the fermenting sparkling stage, when it may be used.
After the sparkle goes off it, Blaan becomes flat and vinegary, but you can keep it at its best stage by the regular addition of fresh whey.

Oak barrel might also be for some tannin - a handfull of oak chips (depending on quantity to make) might also be an idea if you want to be authentic, or failing that a little grape tannin.
From River Cottage:
Put the whey into a clean demi-john, put on air-lock and leave until fermented out. Nothing added at all. Traditionally I think it was an oak cask used, but a demi-john was working just as well until my erstwhile husband didn't know what it was and failed to ask me. I haven't tried it again since, but will probably be setting another cheese next week, and will have another go. If you don't get large amounts of whey at a time, it can be successfully frozen until you do.
And then another group of curious and creative folk took a shot at making their own. Unfortunately, there is no follow-up blog about how it turned out (according to their schedule, they should've posted the results five months ago), so this recipe is sufficiently mysterious.

But really, whey is the watery part of buttermilk (or cheesemaking byproduct) that is separated from the curd. Everyone in Minnesota and Wisconsin loves cheese curds, but you don't hear any enthusiastic boosters for whey. "The watery part of buttermilk" doesn't inspire tummy-rumbling or salivating in anyone who claims to like food, does it? When raw milk sours (eww) and coagulates (EWW), whey is what's left over. This sounds less and less good as we explore it.

And then you lock whey up in a wood barrel and let it ferment. (Update: the recording on this website states that it is kept for "eight to ten days". No one else I've found has suggested a definite period of time, instead resorting to vague terms like "after the sparkle goes off," whatever that means.) The Tobar an Dualchais oral recordings website suggests that fresh blaand could taste sweet, while casking it for a few days would strengthen it, and this was called "sharp blaand". The method for making this, according to this site, was to add boiling water into the churn, supposedly leaving the solids behind as you collect the runoff for blaand.

Now, adding yeast to sugar sounds delicious: that's how you get beer and cider and all the wonderful fermented alcohols. But blaand is the leftover product after two foul products that you lock up in the dark and let turn in on itself; most brewing yeasts struggle to digest lactose. Yet there was a human society (County Shetland, among others) that valued this product and worked to make it. They purposely replicated the conditions to develop a drink called "blaand". That must mean it's worthwhile to explore.

But the commercial product by Mr. Errington of Glasgow, which is known as Fallachan ("hidden treasure"), it doesn't seem to exist. All the links that point to this beverage redirect to the cheese farm site proper; the site map doesn't recognize that term, and nor does a Google search. It seems that Fallachan was the only form of blaand that was available for a while, and now it's not. All that's left is for any of us to appropriate an oak barrel, separate whey from buttermilk with hot water, and... hope for the best. Because I cannot imagine what this is going to taste like.

(Update: The author of this UK food blog claims to have found and purchased blaand at a pub called The Tass, in Edinburgh, but of course Yelp reports it as having closed down.)

1 comment:

Princeaeneas said...

I am pleased to noted you said, "is going to" rather than, "would" in your last sentence.