Don't Save the Best for Last

A case for letting yourself enjoy the best—and getting smart with the rest

Don't Save the Best for Last
A good policy is to always drink your best stuff. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

“Always drink your best beer,” my buddy Chad Harder says. “That way you will always be drinking your best beer.”

This mantra is as close to religion as Harder may ever get. And its wisdom is available to all, including non-beer drinkers like me, whose fridge isn't teeming with different types of beer to choose from every time I get thirsty. But as a wine drinker, I've faced similar calculations deciding which bottle to drink, and Chad’s advice takes all of the stress and guesswork out of that ordeal. Don’t overthink it. Drink your best stuff. Always. That’s it. The same logic applies to most other foodstuffs. And elsewhere in life. You can take it as far as you wish.

 If an ingredient is going south, instead of eating it at its worst, give it new life—such as by turning milk into homemade cheese. (Candice Bell/Shutterstock)
If an ingredient is going south, instead of eating it at its worst, give it new life—such as by turning milk into homemade cheese. (Candice Bell/Shutterstock)

No matter where you apply it, in the kitchen, dining room, or any other stage, you should go for that crème de la crème. That way, you'll always be enjoying nothing but the crème.

A restaurant doesn’t have this luxury. In that insane business, success often hinges on using food before it rots. Which means doing the exact opposite of the Harder Principle. Which is to say, always eat your worst produce first, and you'll always be eating your worst produce. Yum! Supermarkets face similar pressure.

But at home, we have no need to eat our worst food first. We can and should focus on the absolute best of the fridge. If that means some other produce goes south, so be it. You can recover it in some fashion, such as by putting carrots, celery, onions, and other suitable vegetables into stock or baking those wrinkled cherries that got pushed aside by the golden raspberries. The same goes for dairy products, including—you guessed it—cream.

I know this because all last week I had both whole milk and heavy cream in the fridge. Which do you think I put in my coffee? That’s right, folks. Always drink your best cream.

And the boys, they didn’t get to that milk that week either. The chickens started laying after a summer hiatus, and I had some really good bacon from the farmers market. And then they had an opportunity for ice cream for breakfast in exchange for some early morning manual labor, which they took. That gallon of milk ended up in a cooler when we took a camping trip by the river. But since we forgot ice, the clock was ticking on that poor gallon of milk, and everything else in the cooler for that matter.

My old milk made it through the night and was fine in my morning coffee. After breakfast, I heated the milk and added the juice of a lemon I had brought with me. The acid curdled the milk. I added salt to the curds in order to preserve them and strained them in a dish rag and then twisted the rag to squeeze out the water. This process is the first step in making most types of cheese.

I took the salted curds home and crumbled them upon a batch of couscous that I made with the freshest vegetables I had on hand: purple bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini. Since my cheese was so salty, I made that batch of couscous salt-free. In the recipe below, I don’t salt the cheese, out of an abundance of caution. I find it easier to add more salt, if necessary, than to remove it if I’ve added too much.

So that's the recipe I’ll be leaving you with. Along with a reminder to drink your best beer. Always.

 The lemony cheese makes a lovely summertime complement to the vegetables and couscous. (Ari LeVaux)
The lemony cheese makes a lovely summertime complement to the vegetables and couscous. (Ari LeVaux)

Cheese Curd Couscous

Serves 4
  • 1 gallon milk
  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • 1 pound pearl couscous
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 handful of cherry tomatoes, pierced with a fork
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 purple bell pepper, sliced into spears
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into rounds
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the milk on medium, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. When it starts to foam, turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should instantly separate into curds and whey. Lay some cheesecloth over a colander and pour the curdled milk through it. Save the whey. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together and hang the ball of curds to drain.

Put the whey in a pot and add the couscous, and heat on medium. Add the lemon zest, garlic, tomatoes, butter, and oil, mix it well, and let it cook until nearly all of the whey is absorbed. Add the pepper and zucchini, mix them in, and cook for 5 minutes, covered. Crumble the cheese on top and cover again. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then serve.

Ari LeVaux writes about food in Missoula, Mont.
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