Friday, August 13, 2010

Prazeres da Mesa ao Vivo - Octopus and Goat Cheese

At last week's trade/show in Fortaleza, Prazeres da Mesa ao Vivo, there were some very interesting presentations on efforts being made in the region to develop new markets for local products. One of the problems that food producers must overcome when introducing new products into the market is overcoming the traditional local reluctance to eat anything new or untried. It seems that in northeastern Brazil, and perhaps in other parts of the country, the population's palate is extremely conservative, and if a food or a dish is not something that has been eaten for generations, people just won't put it on the table. Because of this cultural phenomenon, abundant locally-available but nontraditional food sources - vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, meats - are not commercially viable , while traditional food sources are over-stretched.

One presentation was made by first-year students in the Gastronomy program at the Universidade Federal do Ceará. They are studying ways to introduce octopus into the local diet, as octopus is a non-endangered, widely available food source in the seas off the coast of Ceará, but has never been part of the diet of the local population. Octopus are often caught accidentally by local fishermen, but are thrown back in the water as there is no market for them. The students, in their research, discovered that apart from the traditional reluctance to try new products, the local residents are extremely resistant to the texture of octopus, perceiving it to be rubbery or too chewy. They are currently testing a number of different cooking technique, cooking temperatures and cooking times, to reduce the elasticity of octopus, and feel that if they succeed, it will significantly improve the commercial prospects of an octopus fishery. As students of gastronomy, they are also creating menu items which combine octopus with other local, traditional and familiar ingredients and cooking techniques to minimize the "strangeness" of octopus and to emphasize it's adaptability to local food ways.

The research staff of the federal Agriculture Department (Embrapa) research laboratory in Sobral, a small town in the interior of Ceará, presented the results of one of their research projects in another presentation. There researchers are trying to develop markets for goat cheese through the development of new cheese types. Although goat meat is a traditional food item in the interior of Brazil, dairy products from the same animal have never been accepted by local inhabitants. As goat milk could be widely available, and since goat milk has been proven one of the healthiest dairy products, the Agriculture Department wants to develop the market. Much of the work on this project has been in the development of new goat cheeses, based on well-known local cow milk cheeses. A good example is cream cheese made from goat milk. Cream cheese is already part of the local diet, which means that there is likely to be less resistance to goat milk cream cheese, as it's in a form that is familiar. At the laboratory this project, however, is also working to develop more contemporary and unusual goat cheeses, ones that might not sell at all in local markets, but which might be successful in the sophisticated markets of cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Fortaleza. For example, they developed a creamy goat cheese that is impregnated with oil of the pequi fruit. Pequi has a strong and unusual taste, one that is extremely complex, and which is often compared to truffles. At the presentation, samples of this cheese were served, and I found it to be intriguing and unlikely anything I've ever tasted. There are few things are are totally new in the world of flavors and tastes, but this was one of them. An eye-opening marvel, it was.

Brazil is on the cusp of a gastronomic revolution, and is just awaking to the potentially revolutionary ideas and creations of a combination of local ingredients and avant-garde techniques. Inventive chefs throughout Brazil are looking for new ingredients which are locally available, but which may not be traditionally part of the flavor-spectrum of Brazilian cuisine. The octopus project and the goat cheese development project are just part of this new world of Brazilian cuisine, but projects such as these will be essential in the creation of a Brazilian gastronomy for the 21st century.


  1. Delicious! PLEASE DO REPORT on suggested octopus recipes!! I know of some from the Meditereanian, but I would LOVE to learn about local ideas!

    Good reporting!

  2. I will definitely post some of the octopus recipes I can dig up from the northeast. I know the quality of the fare, and I'm sure I can find some appropriate recipes to highlight it.

    Thanks for the comment, Jim!