It’s no coincidence that eggs are found in the dairy aisle
It’s possible that, even more than cheese, eggs are having their cultural moment. Recently, the Scientist and I attended a talk on home chicken-keeping by Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, who broke a cardinal actor’s rule by sharing the stage with a pair of charismatic, misbehaving hens. Still, nearly a hundred urban homesteaders turned out to watch the famous writer be upstaged by a pair of squawking New Hampshire Reds.
For culture readers, I can’t resist pointing out the biological similarities between eggs and cheese: milk and yolk are both high-fat, high-protein infant assembly kits, metabolically expensive to produce and fragile in raw form. They are edible by-products of reproduction, hijacked by humans for our own purposes.
But it’s not just the biology that’s similar; like cheese, eggs ride the line between staple and luxury. Ask Heifer International, the nonprofit humanitarian organization that donates farm animals to poor communities: too little protein builds a scrawny human. But supplement common daily starches with cheese or eggs and weedy kids can turn into strapping farm boys and sturdy milkmaids. A laying hen, like a milking goat, doesn’t just add variety to dinner—she helps ensure that there will be more dinners in the future, as healthy people are able to bring in the harvest.
Eggs, like cheese, also ride the line between a serving and an ingredient. While an egg may be eaten on its own, it works in the background just as often, adding structure to pastry or texture to sauce. Perhaps the “ingredient-ness” of both eggs and cheese is why they’ve both found such sublime expression in cuisine, wherein regard for raw materials is the rule: think of the simplicity of the cheese soufflé.
Still, for all the similar attributes, can an egg command respect the way cheese does? Cheese is milk-plus, and it benefits from the wine effect—we revere the odd products of fermentation precisely because they are so tricky to do well, their transformation so seemingly magical. Pickled eggs are an attempt. There’s something true about pickled eggs, something adult about their place at the bar. But they are just as often the butt of a joke, the image of a dusty jar of ancient red orbs hiding in some dark corner.
Respectfully, we turn to the fermented egg. While fermented “thousand-year-old” eggs are common in Asian food, true fermented eggs are rare in Western cuisine, except at the extremities. Icelandic food blogger Johanna Gunnlaugsdottir (icecook.blogspot.com) reports of a product made in Iceland from fertile aged duck eggs. Covered in ashes, sometimes from dung, the eggs are aged for six months or more. While she’s never tried them personally, Gunnlaugsdottir provided a helpful description from a local newspaper: “A well-fermented egg is dotted with little holes, like a sponge, gray in color, and tastes like excellent blue cheese.”
There you have it—an egg and a cheese that even taste the same.
Written by Will Fertman
Illustration by Amos Goldbaum