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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cheese Imitates Geology: Thin Vegetable Ash Layer and Thin Iridium-rich Clay Layer

Cheese Imitates Geology: Thin Vegetable Ash Layer and Thin Iridium-Rich Clay Layer

 

      There is a small, wicker cheese basket at my local grocery store filled with little snippets of cheeses--the ends of various imported wheels and logs. This one caught my eye:

 




          I unwrapped it last night and found this written on the wrapper (just so you know I'm not making this up):




     A hairline layer of vegetable ash?! Oh my. 

     Of course, the iridium-rich clay layer found at the boundary of the Cretaceous period (about 65 million years ago) with the overlying Paleogene sediments first documented by Luis and Walter Alvarez (shown below) in Italy, sprang to mind. The limestone layers beneath the red clay are full of numerous species of foraminifera (forams) and the thick limestone beds above contain only one foram species. In between is this iridium-rich later of clay. In Italy. In Germany. In the Netherlands. In the U.S. All over the world.





      Iridium is a rare, silvery, white transition metal of the platinum family found in meteorites. It was named for the Greek goddess Iris after the rainbow colors in its salts and less than 3 tons a year are mined world-wide:




     Iridium is associated with the massive K-Pg extinction including the non-flying dinosaurs and a huge, diverse, plant population. (The boundary was called the K-T boundary for Cretaceous-Tertiary when the Alvarezes discovered it. The International Stratigraphic Nomenclature Committee has recently deprecated the Tertiary Period though; it now must be called Paleogene.) [First Pluto is no longer a planet; now we can't call it the K-T boundary any more. Sigh...]  And the likely location of the meteorite hitting the earth in the Gulf of Mexico is also well documented.

       What strikes me (no pun intended, okay, maybe...) about naming conventions in geology and in all areas, actually, is the creativity and force in coming up with these descriptive terms. As Clementine says to Joel when talking about her newest hair color in the film Eternal Sunshine Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, "Naming hair colors. Somebody has that job. I want that job!"




        Calling the thin layer of vegetables in the Humboldt Fog Cheese "Vegetable Ash" is truly inspired to this geologist and cheese eater.

         Last week: puddingstones that look like pudding. This week: Cheese that looks like limestone layers with a hairline layer of ash. It doesn't get much better than that full circle.

        Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments, thoughts, and cheesy ideas.


Until then, "say cheese!" (And mean it).

Humboldtly yours,
Word Woman (aka Scientific "Vegetable Ash Layer" Steph) 


22 comments:

  1. I wondered if posting about cheese was a Gouda idea. :-)

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  2. The absolute best article relating rocks and cheese was Edward Schrieber and Orson Anderson's "Properties and Composition of Lunar Materials: Earth Analogies", which appeared in Science, Vol. 168 no. 3939 pp. 1579-1580, 26 June 1970. They analyzed sound velocity versus density of Apollo 11 and 12 samples collected the previous year, and compared them with terrestrial rocks. Not a very good match. But, they matched well with some other earthly materials: Muenster, Provolone, Cheddar, Emmenthal, etc. The best comment in all of Science, for my money, is their last line: the inconsistency in another property between the moon rocks and the cheeses, "may readily be accounted for when one considers how much better aged the lunar materials are." They even cite Erasmus in a footnote: "With this pleasant merry toy, he ... made his friends believe the moon to be made of green cheese."

    See: http://crack.seismo.unr.edu/ftp/pub/louie/class/453/schreiber-anderson.html

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    1. Did you see the date at the bottom. of the article was April?!

      It is pretty hilarious. How did you find that?

      The Erasmus footnote rocks.

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    2. I remember reading the article when it first came out, right after my high school graduation. I found the scanned image online tonight with a Google search, but then realized I still had the photocopy I made 43 years ago in my desk drawer not arm's length away.

      I wish I still had a copy of J. C. Holden's, "Fake Tectonics and Continental Drip", JIR (J. Irreproducible Results), 22, no. 2, 1976.

      The Alvarez's are worth reading about. I often wonder what it was like, growing up in over-achieving families like theirs, the Samuelson/Summers economics crowd, the Emanuels (Rahm, Ezekiel, Ari), etc. It's not news that brains and talent aren't evenly distributed in the world, but some families seem to get ridiculously more than their share.

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    3. Oops, make that "Alvarezes"! That spurious apostrophe is heresy on this blog, I know!

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    4. No complaints, Jan! I called Walter Water!

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    5. Not sure what you mean by your comment about the submission date of the article being in April, Steph?

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    6. I thought it may have been an April Fool's Day prank. Though I now see the date is 4/14 not 4/1...

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  3. The marginalia on your cheese wrapper caught my eye: "LUSCIOUS" "RICH" "TART". Reminds me of a girl I once knew....

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    1. And, bold, I imagine (see marginalia). ;-)

      The goat cheese is made by Cyprus Grove Chevre Creamery in Arcata, CA, and the full name is Humboldt Fog. It is named for the fog that rolls in Humboldt County most days. Although, having been an AAPG Visiting Geologist at Humboldt State (great sudents!) for a few days, and traveling the countryside, I could see the name having other meanings also.

      This description is from their web site "The subtle, tangy flavor and distinctive layer of edible vegetable ash are a prized combination in this iconic American original. You’ll enjoy buttermilk and fresh cream, complemented with floral notes, herbal overtones and a clean citrus finish. As Humboldt Fog matures, the layer of proteolysis just under the rind will increase developing a more intense flavor."

      The layer of proteolysis is creamy like a brie while the inside of the wheel is harder like blue cheese. Still trying to find out exactly what's in that vegetable ash...(not expecting iridium though).

      I guess I am a jargon junkie.






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    2. Colorado Public Radio had a story on Ed Quillen, a local journalist and self-proclaimed complainer, who passed away at age 61. His daughter talked about how the one thing you had to get right was the spelling of the person or business name:

      http://www.edquillen.com/

      Apologies, Walter Alvarez and Cypress Grove.

      Jan, the CPR piece also talks about Quillen's piece on bears.

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  4. > And, bold, I imagine

    Oh, so you knew her, too?

    > the layer of proteolysis just under the rind will increase developing a more intense flavor

    Proteolysis = the cheese is digesting itself. This is how I tend to think of defective drinks vending machines, when the cup fails to fall into place and the liquid just pours into the drain. So automatic, it even drinks it for you!

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    1. Jan, digesting that thought here. :-)

      Who knew there was this much complexity to cheese-making?!

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  5. Did some reading on vegetable ash in cheesemaking. It's just burned-up vegetables, apparently. When used on the outside of cheeses, it's for preservation or to raise the pH, to inhibit ripening. In your Humboldt Fog, though, it seems to just be for visual interest. It works: it caught your eye, didn't it?

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    1. Indeed. I wonder what kind of veggies and who decided to burn them and add them to cheese? Was it a penicillin moment?

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  6. Didn't Brian say, "Blessed are the cheesemakers"?

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    1. Why yes, yes, he did. I almost fell over laughing here.

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    2. It has a whole new meaning for me now. Blessed are the cheesemakers in their Humboldt Fog.

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  7. I got to thinking about all those poor forams that perished along with the dinosaurs, so I decided to do a (very) little investigation of Foraminifera.
    This caught my eye:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peneroplid_thin_section_PP.jpg
    It's one of the survivors, of course.

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    1. Thanks for posting this link of such a beautiful foram! Such gorgeous little critters giving up their hydrocarbons so we can drive all over creation.

      Another favorite fossil group is fuslininids in the Pennsylvanian and Permian. Such great index fossils because they evolved so quickly in size, shape, and cell wall complexity...

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    2. Here's Triticites from the late Permian. Look at those cell walls! Some fossil samples are so chucky-jam full of these fusies (named after the Latin name for wheat) that you can hardly see any matrix.

      http://www.google.com/search?hl=en-US&ie=UTF-8&source=android-browser&q=triticites+phot

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