The Blue Bell Boy by Yao Lu
Don’t be put off by using strong flavours, says Yao Lu, who re-works a classic sour with blue cheese.
First, a warning: if the very thought of blue cheese gives you the heebie-jeebies – and, for sure, you’re not alone on that one – look away now. But, for those of you who do appreciate the sharp, salty tang of moulded diary goodness, hang tight. To be honest, it is an acquired taste. I can’t say I’ve always been a huge fan of blue cheese myself – at least not until my junior year in college when I was studying wine-food pairing. That’s when I started to dig its funk. So what makes blue cheese so different? Well, that sharp, pungent tang comes from a mould called penicillium that is cultivates in the ageing process. Small holes are punched into the cheese, which allows a small, natural fungi to grow – this blue-grey mould is what gives the cheese its sharp, saline zing. Of course, because of this punch, the flavours can be a little intimidating to work with. But don’t let that put you off. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of taming a beast – plus, the chance to get this flavour into a cocktail was just too good to waste. To help with the challenge, my good friend, business partner and chef Mr Austin Hu of Shanghai restaurant Madison made me a special batch of tasty blue-cheese ice cream.
Now, when it comes to working with strong, pronounced flavours, it’s all about balance. Think of the ingredients as something like an orchestra where every instrument must work in harmony. No one ingredient should upstage the other – the trick is to let the subtleties of each part of the cocktail pop. So, of course, that means when you’re working with strong flavours, you need to find ingredients with the gall to stand up to the dominant, big-boy palate-punchers. So, using a classic sour as my starting point – most of you should know by now, I like to create cocktails based on classic templates – I decided to use scotch as the base. Always a sturdy base and increasingly popular these days, whisky often offers an explosion of different flavours: malt, smoke, peat, oak; from sweet to salty to meaty and savoury. For me, it’s the perfect spirit to take on the damp, delicious funk of blue cheese. Aromatic fresh lime juice is subbed in as the souring agent, balanced with honey. Then, egg white, found in the classic sour, is switched out for a scoop of blue-cheese ice cream. After a vigorous shake, the final structure of the drink is a savoury scotch sour with delicate sweet, floral notes from the honey balanced with subtle streak of salt from the ice cream. Serve, smile, and say cheese.
60ml Famous Grouse
30ml Lime juice
1 tbs Blue-cheese ice cream
Put all the ingredients in a shaker, shake hard and strain into a coupette. Garnish with breadcrumbs.
Yao Lu is co-founder of The Union Trading Company in Shanghai.