|Where would dessert be without it?|
Naturally, he was sworn to secrecy about the ingredients and the recipe and (honorably, rightly) refused to give it out. I was reminded of that when I read a recent column in The Atlantic when drink columnist Wayne Curtis visited the Benedictine distillery in Fécamp, France and talked about the secret recipe for the liqueur:
That notebook, in turn, had been associated with the Benedictine monks, who she said had helped devise the recipe. Any chance that I might glimpse this exalted tome? “No, it’s not here,” the guide said. “The location is a secret that nobody knows. We just know that it’s in a safe place.”...
[In reference to other distillery tours] A top-secret formula is usually involved, known only to a small cabal. (At the Angostura bitters plant in Trinidad, I was told that only three people alive hold a key to the room where the barks and spices are mixed.)The author goes on to talk to chemist and absinthe distiller T. A. Breaux, who addresses the science nicely.
“Big spirits makers have chemists on staff, and if they’re worth a damn, there’s not a whole lot that you can keep secret,” says the chemist T. A. Breaux. Determining the exact processes used to extract flavor from a liquor’s various ingredients can be trickier. “You can do steam distillation, maceration, or ethanolic distillation,” Breaux says, and the tastes of the resulting products will vary widely. But he adds that here, too, chemical analysis can crack the code. “Anything can be resolved eventually, depending on one’s determination,” Breaux says. He cites Chartreuse and Campari—two liqueurs whose ingredients are guarded with particular secrecy—as examples of products he could probably figure out if he so chose.Chemistry is different, of course; intellectual property both protects patent holders from infringement, yet forces them to reveal the contents of their drugs. At the same time (perhaps like the distillers), the willingness to divulge the methods of manufacture can be equally small. I remember asking a salesperson of a raw material of ours recently over lunch about the broad outlines of how they made it. He tried to pull the same baloney as the Benedictine tour guide above, telling me that no one knew how it was done and there were maybe 4 people in the company who knew the details of the chemistry. (I think I grunted, rolled my eyes and went back to eating my burger.)
[Is this dichotomy seen in the home as well? It seems to me that there are many more burdensome special techniques (slow roasted for 14 hours in a clay pot at an unknown temperature, blah, blah) than there are secret ingredients.]
In the home kitchen, I think we're faced with the same problem as the distilleries, where secret recipes would ultimately yield to determination. Yes, I could purchase 2 gallons of Cool Whip and 14 brands of store-bought cookies to figure out the exact flavor and texture of my friend's dessert, if I wanted to. But why do it? It would have been fun to crack the recipe (and chemists love a challenge!), but without my friend's company and the warmth of a grad school gathering, it would just be another dessert in a 9X13 pan.