CURED magazine opens the lid on the world of preservation

Food scholar and professor Darra Goldstein’s CURED magazine artfully uses microbes as a lens to view the human experience. Grace Flaherty/ Photo Editor.
Food scholar and professor Darra Goldstein’s CURED magazine artfully uses microbes as a lens to view the human experience. Grace Flaherty/ Photo Editor.

Few would think of putting a leg of prosciutto in a bright pink stiletto, and even fewer would think of putting that on the cover of a magazine. But Professor of Russian Darra Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the new CURED magazine, did just that. And Goldstein’s magazine, like a piece of preserved pork dressed in high fashion, subverts expectations, bringing microbes and food preservation into the limelight.

When we think about microbes, we think of them with disdain, as the things that rot our produce or poison us. But CURED fights this perception. It takes fermentation –– a frequently forgotten form of food production –– and brings it into the light, opening up the pickling jar and the cheese dome to reveal something unexpected: the omnipresent power of microbes in cooking.

If anybody could launch an entire magazine about food preservation, it would be Goldstein. She is a leading food scholar, known at the College for her popular courses on cookbooks and Russian cuisine and globally for her award-winning cookbooks and work as founding editor of Gastronomica, a premier food and culture journal.

Goldstein took food preservation –– a topic that most people associate with pickles and beer –– and expanded its scope through time and space. Preservation “spans the whole history of human survival, the ongoing endeavor to make sure we have enough to eat,” she said. Thus, CURED is a magazine about time — how we use tiny organisms to stop time’s passing and alter the food we eat. And this world of time-stopping preservation is as diverse as the microbes it houses. For the doubters, here are a few examples from CURED:

“Deep in the bogs of Ireland, a 10-kilogram lump of butter was recently discovered. Hundreds of years earlier, Neolithic people buried the butter there, perhaps as an offering to their deities.”

“Why, one might wonder, are we so repelled by the smells of rotting flesh but so attracted to the smells of stinky cheese? According to acclaimed cookbook author Fuschia Dunlop, disgust is not entirely biological — it is something we train ourselves to like or dislike depending on context.”

“In 2010, the British Sugar company donated over 40 metric tons of liquid sugar to help preserve an early medieval bridge that archaeologists dug up. The bridge was soaked in sugar and preserved the same way you may preserve pears or peaches.”

“Daniel Boone, an American pioneer who some consider to be the first celebrity chef, would make hundreds of pounds of ‘bear bacon’ in large barrels filled with brine outside his lean-to. Today, celebrity hunter and chef Steven Rinella hunts bear to make hams and more, exploring the continued culinary potential of preserved game.”

The world of preservation is more extensive, diverse and complicated than meets the eye. Furthermore, the true wonder of CURED comes not only from its wide-ranging and engaging content but also from Goldstein’s acute ability to make the culinary visual.

The magazine is full of photos, but not your typical stylized food photography: inside, you will find a photo essay on mold, a piece of pancetta cut into a 119 thin slices accompanied with artists’ commentary on the aesthetic properties of pancetta, a close look at a colorful pineapple-fermented kimchi fried rice and staged images of Victorian cheese domes that make the porcelain monkeys and cats almost leap off the page.

The magazine is as much a feast for the eyes as it is a feast for the mind. CURED is a work of art, and Goldstein uses this to makes the invisible world of microbes visible. With the resources of Zero Point Zero productions, CURED opens up jars, bags and vessels to give us a look into the mesmerizing world of microbes, a place where tiny organisms shape the foods we eat.

As soon as my copy of CURED arrived, I carried it around with me and would pull it out to watch my friends’ jaws drop at the cover (who puts prosciutto in a stiletto?) and at all the images that followed. But as I watched friends flip through CURED, I could see them finally understand why I have fallen in love with food studies. Food studies, and in CURED’s case, preservation studies, takes something most people might ignore and turns it into a lens through which we can understand society. We preserve our foods, and by looking at how we do this, we can understand ourselves. It’s turning the telescope back on us.

CURED makes this telescope accessible to all. It is not a magazine about microbes. It is a magazine about humans. Through its enthralling photographs and engaging articles, CURED blends past and present, big and small, to tell a tale of human civilization that we are all a part of. It takes esoteric topics like wild bear ham and pickle Christmas ornaments and makes them a central part of our life story. If we take a minute to look closely at these tiny microbes, they’ll look right back at us and tell us something about who we are, where we have been and where we’re going.