On The Splendid Table a few weeks back, host Lynne Rosetto Kasper mentioned the notion of egg tastings in passing, pausing to remark, “You heard it hear first.” Her comment had me wondering if it were actually feasible: How large are the variances in egg flavors? And how might one do a tasting?
Celia Bell teaches a class on backyard chicken raising for the University of Utah’s Continuing Education Program, and owns a rather large brood herself. In the slow food and urban garden circles, she is a chicken guru, of sorts.
She laid out some useful egg information, but had a different opinion than a chef/restaurant owner I later spoke with. “Different types of chickens will determine how many eggs are laid, the shell color and the egg size. But I don’t think I could even tell the [taste] difference between many eggs—store bought or backyard. That seems a little crazy,” she says.
According to an American Poultry Association list Bell has, there are 113 breeds of chickens. As far as variations in egg color goes, “as a general rule, hens with white earlobes lay white eggs and hens with red earlobes lay brown eggs,” Bell says. Another general rule is that the older the chicken gets, the bigger the egg, but past a certain point, the shells become easily breakable and the whites become more watery. The younger the chicken, the better the yolk sits on the white.
Bell was unsure if any of that would affect flavor, however. So she read a quote from what she called “The Bible of Chicken Owning,” Gale Damerow’s Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, that described inputs that might affect taste:
“Off-flavor eggs might result from feeding the chickens onions, garlic, fruit peelings, fish oil and flax seed. Eggs can also absorb flavors or odors if they are stored near kerosene, carbolic acid, mold, must, fruits and vegetables.”
From a culinary standpoint, Scott Evans, owner of Pago (878 S. 900 East, 801-532-0777) thinks that there is a huge difference in eggs, at least between commercial and farm-fresh ones.
“I kind of understand the author’s point, but there are lots of subtleties at play. A lot of chefs would disagree with her. I’ve read about 10 different interviews with world-renowned chefs, and they go on and on about the yolks of eggs,” says Evans, adding that the assumption with fresh, local eggs are that the yolks are much richer, heartier and have more flavor. "That’s generally the assumption.”
There are established ways in which connoisseurs taste chocolate or wine (which I won’t go into here), but nothing, obviously, for eggs. Evans suggests that a hypothetical tasting be blind. He suggests that eggs be sampled from different parts of the state; the idea being that, similar to meat and especially cheese, the difference in location and feed generally have a pronounced effect on flavor.
One chef should prepare the eggs in exactly the same way to ensure accuracy, but the eggs could be sampled in multiple ways—fried, poached, boiled, etc. Judges would take a bite of the white, a bite of the yolk and a bite of them together. Unblindfolded, judges could rank according to color and texture.
So will, as The Splendid Table purports, egg tastings be the next big fad for foodies? Can you tell a difference? And what eggs do you enjoy the most?