Splitsider

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Wait 'Til You Taste This Next Orange Juice, by Ryan Abbott

You’ve mastered wine and you’ve cupped coffee, but have you experienced the latest craze to tantalize the taste buds of the world’s gastronomic gurus? Here’s your introduction to the rarified world of orange juice tasting.

The next orange juice we're going to taste will change the way you think about orange juice. It is handcrafted by a boutique grove a hundred miles southwest of Orlando, a family-run enterprise that has been among the top juicers for generations. The family does everything: they plant, they prune, they pick, they stab a straw into each perfect sun-kissed specimen then hand squeeze until the sweet pulpy nectar flows, filling American-made stainless steel tanks. They also do their own accounting.

Production of this particular juice is only about 1000 cases per year, most of it purchased by luxury diners and high-end bed and breakfasts within a few hundred miles of the orchard. A small amount is earmarked for premium smoothies. Each carton contains the juice of about 25 oranges, which, when you think about it, is ridiculous. The finest Vietnamese OJ has no more than 16.

See that color? Yes, it appears to be orange at first, but when you look closely you see so much more. Hold your snifter up to the sunlight and you notice it's actually a deep canary yellow—the shade of a liquid cob of corn reflecting the rising Florida sun. Light passes through the juice slowly but evenly, blinking off the floating pulp like a thousand swirling stars. Could you imagine drinking this every morning? I don't believe I could; it would undermine my appreciation of the serendipity of absolute perfection.

Take a whiff. How would you describe that bouquet? It's bright and tangy, but also buttery; herbaceous and confident. A cool morning on dewy grass. Rabbit fur and rosebuds. Eucalyptus icicles. A citrus glacier. Do I smell charred toast or is that psychosomatic?

Let's taste it, you won't be sorry. Mmm, isn't that nice? The flavors leap out of the glass! First I get… orange. Also orangey-grapefruit. Do you detect tangelo? It's subtle, but certainly there: that brightness at the end, lingering on your palette like a tangelo-flavored lozenge. This juice is, in fact, a blend of tangerine, tangelo, and Temple and Valencia oranges, common varieties for this grade of juice. The acidity and sweetness are perfectly balanced, like a Beach Boys recording. The finish is clean and crisp, with overtones of walnut shell and Saturdays.

This is not just a breakfast OJ; it's suitable for lunch or dinner, even after-dinner snacking. I find it pairs well with bacon, popcorn and soft pretzels, but not toothpaste.

Some people hate pulp, but I delight in its supple feel on the tongue. It's like a bitter sleet storm in the mouth, gentle and delicious acupuncture for the larynx. Esophagus roughage. In most OJ-tasting circles pulp has become a flashpoint of contention, with traditionalists lamenting that it has drawn attention away from the juice itself. Some fear that "pulp-pumping" is making inferior juices more appealing to the undiscerning drinker, but my opinion as a professional taster is that any attention brought to the world of American handcrafted boutique OJ production is a benefit to the entire industry.

But I don't mean to bore you with drivel, as we are tasting a truly remarkable sample here, a rare sip of sweet yellow-gold. Pure idealism in a cup. So enjoy! Do you know how much this carton would go for at auction? I'll tell you: in the five hundreds. Yes, dollars! But you must savor it quickly, as it doesn’t last long. You can’t hang onto this stuff for more than a week. And if you don't store it properly the juice will ferment, which would ruin something truly special.

Ryan Abbott is a "writer" living in "Paris." He's been "published" in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Bygone Bureau and "more."

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