Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Magical Tofu Tour

I am fortunate to live about a half an hour away from a small company which produces the BEST tofu I've ever eaten. This is not hyperbole. For years I've been recommending The Bridge tofu to clients and students in my cooking classes. It's fresh. It's local. And it's incredibly delicious. For nearly as long, I've been meaning to take a drive to their wholesale production facility to speak to the owner, Stephen Lapenta, and ask if he'd be willing to show me how it's made.

Today I had a free morning and decided to do just that. To my luck, Stephen was agreeable, and quite surprised that I was calling from the parking lot of Dunkin' Donuts in Middletown - lost - asking for directions. Yes, I did make a special trip north for just this reason. (NOTE: I've been known to drive many miles, even fly cross country, to sample vegan food, so this wasn't too unusual.) I was curious, and I want to finally be able to answer the question in the affirmative whenever I'm asked "have you ever seen tofu being made?"

While I couldn't explain the process scientifically, I did get to witness the basic steps which take an astonishingly brief 45 minutes from start to finish.

First, the soybeans soak in huge pails of water until they can be split open and are soft enough to be squished between your fingers. This takes several hours. After that, they go into a huge grinder to be mashed into a meal, which then gets added to a big vat of water to be heated. The mixture is strained and poured into smaller containers where nigari is added as a coagulent. This causes the liquid to curdle and separate into curds and whey (much like cheese).

The whey (liquid) is drained off and the curds (soft tofu) are placed into a large block lined with cheesecloth which holds about 40 lbs. of tofu. A weight is placed on top and the tofu is allowed to sit for about a half an hour.

Once the tofu has reached the firm consistency, it is cut into 1 lb. blocks and carefully dumped into a large trough of water to cool.

I was in the shop while the kitchen crew was making their delicious Tofu Salad, so I also got to see this process. Many pounds of tofu were added to an industrial Hobart mixer, along with soy sauce, tahini, seasoning and the holy trinity of carrots, onion and celery. It looked lovely.

And strenuous.

This was mixed for quite some time until all of the ingredients were thoroughly combined.

Then, it was packaged into little 1 lb. tubs to be shipped off to market.

I am inspired by this experience and recommend a visit to anyone who, like myself, is interested in seeing the work involved in transforming the humble soy bean into a magical block of bean curd. Private tours can be arranged by calling 860-346-3663. And if you can't get to Middletown, be sure to ask for The Bridge tofu wherever you shop!

Thanks, Stephen. I hope you didn't mind me poking around today.


The Budget Babe said...

very cool. i've always wondered how tofu was made, now i might have to take a trip up to middletown to see this for myself!

Ivette said...

I love'd to see the way to make tofu.How can i get The brigge tofu if i dont find in the super market,and i can't go to Middletown?

Mary Lawrence said...

Ivette, do you live in Connecticut? The Bridge tofu is available in Whole Foods, as well as several health food stores in Hartford and New Haven counties. If you don't see it, ask for it! I'd love to see this little company continue to grow and prosper.