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Frank Gray

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The Journal Gazette

Is there anything other than Grade A?

I went to scramble an egg the other day, and for the first time I noticed something on the egg carton. It said the eggs were Grade A.

We’re all used to hearing the phrase “Grade A.” It seems everything is Grade A. Did you ever hear of Grade B meat? Of course not. At least I haven’t.

Meat is all classified as Grade A prime, choice and good. There was a time when prime was what everyone wanted. It had more marbling and better flavor.

It’s hard to find prime cuts any more, though. The government declared that the marbling, which melts away during cooking, was bad for you and started urging people to start eating Grade A “good” meat. It might not taste as good or be as tender, but it’s better for you, we were told.

It doesn’t matter that much to me. I buy price, not grade.

But I wondered about those eggs. I’ve never seen Grade B eggs. Or Grade B cheese. Is everything Grade A, and if it is, what good is the grade?

Well, it turns out there are such things as Grade B eggs. If the shell is dirty, the egg becomes Grade B. Wash it and it becomes Grade A, I presume.

But an egg can also be Grade B is the shell is discolored or the yolk is misshapen, or if the egg white is thinner. Through a process called candling, you can tell whether the yolk is oddly shaped, but how you tell how thick an egg white is without breaking the egg, I don’t know.

So what happens to those Grade B eggs that you never see? Supposedly they are used for dried-egg products, eggnog and other products.

There’s even Grade B cheese, it turns out. The regulations to determine what makes a product Grade A or Grade B seem pretty subjective to me.

For example, according to a standard written in 1956, if a cheddar cheese tastes flat, bitter, utensil, weedy or barny, it is Grade B.

Cheese is also graded according to its texture. The same regulations say that if a cheese is short, mealy, weak, pasty, crumbly, slitty or corky, it is Grade B.

Short? Slitty? Utensil? Barny? Those must be terms unique to the cheese business, but since I’ve never found any Grade B cheese, I can’t explain exactly what they mean, other than perhaps a piece of cheese tastes like a barn.

Fruits and vegetables aren’t graded A or B, though. They are extra fancy, fancy and No. 1. No. 1, which sounds pretty good, is the worst. Even Christmas trees are graded. They’re premium, No. 1 and No. 2. That didn’t stun me, but it did surprise me. Has anyone who has gone shopping for a Christmas tree ever bothered to notice whether a tree is premium, No. 1 or No. 2?

Once again, whenever I’ve gone shopping for a Christmas tree, I’ve shopped according to price, not some government-assigned grade.

If I bothered to look, though, I’d probably find that almost everything is Grade A or No. 1, whether it’s an egg or a banana, a block of cheese or a Christmas tree.

It’s sort of like saying, “Everyone is a winner.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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