Sưu tầm – CAPM Beta – Definition, Formula, Calculate Beta in Excel

CAPM Beta – When we invest in stock markets, how do we know that stock A is less risky than stock B. Differences can arise due due to the market capitalization, revenue size, sector, growth, management etc. Can we find a single measure which tells us that which stock is more risky? The answer is YES and we call this as CAPM Beta or Capital Asset Pricing Model Beta.

In this article, we look at the nuts and bolts of CAPM Beta –


Investopedia defines beta as

A measure of the volatility, or systematic risk, of a security or a portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole

Beta is a very important measure that is used as a key input for Discounted Cash Flow or DCF valuations.

If you wish to learn about DCF Modeling professionally, I have created a 117  course portfolio on Investment Banking. You may want to have a look at this Investment Banking Course here.


If you have a slightest of the hint regarding DCF, then you would have heard about Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) that calculates Cost of Equity as per the below Beta formula.

Cost of Equity = Risk Free Rate + Beta x Risk Premium

CAPM - Cost of Equity

If you have not heard of Beta yet, then worry not. this article explains you about Beta in most basic way.

Let us take an example: when we invest in stocks, it is but human to pick stocks that have the highest possible returns. However, if one chases only returns, the other corresponding element is missed i.e. Risk.

Actually, every stock is exposed to two types of risks

  • Non-Systematic Risks include risks that are specific to a company or industry. This kind of risk can be eliminated through diversification across sectors and companies. . The effect of diversification is that the diversifiable risks of various equities can offset each other.
  • Systematic Risks are those risks that affect the overall stock markets. Systematic risks can’t be mitigated through diversification but can be well understood via an important risk measure called as “BETA”


Basic Definition of Beta – Beta measures the stock risks in relation to the overall market.

Beta Values

  • If Beta = 1: If Beta of the stock is one, then it has the same level of risk as the stock market. Hence, if stock market (NASDAQ, NYSE etc) rises up by 1%, the stock price will also move up by 1%. If the stock market moves down by 1%, the stock price will also move down by 1%.
  • If Beta > 1: If the Beta of the stock is greater than one, then it implies higher level of risk and volatility as compared to the stock market. Though the direction of the stock price change will be same, however, the stock price movements will be rather extremes. For example, assume the Beta of the ABC stock is two, then if stock market moves up by 1%, the stock price of ABC will move up by two percent (higher returns in the rising market). However, if the stock market moves down by 1%, the stock price of ABC will move down by two percent (thereby signifying higher downside and risk).
  • If Beta >0 and Beta<1: If the Beta of the stock is less than one and greater than zero, it implies the stock prices will move with the overall market, however, the stock prices will remain less risky and volatile. For example, if the beta of the stock XYZ is 0.5, it means if the overall market moves up or down by 1%, XYZ stock price will show a an increase or decrease of only 0.5% (less volatile)

In general, large companies with more predictable Financial Statements and profitability will have a lower beta value. For example, Energy, Utilities and Banks etc, all tend to have lower beta. Most betas normally fall between 0.1 and 2.0 though negative and higher numbers are possible.


Now that we understood Beta as a measure of Risk, it is important for us to also understand the sources of risks. Beta depends on lot of factors – usually the nature of business, operating and financial leverages etc.

Below diagram shows the key determinants of Beta –

Beta Determinants

  • Nature of Business – The beta value for a firm depends on the kind of products and services offered and its relationship with the overall marco-economic environment. Note that Cyclical companies have higher betas than non-cyclical firms firms. Also, discretionary product firms will have higher betas than firms that sell less discretionary products
  • Operating leverage: The greater the proportion of fixed costs in the cost structure of the business, the higher the beta
  • Financial leverage: The more debt a firm takes on, the higher the beta will be of the equity in that business. Debt creates a fixed cost, interest expenses, that increases exposure to market risks



Due to uncertain economic environment, questions always remain on what is the best investment strategy. Should I pick high CAPM Beta stocks or Low CAPM Beta Stocks. It is normally understood that cyclical stocks have high Beta and defensive sectors have low Beta.

Cyclical stocks are those whose business performance and stock performance is highly correlated with the economic activities. If the economy is in recession, then these stock exhibit poor results and thereby stock performance takes a beating. Likewise, if the economic is on a high growth trajectory, cyclical stocks tend to be highly correlated and demonstrate high growth rate in business and stock performances.

Take for example, General Motors, its CAPM Beta is 1.43. This implies if the stock market moves up by 5%, then General Motors stock will move up by 5 x 1.43 = 7.15%.

Following sectors can be classified as cyclical sectors and tend to exhibit High Stock Betas.

  • Automobiles Sector
  • Materials Sector
  • Information Technology Sector
  • Consumer Discretionary Sector
  • Industrial Sector
  • Banking Sector



Low Beta is demonstrated by stocks in defensive sector. Defensive stocks are stocks whose business activities and stock prices are not correlated with the economic activities. Even if the economy is in recession, these stocks tend to show stable revenues and stock prices.  For example PepsiCo, its stock beta is 0.78. If the stock market moves down by 5%, then Pepsico stock will only move down by 0.78×5 = 3.9%.

Following sectors can be classified as defensive sectors and tend to exhibit Low Stock Betas-

  • Consumer Staples
  • Beverages
  • HealthCare
  • Telecom
  • Utilities


Technically speaking, Beta is a measure of stock price variability in relation to the overall stock market (NYSE, NASDAQ etc). Beta is calculated by regressing the percentage change in stock prices versus the percentage change in the overall stock market. CAPM Beta calculation can be done very easily on excel.

Let us calculate Beta of MakeMyTrip (MMTY) and Market Index as NASDAQ


The first step is to download the stock price and Index data. For NASDAQ, download the dataset from Yahoo Finance

NASDAQ Historical Prices Download

Likewise, download the corresponding stock price data for MakeMyTrip example from here.


Once you have downloaded the data set for the two, please do the following for each of the data set-

  • Sort the dates and Adjusted Closing prices in ascending order
  • Delete Open, High, Low, Close & Volume Column. They are not required for Beta Calculations.

Beta Calculation - Step 2


Beta Calculation - Step 3


Beta Calculation - Step 4


You can use either of the three methods to calculate Beta – 1) Variance/Covariance Method 2) SLOPE Function 3) Data Regression

  • Variance / Covariance Method 

Beta Calculation using Variance Covariance

Using the variance covariance method we get the Beta as 0.9859 (Beta Coefficient)

  • SLOPE function in excel 

Beta Calculation using SLOPE Method

Using this SLOPE function method, we again get the Beta as 0.9859 (Beta Coefficient)

  • 3rd Method – Using Data Regression

For using this function in excel, you need to go to the Data Tab and select Data Analysis.Data Analysis

If you are unable to locate Data Analysis in Excel, then you need to install the Analysis ToolPak. This process is relatively easy: Go to FILE -> Options -> Add-Ins -> Analysis ToolPak -> Go -> Check Analysis ToolPak -> OK

Select Data Analysis and click on Regression.Data Analysis - Regression

Choose the Y Input Range and X Input Range

Regression Range

Once you click OK, you get the following Summary Output

Regression Output

As noted above, you get the same answer of Beta (Beta Coefficient) in each of the methods.

Also, note that MakeMyTrip beta is approximately closer to 1.0, this implies that MakeMyTrip stock prices have the same level of risk as the broad NASDAQ Index.

You may download the fully solved Beta Calculation Worksheet from here.


Levered Beta is the Beta that contains the effect of capital structure i.e. Debt and Equity both. The beta that we calculated above is the Levered Beta.

Unlevered Beta is the Beta after removing the effects of the capital structure. As seen above, once we remove the financial leverage effect, we will be able to find the Unlevered Beta.

Unlevered Beta can be calculated using the following formula –

Unlevered Beta Formula

As an example, let us find out the Unlevered Beta for MakeMyTrip.

Debt to Equity Ratio (MakeMyTrip) = 0.27

Tax Rate = 30% (assumed)

Beta (levered) = 0.9859 (from above)

Unlevered Beta - MakeMyTrip


As seen earlier, Beta is a statistical measure of the variability of a company’s stock price in relation to the stock market overall. However, when we evaluate private companies (not listed), then how should we find Beta? In this case, Beta does not exists, however, we can find an IMPLIED BETA from the comparable companies analysis.

Implied Beta is found using the following 3 step process –


Please note that the Betas that you download are Levered Betas and hence, it is important to remove the effect of capital structure. Higher amount of debt implies higher variablility in earnings (Financial Leverage) which in turn results in higher sensitivity to the stock prices.

Let us assume here that we want to find the Beta of private company, lets call this as PRIVATE. As a first step, we find all the listed peers and identify their Betas (levered)

Private Company Beta Competitors


We will use the formula discussed above to Unlever the Beta.

Unlevered Beta Formula

Please note that for each of the competitors, you will have to find the additional information like Debt to Equity and Tax Rates. While unlevering, we will be able to remove the effect of financial leverage.

Private Company Beta Competitors - Unlevered


We then relever the beta at an optimal capital structure of the PRIVATE company as defined by industry parameters or management expectations. In this case, ABC company is assumed to have the Debt/Equity of 0.25x and Tax Rate of 30%.

The calculation for the relevered beta is as follows:

Relevered Beta

It is this relevered Beta that is used for calculating the Cost of Equity of the Private companies.


Though in the above cases we saw that Beta was greater than zero, however, there may be stocks that have negative betas. Theoretically, negative beta would mean that the stock moves in the opposite direction of the overall stock market. Though, these stocks are rate, but they do exist. Many companies that are into gold investing can have negative betas because gold and stock markets move in the opposite direction. International companies may also have negative beta as their business maynot be directly linked to the domestic economy.

If you are curious to see some examples of Negative Beta Stocks, here is the process through which you can hunt for negative beta stocks.


Yahoo Screener


You may choose the sector/industry of your choice. I have picked up Gold (Basic Materials)

Yahoo Screener - Gold


Yahoo Screener - Choose Beta values


Gold Beta List


Negative Beta List

Step 6 – Enjoy the list of Negative Betas 🙂


  • Single measure to provide an understanding of security volatility as compared to the market. This understanding of stock volatility helps the porfolio manager with his decisions of adding or deleting this security from the portfolio.
  • Most of the investors have diversified portfolios from which unsystematic risk has been eliminated. Beta only considers systematic risk thereby providing the real picture of the risks involved.


  • “Past Performance is no guarantee of future” – This rule also applies on Beta. While we calculate beta, we take into account historical data – 1 year, 2 years or 5 years etc. Using this historical beta may not hold true in the future.
  • Cannot accurately measure Beta for new Stocks – As we saw from above that we can calculate beta of unlisted or private companies. However, the problem lies in finding the true comparable that can provide us with an implied Beta number. Unfortunately, we do not always have the right comparable for start-ups or private companies.
  • Beta does not tell us whether the stock was more volatile during the bear phase or the bull phase. It does not distinguish between upswings or downswing movements.


Full link: https://www.wallstreetmojo.com/capm-beta-definition-formula-calculate-beta-in-excel/


Sưu tầm – Alpha and Beta: How Do They Relate to Investment Risk?

Alpha and beta are two common measurements of investment risk. However, I must add a caveat before we jump in. Alpha and beta are part of modern portfolio theory, much of which is questioned by analysts (including myself). That doesn’t mean you can’t use the concepts of alpha and beta to have a better understanding of investing.

Alpha and Beta

First we will examine Alpha and beta. Then we will look at how a value oriented investor can approach these two investment concepts and become a better investor.

Difference Between Alpha and Beta

Beta is a historical measure of volatility. Beta measures how an asset (i.e. a stock, an ETF, or portfolio) moves versus a benchmark (i.e. an index).

Alpha is a historical measure of an asset’s return on investment compared to the risk adjusted expected return.1

What Does Beta Mean?

A beta of 1.0 implies a positive correlation (correlation measures direction, not volatility) where the asset moves in the same direction and the same percentage as the benchmark. A beta of -1 implies a negative correlation where the asset moves in the opposite direction but equal in volatility to the benchmark.

A beta of zero implies no correlation between the assets. Any beta above zero would imply a positive correlation with volatility expressed by how much over zero the number is. Any beta below zero would imply a negative correlation with volatility expressed by how much under zero the number is. For example a beta of 2.0 or -2.0 would imply volatility twice the benchmark. A beta of 0.5 or -0.5 implies volatility one-half the benchmark. I use the word “implies” because beta is based on historical data and we all know historical data does not guarantee future returns.

What Does Alpha Mean?

Alpha is used to measure performance on a risk adjusted basis. The goal is to know if an investor is being compensated for the volatility risk taken. The return on investment might be better than a benchmark but still not compensate for the assumption of the volatility risk.2

An alpha of zero means the investment has exactly earned a return adequate for the volatility assumed. An alpha over zero means the investment has earned a return that has more than compensated for the volatility risk taken. An alpha of less than zero means the investment has earned a return that has not compensated for the volatility risk assumed.

By risk adjusted we mean an investment return should compensate for beta (volatility)1. According to Modern Portfolio Theory if an investment is twice as volatile as the benchmark an investor should receive twice the return for assuming the additional volatility risk. If an investment is less volatile than the benchmark an investor could receive less return than the benchmark and still be fairly compensated for the amount of volatility risk taken.

Stock Beta and Alpha as an Example

Let’s assume company XYZ’s stock has a return on investment of 12% for the year and a beta of + 1.5. Our benchmark is the S&P500 which was up 10% during the period. Is this a good investment?

A beta of 1.5 implies volatility 50% greater than the benchmark; therefore the stock should have had a return of 15% to compensate for the additional volatility risk taken by owning a higher volatility investment. The stock only had a return of 12%; three percent lower than the rate of return needed to compensate for the additional risk. The Alpha for this stock was -3 and tells us it was not a good investment even though the return was higher than the benchmark.

The Correct Approach for the Value Oriented Investor

Volatility can be a blessing or a curse. That depends on how you, the investor, react to it. If you buy when everyone else is (the price is high) and sell in a panic when everyone else is selling (the price is low) then volatility is a curse. We are all prone to emotional bias.

However if you anticipate volatility it c1an be a blessing. The key is to stay focused on buying investments with a margin of safety. That means being disciplined in your approach to buying and selling. If you require a margin of safety it forces you to buy at a low price and sell when the price exceeds its value.

The slogan for the Dividend Value Builder is: “Discover, Evaluate, and Compare Dividend Stocks Without Emotional Bias.” The key is “without emotional bias”. Learning how to employ a margin of safety into your investment analysis helps you eliminate the emotional bias that causes us to make catastrophic errors.

If you buy a high beta stock for more that it’s worth the risk of losing your principal is very high (even greater than if you buy a low beta stock). The time to buy any asset, but especially a high beta stock, is when the price is well below its real value. Your risk is lower and your probability of a positive return is exponentially higher.

Whether you are buying high beta stocks or dividend stocks; being patient and only buying investments whose price is less than the real value of the asset lowers your risk substantially. Real risk is losing your principal. If you have an investment that is worth $100 but only pay $75 you have a 33% ($25 / $75) margin of safety.

I trust this discussion of alpha and beta has improved your understanding of what is takes to be a more successful investor. The most important thing you can do is develop a risk management plan. Positive alpha can be achieved with proper asset allocation, diversification, choosing individual investments with strategic advantages, and most importantly employing valuation strategies including requiring a margin of safety.


Full link: http://www.arborinvestmentplanner.com/alpha-and-beta-investment-risk/


Ẩm thực – Pha Lê nấu ăn: thịt viên Nga – làm thế nào cũng không ngon bằng mẹ nấu – tác giả: Pha Lê

Nếu hỏi tôi món đầu tiên tôi biết nấu và nấu hoàn chỉnh để đãi cả nhà (gồm bà và các cô, cậu) là gì, thì đấy là món thịt viên Nga. Hồi đó tôi nhớ mình còn học cấp 2. Căn bản món này không phải khó.

Đây là món của mẹ. Mẹ tôi, nói thật, là một người không thích nấu ăn. Châm ngôn của mẹ là luộc, với thịt luộc rau luộc đủ thứ luộc. Bà bảo thế vừa đỡ mệt vừa khỏi xài lắm dầu mỡ béo. Bố tôi không có nhu cầu ăn ngon và càng không có nhu cầu bắt mẹ phục vụ nên cả nhà cứ thế “luộc chín món”.

Kỳ một chỗ, món nào mẹ làm được là mẹ nấu cực ngon, như món cháo súp mãi tới tận hôm nay tôi vẫn không tài nào nấu ngon như mẹ. Lúc mới tập nấu ăn, mẹ chỉ tôi một trong những món ngon “tủ” của mẹ nữa: thịt viên Nga.

Như tên gọi của nó, món này mẹ tôi học ở Liên Xô, xong khi về Việt Nam mẹ cải biên, biến tấu nó lại cho phù hợp với nguyên liệu xứ mình. Thời xưa, những người “nhà nghèo học giỏi” như mẹ có lấy được học bổng đi tu nghiệp nước ngoài thì chỉ đi mấy nước như Liên Xô, Đông Đức… mà thôi. Mẹ từng kể tôi nghe rất nhiều kỷ niệm ở Liên Xô, nào là mẹ cùng mấy bạn học hay đi lượm nồi niêu xoong chảo mà dân họ… vứt đi. Đồ dùng của họ chỉ cũ chứ còn tốt, xài ổn mà sinh viên mình nghèo rớt, thấy “rác” vẫn dùng được nên đi lượm về. Nào là có bạn Việt Nam làm bể hũ mắm tôm, dân Nga ngửi mùi tưởng ống cầu tiêu bị bể nên kêu đại đội tới dọn cầu. Nào là mùa hè thay vì về nước, mẹ đi hái táo kiếm thêm tiền.

Mẹ cũng học vài món Nga mà thi thoảng bà vẫn nấu cho tới tận hôm nay, trong đó có món thịt viên.

Theo mẹ chỉ, thịt viên Nga đặc biệt nhất ở phần bánh mì ngâm sữa. Nguyên liệu món này đại loại kiểu:

300g thịt heo băm và 100g thịt bò băm 
Bánh mì ngâm sữa cho mềm 
Lòng đỏ trứng 
Hành tỏi băm nhuyễn 
Rau parsley băm nhuyễn 
Vụn bánh mì giòn

Do thời ấy parsley ở Việt Nam không có, và bỏ toàn muối nó chán nên mẹ thay parsley bằng ngò, thay muối bằng nước mắm. Ai không thích mùi ngò thì bỏ ra, cá nhân tôi thấy ngò Việt Nam sẽ giúp món ngon hơn là parsley Tây nhiều.

Bánh mì mua loại bánh mì ngũ cốc nguyên cám, màu hơi đen đen nâu nâu (hoặc mua bột bánh mì wholewheat về tự làm) để ngâm với chút sữa, khi bánh mì mềm rồi lấy tay bóp cho nát.

Sau đó bỏ bánh mì vào chung với các nguyên liệu còn lại, trộn đều lên.

Tới đoạn vo từng viên thịt rồi lăn chúng qua vụn bánh mì – Nga mà, đâu cũng thấy bánh mì, mẹ bảo dân Nga khoái bánh mì lắm. Nói vậy chứ lăn thịt viên qua vụn bánh mì là thịt cũng cứng cáp hơn, có lớp ngoài “bảo vệ”, khi chiên áp chảo lớp ấy lại giòn rụm. Nếu không kiếm được vụn bánh mì để mua, cứ đem vài lát bánh mì đi nướng cho cứng giòn (nhưng đừng nướng… khét), rồi dùng chày và cối giã nát chúng ra thành vụn, hoặc bỏ chúng vô máy xay thực phẩm xay mấy vòng là được.

Nấu thịt viên này theo 3 cách: một là chiên áp chảo cho tới khi chín, hai là chỉ áp chảo sơ cho chín bên ngoài rồi đút lò nướng, ba là đem nướng than. Hồi nhỏ tôi làm cách thứ nhất, nhưng giờ tôi thích cách hai hơn. Nhìn chung cách hai giảm thiểu nguy cơ khét, và rất đỡ tốn dầu mỡ vì áp chảo cho tới khi thịt chín sẽ hao mỡ kinh khủng. Chưa kể một lúc vo mấy viên thịt thì chiên một lần không hết nổi, nhưng chiên 2, 3 đợt lại mất công bỏ xừ. Cứ áp sơ sơ cho từng cái chín bên ngoài rồi tống cả lũ vô lò, đỡ cực hơn nhiều.

Thịt này đem nướng than là ngon nhất, nếu nhà có khuôn viên. Nhưng ai không đủ khả năng, không có chỗ, ngại than khói làm phiền hàng xóm thì áp dụng hai cách đầu cũng ổn rồi. Mà tếu lắm, mỗi lần tôi nấu món này cho bất cứ ai có gốc Hoa, y như rằng họ sẽ nói “Ăn sao giống xíu mại”

Thịt viên xong tới món rau. Hồi lần đầu làm món này đãi cả nhà, tôi nấu nó cùng khoai Tây nghiền. Nhưng đấy là thời cấp hai và lúc trời chưa nóng gần chết như bây giờ. Mùa này mà khoai Tây nghiền thì oải lắm, thế nên tôi ra ngoài tìm rau sạch với châm ngôn “có gì ăn nấy”. Các bạn nông dân hay bảo làm nông đa canh, đa tầng, không hoá chất nó “tùy hứng”. Lúc “tưởng bở” là thu hoạch được cái này thì nó hư hoặc chậm lớn, nhưng cái kia lại rộ rộn ràng khắp vườn còn hơn trúng mùa. Mình thông cảm cho các bạn ấy, các bạn có gì mình mua về làm, không cần “đúng món theo kế hoạch”. Thế là lượn một vòng xong tôi nhặt được một giỏ rau gồm: su hào, măng Tây, xà lách. Mùa này còn có đậu Mộc Châu hơi bị ngon, nhưng ngon quá nên bị… giành ăn mất tiêu, quay đi quay lại thấy hết đậu lúc nào chẳng hay.

Xà lách cắt ra rửa, ăn sống với thịt viên Nga. Củ su hào cũng dễ, chỉ cần cắt nhỏ hầm với nước dùng là ngon. Nước dùng ninh từ xương cộng với su hào ngọt, nêm thêm chút muối nữa là canh củ thanh đạm sẽ rất ngon ngọt mà không cần dùng “kỹ xảo” hay hóa chất gì. Không hiểu tại sao, củ gì chứ củ su hào phải bỏ vô nước hầm từ xương mới phát huy hết vị ngọt bùi, còn bỏ vào nồi có nước pha bột nêm bột ngọt là nó ra vị ngang ngang, dù bản thân củ cũng còn ngọt nhưng ăn chán hơn hẳn.

Riêng măng Tây phải suy nghĩ một hồi mới thành món. Măng Tây là giống xứ khác (kể ra cà chua, bắp, khoai Lang, dưa hấu… cũng là giống xứ khác) nhưng trồng được ở Việt Nam. Các bác làm nông tự nhiên, đa canh đa tầng nước mình cũng khoái măng Tây vì trồng cho cây khỏe rồi là có thể cứ thế thu hoạch trong vòng 20, thậm chí 30 năm. Măng Tây chỉ hơi khó ở cái đoạn chờ nó lớn, do một cây phải mất tới mấy mùa mới lớn nổi, có cây mất 2 năm chờ lớn mới thu hoạch được.

Khó nữa cho người nấu là mấy món măng Tây là dân Tây có rất nhiều công thức phong phú, nhưng bê nó về làm với măng Tây trồng ở Việt Nam thường không ngon. Măng Tây của Tây bùi béo hơn, dùng chấm với những sốt bơ hay trộn sốt kem, sốt hollandaise rất ngon. Đem nướng cũng ngon. Trái lại măng Tây xứ ta chắc do thổ nhưỡng, thời tiết mà vị thanh mảnh, ăn vô thấy mát mẻ dễ chịu. Măng Tây này làm theo kiểu Pháp kiểy Ý thường ăn chán ngắt, vị thanh tao bị át mất sạch.

Thế nên tôi quyết định đem măng luộc thật nhanh xong ăn chúng kèm với muối mè. Muối mè là món nhà tôi luôn tự làm, chẳng bao giờ mua, kỳ này lại có đậu phộng nhà trồng nên dùng làm muối mè rất thơm. Muối mè lại là món Việt Nam, tạo mặt tạo hương cho măng Tây nhưng không quá lấn át. Thử rắc xíu muối mè lên măng Tây, cắn miếng, xong rồi chết giấc vì hai thứ vô cùng hợp nhau. Đứa bạn cũng thử, xong khoái quá nên xơi lia lịa.

Thế là xong một bữa có thịt viên Nga, măng Tây luộc rắc muối mè, canh su hào, cơm gạo lứt tím. Mùa này nóng nên xơi nhiều rau cho thoải mái. Thịt viên Nga sau bao năm mẹ chỉ vẫn ngon, bên trong mềm mọng không bị khô, ở ngoài giòn giòn. Mỗi lần ăn là tôi lại nhớ tới lần đầu tiên mình nấu món này đãi cả nhà. Trong lòng nghĩ thấy vui vui, ngẫm lại kể từ sau cái món đầu tiên này, mình đã nấu và còn nấu rất nhiều món nữa; ngon hơn mẹ, cầu kỳ hơn mẹ, nhưng chắc chắn vẫn thua ở món thịt viên Nga.

By Pha Lê

Full link: http://soi.today/?p=234352


Ẩm thực – Mài dao cũng lắm công phu – tác giả: Pha Lê

Cách đây vài tuần, đứa bạn nhờ tôi chỉ chỗ mua vài con dao bén, hiệu nổi tiếng mà bếp chuyên nghiệp thường dùng. Biết chắc nhà bạn này có điều kiện, tôi không cảnh báo rằng mấy con dao ấy đắt, nhưng cũng phải ướm lời trước là dù dao của các hãng như Global, Wüsthof, KAI… rất xịn, mua nó về là phải biết giữ, biết mài, bỏ thời gian ra chăm sóc nó. Dao tốt đến mấy, nếu dùng mà không mài là vẫn sẽ thành cùn trong chớp nhoáng. Tôi bảo bạn rảnh thì đến nhà, tôi dẫn đi mua dao, mua đá mài về chỉ cho bạn ấy cách giữ dao luôn bén tốt.

Vừa dứt câu, nàng ta quay sang bảo thôi tao còn con nhỏ, tao không rảnh, không trốn khỏi nhà vài ba tiếng được, cứ chỉ chỗ tao đi mua, mài miếc tính sau.

Tôi nhăn mặt, chả hiểu sao nhiều người cứ thích sỡ hữu mà không thích chăm. Tôi bèn bảo thế thì thôi mày dùng dao thường đi, chưa chi đã không muốn mài là dao tốt đến mấy cũng chẳng khác nào dao bán ở chợ với siêu thị, mua về làm gì. Muốn tốt muốn bền là phải tôn trọng đồ vật một chút, người làm dao rất tôn trọng đầu bếp nên họ đã bỏ công rèn nên các loại dao tuyệt vời như vậy, do dao chính là công cụ để đầu bếp hành nghề, tìm kế sinh nhai. Khi bưng con dao ấy về nhà thì dao trở thành công cụ để người nội trợ nuôi cả gia đình. Bỏ công ra gìn giữ dao chính là cách chúng ta bày tỏ sự tôn trọng với những người đã tâm huyết làm nên công cụ tốt cho mình sử dụng. Nếu lòng tôn trọng tối thiểu ấy không có thì tốt nhất chỉ nên dùng những món mà người làm ra chúng chẳng nghĩ gì đến mình, và mình khi xài cũng khỏi phải nghĩ gì đến họ, đỡ mệt mỏi đôi bên.

Đủ cách mài dao

Cách mài dao luôn nhiều, nhưng đa số lại… không hiệu quả bao nhiêu, từ món mấy trăm ngàn bán nhan nhản khắp nơi đến dụng cụ mài khoe trên ti-vi. Chương trình nấu ăn của Tây phát trên truyền hình thường có cảnh một ông bếp mắt xanh cao to cầm cây sắt mài dao dài, liên tục lia dao nom rất khí thế.

Tuy nhiên cây sắt đó thực sự chỉ dùng để “chỉnh đốn” dao trước khi băm chặt, chứ về lâu về dài cách làm này không giúp dao bén được, tức nếu chỉ dùng cây thì dao vẫn cùn cho dù chúng ta mài mỗi ngày. Và cây mài chỉ hỗ trợ được dao Đức, dao châu Âu thôi, còn dao Nhật hay dao châu Á không ưa cây, dùng cây mài dao Nhật chẳng hữu hiệu là bao.

Hiện giờ, nhìn chung cách mài dao bén nhất, phổ biến nhất vẫn là dùng đá mài.

Đá dầu

Đá mài thôi cũng tỉ loại, nên nói tóm gọn thì có hai loại đá mài phổ biến nhất: đá dầu và đá nước. Đúng với tên của nó, muốn mài dao trên đá dầu là ta phải rảy dầu hoặc mỡ lên đá rồi mới mài được. Ưu điểm của đá dầu là cứng, bền, khó mòn, mua về khỏi phải chăm nhiều. Khuyết điểm của nó là mài dao không bén lắm, và chỉ mài được dao Đức dao châu Âu thôi, dao Nhật đụng vào đá dầu là thua.

Lý do là dao Đức, như các loại dao Tây phương khác, chủ yếu chú trọng vào độ nặng, tuy cũng gọi là bén nhưng dao Đức hợp với các kiểu mổ xẻ chặt chém, chuyên xử lý các phẩn củ, phần thịt đút lò to đùng của ẩm thực Tây. Sức nặng của dao Đức tạo cân bằng cho người sử dụng, bản thân chúng rất cứng cáp, không cần o bế. Khi mài, dao Đức thường có thể chịu được góc nghiêng từ 12 đến hơn 30 độ mà không mẻ.

Trái lại, dao Nhật tập trung vào tính sắc bén, chúng rất nhẹ, hợp với thân hình nhỏ nhắn và kiểu ẩm thực hay xắt lát, xắt mỏng của người châu Á. Dao Nhật bén hơn dao Đức, trọng lượng cũng khiêm tốn hơn nên dao Nhật khi mài chỉ chịu được góc nghiêng từ 10 đến 20. Thậm chí một vài hãng như Global hay KAI còn bắt người dùng chỉ mài trong khoảng 10 đến 15 độ thôi, quá 15 là lưỡi dao mẻ liền. Bù lại góc mài càng nhỏ, dao càng bén.

Do góc mài nhỏ, khó lường và khó cầm nắm, các hãng dao Nhật thường bán thêm kẹp dao để người sử dụng gắn vào dao lúc mài, kẹp sẽ trở thành bệ đỡ, giữ dao luôn nghiêng theo góc dưới 15 độ.


Bởi vậy dao Nhật mảnh khảnh mà đụng vào đá dầu – thứ vốn cứng và hơi thô – là càng mài càng cùn, thậm chí sứt mẻ. Thường các anh bếp Tây, nấu toàn món Tây, dùng toàn dao Đức như Wüsthof, Henckels, hoặc dao của các hãng châu Âu khác thì mới mài bằng đá dầu, cứ nghiêng ngả thoải mái từ 10 đến hơn 30 độ cho dễ xử lý. Còn trong bộ sưu tập có lẫn một anh Nhật thì đành bái bai anh đá dầu vậy.

Đá nước

Đá nước là loại trước khi mài chúng ta phải đem nó đi ngâm ngập trong nước từ 10 đến 15 phút. Đá nước khá mềm, dùng mài dao sẽ ra cả bột đá. Ưu điểm của nó là mài dao rất bén, dùng cho cả dao châu Âu lẫn dao châu Á nên hiện nay nó là loại đá mài nhiều đầu bếp thích nhất. Thời đại toàn cầu hóa mà nên ít đầu bếp nào chỉ dùng mỗi dao Nhật hoặc mỗi dao Đức, nếu sưu tập dao lẫn lộn thì đá nước quả là tiện vì nó dùng cho đủ loại dao trên đời. Khổ nỗi khuyết điểm của nó là dễ mòn, cần được chăm sóc như công chúa.

Bản thân đá nước rất mềm so với các loại đá mài, nên cố mài đều cỡ nào đá cũng sẽ mòn nghiêng ngả, mà đã mòn là đá không mài dao hiệu quả nữa. Do đó khi vác ông đá nước về nhà là phải thêm công đoạn chà phẳng ông ấy, mỗi tháng phải làm độ một hoặc hai lần. Cây nhà lá vườn thì dùng giấy nhám công nghiệp để chà, không thì sắm viên đá chuyên dùng để mài phẳng đá mài, sang hơn có thể mua miếng chà đá mài dao có phủ bột kim cương. Mỗi tháng đem ngâm mấy viên đá nước, sau đó áp mặt dùng để mài dao của đá lên giấy nhám hay miếng phủ bột kim cương rồi liên tục chà cho mặt mài dao phẳng nhẵn nhụi như mày râu Mã Giám Sinh.



Grit độ nhám

Các viên đá mài dao nghiêm chỉnh luôn đề rõ rằng chúng thuộc loại bao nhiêu grit – tức độ nhám của nó là bao nhiêu. Grit càng cao tức bề mặt của đá sẽ càng mịn, dao mài càng bén. Tuy nhiên điều đó không có nghĩa cứ sắm viên đá grit cao ngất là xong.

Từ 200 đến dưới 1000 grit: Chuyên dùng để mài dao từ cùn thành chấp nhận được, dao đã bén sẵn cấm không được dùng đá mài grit nhỏ như vậy, grit nhỏ tức đá mài sẽ nhám, mài dao bén rất dễ mẻ. Đá mài có grit thấp sờ vào thấy hơi sần sùi. Lời khuyên thường là nếu nhà đang nuôi dao cùn nhưng chủ nhân lại lóng ngóng, tốt nhất hãy đem dao đến nhờ người biết mài chỉnh đốn lại dùm, hoặc nhờ vả xưởng, công ty, các nghệ nhân, hay người hành nghề mài dao. Dùng đá có số grit thấp để mài dao cùn hơi khó.

Từ 1000 đến 1200 grit: Dùng mài dao đã bén sẵn, hay đúng ra là “dao bén qua vài lần sử dụng”, chưa cùn. Nếu nhà đang nuôi dao bén, hoặc vừa mới mua con dao bén, thì sau khi sử dụng xong có thể dùng đá grit 1000 hoặc 1200 chỉnh đốn lại. Do bề mặt của đá trên 1000 thường trơn mịn, các loại đá ấy rất dễ sử dụng, chẳng khó khăn như đá grit thấp. Chỉ cầm ngâm nước hay đổ dầu lên đá rồi đặt dao theo đúng góc là mài được. Dao cùn không thể dùng đá trên 1000, bề mặt mà mịn quá mài dao cùn không ăn thua.

3000 grit: Để mài cho dao bén sắc nét hơn nữa. Sau khi mài trên đá 1000 thì chuyển sang mài tiếp trên đá 3000, dao sẽ sắc hơn. Đầu bếp cho nhà hàng nhỏ, quy mô nhỏ, nấu những món không cần dao đặc biệt bén có thể dừng ở mức 3000. Người nội trợ thích giữ dao bén tốt cũng có thể dừng ở mức 3000 là ổn, với lại mài con dao hai lần trên hai loại đá cũng hết hơi rồi.

6000 grit: Sau khi mài dao trên đá 3000 mà còn mài tiếp trên đá 6000 nữa là lưỡi dao sẽ sáng choang, lia một đường coi chừng đi toi cái ngón tay. Dao chưa đủ độ bén mà ham hố, nhảy xổ vào dùng ngay đá 6000 để mài sẽ không đem lại kết quả gì, phải đi từ 1000, rồi 3000, rồi 6000. Grit khoảng 6000 trở lên thường dùng cho bếp chuyên nghiệp. Đầu bếp nào giữ dao thật tốt, o bế dao luôn sắc bén không ngờ – chủ yếu là mấy ông bếp Nhật – có thể bỏ không dùng đá mài 1000 grit, họ dùng thẳng đá 3000 ngay từ đầu và sau đó mài tiếp bằng đá 6000. Nhưng không giữ được dao bén thế là vẫn phải mài từ đá 1000 thôi, không thể bắt đầu bằng 3000, và không bao giờ bắt đầu bằng đá 6000 được.

8000 grit đến 12000 grit và hơn: Dành cho đầu bếp siêu hạng chuyên dùng dao bén, cần dao bén, luôn giữ dao bén đến phát sợ. Đá có grit từ 6000 trở lên thường đắt hơn cả tiền mua dao, và mài rất cực, tốn thời gian do kiểu gì cũng phải đi từ 3000, lên 6000 rồi mới hơn được, thành thử thật sự cần dao bén tới mức này mới mua đá grit trên 8000 về. Đừng nghĩ nó xịn nó đắt mà mua đá grit cao về mài dao, không biết dùng là đá xịn đến mấy cũng vô dụng, thua cả cây đập muỗi.

By  Pha Lê

Full link: http://soi.today/?p=210160


Ẩm thực – Serrano: thịt ngon nhờ một năm mốc meo trên núi – tác giả: Pha Lê

Thuyết phục một đứa Pháp rằng phó-mát của nước khác ngon, hoặc thuyết phục một đứa Ý rằng thịt heo muối của nước khác ngon là một cực hình. Em gái người Ý nọ sau khi nghe nói là thịt muối serrano với iberico của Tây Ban Nha ngon lắm đã nhíu mày đầy nghi hoặc, do Ý luôn tự hào nói thịt muối parma của họ ngon nhất thế giới. Cuối cùng phải dùng hạ sách kéo em Ý đến Tây Ban Nha, nhét vào mồm em mớ heo muối thì em mới chịu công nhận rằng serrano và iberico ngon đến bất ngờ.

Khách quan mà nói, thịt heo muối ở các nước châu Âu gần như giống nhau, với thành phần gồm 4 “nguyên liệu”: heo, muối, không khí, và thời gian. Từ thời xưa muối thịt là hình thức dự trữ thực phẩm hiệu quả, đặc biệt tại các nước có mùa đông lạnh lẽo không trồng được mấy món hay nuôi được mấy con. Người Hy Lạp, La Mã, người Viking… đã tìm ra cách muối thịt từ trước Công nguyên, chính họ truyền bá cách muối thịt để rồi nó tồn tại cho đến bây giờ ở những nước như Ý, Đức, Tây Ban Nha, Pháp, Nga… Vì vậy suy cho cùng thịt muối, đặc biệt thịt đùi heo muối của mấy nước này có nguyên liệu, cách thức ủ na ná nhau.

Khác chăng là khác ở chỗ giống heo, cách nuôi heo, lượng muối dùng, thời gian muối thịt, địa điểm, khí hậu mùa màng, và sự trung thực của nhà sản xuất. Nếu lấy serrano – loại thịt muối phổ biến nhất với sản lượng luôn đứng đầu nước Tây Ban Nha – làm ví dụ, thì đây là loại thịt của núi.

Nghe tên thôi cũng đủ hiểu. Chữ “serrano” có gốc từ chữ “sierra”, mà trong tiếng Tây Ban Nha sierra có nghĩa là “dãy núi” gồm nhiều ngọn núi trùng điệp như răng cưa. Trong lịch sử, serrano là đặc sản của vùng đồi núi phía nam, nơi mùa hè khí hậu nóng khô còn mùa đông lại lạnh buốt. Thời tiết này phù hợp để muối thịt, nhưng vấn đề còn nằm ở chỗ thời tiết này mà không muối thịt là sẽ chết vì đói. Sống với tự nhiên là cái vòng tuần hoàn, có qua có lại. Ở nơi đồi núi nhấp nhô, thảo nguyên trải dài và khí hậu bốn mùa thì không thể nào bắt người ta trồng rau trong 12 tháng cho nó chay tịnh. Muốn khỏe mạnh và toàn mạng ở địa hình này là phải chăn nuôi. Mùa lắm cỏ lắm thực phẩm, nuôi được lợn béo phải khôn hồn biết trữ để ăn dần trong mùa thời tiết trở khắc nghiệt. Tất nhiên cách trữ thịt dễ nhất ở thời chẳng có tủ lạnh với điện để chạy tủ lạnh quanh năm chính là muối.

Thế là các sơn nam sơn nữ của Tây Ban Nha liên tục tiếp nối truyền thống muối thịt heo – món họ gọi bằng tên serrano cho nó phù hợp văn hóa vùng miền. Theo cách truyền thống nhất, người dân tại đây bắt đầu muối serrano vào tháng 11 – tức cuối thu đầu đông. Họ vùi đùi heo trong muối để muối hút nước, giúp thịt khô lại và ngăn không cho vi khuẩn sinh sôi. Vài tuần sau đó họ rửa muối đi, treo thịt lên trong hầm đá hoặc hầm gỗ, và không khí mùa đông lạnh lẽo của núi rừng sẽ vừa giữ cho heo không hư, vừa “ủ” cho thịt từ từ lên men chậm.

Trong tháng đầu tiên, khuẩn Penicillium chrysogenum và Aspergillus có màu trắng sẽ xuất hiện trên thịt. Nom hơi khiếp nhưng trên đời này chẳng có loại thịt muối nào ra trò nếu thiếu vi khuẩn. Tuy nhìn không khác gì nấm mốc, những con vi khuẩn có lợi này mang nhiệm vụ phân giải protein và mỡ thành các axít-amin. Và chính các axít-amin là chất tạo cảm giác ngon miệng. Nước mắm của Việt Nam cũng nương theo nguyên lý ấy, nước mắm sống chẳng cần pha gì đã hấp dẫn do nó chứa đầy các axít-amin phân giải từ hoạt động ủ cá với muối, còn bình thường ăn vã con cá tươi sẽ chẳng bao giờ đem lại cảm giác nồng nàn như nếm nước mắm chảy ra từ cá ủ muối lâu ngày hết.

Nếu nước mắm phải ủ ít nhất 6 tháng tới 1 năm mới ngon, các kiểu thịt heo muối như serrano cũng cần treo trong hầm 1 năm hoặc hơn. Hết mùa đông lạnh, sang đến mùa xuân hè là khí hậu ở vùng núi Tây Ban Nha chuyển thành nóng khô. Cái sự khô hanh sẽ ngăn không cho mấy con vi khuẩn có hại phát triển, còn cái nóng thì khiến mỡ trong thịt heo mềm ra rồi tan chảy đều khắp thịt. Mỡ từ màu trắng sẽ ngả sang màu vàng, đùi heo từ khô sẽ trở nên nhớt. Các con khuẩn Penicillium chrysogenum với Aspergillus cũng tiện thể đi theo dòng mỡ chảy để thâm nhập vào sâu bên trong thịt, tiếp tục phân giải các protein thành axít-amin để khúc thịt muối ngon đều, tránh tình trạng phần ở ngoài thì ngon còn phần trong lại nhạt nhẽo.


Qua hết bốn mùa xuân hạ thu đông đủng đỉnh trên núi, serrano trở thành món ngon thân thuộc với mỗi gia đình bình dân của Tây Ban Nha. Nhà nào thích ăn ngon, thay vì ủ serrano trong 12 tháng họ sẽ để thịt lơ lửng gần 18 tháng hoặc 24 tháng, để chờ các con khuẩn phân giải axít-amin nhiều hơn nữa. Lý do tại sao món thịt muối kiểu này chưa bao giờ là món truyền thống của những quốc gia nóng ẩm như Việt Nam cũng dễ hiểu. Khí hậu ẩm của miền nhiệt đới rất dễ dẫn dụ các vi khuẩn nấm mốc xấu, đem treo thịt trong 1 hay 2 năm ở môi trường này có mà xơi món thịt mốc. Đem thịt đi giã rồi hấp thành chả, phơi tôm mực trong thời gian ngắn, hoặc làm khô bò để trữ xem chừng khả thi hơn.

Nói vậy không có nghĩa hiện giờ toàn bộ serrano là sản xuất bằng cách treo trong hầm trên núi cho nó đúng khí hậu. Các hãng sản xuất serrano vẫn muối thịt theo cách truyền thống, nhưng đến lúc ủ là họ đưa thịt vào phòng có hệ thống hút ẩm, hệ thống điều hòa nhiệt độ. Những hãng sản xuất lớn còn xây dựng cả mấy kho ủ, mỗi kho chỉnh theo “thời tiết” xuân hạ thu đông riêng. Thịt mới sẽ nằm ủ ở kho cuối thu đầu đông, một tháng sau thịt sẽ sang kho mùa đông, rồi chừng ba tháng tiếp theo thịt di dời sang khu mùa xuân.

Sau một năm, hãng sản xuất sẽ đóng dấu “Bodega” hoặc “Curado” lên serrano thành phẩm và bán. Ai muốn thưởng thức serrano ủ 16 tháng phải tìm loại có mác “Gran Reserva”, còn thịt 18 tháng đến 2 năm là nhãn “Anejo” – tất nhiên thịt muối càng lâu là giá sẽ càng trên trời. Điều an ủi là do treo lâu nên thịt muối vừa mặn vừa săn cứng lại, nên các kiểu serrano, iberico hay salami đều là món phải cắt lát mỏng ra mà ăn, thành thử nếu có mua thịt muối cũng không cần chi thủng túi để vác về một ký, vài lát mỏng chừng trăm gram là đủ.

Nghe có vẻ kỳ công cho mấy miếng thịt, nhưng từ xưa chuyện trữ thực phẩm lúc nào cũng kỳ công rồi, và nhìn chung là đáng sức do thực phẩm được vi khuẩn phân giải protein lâu năm thường rất bổ dưỡng. Serrano còn có mùi vị dễ chịu nếu đem so với các loại thịt muối đậm đà khác. Người châu Á thường chuộng serrano hơn là iberico, dù đối với dân Tây Ban Nha iberico mới là thịt muối cao cấp. Hai món thịt này có cách muối y chang nhau, khác ở chỗ serrano làm từ thịt heo trắng, chủ yếu là giống heo Landrace hoặc Duroc. Còn iberico lại lấy thịt của giống heo mọi đen cùng tên. Heo mọi vừa hiếm, khó nuôi, vừa bé ký-lô nên iberico lúc nào cũng đắt hơn serrano gấp mấy lần.


Kết quả là dù cách muối giống nhau nhưng thịt iberico dai, nồng hương hơn, trong khi serrano mềm, không quá dậy mùi. Người sành ăn sẽ thích các thớ thịt săn chắc đậm đà của iberico, còn ai không ưa món Tây Âu hoặc đã quen hương vị vừa phải của heo trắng sẽ cảm thấy rằng iberico có hơi… quá.

Người Nhật đặc biệt khoái serrano hơn hẳn, đến các hãng sản xuất thịt nguội ở Tây Ban Nha cũng ríu rít kể rằng thị trường Nhật không ưa thịt heo có mùi quá nồng, lại thích món phải… đẹp đều. Heo trắng nhiều ký, thịt mềm nên sau khi ủ muối thành serrano là hãng sản xuất có thể rút xương, ép khuôn, rồi dùng máy cắt lát. Trái lại heo Iberico vừa nhỏ vừa chắc nịch, lúc thành thịt muối nó còn dai hơn nữa nên muốn cắt lát để xơi là bắt buộc phải nương theo thớ và cắt bằng tay, không thể dùng máy. Mà đã cắt tay thì mỗi lát iberico sẽ mỗi hình thù.

Cũng do iberico đắt và nồng hương nên thị trường thế giới chỉ tiêu thụ “thịt muối núi” serrano là chính. Với lại tâm lý người mua iberico thường sẽ là mua để ăn vã, lấy hết vị ngon của thịt cho nó đáng tiền, cùng lắm họ ăn iberico khi uống bia, chứ lôi nó ra kết hợp, chế biến với thứ khác là thấy… uổng. Món đắt quá thật không phải thứ muốn dùng sao dùng, nấu sao nấu. Trong khi đó, serrano vô cùng dễ dàng thoải mái. Ăn vã được, nhắm rượu nhắm bia được, kẹp bánh mì ăn được, bỏ vô món hầm được, xào với rau củ càng ngon, xé ra trộn xa-lát cũng được nốt.


Bản chất của thịt muối là mặn, serrano tuy không đậm đà như iberico nhưng nó vẫn mặn, vì thế đã dùng nó trong món ăn là khỏi cần nêm, đặc biệt khỏi cần nêm những thứ hại lưỡi như bột ngọt. Xa-lát có chút serrano xé nhỏ sẽ vừa miệng, khỏi cần trộn thêm sốt gì. Lấy serrano xào chung với rau là khỏi tốn muối hay nước tương . Đặc biệt, serrano đem quấn với… trái cây là tuyệt vời. Dưa, sung, đào, mận… kết hợp serrano sẽ vừa mát vừa bùi bùi, ngon một cách kỳ lạ. Nghe hơi khó tin nhưng Việt Nam ta có trò lấy trái cây đi chấm muối ớt, nên chuyện kết hợp cái mặn với cái ngọt sẽ không khó hình dung lắm.


Em gái người Ý vừa bốc serrano uống bia, vừa khen là không ngờ món này ngon hơn thịt heo muối parma của nước tao. Lúc ấy đành phải giải thích rằng mày đừng hiểu lầm, thịt muối parma rất ngon. Nhưng parma là thành phố nhỏ của Ý, sản lượng thịt muối parma bán đi hàng năm thật sự vô cùng thấp. Loại “chuẩn” luôn trải qua kiểm tra chất lượng rất kinh, phần thịt nào “đậu” kỳ kiểm tra là sẽ được đóng cái dấu PDO để xác nhận đây là đặc sản có tính văn hóa của vùng, nó được toàn châu Âu, toàn quốc gia và địa phương bảo vệ. Do nó quá nổi tiếng với quá hiếm nên nhiều hãng làm thịt muối parma theo kiểu… ăn gian, làm giả, làm dối bằng cách trộn phẩm màu vào để thịt muối ngắn ngày có màu đậm như thịt muối lâu năm, rồi tới màn cho chất bản quản, chất điều vị lên thịt để dễ bề sản xuất, giảm giá thành. Bởi vậy ngay cả người Ý cũng chẳng mấy khi được ăn thịt muối parma “thật” và người nước ngoài lại càng không.

Trong khi đó, đa số hãng sản xuất thịt muối như serrano hay iberico ở Tây Ban Nha là hãng gia đình, nguyên liệu vẫn chỉ có muối, thịt, không khí, và thời gian y như cách làm của cha ông. Dù dây chuyền muối thịt có hiện đại hóa nhưng họ không gian lận thêm nọ bớt kia, nên tính theo bình diện chung ai cũng có thể mua serrano ngon ăn.

Bởi vậy hiện nay thế giới bắt đầu cho rằng thịt heo muối của Tây Ban Nha tuyệt hơn của Ý. Dù điều này đúng hay sai đi chăng nữa, sản xuất thật thà như anh Tây Ban Nha rốt cuộc lại có lợi.

By Pha Lê

Full link: http://soi.today/?p=221317


Sưu tầm – How to spot a perfect fake: the world’s top art forgery detective

Forgeries have got so good – and so costly – that Sotheby’s has brought in its own in-house fraud-busting expert.

The unravelling of a string of shocking old master forgeries began in the winter of 2015, when French police appeared at a gallery in Aix-en-Provence and seized a painting from display. Venus, by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, to describe the work more fully: oil on oak, 38cm by 25cm, and dated to 1531. Purchased in 2013 by the Prince of Liechtenstein for about £6m, Venus was the inescapable star of the exhibition of works from his collection; she glowed on the cover of the catalogue. But an anonymous tip to the police suggested she was, in fact, a modern fake – so they scooped her up and took her away.

The quality of these paintings – their faithful duplicity – jolted the market. The sums of money at stake in art, never paltry to begin with, have grown monstrous. Thirty years ago, the highest auction price for a painting was $10.4m, paid by the J Paul Getty Museum for Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi in 1985. In contrast, while the $450m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in 2017 counts as an outlier, abstract expressionists and impressionists frequently come, in auctions or private deals, with nine-figure price tags.

In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.

The works were full of striking, scrupulous detail. On Jerome’s arm, for example, dozens of faint horizontal cracks have appeared; every so often, a clean, vertical split intersects them. In French canvases from the 18th century, cracks in paint tend to develop like spider webs; in Flemish panels, like tree bark. In Italian paintings of the Renaissance, the patterns resemble rows of untidy brickwork. On the Saint Jerome, the cracks match perfectly. Prof David Ekserdjian, one of the few art historians who doubted that the painting was a Parmigianino, said he just didn’t feel the prickle of recognition that scholars claim as their gift: the intimacy with an artist that they liken to our ability to spot a friend in a crowd. “But I have to be frank, I didn’t look at it and say: ‘Oh, that’s a forgery.’”

When Sotheby’s sells an artwork, it offers a five-year guarantee of refund if the object proves to be a counterfeit – “a modern forgery intended to deceive”, as its terms specify. In 2016, after uncertainty crackled over the Hals and the Parmigianino, the auction-house sent them to Orion Analytical, a conservation science lab in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Orion was run, and staffed almost solely by, James Martin, who has loaned his forensic skills to the FBI for many art forgery investigations. Within days, Martin had an answer for Sotheby’s: both the Hals and the Parmigianino were fakes.

In December 2016, in a signal of how attribution scandals have spooked the market, Sotheby’s took the unprecedented step of buying Orion Analytical, becoming the first auctioneer to have an in-house conservation and analysis unit. The company had seen enough disputes over attribution to mar its bottom line, its CEO, Tad Smith, said: “If you looked at earnings reports from a year or two ago, you’d see little blips here and there. These were expenses coming from settlements – not a slew, the number was small and statistically insignificant, but they’re expensive.” The cost of insurance that covers such settlements was also rising. With Martin in the building, “the pictures and other objects moving through Sotheby’s now have a much higher chance of being checked”, Smith said. Last year, Martin analysed more than $100m worth of artworks before they went under the hammer or into private sales. Sotheby’s employs him, in part, as a conservator, so he ministers to the health of the paintings and sculptures that pass through. But over the past two decades, Martin has also become the art world’s foremost forensic art detective. He has worked so many forgery cases with such success that he also serves Sotheby’s as a line of fortification against the swells of duff art lapping into the market.

The first major painting sold by Sotheby’s was also a Hals – a real one: Man in Black, a half-length portrait of a hatted gent. Until 1913, Sotheby’s had dealt in books for a century or thereabouts; art made up only a wan side business. In that year, though, a Sotheby’s partner found a Hals consigned to the firm, and rather than forwarding it to Christie’s, as was often the practice, decided to auction it. After a spirited contest of bids, Man in Black sold for £9,000 – a 26% rate of return per annum since Christie’s had last auctioned the work, in 1885, for around £5. It was the first signal, for Sotheby’s, that there was profit to be mined from paintings. Last year, it sold $5.5bn worth of art, jewellery and real estate.

Frans Hals Portrait of a Gentleman
 The Frans Hals painting, Portrait of a Gentleman, supplied to Sotheby’s by Mark Weiss. It sold for a reported £8.5m ($10.8m) but was later declared fake. Photograph: Sotheby’s

For Sotheby’s, the question of authenticity is not merely, or even primarily, academic. There is more at stake than a satisfying answer to the fundamental conundrum of whether authenticity matters at all – a debate that has been fought and refought in the history of western art. “If a fake is so expert that even after the most thorough and trustworthy examination its authenticity is still open to doubt,” the critic Aline Saarinen once wondered, “is it or is it not as satisfactory a work of art as if it were unequivocally genuine?” Typically, this debate comes to rest at the same place every time. Of course authenticity matters; to study a false Rembrandt as a true one would be to hobble our understanding of Rembrandt as an artist, and of the evolution of art. Now, however, the question’s philosophical whimsy has been replaced by financial urgency. At a time when the art market is synonymous with art itself, a lack of regard for attribution would derail a trade that traffics in the scarcity of authentic Rembrandts.

Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of Martin’s technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isn’t wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into “Raphaels”.) Forgers also test their own fakes to ensure they’ll pass. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who served three years in prison for forging paintings worth $45m, surveyed the chemical elements in his works by running them under X-ray fluorescence guns – the same handheld devices, resembling Star Trek phasers, that many art fairs now train upon their exhibits.

Georgina Adam, who wrote Dark Side of the Boom, a book about the art market’s excesses, told me that many forgers are sensibly choosing to falsify 20th-century painters, who used paints and canvases that can still be obtained, and whose abstractions are easier to imitate. “The technical skill needed to forge a Leonardo is colossal, but with someone like Modigliani, it isn’t,” she said. “Now, scholars will say it’s easy to distinguish, but the fact is that it’s just not that easy at all.” In January, in a celebrated Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, 20 out of 21 paintings were revealed to be counterfeits.

As the tide of money in the market has risen, making decisions about authenticity has turned into a fraught venture. Collectors, realising how much they stand to lose, are now happy to take scholars and connoisseurs – traditionally the final authorities on the authenticity of a work – to court for their mistakes. Realising that their reputations, as well as their bank balances, may wilt under the heat,these experts have begun to subtract themselves from the game entirely.

The estates of several 20th-century artists had once taken on the duty of resolving doubts over attribution, setting up authentication committees, consisting of experts or the artist’s former colleagues or friends – people expected to know the work best. In 2007, a collector named Joe Simon-Whelan sued the Andy Warhol estate’s authentication committee, claiming it had twice rejected a Warhol silkscreen he owned because it wanted to maintain scarcity in the Warhol market. Four years later, after spending $7m in legal fees, the estate dissolved the committee. The authentication boards of other modern artists – Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder – have followed. Individual connoisseurs – as the art world calls its experts – won’t always challenge popular identifications, wrote the critic Jerry Saltz in a scorching essay on the vertiginous price of Salvator Mundi. They are reluctant to “rock the already splintering institutional boat. As in the wider world, where people sit by for fear of losing position, it’s no wonder that many old master experts are keeping quiet, not saying much of anything.”

Martin, a tall man with lumber-beam shoulders, has a voice that never surpasses a murmur. He is a consummate nerd; find someone who looks at you the way Martin looks at his Fourier-transform infrared microscope. He trained as a conservator of paintings, but now he assays them: picks out their chemical constituents, inspects pigments and binders, peers under their washes of colour. From a painting’s materials, he can extract the vital detail of when it could, or could not, have been created.

The field of scientific art conservation is not a crowded one; Martin, who set up the first for-profit art lab in the US, has been consulted in nearly every major fraud case in the past 25 years, often working alongside the FBI or other investigators. When he is described as the premier forensic detective working in art today, the accolade comes not only from people such as John Cahill, a New York lawyer who has managed dozens of art transactions, and who called Martin “hands-down the best in the business,” but also from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Beltracchi, the German forger, told me that, after his arrest, he had seen an assortment of technical studies collected by the police and the prosecution. He remembered Martin’s well. “His reports contained the most accurate results. His reports were factually neutral and without unrealistic guesses.” By folding Martin into its staff, Sotheby’s has given itself a muscular chance to stamp out problems of attribution before they flare into spectacular, expensive affairs. But it’s hard not to feel, at the same time, that it has cornered a precious resource, at a moment when the art world needs him most.

Martin spent much of last year setting up a new lab in what used to be a photo studio on the fifth floor of the Sotheby’s headquarters in Manhattan. Soon, he will also have a London facility, in the building where the Beatles once recorded A Taste of Honey for the BBC. The New York lab, one large room, is as white and aseptic as a dentist’s clinic. Many of the cabinets are still empty, and the desk surfaces often bear nothing apart from one red pack of Martin’s Dentyne Fire gum. Outside the lab, above the lead-lined double doors, is a warning light; if it’s on, so too is the giant x-ray fluorescence machine, and no one is allowed in.

One Friday in mid-February, the room held only two items of art. A carved wooden chair sat on a counter; on a stand was a painting that, for reasons of confidentiality, may be described here only as “a late-19th century American work”. When a painting checks into the lab, it is first submitted to a visual examination in bright, white light; then the lamp is moved to one side, so that the light rakes over the surface at an angle, showing up restored or altered areas. The canvas in Martin’s lab was at the next stage; it had been photographed under ultraviolet and infrared, and then under x-rays to discover some of the painting’s chemical elements.

Not every object needs to move beyond these non-invasive phases. (At Orion, Martin was once able to unmask a fake Modigliani after seeing, under infrared, a faint grid, which had been drawn by a forger who wanted to guide his work.) If Martin has to disturb the painting, he will place it under a stereo microscope and, squinting through the two eyepieces, pick out a grain of paint with a scalpel. He demonstrated with a sample of phthalocyanine blue, a synthetic pigment he picked out of a box that held paint cakes of different colours. Working with the same steady, cautious manner in which he speaks, he teased out a particle smaller than the width of a human hair, flattened it gently, then nudged it on to a slim, small rectangle of metal, where it was held in place between two tiny diamonds.

“You don’t drink a lot of coffee before you do this,” he said, grimacing.

Cracks in the surface of a 16th-century painting as seen through Martin’s microscope.
 Cracks in the surface of a 16th-century painting as seen through Martin’s microscope. Photograph: Joshua Bright for the Guardian

The metal plate then goes into the Fourier-transform infrared microscope, like a slide. The spectrometer pumps infrared light through the flecks of pigment; a computer analyses the light’s behavior and returns a tidy spectrum graph. Martin has looked at so many of these spectra that he recognises on sight the patterns thrown up by different pigments, but even if he didn’t, the computer could rifle through databases of the spectrum patterns of other known chemicals, find the nearest match, and tell Martin what, in this case, he already knew: that his sample was phthalocyanine blue.

The arduous process of Martin’s work divorces art from its aesthetic. It reduces compositions of great prestige or high beauty to their very particles; it frees Martin up to think of art as pure matter. In this way, he comes closer to the artist than anyone has before, often becoming only the second person to think as intensely about the materiality of the object, about the chemical nature of its pigments or the physical properties of its canvas. The art he analyses derives its worth from unique, flashing inspiration. His own talent, if anything, has more in common with the forger. It lies in his capacity to be unflashy but diligent – to perform a step time after time without a slackening of attention, to never leave a molecule unturned, to never conclude more about a work than what it tells him about itself.

When Martin turned 13, his father gifted him a microscope, a chemistry kit, and art lessons – a splendid piece of foreshadowing. He used them all, but he was particularly attracted to art. The family lived in Baltimore, and whenever they visited Washington DC, Martin spent his time at the National Museum of Natural History, drawing the dioramas, while the others wandered the capital. His father worked in army intelligence. “As a child, I’m not sure I understood what he did. I do remember being in airports and trying to guess who was a spy,” Martin said. He devoured detective stories and loves them still, particularly Patricia Cornwell’s novels about Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist. “We both examine patients that cannot speak their past,” he said.

In a universe a twist away from ours, Martin might have become a forger himself. Late in his teens, he joined an art school where students were taught how to grind their own pigments and stretch their own canvases. For practice, he set up an easel in the Baltimore Museum of Art and copied the works he liked; he grew so accomplished that once, as he was leaving with his copy of William Merritt Chase’s Broken Jug, the museum director spotted him and asked if he was returning the painting to storage.

“I was very good technically,” Martin said, “but like most art forgers, I didn’t have my own creative way of doing things.” He thought he’d become an illustrator of medical textbooks, but then heard about a conservation programme at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The portfolio he submitted included his copy of the Chase, as well as of other painters – all at such a high level of craft, said Richard Wolbers, who taught him at Winterthur, “that we were blown away”. He was such a good copyist, in fact, that he was almost rejected. “Later, I heard that the committee worried that if they trained me to be a conservator and taught me all the science, I’d be a natural forger.”

In getting to know a painting, conservators in these museums relied first on the tactility of their craft – “listening to the sound of the swab on the canvas”, Martin said, or “feeling the pull of the swab in the varnish”. Most conservation departments owned microscopes, some perhaps even x-ray machines. But if they needed some serious technology – Fourier-transform infrared microscopes, say, or scanning electron microscopes – they could turn only to the lab in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or to those in universities. Even then, an expert was still needed to interpret the data. “Small museums really didn’t have any place to go. Some people took paintings to the vet to get them x-rayed.”

Martin’s lab began by assisting conservators who had no equipment of their own. “If someone was trying to get a varnish off a painting and didn’t want to damage it by using a solvent that was too strong, they’d send me a sample,” he said. “I’d tell them: ‘It’s polyurethane. You’re not going to get it off.’ Or: ‘It’s shellac. You need to use alcohol.’” A conservator wondering if the strange sky in a landscape was overpaint – paint applied by later restorers – could mail Martin a tiny cross-section tweezed out of the work, so that he could examine it under a microscope. “We’d see the layers in the cross-section: varnish, varnish, varnish, then blue sky, then more varnish, then more sky. So we’d establish that the topmost layer of blue was overpaint.”

In its materials, an artwork holds its biography, so inevitably, Martin became an arbiter of authenticity. Nearly all of the privately owned art labs in Europe and the US have been founded in the past decade – not coincidentally, around the time that the world’s multi-millionaires realised how hollow their lives had been without art. But in the 1990s, at Clark, and then again at Orion, which he founded in 2000, Martin was often the sole resource for collectors and merchants.

James Martin using his stereo fluorescence microscope in his New York lab.
 James Martin using his stereo fluorescence microscope in his New York lab. Photograph: Joshua Bright for the Guardian

Some of his stories from these years have the baroque pulpiness of Elmore Leonard plots. Martin narrates these with care; he is alive to the sensational aspects of his work, but by default, he wears an air of studious detachment. There were the two questionable gentlemen from Tel Aviv, who slipped a pair of paintings out of architects’ tubes, shook them open as if they were rugs, and asked him to confirm that they were Modiglianis. (They weren’t.) There was the client who sent Martin to test a painting at an auction house, claiming he wished to bid on it, but then also had Martin stop by a warehouse to assess “a horrible copy” of the same painting. (Martin now thinks the client wanted to know how close the fake was to the genuine work.) There were the two ferocious dogs chained near the front door of a house in Los Angeles, guarding the stolen Chinese sculptures held within. There was the collector who offered to fly Martin to an undisclosed location, have him picked up by a security detail, and bring him in to examine an old Mexican stele, a stone carving supposedly worth $50m. The night before his flight, Martin was unable to sleep, so he Googled the collector and found that he had recently been released from federal prison after serving time on weapons charges.

Next morning, Martin called the collector and turned down the case.

“Oh,” the collector said. “Did you read about the murders?”

“No,” Martin said. “What murders?” The collector, it turned out, had once been implicated in the killings of two people over a matter of Mexican steles. Martin never got on that plane.

The FBI first came to Martin in 1994. A suspicious number of works ascribed to the 19th-century artist William Aiken Walker, who often painted black sharecroppers in the American south, were emerging in the market. “They’d sell at really small country auctions for $5,000 or $10,000 – so low that nobody would pay for analysis,” Martin said. From the paintings, Martin sampled a yellow pigment called PY3, which had been manufactured in Germany and was not available to American artists until the late 1940s, decades after Walker died. Walker also used lead white paint, Martin found; the forger used zinc white. A former vitamin salesman named Charles Heller was eventually indicted for a spree of counterfeiting, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served one year in prison.

With even a little study, a con artist would know not to use zinc white; some forgers go on to become diligent researchers, accessing technical journals and case studies to learn what experts search for. Martin recalled a painting once referred to him, around 3.5 sq metres in size and dated to 1932. In a first round of study, he discovered nothing amiss. But the work’s provenance – its documented history of ownership – was shaky, so he ran a second pass under a microscope. For most of a day, he scanned the painting in dime-sized increments, until his eyes dried up. Was anything embedded in the paint: dust, or hair, or an insect wing? Did the dirt look as if it had been smeared on deliberately? Finally, embedded in a speckle of blue, he found a slim fibre; with a scalpel, he snipped it off and subjected it to infrared spectroscopy. The fibre turned out to be polypropylene. Perhaps someone had worn a polar fleece while painting the forgery?

For a while, Martin cited this example in a two-day course he taught. Last year, though, he read a translation of Faussaire (or Forger), a French novel written in 2015 and containing a wealth of sound wisdom for forgers. “If you want to get hold of antique lead,” one character advises another, for instance, “then you can just pick up bits of it from the old buildings in Rome.” The same character warns of the dangers from “microparticles from your clothes … You must always work in an old smock. Never nylon or a modern apron.” Martin is convinced the detail came from his anecdote; it was one reason he decided to stop teaching his course altogether.

As a crime, art forgery can seem trifling – less a sinister outrage than a half-complete Robin Hood jape that merely robs the rich. After Beltracchi’s arrest in 2010, the Frankfurter Allgemeine called art forgery “the most moral way to embezzle €16m”; Der Spiegel noted that, unlike crooked bankers, Beltracchi hadn’t swindled the common man. But the crime can have real victims, and Martin has met so many of them that he has developed a gentle bedside manner to break bad news. He has seen people who used the money set aside for their children’s education to buy a painting, only to find it to be fake. “So we aren’t just talking rich people. In some situations, it’s a person’s whole life.”

The inflation of the art market, and its attendant litigiousness, imposes fierce pressures upon anyone called to judge the authenticity of an artwork. Martin’s harshest experience of this came during the bitter legal battle over the fate of the Knoedler gallery. The Knoedler, once New York’s oldest gallery, closed in 2011, days after Martin issued a report concluding that a Jackson Pollock it had sold for $17m was fake.

The bogus Pollock was only the inauguration of a scandal. Over 15 years, Knoedler had sourced and sold 40 paintings ascribed to a range of leading modern artists: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell, among others, earning roughly $80m in the process. When the ambiguity of the works’ provenance raised needles of suspicion, 10 buyers sued Knoedler and its director, Ann Freedman; all but one of these lawsuits have been settled out of court. In 2013, investigators learned that the forgeries had been painted by a Chinese immigrant, who was by then 73 years old, in his garage in Queens, and placed with Knoedler by an art dealer who pleaded guilty. Knoedler’s executives claimed they had no knowledge of the fraud, and argued that scholars had verified the works before sale.

In at least four of the lawsuits, which carried on for years, the plaintiffs hired Martin to test the paintings they had purchased. He found them all to be forgeries. A purported Rothko from 1956, which sold for $8.3m, used a ground layer of white paint between the canvas and the oils; through that decade, though, Rothko had used a transparent ground layer. In an apparent Pollock, the artist seemed to have misspelled his own signature as “Pollok”. Further, in 16 Knoedler paintings he analysed, Martin found the same ground layer of white paint and other anachronistic pigments repeating themselves across the works of several artists, as if Motherwell, De Kooning and Rothko had all travelled forward in time, met in a bar, and swapped tubes of paint.

A fake Mark Rothko painting is shown to the court during a trial in New York in 2016.
 A fake Mark Rothko painting is shown to the court during a trial in New York in 2016. Photograph: AP

When Martin talks about the Knoedler trials, even the memory of the ordeal draws a look of horror on his face. “He’s a real boy scout, and his integrity means a lot to him, so he suffered,” Cahill said. It was an attempted impeachment of Martin’s whole career. “His entire power relies on being objective, on not being part of the party,” said Narayan Khandekar, who runs Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. “He comes under a lot of pressure, because people have a lot of money at stake on the outcome of his analyses. But he’s been very, very brave to stand up and stay stolidly on track with what he does.”

Martin had always loved science for its ability to guide him in pursuit of truth, and he felt a deep distress when his objective facts were countered with dirty tricks and personal vilification. In 2016, after his clients settled with Knoedler, Martin found it difficult to return to work. He wanted to never have to provide expert testimony again, and to go away to paint for a while; he’d already primed a set of boards.

“It was surreal, what happened to me,” he said. “No scientist should have to go to through this.” When, later that year, negotiations began for Sotheby’s to buy Orion, Martin was ready to be cocooned within a larger institution. He’d rather probe works before they hit the market, he decided, than go through the acrimonious aftermath of a sale even once more. Above his desk in Sotheby’s, Martin keeps pinned a pair of sketches of himself from his time in the Knoedler courtroom, as if to remind himself of what he has gratefully left behind.

In conversation, Martin uses many homespun metaphors, but his favourite is that of the three-legged stool. Deciding the authorship of artworks, he says, relies on connoisseurship, technical analysis and provenance. He values the opinions of connoisseurs, considers them complementary to his own skills; his tests can definitively reveal if a painting is not by Da Vinci or Modigliani, but they are unable to affirm authorship, except in rare cases.

Science has a habit, though, of showing up the sagacity of scholars. In a 1932 trial in Berlin – the first in which a forensic exam was used to scrutinise art – two connoisseurs squabbled about the authenticity of a set of 33 canvases, all purportedly by Vincent van Gogh, all sold by an art dealer named Otto Wacker. It took a chemist, Martin de Wild, to trace resins in the paint that Van Gogh had never used, and to prove the paintings fake. Since then, the science has improved, even as human judgment has remained the same, vulnerable to the potential thrill of discovering new work, and to market pressures. During the Knoedler trial, Cahill remembered, one expert admitted that he couldn’t tell one Rothko canvas from another, or indeed whether a Rothko had been hung upside-down or right side up.

As a thought experiment, it is possible to envision the immaculate forgery – the one that defeats scientist and connoisseur alike. Our villain is a talented copyist, well practised in the style and the themes of his chosen artist. He is also a resourceful procurer of materials, able to rustle up every kind of age-appropriate canvas and frame, pigment and binder. He fits his forgery neatly into a chain of provenance – giving it the title of a now-lost work, or providing false documents to claim that it had been part of a well known private collection.

In theory, if each of these steps is perfectly performed, there should be no way to expose the painting as fake. It will be a work of art in every way save one. But the world of today, the world in which the forgery is being created, is likely to fix itself in some form within the painting – as radioactive dust, perhaps, or as cat hair, or a stray polypropylene fibre. When that happens, only the scientist can hope to nab it.

 This article was amended on 18 June 2018. A previous version stated that the last art history A-level was cut in England in 2016, but in fact a campaign of protest led to a new version being introduced in 2017.

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Full link: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jun/15/how-to-spot-a-perfect-fake-the-worlds-top-art-forgery-detective

Sưu tầm – How to Spot Financial Scams—Transatlantic Edition

Lessons from fraudulent investment schemes recently uncovered in the US and UK.

If “it’s different this time” are the four most dangerous words in investing, “it can’t happen to me” might be the five most dangerous words about investing scams. Many hear stories of retirees losing their life savings at the hands of some smooth-talking huckster, but it is easy to presume you won’t be a target—or if you were, spotting the ruse would be a breeze. Perhaps! But even self-described savvy sorts routinely succumb to crafty scammers’ bag of tricks—and as a result, they are all too common. But they can be easy to spot if you know what to look for. We think two recently busted financial scams in the US and UK hold important lessons on how to do so.

A Classic Ponzi Scheme

Ponzi practitioners attract investors with promises of unrealistically high returns—then use newer investors’ funds to deliver those returns, at least for a while. A recent SEC complaint describes one such scheme run by five rogue advisers who filched $102 million from 637 investors. They did so by purchasing retiring investment advisers’ businesses, then persuading the clients to transfer their money from staid, traditional investments into debt securities issued by three companies the scalawags controlled.[i] They ultimately pocketed $20 million between them, distributed $38.5m to early investors (in conventional Ponzi fashion) and misappropriated much of the remainder. The SEC complaint alleges the five used the stolen money to fund luxurious lifestyles[ii]—while sending clients fabricated account statements showing outsized profits. Now the cat is out of the bag—and victims may not be able to recoup even a portion of their losses.

We sympathize with these folks’ plight. But their experience highlights several red flags for investors everywhere. First, beware promises of guaranteed payouts and risk-free double-digit returns. This is a free lunch—and as any economist could tell you, there ain’t no such thing. All legitimate investments have up and down periods. Paper statements suggesting otherwise are no comfort—any manager seemingly delivering on unrealistic promises deserves equal suspicion.

The second no-no: Taking ownership of your assets. This means handing a financial manager your life savings to do with what they will—while you have no way to know where your money is.[iii] Conversely, third-party custody by a well-known financial institution ensures your money is in an account with your name on it and therefore still your property. It also adds transparency, generally removing the possibility of fake account statements. Third, resist pressure to put all your money in a couple obscure, unknown firms. Those featured in this hustle had snazzy-looking websites and brochures, but even so—there is virtually never a good reason to for investors to concentrate like this. Especially if said firms have inexplicable names like First Nationle.

Abundant jargon and vague buzzwords are the fourth red flag. One business’s brochure described it as a holding company for “several sales affiliates that represent a group of companies who offer a rich portfolio of premier Insurance and Impaired Risk products.” Huh? We count three corporate layers in there and are still unsure what it (theoretically) does—even with the knowledge that impaired risk products are a special type of life insurance or annuity Evel Knievel would qualify for. How exactly would any of this realistically achieve the advertised returns? Another’s website claimed it “is a singular-disciplined company that specializes in providing Physician’s financing, supporting the initial development phases of Physician owned clinical laboratories.” Ok, sounds medicine-ish. But “singular-disciplined company” is just technical-sounding gibberish. A Google search for the phrase turns up zero results.

This could happen to anyone, even the smartest of investors—but learning to spot fraud tactics helps. Here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Eschew pie-in-the-sky promises of big returns with low risk.
  • Demand your assets be held at a reputable brokerage firm, in an account with your name, where you can access your account online to see current holdings.
  • Identify known miscreants via Brokercheck—a free tool for researching brokers’ and advisers’ professional background, including any complaints or judgments against them. The SEC’s Investor.gov website is another good resource. None of these shysters were actively registered with FINRA, which had sanctioned four of them for previous misconduct.
  • Ask to see advisers’ ADV II forms. These summarize the services they provide, fees, plus any conflicts of interest and past disciplinary actions—all “in plain English.”

The Cold Call

We head across the pond for the second bout of financial chicanery, where thanks to some April 2015 reforms, UK pensioners have more control over savings sitting in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Savers can now access 25% of their “personal pensions” tax-free starting at age 55 (rather than waiting until retirement). The rest is subject to standard income taxes when withdrawn. More flexibility and control is neat! But shady characters have been exploiting confusion about the change.

The common caper—euphemistically known as “pension liberation”[iv]—goes like this. You get a call (or email, or text) from someone ostensibly at a government agency saying it is now legal to withdraw your pension pot before you turn 55—which it isn’t, except in rare cases. The caller tantalizes with promises of attractive returns and exclusive opportunities—then (if you bite) pours the money into high-risk, illiquid investments or takes it outright. Victims also typically owe large punitive taxes and fines for withdrawing from their pension funds too early.

Those over 55 may receive unsolicited offers for a “free pension review” from someone claiming to be from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA, a UK regulator). This might sound legit, as anyone who wants it can indeed receive free and impartial pension advice from a dedicated government agency—a key plank in the recent reforms. But the agency tasked with helping pensioners navigate the new system is called Pension Wise—and (like the FCA) they don’t cold-call, especially not bearing offers to invest in something lucrative and exciting.[v]

Falling for this variation doesn’t result in taxes or fines, but it still risks theft or huge losses. In one recent example, a shady pension fund trustee persuaded almost 300 people to turn over £13.4 million in pension savings in exchange for shares in a fund invested in companies he owned. (Sound familiar?) According to a Telegraph report, “The scheme invested the remaining funds into high-risk investments, including an olive oil processing plant and a gem mine. [The perpetrator] paid himself nearly half a million pounds from scheme funds in just 12 months.” There is a push to ban the practice, but proponents admit this is mainly to raise awareness, as enforcement would be near-impossible. Thus, proactively informing and protecting yourself is essential. Here’s how:

  • If you get a call from someone you don’t recognize offering clever tips on how to exploit pension law loopholes—or the chance to make a quick buck (or pound) by giving them the keys to your retirement savings—hang up straightaway.
  • Research pension rules yourself—or get second (or third) opinions from sources who aren’t trying to sell you something.
  • Check the Financial Services Register to see if the person or organization is legit—or visit the Financial Conduct Authority’s “ScamSmart” website to learn about this and other schemes.

Most importantly, for both this and Ponzi swindles: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scams like these could happen to you, but remembering this adage—and the preceding tips—should make it a lot less likely.

[i] While purportedly involved in diverse ventures ranging from financial and medical services to insurance to real estate, these companies were effectively fronts with no business activities whatsoever.

[ii] For one, name of Perry Santillo, this (per the SEC’s complaint) included “paying for housing in multiple states, car leases, expenditures at a country club and a Las Vegas resort and casino, credit card payments and other personal expenses. … [He] threw himself a party at a nightclub in Las Vegas for which he commissioned a song about himself to be played. The lyrics to that song refer to (Perry) Santillo as ‘King Perry’ and describe his typical attire: ‘ten-thousand-dollar suit everywhere he rides.’ The song also depicts his lifestyle as follows: ‘pop the champagne in L.A., New York to Florida; buy another bottle just to spray it all over ya.’” No word on whether the song’s composer has been charged with crimes against music.

[iii] To be crystal clear, we aren’t lumping in brokers or dual-registered broker/advisers who work for the major brokerage houses here. They will still put your funds in an account with your name on it, making them your property. Rather, we are talking about practitioners who want you to transfer your money to them personally or to a company they own/run.

[iv] We mean, no one calls car theft “vehicle liberation.”

[v] You can learn more about Pension Wise at their website, including more information and tips about avoiding pension scams.

By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 06/22/2018

Full link: https://www.fisherinvestments.com/en-us/marketminder/how-to-spot-financial-scams-transatlantic-edition