Archive for April, 2016

5 ways to wine and dine like you’re Thomas Jefferson

April 29th, 2016

5 ways to wine and dine like you're Thomas Jefferson

By Joseph Temple

Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president is renowned for being the country’s first oenophile-in-chief. Seeing wine as the compromise between prohibition and saloon-style intoxication, he fervently believed that “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.” From starting America’s first commercial vineyard venture with Philip Mazzei at Monticello to filling his many cellars with some of France’s finest vintages, Jefferson’s unbridled passion for wine is very well documented.

Less known however is the president’s strong devotion towards food and agriculture. Reportedly growing 300 varieties of vegetables at his Virginia estate, including 30 kinds of peas and cabbage, Jefferson was well ahead of the curve in terms of the whole farm-to-table movement that is currently gaining steam across the nation. And his dinners at the Executive Mansion (it wasn’t called the White House back then) were legendary, with the president spending enormous sums out of his own pocket to lavishly entertain both dignitaries and guests.

A new book by historian and IW&FS member James Gabler sheds new light on exactly what the president ate and drank, from his time living in Paris as the Ambassador to France to his post-presidency. Published in 2015, Dine with Thomas Jefferson and Fascinating Guests offers readers a candid view of what it was like to wine and dine with such a legendary head of state. So have a look below at five dishes and wines that Thomas Jefferson and his guests consumed as they discussed everything from the French Revolution to the Louisiana Purchase.

Thomas Jefferson liked macaroni with cheese
1. Macaroni with Cheese

In a large dining room overlooking the Champs-Élysées in June of 1788, Jefferson and his guests anxiously await the next dish. After finishing their oysters paired with Burgundy, an Italian meal that is very fashionable in France known as Macaroni with Cheese is served. “The best macaroni is made from a particular flour called semolina, from Naples, but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is used, but if the flour is of a good quality, it will always do well,” remarked Ambassador Jefferson.


Thomas Jefferson served bear at the white house
2. Bear

After discussing with his cabinet at length about the failed Monroe–Pinkney Treaty with Great Britain, a massive feast is prepared consisting of turkey, potatoes, bacon and sausages. But one dish stands out from the rest—a quarter-side of bear purchased in Georgetown by Étienne Lemaire, Jefferson’s second mâitre d’hôtel. “Is what you are carving what I think it is?” asks James Madison, Jefferson’s Secretary of State. “What is it that you think I’m carving?” says the president. “Bear,” for which Jefferson states: “That is correct.”


Dressed turtle season with Madeira Thomas Jefferson
3. Dressed turtle seasoned with Madeira

Travelling from the temporary capital of Philadelphia to Annapolis in 1790, Secretary of State Jefferson and Congressman James Madison are waiting for a ferry on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With a long delay, they both decide to try a state tradition of dressed turtle seasoned with Madeira. A huge fan of the fortified wine, he takes a bottle out of his travel box, tastes it and explains to everyone at the table what constitutes “silky” Madeira. “The silky Madeira we sometimes get in this country is made so by putting a small quantity of Malmsey into dry Madeira. The taste of the dry cashed with a little sweetishness is barely sensible to the palate.”


Thomas Jefferson preferred non sparkling Champagne
4. Non-sparkling champagne

At a 1792 meeting where President George Washington discusses policy with Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, each plate is ready to be filled with an assortment of broiled pork, goose, roast beef and muttonchops. But after Hamilton studies his glass and asks what type of wine is it, he is surprised when Jefferson tells him that it’s Champagne. “It can’t be Champagne. It doesn’t have a sparkle,” replies Hamilton. But according to Jefferson who has spent years in Paris, the French prefer non-sparkling Champagne. “Sparkling Champagne is never brought to a good table in France. The still or non-sparkling is alone drunk by connoisseurs.”


White Hermitage wines were Thomas Jefferson's favorite
5. Favorite wine?

As someone who drank nearly everything that Bordeaux and Burgundy had to offer, one might wonder what exactly was Jefferson’s favorite wine? Through primary source documents, we learn that Chambertin and Montrachet clearly topped the list. But nothing can compare to white Hermitage, which Jefferson called the “first wine in the world without exception.” So impressed by this region, he gladly purchased 550 bottles during his presidency.

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Ask Sid: Pinot Meunier?

April 27th, 2016
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Pinot Meunier grape champagne

Question: Just tried some Champagnes made from 1/3 white grapes chardonnay and 2/3 red grapes pinot noir & pinot meunier. Is pinot meunier just another name for pinot noir?

Answer: No it is not the same grape though it has been one of the 3 grapes often used traditionally in non-vintage Champagne blends. It is a red grape (like pinot noir) but buds later and ripens earlier on cooler sites producing generally a softer easy more forwardly contribution to the over all blend. Varies in quality but excellent grapes are still included in the Krug Grande Cuvee. Most Grande Marques now leave pinot meunier out of their blend as they are going for a longer aging Champagne. Lately we are even seeing some 100% pinot meunier Champagnes. Just tried one of those made by Langlet being served by the glass at a Paris restaurant.

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Food in Sicily: Really Eating Locally!

April 24th, 2016

Food in Sicily: Really Eating Locally!

In North America we hear a lot these days about eating foods produced within your own region and supporting your local farmers. The benefits of this approach are numerous including seasonable, sustainable and protecting the environment as advocated by the concept of the recent 100-mile diet.

Just completed leading a wonderful almost 2 week wine and food tour of Sicily the largest island in the Mediterranean with 1484 kilometers of coastline. Among the many things that impressed me this trip was seeing almost a zero-mile diet (home grown) as the focus is clearly on growing and using their own local food products to advantage there.

Too many to list here but so many restaurant menus featured local grown oranges, lemons, almonds, pistachios, artichokes, zucchini flowers, wild fennel, basil, tomatoes, white beans, bufalo mozzerella, fresh ricotta, and of course home made pasta and polenta. Seafood was very prominent and swordfish an endangered species in Vancouver wasn’t in Sicily. Also sardines, cod, anchovies, mussels, mullet, paddlefish, whitefish, baby squid, red prawns, and octopus to die for. Less meat but top Black Pig pork, veal, beef, etc. I am sucker for their gelato, cassatas, cannoli and chocolate produced in Modica. What a lot of local delights to choose from.

If you are visiting Sicily in the near future here are a few local food spots I highly recommend checking out:

Osteria Dei Vespri in Palermo – Dinner :  Friendly Rizzo brothers have a killer dish of Anelletti (ring shaped pasta) with octopus poached in red wine, wild fennel and saffron.

Quattroventi in Palermo – Dinner: Really excellent quality!

Gelato in Palermo: Go to Spinnato!

Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School – Tenuta Regaleali  Contact What a delightful experience.

Mamma Caura – Lunch on the water next to the local harvesting salt pads –

La Foresteria in Menfi immersed in the Planeta vineyards and herb gardens with outstanding cuisine. Like their 3 different quality extra virgin olive oils – one all Biancolilla, another Nocellara and the 3rd a blend of those two plus 15% Cerasuola.

La Pineta off the beaten path right on the beach for Lunch in a Natural Park in Selinunte. A must.

La Madia a 2 star Michelin in Licata truly outstanding food by celebrated chef Pino Cuttaia with all his dishes “telling a story with a pinch of memory”  –

Ibanchi Pane Al Pane in  for lunch. Also Il Barocco Enoteca for pizza only in the evenings.

Accursio in with unique scabbard fish rolls with potato puree & mint. Check out Modica’s best chocolate store Bonajuto for 70/80/90/100 cocoa count!

On Mt. Etna at Linguaglossa: Barone Pastry for marzipan goodies made since 1939, Pennisi Salumeria (Butcher shop), and Destro for the perfect winery Lunch.

Al Duomo in Taormina opposite the cathedral –  Enjoy those often served wide Gragnano pasta noodles always stuffed and standing up on end.

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Book Review: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

April 22nd, 2016

Book Review: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

By Joseph Temple

It’s no secret that America’s collective waistline has been growing dramatically over the years. According to author Tracie McMillan, nearly two thirds of the country is either overweight or obese, making it an epidemic that could possibly surpass tobacco as the deadliest threat to the nation’s health. Needless to say, if you stroll down the aisles of your local supermarket, you can easily see how we’ve gotten to this point. For many overworked consumers, healthy and fresh produce is replaced by a plethora of processed foods. Seemingly cheaper and easy-to-prepare, the long-term damage from this type of unhealthy eating results in approximately $75 billion dollars in increased health-care costs every single year.

And to think—it doesn’t have to be this way! Contrary to what some critics may argue, eating healthier is not just for wealthy hipster types who shop exclusively at Whole Foods. In The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, McMillan demonstrates that nutritious meals are within the reach of everyone, no matter what their socio-economic status is. Working undercover in the fields of California’s Central Valley, two Michigan Wal-Marts and an Applebee’s restaurant in New York City, her anecdotal observations combined with some fascinating historical research help to highlight this thesis.

Combating the elitist sentiment that occasionally surrounds food discourse, McMillan tackles many stereotypes head-on. “I honestly believe that the only people who think that poor people don’t care at all about their diet—and only eat fast food because they’re too stupid to know any better—are people who don’t know any poor people, who have never actually talked to working people about how their meals work and how their lives work and what’s important to them and their families,” says the author in a Q&A session.

Not surprisingly, a key focal point of the book is Wal-Mart, which by 2009 controlled nearly a quarter of the food supply in the United States. After dominating the consumer goods market through economies of scale and loss leading, this retail giant wisely made the decision to move into the realm of supermarkets beginning in the late 1980s. Two decades later, groceries constitute more than half of its annual sales. And unlike the first supermarket that opened in 1930 with approximately 1,100 items for sale, a typical Wal-Mart caries up to 142,000 items, making it near-to-impossible for other stores to compete. That is, unless they’re selling produce.

Through her in-depth research, McMillan shows that when it comes to potatoes and oranges, Wal-Mart is nothing more than a paper tiger. “Small grocers are much more competitive when it comes to the price of fresh produce, which for all of its industrialization retains a stubborn agricultural trait: It rots,” writes the author. “In fresh produce, one of the large supermarkets’ biggest competitive advantages—scale—doesn’t get them very far.”

Therefore, it’s no coincidence that one must trek through the entire store in order to purchase essential items like milk and eggs. That’s because as you journey past the thousands of boxed meals and processed-food items—items that can be sold over the course of a year—Wal-Mart knows that you’re likely to purchase some of these goods, allowing their traditional business model to kick in. “Walmart might not win in produce, but it cleans La Colmena’s [a local grocer] clock when it comes to processed food … A fifteen-ounce can of Dole pears costs $1.99 at La Colmena, but a can of Walmart’s Great Value pears, twice as big, costs 98 cents,” observes McMillan. It’s also why coupons almost never apply to produce items.

However, in addition to pricing and the convenience that processed foods offer, the book sheds light on one of the more disturbing trends: The erosion of basic cooking skills. Starting in the 1970s, when a two-income household was necessary for maintaining a middle-class lifestyle, the culinary skills that were passed on from generation to generation suddenly came to a screeching halt in many households. Speaking to a cookbook editor, she stresses this regression: “Add two eggs, … In the ‘80s, that was changed to ‘beat two eggs until lightly mixed.’ By the ‘90s, you had to write, ‘In a small bowl, using a fork, beat two eggs,’ We joke that the next step will be, ‘Using your right hand, pick up a fork and …’”

Therein lies the enormous appeal of convenience food products, which by 2010 were used in nearly every dinner meal served at home in America. Even though some are more expensive and can take just as much time to prepare than something from scratch, they’re attractive from the standpoint of offering much-needed direction and guidance to complete kitchen novices. “What they [boxed meals] do instead is remove the need to have to come up with a plan for dinner, something that’s easy when you’re a skilled cook—and bafflingly difficult when you’re not. The real convenience behind these convenience foods isn’t time or money, but that they removed one more bit of stress from our day.”

So how do we as a society combat this lack of knowledge? McMillan points to programs run by national nonprofits like Cooking Matters, which instructs low-income individuals on how to prepare healthy alternatives. After taking part in the class, students surveyed said they felt much more comfortable cooking at home while saving money on their weekly grocery budget. Indeed, while McMillan’s book promotes the idea that it “goes beyond statistics,” it is the statistics that make The American Way of Eating such a fascinating read. Whether it’s the fact that obesity rates are largely determined by how far one lives from a grocery store or that less than five percent of federal agricultural subsidies go to fruits and vegetables, the information in this book shows us how the government’s mixed-up priorities have played an enormous role in this ongoing crisis.

Fans of Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book Nickel and Dimed will probably be interested in the many stories McMillan tells about working (read: exploited) in the sweltering fields of California picking grapes and peaches. It was surprising to know that if farm workers, who barely scrape by, were given a 40% raise in earnings, it would only cost the average family $16 more on their annual grocery bill. That’s because a mere 16% of the total cost of delivering fresh produce goes towards labor; the remainder is spent on the infrastructure it takes to deliver the goods to the supermarket, strengthening the cause for local farming.

Likewise, fans of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential will appreciate the section where the author works undercover at an Applebee’s restaurant. Sharing many similarities with Wal-Mart, it’s easy to understand why these chains favor deep-fryer friendly foods that usually arrive at the restaurant in a frozen box. As McMillan explains, “Produce … gets sidelined because of the ‘special handling’ it requires, which is to say it must be cleaned and chopped before it gets anywhere near the line.” And yet, these restaurants prove to be profitable year after year. Why? According to McMillan, “It takes them somewhere that’s becoming … rare: the twentieth-century American dream, when owning your own home and going out for a nice meal were within easy for so many of us … customers aren’t here for the food—not in any sophisticated culinary sense. They’re here to take a night off from the daily grind.”

Published in 2012, The American Way of Eating paints a dreary picture of what life—and eating—is like for many working class individuals. For many, lacking even the most basic culinary skills has directly led to the meteoric rise in obesity rates across America. However, with many concrete recommendations on how to combat this epidemic, the contents of this book are sure to provoke a much-needed conversation that is often swept under the rug.

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Ask Sid: Pinot gris/Pinot grigio?

April 20th, 2016
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Pinot gris/Pinot grigio?

Question: Which wine is better between a pinot gris and a pinot grigio?

Answer: Don’t feel it is a question of which is better. Both are using the same grape variety with different expressions in their style. Pinot gris can be fuller riper even spicy with rich sweeter notes when from Alsace. Pinot grigio is usually fresh lighter more floral and vibrant particularly from Italy. However you can’t totally rely on what the label says as this often more neutral flavoured wine can vary considerably from different regions and producers. Try some and find the one with the style you prefer.

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