Monday, April 24, 2017

Rant: Which Wines Should You Drink?

In about two weeks, on Tuesday, May 9, The Passionate Foodie blog will have its 10th Anniversary! I've been spending time surveying the over 4100 posts I've written, contemplating all the myriad subjects I've covered. As I look back across those ten years, I've decided to repost my first article, a blog that remains as relevant now as it did way back then. And look for more of my memories during the next couple weeks.

(The follow article was originally posted on May 9, 2007).

You walk into the local wine store and are confronted with walls upon walls of bottles. Which wine should you buy?

You go to a fine restaurant and are confronted with a multi-page wine list. Which wine should you buy?

The popularity of wine continues to soar. There are literally thousands of different wines, from many different countries, available to the consumer. We are deluged with options. A typical liquor store stocks hundreds of different wines and a specialty wine shop might stock 1000 wines or more. Restaurant wine lists might contain as many as a few hundred selections. So, with these often bewildering choices, which wines should you drink?

There are numerous sources containing recommendations and ratings for many wines. Wine magazines such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter. There are other magazines as well, not devoted solely to wine, that contain columns and articles on wine such as Gourmet and Esquire. Each year, several books are released with their annual wine recommendations. Many newspapers now contain weekly articles on wine. You can easily consult any of these reference works and choose an award-winning or highly rated wine. But, if you did so, you might take it home, drink a glass and find that you dislike the wine. Where did you go wrong? Why doesn’t the wine seem as good as the critics say it is supposed to be?

The answer is simple. Enjoying wine is very much a subjective activity. Sure, the critics can judge a wine by certain objective criteria. They can rate a wine in comparison to others. But, at its core, it is all about one’s own individual preferences, one’s own taste. You should drink wines that you enjoy drinking, whether they cost $5 or $500 a bottle. Red, white, sweet, dry, oaky, tannic, grassy, fruity. Drink what you like. Your tastes may vary drastically from the critics, but they are your tastes and they are not wrong. They are merely different. And they are what please you. And don’t we drink wine because it pleases us?

So, how do you know what type of wines you like? The primary method to determine your likes and dislikes is to taste different wines. Taste as many as you can. There are a plethora of diverse tastes in wines and you never know what might appeal to you. So, trying new wines might lead to a new favorite. Tastes can change over time so you might want to try wines again that you once did not like. You might be surprised with the results. Taste wines with and without food as food too can alter the taste and experience of a wine. Taste will also vary with your mood.

One of the best and often risk-free ways to taste a lot of different wines is to attend wine tastings at local liquor/wine stores. Because of the popularity of wine, many of these stores now hold wine tastings, often weekly, and they usually are free. On average, you can usually try 4-6 wines at these tastings, sometimes including some expensive ones. There are even tastings where you can try over 100 wines, all for free. There are some tastings that charge a fee but the fee is commonly low and you usually get to try numerous different wines. To find out about local tastings, simply ask at the liquor/wine stores you frequent or do an online search. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about different wines, to see which ones you might enjoy. You have nothing to lose.

There are other ways to taste different wines as well. If you go to a restaurant, you can order a meal with wine pairings, where the restaurant matches different glasses of wine to different food courses. You thus get to taste about 3-7 different wines. Some places also have wine flights on their menu, where you get to try three different wines for the price of a single glass of wine. Obviously, the sample sizes are small, but combined they equal one glass of wine. If you go to a party, with various wines available, you should take a chance and try something different.

The hardest part sometimes is remembering what wines you like and do not like. Thus, it can be helpful to take notes, writing down wines you enjoy. That will make it easier if you go to a wine store and want to buy something you like. You can also ask the staff at the wine store for recommendations on wines that are similar to the ones you enjoy. In addition, it can help if you go to a restaurant. Even if they do not carry the particular wine you want, they might be able to recommend a wine that is very similar to the one you wanted.

So, should you just ignore all recommendations and ratings? No, as they can still be beneficial though the foundation remains individual taste. If you know what you like, recommendations and ratings can point you to similar wines of which you might not be aware. Or to avoid certain wines because they contain elements you dislike. For example, if you dislike oaky chardonnay, then a wine review that mentions a particular chardonnay is very oaky would be something to avoid. In addition, if you are adventurous, they might direct you to wines that you are willing to take a risk on and buy. You might also find that your tastes are similar to a particular reviewer or critic, and thus you might feel more comfortable with their recommendations.

In the end, taste some wine. Then taste some more.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Cheese Shop of Concord Turns 50! Upcoming Events.

The Cheese Shop of Concord opened its doors 50 years ago, in 1967. Back then, America was familiar with just a handful of cheeses: cheddar and Swiss, meunster and havarti, cream cheese, brie and roquefort. Today’s consumer is familiar with, and obsessed to buy, dozens more.

Cheeses from New England, California, and every state in between. Cheeses imported not only from France and Holland, but New Zealand and the Azores. Cheeses made from cow, sheep and goat milks. Tiny wheels and giant wheels; at up to $50 per pound.

It’s a sea change from 1967. Today’s cheesemonger, therefore, must be knowledgeable about thousands of cheeses, and keep them in stock and ready for consumption.

For 50 years, The Cheese Shop of Concord has been a regional resource for all things cheesey under just three proprietors: the first from 1967-1976, the second from 1976 to 2003, and Peter Lovis from 2003 to the present. The shop is obviously doing something right, but what is it? Locals say it all boils down to the shop’s motto: “Where shopping is an Old World pleasure.”

There’s something to be said for the old fashioned give and take between merchant and customer that was taken for granted in 1967, but is missing in today’s impersonal, e-commerce environment,” says Lovis.

In celebration of its 50th birthday, The Cheese Shop of Concord plans a variety of public events in 2017.

Going To Txotx On Sunday 
Sunday, May 21 from 1-4 PM
A txotx (pronounced chuch) is a traditional Basque festival that heralds the readiness of hard cider pressed from regional apples. This unique outdoor event will take place at the scenic Concord Rod & Gun Club, located on Strawberry Hill Road, just a few miles north of downtown Concord. In case of rain, the event will be moved indoors, to a vintage sportsman’s lodge overlooking the club’s private pond.

A highlight of the event will be the Blessing of the Barrel, when a 55-gallon wooden barrel is tapped, and its contents literally spurt into one’s glass like a faucet. Attendees can also watch as local cider apples pass through an apple press for bottling and drinking later this summer.

Each $65 admission ticket entitles the bearer to enjoy: a take-home cider glass from which to quaff unlimited samples from New England’s top hard cidermakers, and a bounty of Basque-inspired food including grilled steak, cod frittatas, olives, nuts, cheeses and more. At press time, these 8 cidermakers have confirmed participation:

* Artifact Cider
* Bantam
* Carr’s Ciderhouse
* Good Life
* Pony Shack
* Shacksbury
* Snowdrift
* Zoll Cellars

In addition, attendees will receive a complimentary 22 ounce bottle of hard cider, made from apples hand-pressed at the event on May 21 and carefully fermented until late July. Folks will be advised when the cider is ready to drink, and bottle pick-up will be available at The Cheese Shop of Concord.

Tickets for Concord’s first-ever txotx will be on sale at www.EventBrite.com beginning May 1st.

Birthday Grill-a-thon 
Saturday, July 22, 11 AM-3 PM
The Cheese Shop of Concord’s 50th birthday will be celebrated on this day with a gargantuan birthday cake, and slices are free to anyone who stops by. In addition, the shop’s executive chef will have a “sausage stand” set up out front to sell grilled brats, wursts and hot dogs all afternoon. The party coincides with the Town of Concord’s annual Sidewalk Sale, so plan to come and spend the whole day.

In-Store Classes
Beginning in September, from 6:30 - 8:00 PM
A series of four evening classes, after-hours in the shop, are open to enthusiasts who are curious about the countless varieties of cheeses being produced, about aged meats like salami or prosciutto that pair well with them, and about beverages that love to accompany cheese. Enrollment is limited to 12 students per session, and the cost is $40 per student. Dates and times are shown below:

* Tuesday, September 13: Cheese 101 with proprietor Peter Lovis
* Tuesday, September 20: Beer, Wine and Mead with Mike Reilly
* Tuesday, September 27: Charcuterie 101 with Chef Justin Kopaz
* Tuesday, October 4:Easy Entertaining with Cheese, with Keir Weinberg

Crucolo Cheese Parade
Thursday, December 7, starts at 3:30 PM
For the eighth consecutive year, the Cheese Shop and the Town of Concord welcome a 400-lb. wheel of crucolo cheese from Trentino, Italy with a lively street parade of flags, speeches, horses, live music, dancing and of course, tasting. Video of the 2016 and previous parades can be viewed at the Cheese Shop’s YouTube channel.

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) The Massachusetts Historical Society is hosting a series of programs on how Boston has changed the American diet. They have five programs coming between the end of April and the middle of June, featuring culinary historians, chefs, librarians, and ice cream pioneers.

Eating Other People’s Food
April 27, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Boston’s role in introducing America to a more cosmopolitan cuisine; touching on the bland period of the early/mid twentieth century and contrasting this with the influences of Julia Child, Joyce Chen, and more recent celebrity chefs
Speakers: Laura Shapiro, Alex Prud’homme, Stephen Chen, and Megan Sniffin-Marinoff (moderator)

Where to Go
May 3, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
The great places and great personalities that put Boston on the map; looking at some of the big name restaurants like Anthony’s Pier 4, Locke-Ober’s, Jacob Wirth, to important innovators such as Tony Maws, Jim Koch, Chris Schlesinger, Lydia Shire, etc. to socially important neighborhood spots
Speakers: Corky White, Jim O’Connell, Erwin Ramos, and Peter Drummey (moderator)

Sweet Boston
May 18, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Boston’s obsession with sweets as seen through 19th century candy making, 21st century candy making, and the rise of chocolate and the cacao trade in Boston
Speakers: Joyce Chaplin, Michael Krondl, Carla Martin, and Gavin Kleespies (moderator)

Ice Kings
June 6, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Looking at the unusually strong interest in ice cream from the early 19th century ice trade to the rise of premium ice cream through institutions like Steve’s
Speakers: Gus Rancatore, Jeri Quinzio, and Judy Herrell

Final Courses
June 15, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
A guided walking tour of the final resting places of some of Boston’s great culinary figures, including Fanny Farmer, Joyce Chen, Gian Franco Romagnoli, Walter Baker, William Schrafft, and Harvey Parker, of Boston’s famed Parker House
Led by the docents of Mount Auburn Cemetery

2) Committee is excited to announce an additional installment of their Monthly Wine Dinner Series on Wednesday, April 26, from 7pm-9pm, celebrating Cretan cuisine and wines from Rhous Winery. Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos, Wine Director Lauren Friel, and Consulting Chef Diane Kochilas team up with winemaker Maria Tamiolakis of Rhous Winery for a special Cretan Wine Dinner.

Rhous Winery is a boutique winery owned by the Tamiolakis family and situated near the village of Houdetsi in Greece. It is part of the Appellation Peza, the largest wine-producing region in the Heraklion Prefecture. Tamiolakis is a young female winemaker who is part of the “next generation” winemakers of Greece. She, along with her husband, both run Rhous Winery which is a super small production/artisanal winery on Crete (an area that has been known for bulk/industrial wine making in past years). This wine dinner will be extra special due to the fact that she will be onsite to educate attendees and answer any questions they may have

Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos will present a five-course Cretan menu for the evening, featuring distinct dishes and flavors of the area in a variety of meze and full size dishes.

The full menu for the Cretan Wine Dinner is as follows:
Marinated Spring Salad (shaved artichokes, asparagus tips, fresh peas, fennel, dill, Cretan barley rusks, shaved graviera)
Burke (potato zucchini terrine with fresh cheese, mint, & feta)
Octopus (braised with orange wedges & green olives)
Oregano Roasted Goat (sfakiano pilafi)
Cretan Honey Cheesecake (raisin spoon sweet)

Featured wines include:
Muscat of Spino/Vidiano Blend
Rhous ‘Estate’ White
Vidiano/Plyto
Rhous ‘Skipper’ White
Kotsifali/Mandilaria
Rhous‘Skipper’ Red

The Cretan Wine Dinner is $75 per person. Reservations are required so please call 617-737-5051

3) This May and June 2017, the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) is once again offering Bostonians an exclusive opportunity to mingle and cook with some of the city’s top chefs, as part of its ongoing celebrity chefs cooking series.

Students will learn the craft of cooking in hands-on classes taught by local celebrity chefs. Each chef will emerge from their renowned kitchens and into the BCAE’s state-of-the-art kitchen facilities for a one session interactive cooking class. Under the guidance of these top chefs, students will learn how to create the perfect dishes for all their spring get-togethers, These delicious courses will leave everyone wanting more.

Class Schedule:
Southern Inspired Fried Chicken Feast with Alex Saenz of Bisq
Monday, May 1st from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Restaurant-Quality Comfort Food with Francis Flores of Coda
Monday, May 8th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Pasta By Hand with Douglass Williams of Mida
Monday, May 15th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Classic Greek Home Cooking with Theo Tsilipanos of Committee
Monday, June 12th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Authentic French Bistro Cusisine with Michael Denk of Bar Boulud
Monday, June 19th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Fine Dining Desserts for the Home Kitchen with Allen Morter of Bistro du Midi
Monday, June 26th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Reserve seats now; space is limited. To register, or for more information please visit www.bcae.org or call the Boston Center for Adult Education at 617-267-4430 to sign up.
COST: $70 for Non-Members, $60 Members, and $15 material cost.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Enderle & Moll Basis: An Intriguing German Pinot Noir

Spätburgunder.

A German word for what you will likely better know as Pinot Noir. German Rieslings get most of the attention so many people don't realize that Pinot Noir is produced in Germany. In fact, Pinot Noir has been grown in Germany since at least the 14th century, though it never attained the fame of Burgundy, partially as the wines just didn't seem as good as those in Burgundy. However, their quality has greatly improved. Currently, there are approximately 12,000 hectares of Pinot Noir grown in Germany and we're starting to see more of those wines in the U.S. market.

Streetcar Winesin Jamaica Plain, has an excellent and fascinating selection of wines, primarily from small producers and their prices are very reasonable. This is a wine lovers store, an intriguing place for people to explore and expand their palates. Recently, while perusing their shelves, I found the 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir ($30) and owner Michael Dupuy told me that it might be his favorite German Pinot Noir. I chose to buy a bottle, as well as a number of other fascinating wines.

The Enderle & Moll winery, which is relatively new, is named for its two German owners, Sven Enderle and Florian Moll. The winery is located in the Baden region, in the Black Forest foothills between Offenburg and Freiburg im Breisgau. They have a small, 2.4 hectare vineyard, in the village of Münchweier, which they farm organically and they also purchase some grapes from another small, organic vineyard. Their Pinot Noir vines are some of the oldest in the Baden region and purchase aged barrels from a small estate in Burgundy. Enderle and Moll are seen as "contrarians," very different from many other neighboring German producers. They are very hands-on, producing wines which many might consider "natural wines." They also have a reputation for making some of the best Pinot Noir in Germany.

The 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir is their entry-level Pinot and it is created from two different barrels. One barrel is from whole clusters that were foot-stomped while the other barrel was only 30% whole clusters. And this wine has only an 11.5% ABV, an amazingly low alcohol level compared to most other Pinot Noirs. This wine has a very light red color and on the nose, its present an alluring scent of cherry, mild spice and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you'll be impressed with its elegance and complexity, its bright acidity and delightful flavors of red fruit, spice notes, earthy elements and a touch of herbs.

With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this is a killer Pinot, one that can easily compete with Pinots from any other region. It seems like a wine reflective of place, and it was easy to finish the bottle over the course of an evening. And if this is only their entry level wine, then I very much want to explore their higher end wines, to see the vinous magic they produce. I highly recommend this wine and also highly recommend you check out Streetcar Wines.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rant: Eat & Drink The Bunny

"Put the bunny back in the box."
--Cameron Poe in Con Air

Yesterday was Easter, a holiday which partially showcases the Easter Bunny, who delivers candy-filled baskets to children. Numerous people enjoyed traditional choices, ham or lamb, for dinner. I pondered recently though whether any local restaurants would serve rabbit for Easter dinner, but I didn't learn of any spots doing so. Last week, I also wrote about a Mezcal made with rabbit, which I thought would be a great choice for Easter. Not everyone seemed thrilled with that idea.

Why are so many people opposed to eating, or drinking, rabbit?

Some will ask, how can anyone eat a cute, fuzzy bunny? Some people may have had a rabbit as a pet, keeping it in a small hutch, and thus feel squeamish about eating something they once had as a dear pet. These feelings are relative modern and that sentiment wasn't an issue for many prior generations. We need to return to those earlier sentiments as the consumption of rabbit is good on several fronts, as it is the most nutritious and sustainable meats that exists. 

Around 1100 B.C., when the Phoenicians first came to Spain, they found rabbits there and it is probable that they then spread rabbits throughout the Mediterranean region. The ancient Romans enjoyed rabbit meat, and they even created leporaria, walled areas where they raised rabbits for later slaughter. There once was even a Roman law that all young women had to eat rabbit because it was thought it would make them more beautiful.

Rabbits have continued to be eaten as food throughout history, though consumption in the U.S. has apparently declined greatly at least over the last hundred years. Have you ever noticed that it seems almost every movie about the Middle Ages shows rabbit being eaten? Nowdays, Europeans are far more amenable to dining on rabbit and France is the largest producer and consumer of rabbit.  My first time eating rabbit was when I was in Spain over 15 years ago.

Why should we eat more rabbit?

First, it is an excellent sustainable choice, far more sustainable than beef, pork, lamb or poultry.  Rabbits eat grass and marginal forage, thus they do not compete for resources with people and are more easily fed than many other animals.  They will even eat food scraps, which would be a great use for all of our vast food waste. We all know how rapidly rabbits can reproduce and they are available year round.  Rabbits require little space, certainly much less than other food animals.  You could even raise rabbits at home, which is relatively easy to do. It is said that a rabbit can produce six pounds of meat for the same amount of resources which a cow needs to produce a single pound. 

The carbon footprint of raising rabbits is far lower than other common food animals, and thus much better for the environment.  As the demand for meat continues to increase, it may be impossible to meet that demand without causing significant environmental problems due to increased resource intensity. Beef may be the largest offender, requiring significant resources which could be instead used for other purposes which might better feed more people.  The increased consumption of rabbit could alleviate these issues, as rabbits require far lesser resources.  It is something that needs to be seriously considered.

Second, rabbit meat is very healthy and nutritious. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has even stated that rabbit is the most nutritious meat. Rabbit has only 795 calories per pound, compared to chicken at 810, turkey at 1190, beef at 1440 and pork at 2050. Rabbit also has the highest percentage of protein of any meat. In addition, rabbit has a lower percentage of fat and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork.  Rabbit is easily digested, and has very high levels of Omega-3's and other good fats. Those are all good reasons to opt for rabbit.  

Third, and a very important reason, rabbit tastes good. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor, in some respects like chicken, though it can also remind you of veal or even pork. You won't find it to have a gamey flavor, which can be offputting to some. Plus, nearly all of the rabbit is white meat, which appeals to many people.  It is generally lean meat, so be careful about overcooking it. In addition, different parts of the rabbit have different characteristics so you can get a variety of flavors within the rabbit.  If you tasted rabbit blind, you would very likely enjoy the meat though you probably would not realize it was rabbit.

The main resistance to eating rabbit appears to be primarily psychological. It is seen more as too cute to eat, too much like a pet. Yet those who actually eat rabbit find out how delicious it can be. Plus, as it is so sustainable and nutritious, more people should be eating rabbit. Break through that psychological wall and try some tasty rabbit. It is good for you, good for society, and good for the environment.

Eat & Drink The Bunny!