Visit the Black Pergord: Land of Truffles & foie gras
New culinary experiences and luxury apartment rentals await in the Black Perigord region of the Dordogne, France, south of the famed medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda.
Guests of these brand-new luxury vacation rentals (gites in French) can choose meals options, cooking classes, wine tastings, as well as massage and visits to a prehistoric cave village.
Domme, named number one among France's 20 most beautiful villages by The Telegraph, is a walled village known as a Bastide. The Black Perigord is famous for its foie gras and black truffles.
Options include a superb studio in the countryside near the Dordogne River, accommodating up to 4 perons, and a large stone house inside the fortified village of Domme.
Château du Cèdre:
coming soon: epicurean guide to panama!
Between 1950 and 2018, Panama's population grew from 839,000 inhabitants to almost 4,1 million. That growth has engendered tremendous change, which we witnessed from visits starting in 1997 to the most recent in January, 2019.
As a veritable tropical paradise, the gateway from Central and North America to South America, Panama also marks the intersection of various cultures--aboriginal, Spanish, American, Afro-Caribbean, Columbian, Chinese--in a compact but relatively long country. Panama is 772 km in length. According to Google it takes over 13 hours to drive from Sixaola, Costa Rica (the border) the Vaviza, Panama, on the edge of the Darien jungle, 908 km of roads. The Darien itself remain impassable.
On the most recent visit, we marvelled at central Panama City, the skyscrapers, the Panama Canal, the Casco Viejo. The changes from 1997 are staggering.
The diversity and sophistication of culinary offerings has likewise multiplied.
One favorite place for both relaxation and cultural intrigue is the Carribean archipelago of Bocas del Toro, with its population center in Bocas Town on Isla Colon.
more coming . . .
Surely with Sherry
By Charles Leary & Vaughan J. Perret
Forget about your grandmother’s tipple. True Spanish Sherries are serious wines . . . Or so we discovered a few years ago on an unsuspecting tour of Andalusia.
We landed in Madrid, really on our way to Corsica, France. A cheap Internet fare lured us to crisscross through Spain on our way to the Mediterranean isle, and we settled on spending a few days in transit. Having no reservations for anything anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula, we rented a car and headed unsuspectingly south through the blazing sun, the moonscapes, and the olive groves until after a few hours we stopped in Cordoba, ancient city of learning and culture. It soon became obvious that somewhere between Despeñaperros, the mountainous frontier of the Junta of Andalusia, and the last olive tree, we had entered Sherryland (though not yet the snooty stuff they produce in Jerez further south, and which every Brit worth his or her instinctive salt knows to order by name).
In Cordoba, the waiter of each bar, cafe, and restaurant we entered took it as an insult if we failed to quaff a Fino or perhaps an Amontillado right off, little matter the time of day. Served very cold and produced very dry, it took no more than a few glasses to really love the stuff. We learned that Cordoba province has its own Sherry production from the region called Montilla-Morilles, and Sherry here, as in the areas surrounding Cadiz further south, is bred in the bone. You must drink it, using little flute-like glasses, there's simply no choice. The history of Sherry, like that of Port in Portugal, intertwines in an almost baroque way with British merchant interests and worldwide trade, starting centuries ago.
That's why you have traditional Spanish Sherry bodegaswith names like "Harvey," "Osborne," and "Garvey" in the middle of Andalusia. "Sherry" itself is an English mongrelization of the word for Jerez, while the Spanish themselves simply order a "fino" or an "olorosso." The English also used to call this high-alcohol wine "sack" and transported it in "butts," but we needn't get too intimate. Let's just say that Shakespeare depicts everyone from swarthy Fallstaff to various kings drinking copious amounts of it. The production of Cordoba finds its way more into Spanish bocas than foreigners, while Jerez wines travel the globe satisfying the Sherry habits of aficionados worldwide. Unlike the stuff your aunt used to serve from gaudy cut glass decanters, Spanish sherries have a sophistication, complexity, and culture of consumption worthy of appreciation.
I'm Fine with Fino
If you don't want to get into the messy vocabulary to follow, then stick with Fino, it sounds nice, is easy to remember, and has enough distinction to go for miles (or kilometers, in our case). The Andalusian bodegas make Fino primarily from palomino grapes grown on extremely chalky soils that occur only in two areas. It can be "dry" (seco) and "very dry" (muy seco), and has a very light to light straw color. The stuff from Jerez, which many consider the best, is generally a bit darker in color than finos from Montilla-Morilles, and those are the only two places it's made. When in Cordoba--an amazing city, home to the Great Mosque--you drink Montilla-Morilles, and when in Seville--home to the Alcazar and La Giralda Cathedral--you imbibe Jerez. In Granada, you drink whatever's available.
Fino, served quite cold, is extremely dry--vanish thoughts about Australian Chardonnay; in fact, remove normal wine parameters from your mind. It has bunches of very subtle flavors and smells, all in the dry format. "Like toasted almonds" is a good phraseology here, though there's much more dwelling inside a glass of Fino. It is, in our opinion, the quintessential aperitif. The Spanish work their butts off (no pun intended) making each bottle, in a production method known as solera involving multiple American oak casks and plenty of special yeasts, called flor, all housed in huge buildings, the bodegas, near to the coast for easy transshipment around the world.
The flor grows atop the wine in partially filled large barriques and prevents the wine's total oxidation. Flor adds tremendously to the flavor profile of Finos, as does the solera system of blending wines of different vintages to produce a consistent and wonderful production each year. The oak of the New World adds its own character, and a bit of historical continuity, for Andalusia populated most of Latin America. Each glass of Fino, in fact, contains the history of Sherry, with parts of the wine and the flor going back decades and perhaps centuries. The best known Fino houses include Gonzalez Byass with their "Tio Pepe" and the various sherries made by Lustau--not bad but try some from Montilla-Morilles too, if you can find them.
What the Heck, Give Me an Oloroso
Moving beyond Fino in Sherryland brings you to the sub-classification of Manzanilla, and then on to Almontillado and Oloroso--wonderfully sonorous names, aren't they? There's also "Cream" Sherry, but forget about it--that's the sweet stuff from your grandma's decanter. All Manzanillacomes from a town on the sea called Sanlucar de Barrameda; very similar to Fino, it has a slightly different color, and a saltier perhaps slightly nuttier, and smoother taste. Like Fino, it's perfect served very cold with seafood. Amontillado possesses a light amber cast, and has greater dry fruit flavors, like raisins and hazelnuts. It compliments more savory and complex dishes, including Spain's wonderful cheeses. Oloroso leans much more strongly to the thick, sweet side of things, and is a component of Cream sherry. Dark in color, it can have deep, almost molasses-like flavors, and may take some getting used to. The Spaniards drink it with full-flavored meat and game dishes.
Some Sherry Suggestions
Anything from Lustau, Cadiz Province: they produce excellent Finos, Olorosos, and Amontillados. Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byass, pure palomino Jerez fino muy seco flavors. Also excellent for fino and others, and widely available: the products of Pedro Domecq, including "La Ina." From Cordoba Province, try any fino or amontillado you can get; production is very consistent amongst the different bodegas, but the style is quite distinct from Jerez. Consumption is mostly local, and little is exported.
cheese & wine
What a pair! They both exist in multitudinous varieties and yet seem to partner so naturally. They lie near the heart of western gastronomy, perhaps joining bread, already there.
Any study of cheese and wine must consider the similarities and differences in how each is approached separately and together as food products.
Having been farmstead cheesemakers and a wine professionals, the patterns of intersection between the two worlds go beyond the obvious conclusion that, yes, cheese and wine go well together. First, many basic production concepts including the importance of the agricultural aspects of the enterprise are similar between cheese and wine. Second, the appreciation of wine and of cheese involves similar aptitudes, desires, vocabulary, and evaluative techniques. Third, the concept of terroir is applicable and probably important to both. Finally, both wine and cheese belong to the same cultural sphere—gustatory enjoyment—and business sphere—hospitality, foodservice, restaurants—so that wine and cheese make sense together. The history and geography and wine and cheese appreciation also runs parallel.
Cheese (& Wine)
Cheesemaking involves the conversion of a single basic product—milk--into a variety of different products classified as cheese Cheese is made by the coagulation or precipitation of milk solids. Milk itself contains colloidally suspended, dissolved, and emulsified components consisting of whey proteins and casein, fat, lactose, minerals, and vitamins. In fact, these days component pricing of milk as a way to pay dairy farmers and practice milk marketing has become extremely important. Traditionally in North America, the best quality milk usually did not go to cheese production. “Cheese milk” was not of the same standard as “fluid milk.” This is one reason why farmstead production is so important—the cheesemaker is also the farmer, and can focus on quality milk production for cheese, especially on factors like butterfat content that will matter to the final cheese quality.
Milk is altered in the creamery by the addition of a small possible set of ingredients: rennet (either natural or synthetic), acid, starter culture (bacteria), and water. Usually—unless making a flavored cheese—that's all there is to it. Ensuring the maintenance of milk quality between the animal—buffalo, sheep, goat, or cow—to the creamery and then to the cheese vat is very important. This involves scrupulous attention to sanitation, filtration, use of proper vessels and containers (mostly stainless steel), and refrigeration. This list should sound familiar to most winemakers, though dairy sanitation standards are much stricter than winemaking sanitation standards.
The whole point is to get milk into the cheese vat or coagulation container as close to its original state as possible, and especially without any contamination by “bad” bacteria. By bad bacteria, I do not only mean bacteria that might harm humans, but usually much more importantly, those bacteria that will have a negative impact on, or destroy cheese quality. This includes most prominently the coliforms—which are markers of inadequate sanitation somewhere along the line between udder and vat. Though, too, even “good” lactic bacteria, if left for too long or at elevated temperatures, will produce undesired milk qualities, particularly enhanced acidity. Then there are the cryophilic bacteria that breed under cold conditions and produce “ropy milk”--you can imagine!
Here, too, the farmstead cheesemaker has the potential advantage of directly transferring the just received milk to a vat with many fewer steps and intermediaries than at the cheese factory many miles away.
At the creamery, milk is then most often pasteurized or pumped directly to a vat, where raw milk is heated for cheesemaking. In France, a lot of cheeses are made by weak rennet coagulation combined with indirect (bacterial) acid coagulation at room temperature—direct from the goat's udder to the cheesemkaing bucket! Famous cheeses like Sainte Maure and Valencay are made this way. Most cheeses, however, are made by bringing the milk to a determined starting temperature, adding bacterial culture, diluted rennet, and then waiting for an appropriate level of coagulation. Rennet acts on milk by altering the protein structure of casein in milk to form a gel. Well into the twentieth century no one fully understood the chemistry of how rennet worked, and it is still a topic of active research. Rennet action can vary substantially with the heat and acid properties of the milk.
In any even, rennetting the milk will ultimately—usually fairly quickly—produce a “curd” that can then be manipulated further to aid drainage of the whey and the production of what we would call cheese. The gel caused by rennet can be cut—usually with cheese knives (no, not the knives you use to serve cheese with, but harp-like paddles)--or it can be scooped gently and directly into waiting molds. Much French-style soft bodied cheese is produced by directly scooping, while more English and Swiss style cheesemaking involves cutting and heating.
In making a cut-curd cheese—like cheddar, for example—there may be several other stages involved. These can include: “cooking” the curd, “washing” the curd, “slabbing” the curd, and “cheddaring” the curd.
In pasta filata cheese (think mozzarella), acidification of curd slabs is important for a precise level of acidity development—followed by the manipulation of the curd at relatively high temperatures, and usually by soaking the curd in very hot water and then stretching it.
In large-scale cheese production, many of these steps are automated. In small-scale cheese production, they are mostly manual.
The resulting, molded cheese curd must then be drained, sometime bandaged, and then allowed to age, or—if it is a fresh cheese—stored under refrigeration.
For aged cheeses, the goal is flavor development—might one say extraction???--as well as chemical changes that occur with time. Again—sounds familiar to winemaking, no? What occurs with time and with some human effort, is a breakdown of proteins and/or fats, which forms flavor compounds. There is also bacterial growth, and with the natural rind cheeses, changes to rind composition and chemistry. Natural rind cheeses encourage the growth of organisms, particularly molds but also bacterium, that will affect the texture and flavor of the resulting cheese. This is also true of blue cheese, where blue cheese mold must be encouraged to grow inside the cheese itself.
It is up to the cheesemaker or affineur to now when the cheese is ready for market, or to advise customers on the flavor profile of a particular cheese at a particular age. Any raw-milk cheese sold in North America must be aged at least 60 days before sale.
In summary, in quality cheese production there are three major stages, each with its own important aims, all oriented towards flavor, balance, and consistency:
The first stage: Milk Production
Now, cheese appreciation comes to the fore.
You can select from hundreds of different choices of cheese that will provide different flavors, textures, aromas, shapes, cooking properties, and pairings with other foods and drinks.
Cheese appreciation and its more professional aspects of cheese judging and sensory analysis involve visual inspection, olfactory impression, tasting for texture and for flavors, and finally judging the balance of all elements—always with respect for what kind of cheese or effect you desire.
A cheese tasting can involve a segmented series of stages, just like a wine tasting, though dealing with a solid food rather than a liquid has its obvious differences.
Affineur Jean d'Alos of Bordeaux describes, through a student is his appreciation class,
a multi-sensory process of tasting a cheese, starting from looking at the cheese, the color of the rind, the texture, considering whether those were appropriate for the type of cheese being tasted. Next we rubbed a small amount of cheese between our fingers, feeling the texture and smelling the fragrant coming from the cheese heating up between the fingers. Then each of us tore off a small piece, put it on our respective tongues and pressed it against the palate the mouth to aerate the cheese without biting into it, slowly letting the taste of the cheese disseminate throughout the mouth, tasting the flavor, the mouthfeel and the texture of the cheese in the mouth. Then, finally, we were allowed to actually eat the cheese, chew, swallow, and all.