Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 39!

Tapas! (Manchego and Quince on crusty bread)

Another week, another theory day! We tackled wines from Australia
and New Zealand in the morning, followed by Spanish Tapas in the afternoon (complete with a Sherry tasting!). Before we kicked off the day, we went over our cheese of the week (Cheddar) and the biscuit of the week (caramelized pecan squares and caramelized almond squares). Cheddar is the most labor-intensive all the farmhouse cheeses to make, because of a process called "Cheddaring" which involves stacking and periodically turning the curds (AKA the solids of the coagulated milk) by hand over a period of time. The cheesemaker does this until the curds reach a certain acidity, and then they're cut, salted, and pressed into cheese molds to form what we know as cheddar cheese. We had a cheese tray to taste at lunch, laden with various Irish (Wexford, Dublin, Charleville, and Mount Callan) and British (Quickes, Keen's, and Mongomery) Cheddars - delicious!

Soon, Colm McCan, the Sommelier at the Ballymaloe House (which just won Georgina Campbell's 2010 Wine Award!), emerged with John McDonald of Wine Australia ( to present a few bottles from the land down under. Though many pin Australia as a rookie on the wine bench, its winemaking tradition actually dates back to the 1800's. Presently, there are around 2,200 Australian winemakers, who produce 4% of the world's wines (about the same production as Bordeaux). It will be difficult to increase production beyond those numbers because of the scarcity of water in the region. As it goes, Australia has a reputation for producing big, heavy, over-oaked Chardonnay. However, recently many winemakers are blending in Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc grapes to lighten the taste.

After a short tea break, we were joined by Peter McDonald of Hunter Wines in New Zealand ( Hunter Wines in Marlborough has become world renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, which benefits from the long ripening period in the cooler climate. Peter works with his sister-in-law Jane Hunter ("the star of New Zealand wine"), who started the family run business with her late husband, Ernie. We tasted a Hunter's Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and then broke for lunch, which we ate with a glass of Hunter's Riesling.

Rory taught the afternoon Tapas demonstration, where he stressed the importance of authentic
ingredients when making tapas (Spanish olive oil, Spanish ham, etc). Tapas originally were free, and came with an ordered glass of sherry or wine (like bar nuts, if you will). The word tapas is believed to have come from the Spanish verb "tapar", meaning "to cover", because wine or sherry was served with a piece of bread over the rim of the wine glass to keep the flies out!

We watched Rory concoct a wide range of tapas, from simple marinated Aragon or Manzanilla Olives to more complicated Pulpo En Vinagrea (Octopus in a vinaigrette). When you're making tapas, often the simpler the better (a bite of marinated goats cheese, or a nibble of pata negra or serrano). Especially when you're making simple food, take care to use quality ingredients!

Tips, Tips, Tips!

- As a general "cheese rule", the bigger the block of cheese is as it ages, the better the cheese will be.

- By the time the grapes come into the winery to be pressed, the wine is already 75% made. Making the wine is the easy part, but growing the grapes is a whole different (and more difficult) ballgame.

- Turmeric has been found to be good for esophageal cancer.

- Sparkling wine is made by taking normal wine, bottling it, and adding a little additional yeast and sugar. The yeast feeds on the sugar and creates carbon dioxide bubbles in the process, which dissolve into the wine. This process is called "second fermentation".

- The cork of a bottle of sparkling wine has the same amount of pressure as the tire of a double decker bus. Pop it cautiously!

- Apparently, Rose is making a comeback! Brace yourself.

- If you ever see the "Brix" level highlighted on a wine label, it refers to the level of sugar in the grapes at harvest.

- 96% of all wine that is bought is consumed within 24 hours

- Screw tops (as opposed to corks) are not the "cheaper option", and have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the wine. It is a personal choice for the winemaker, as corks and screw tops each have their benefits and cons.

- Pinot Noir is the "holy grail" for winemakers. It is the most difficult to make because the Pinot Noir grape is so finicky.

- A couple "environmental awareness" terms: "food miles" refers to the distance a product travels before it arrives on your plate; the "FoodPrint" is the carbon footprint of the food you consume. Fewer "food miles" does not necessarily mean a lower "foodprint" (think about an organic, free-range chicken from 500 miles away vs. an industrial chicken from 50 miles away).

- When making meatballs, after mixing the ingredients into the meat, fry up a teaspoon of the mixture on a pan to taste it for seasoning. There is no point laboring to roll 30 meatballs if the seasoning is off!

- If you're interested in Tapas cooking, check out New Tapas by Fiona Dunlop and Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain by Penelope Casas.

1 comment:

  1. Binny,

    99% of the wine I buy is consumed within the first 24 minutes! Your brothers tell me they like to keep their "food miles" around zero; I guess that's why they're always "shootin' at food" in the back yard. Overheard: One cannibal to another: "If you want to keep your Foodprint from going through the roof, don't eat Al Gore!"

    Great mouth-watering pics!