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Experiencing Mezcal at Mezcalaria – Part 2

On July 21st and 28th, the quaint neighborhood of Jalatlaco in Oaxaca, Mexico played host to two nights of a mezcal extravaganza called Mezcalaria. Each night paired four different mezcals with four different dishes. Our on the ground Mezcalista Ana J.B. was there.The original Spanish was translated by Alice Groves.

It was a long eight days of waiting for the second Mecalaria event. I couldn’t wait to see what Invigorating and tasty dishes Chef Diaz would create to pair with different mezcals selected by Ulises Torrentera and Sandra Ortiz from Los Amantes, Mezcaloteca, In Situ and Cuish.

There was also the presence of new patrons, and seeing their wanting and expectant faces, anxious to know what this event was all about, made me even more excited. I was ready to truly capture these new aromas and flavours in my mouth.

In this second round of Mezcalaria, the organizers of the event clearly felt more confident, but I never lost sight of their ever present nervousness and preoccupation that everything go according to plan.

It was time to meet new people and hear more about what brought them to this pairing here in the garden of such a magnificent house in Jalatlaco, a cozy neighborhood adjacent to Oaxaca’s bustling centro.  Karina, a young lady from Guadalajara, sat across from me and was accompanied by her Taiwanese boyfriend Oriundo.  They had just returned from a road trip to mezcal country having taken some time to stop in with Don Alfonso Sanchez and his brothers at their palenque in Chichicapam (they are definitely some of the best mezcal producers in the region.)

Chef Jose Luis Diaz plates one of the courses

1st pairing

Mezcal:  Espadín

Agave: Espadín

Producer: Los Amantes

Selected by: Leon Langle

Produced in: San Luis del Rio

This special mezcal from Los Amantes, which has a tasting room just a few feet from Oaxaca’s standout cathedral Santo Domingo, was distilled with lemongrass.  This form of distillation, incorporating herbs, is reasonably common but rarely is distributed beyond Oaxaca or the palenques. Palenqueros can add nuts, fruits or herbs to add flavor and complexity.

Salad of verdolagas (leafy Oaxacan greens) with a ceviche made of mushrooms and tepejilote (much like heart of palm and very regional) soaked in passion fruit marinade, avocado ‘criollo’ (a local variety), pomegranate seeds, and a plantain and chili pepper vinaigrette.

The mezcal was young and while initially sweet had a full bodied, explosive middle and a very bitter lemongrass finish.

2nd pairing

Mezcal:  Bicuixhe

Agave: 50% Cuish (wild maguey) and 50% Madre Cuish (wild maguey)

Produced by: Mezcaloteca

Selected by: Mezcaloteca

Produced in: Miahuatlan de Porfirio Diaz

2nd plate:  Mole coloradito with diced shrimp, bean paste and cheese from the Istmo (or, the Isthmus region of Oaxaca, is about five hours south of the city and host to a very different cuisine.)

The dish was surprisingly sweet, with a subtle spiciness. The delicate seasoning was a little over powered by the strong and earthy flavors of the mezcal.

3rd pairing

Mezcal:  Papalomet

Agave: Papalomet

Produced by: Farolito

Selected by: Ulises Torrentera

The roasted agave was crushed in a tree trunk and then fermented in cowhide.  It was then distilled in a clay tank and has an extremely limited 50 liter production.

3rd plate:  Tasajo beef hamburgers with hierba santa (rootbeer leaf), a guajillo chili pepper sauce, marmalade and fried dandelion leaves

The mezcal was richly flavored with musky hint of meat and filled the mouth and throat with full flavors. It opened the taste buds up perfectly to match with the meaty hamburger.

4th pairing

Mezcal:  Espadín

Agave: Espadín

Produced by: Cuish

Selected by: Felix Hernandez

Produced in: Ixcatlan

Dessert:  Chocolate nut brownie with cuajinicuil (a sweet tropical fruit from the area) topped by a guajillo chili pepper drizzle, diced fresh ginger, and pitiona (a local herb).  It was accompanied by dollops of a ginger fig marmalade. A great combination.

I truly enjoy these types of events that have a very different concept of how to educate people about what they are eating and drinking, and the variety of ways in which local (and primarily organic) ingredients can be used to open the mouth to new experiences. And while I never doubted the success of the evening, I was completely satisfied in the end. I congratulate this great team on putting together such a unique and delicious event. As a good friend of mine says; by sharing the mezcal we all we all come out winners.

Experiencing Mezcal at Mezcalaria – Part 1

On July 21st and 28th, the quaint neighborhood of Jalatlaco in Oaxaca, Mexico played host to two nights of a mezcal extravaganza called Mezcalaria. Each night paired four different mezcals with four different dishes. Our on the ground Mezcalista Ana J.B. was there.The original Spanish was translated by Alice Groves.

 

It’s hard to believe that in the land of mezcal and food that this hadn’t already happened – a night of four unique mezcals, paired with four unique dishes. But Mezcalaria was something brand new here in Oaxaca. Created by Sandra Ortiz, Ulises Torrentera and chef José Luis Díaz, with the express purpose of promoting small production, artisanal mezcals and talking about it rich cultural history and significance. The team worked with the following mezcalerias to select rare and hard to find mezcals: Los Amantes, Mezcaloteca, Cuish, and In Situ. They were joined by master mixologist Erick Rodriguez.

One of Chef Jose Luis Diaz’s creations

Chef Diaz of El Teatro Culinario rounded out the two nights by creating dishes that drew upon local ingredients and enhanced the flavors of each of the mezcals – drawing out their complexities and highlighting how closely linked the food and mezcal experience is.

Some details on the pairings for the first night evening:

We were greeted at our tables with an hors d’oeuvres called Amuse Bouche – a squash flour stuffed with honey and requesón, a rich ricotta-like Oaxacan cheese, served on a hand made corn tostada.  It was an exquisite taste, delightfully creamy and sweet.

1st pairing

Mezcal: Penc verde

Agave: Penc Verde

Producer: Farolito

Selected by Ulises Torrentera

Produced in San Pedro Totomochapam

Special Edition – 50 liter production

The Penc Verde is a rare wild maguey that requires 12 years to mature.

1st plate:  tepejilote (like heart of palm and very regional), quintoniles y verdologas (local Oaxacan leafy herbs) with salsa de chile guajillo.

The mezcal had an explosive yet woody flavor and its consistency paired perfectly with the flavors of the salad and salsa, leaving your palate wanting more of its unique, herbaceous taste.

The combination of sipping mezcal and nibbling on food naturally causes one’s body and soul to slowly relax. The simultaneously calming, yet boisterous ambiance, further allowed our senses to open and better distinguish the aromas and flavors to come. The energy was contagious and we were all excited and anxious to know what would come next. Diego, my friendly table neighbor seated to my right, and I were completely enveloped by the good vibes and ready for more.

2nd pairing

Mezcal:  Rodacanta

Agave: Agave Mexicano

Producer: Los Amantes

Selected by: Leon Langle

Produced by: Yogama, Ejutla

2nd plate:  Tasajo marinated in chili peppers and lime with slices of cuajinicuil, a sweet, tropical fruit, native to Oaxaca’s coast, neatly placed over a bed of salsa of chili guajillo.

I would never have imagined enjoying this combination, something completely different from anything I have ever experienced in Oaxaca (we don’t usually combine meat and fruit here), but found it to be quite gratifying. After all, this was an evening of experimentation.

3rd pairing

Mezcal: Ensemble

Agave: 70% Espadin and 30% Madre cuish

Producer: Cuish

Selected by: Felix Hernandez

Produced in: San Isidro, Yautepec

3rd plate:  Shrimp topped with Oaxacan chorizo accompanied by refried beans and hierba de conejo (another herb native to Oaxaca), sprinkled with charred onions and slices of chile verde.

This was another combination I would have never thought of in my wildest dreams that went down with ease.

At this point we were graced with the expertise of mixologist Erick Rodriguez of Alma Mezcalara in Mexico City who refreshed our throats with a cocktail of basil, pineapple and mezcal.  This was very refreshing and we recommend it highly. The mezcal cocktail culture is new to us Oaxacans– we have a long history of drinking it neat so it was a very pleasant surprise.

I found myself so elated by the combination of flavors I have known all my life but in a way I had never tasted giving me the feeling that I would finish this tasting feeling like a Oaxacan who is no longer from Oaxaca.

4th pairing

Mezcal:  Arroqueño

Agave: Arroqueño

Producer: Mezcaloteca

Selected by: Mezcaloteca

Produced in: Santa Catarina Minas

The Arroqueño maguey takes 18 years to mature. It’s wild, reasonably rare and one of the more prized agaves. It was crushed by hand, rather than by the usual tahona stone mill.

Dessert:  Truffle of chocolate flavored yolk bread drizzled with basil cream and a chile guajillo reduction.

The desert was exotic – refreshing and spicy and not too sweet. It paired perfectly with the very bold mezcal, and the combination of the flavors balanced perfectly.

My hope in going to this event was to discover new flavors and combinations. They were all distinct and unique, and a real pleasure to try.  The idea of educating via a pairing of traditional food ingredients and mezcal is a truly welcoming and special way to learn.

 

Silvestres and espadin tasting

We just finished our third tasting this time focused entirely on mezcals that we brought back from a recent trip to Oaxaca.  We paired off silvestres and espadins for comparison and contrast.  All are in the traditional Oaxacan style.

We tasted:

1) Pierde Almas Espadin

2) El Prometido Espadin (private collection)

3) Cuish Tobaziche

4) Farolito

Profiles:

This tasting was set up for traditional Oaxacan mezcals so it favors the heavier body, higher alcohol content and more fruit forward approach that most brands eschew when they approach the market in the United States.

1) Pierde Almas Espadin comes from the Chichicapam region of Oaxaca and is produced by Alfonso Sanchez and his brothers.

2) El Prometido Espadin is a palenquero’s special blend from San Dionisio that we brought back from a recent tasting outside of Oaxaca.  We’re sworn to secrecy on who produced it but it’s a very traditional 100% espadin.

3) The Cuish Tobaziche is a silvestres or fruit of a wild maguey called Tobaziche.  It’s from Miahuatlan and is made in the traditional style, a truly artisanal product and, at 53%, is incredibly powerful.

4) The Farolito is the fruit of mezcal author and critic Ulises Torentera’s first venture into actually creating a mezcal for his own tastes. This particular mezcal is from San del Rio. It’s also a silvestres but of the cuesh variety and also incredibly powerful at 43%.

Descriptions

1) At c50% Pierde Almas’ espadin is no shrinking violet but the alcohol doesn’t overpower the strong agave flavor and round body.  There’s a really focused balance between a spectrum of roasted and caramelized flavors, a slight residue of smokiness and alcoholic kick.  One of our super tasters detected notes of “wet cement” or  minerals while others mentioned hints of citrus, perhaps grapefruit, with slight pepper notes.

2) Our mystery participant is also 100% espadin, and is slightly less alcoholic at 48% but glories in demonstrating alcoholic heat at the front of the mouth.  It has a strong mid-palate agave flavor and a huge body.  It’s not viscous but incredibly round like the Del Maguey Vida.

3) The Cuish Tobaziche is an incredibly complex mezcal that doesn’t get overwhelmed by it’s 50%.  Flavor elaboration is varied and complex with notes of nut, citrus, agave and pepper.  It has a relatively middle of the road body, especially when compared to the El Prometido espadin.

4) The Farolito Cuesh has an incredibly sharp agave flavor with lots of variation.  Like the Cuish Tobaziche tasters noted flavors of nuts, citrus, a lighter agave and pepper but this one really displayed that “wet cement” flavor that our super taster noted in an earlier espadin.

As you can tell the silvestres had a very strong showing.  Their flavors were off the charts when compared to the 100% espadins that preceded them in this tasting and in quick sideline tastings with other espadins.  Being the fruit of wild plants they’re proportionately more expensive, these bottles are easily 200% the price of the espadins in Mexico and will probably retail for north of $100 in the U.S. market.   Nearly everyone in the tasting was surprised by the high alcohol content of all the mezcals in this round because no one thought that they tasted overly alcoholic.

The spellings of silvestres vary widely so we always follow the brand’s spelling.  When we have some additional background information we’ll offer it.  In this case Tobaziche is most likely Madrecuixe (Agave karwinskii) which has a rather distinct appearance.

Agave karwinskii

Agave karwinskii. Photo by Alex Huhn from http://www.mezcaleria.de

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However the Cuesh in the Farolito could be a number of things.  We have a query into Ulises Torentera on the exact species.