You may have noticed the term ensemble on some mezcals, it’s just like the dictionary definition, the second one after “a group of musicians, actors, or dancers who perform together.” The one that reads “a group of items viewed as a whole rather than individually.” As applied to the mezcal world the same holds true, a variety of agaves are harvested, roasted, mashed, fermented, distilled, and bottled together.
Posts tagged ‘mezcal encyclopedia’
A quiote is the stalk that shoots up from an agave plant when it’s ready to reproduce. They can be dried and used as fuel, construction materials, food or even as a decorative item. They’re one of the most dramatic elements of the agave life cycle.
Occasionally the literal translation really does work the best, this time it gets us 60% of the way there with “worm salt.” Sal de gusano is actually ground up salt, dried worms, and peppers. You see it everywhere in Oaxaca. It’s sold in small bags by elderly women around the market, in huge piles within markets, and it appears everywhere in the local cuisine. It’s also an intimate part in the traditional way of drinking mezcal; you’re supposed to sit at a table with friends sharing a bottle of mezcal drunk from copitas or jicaras and, as you sip away while debating the topics of the day, dip orange or pineapple slices into a bowl of sal de gusano so that you get a blast of fruit tempered by the salty, umami flavors in the sal de gusano. It’s a tremendous foil to the heat and flavors in mezcal.
Sal de gusano is also a perfect example of the fruit of necessity because the peppers grow right along side the agave plants while salt was produced on the nearby isthmus. Classic Oaxacan cuisine features sal de gusano in some recipes, occasionally you’ll find it as a table top condiment, but I’ve really seen it break out in more contemporary interpretations of Oaxacan cooking.
Pechuga literally means “breast” in Spanish. A pechuga mezcal is one that has been triple distilled and, in the third distillation, a turkey or chicken breast is suspended above the mezcal within the still. The alcohol dissolves the meat of the breast which tends to add a very unctuous texture to the mezcal and a variety of taste sensations.
Pechuga can be used in a more general sense to mean a mezcal that is distilled with fruits, nuts, and poultry breast but it almost always contains the poultry breast. An exception is the conejo which is made with rabbit instead of poultry (conejo means rabbit in Spanish). Usually this is made clear on the label by calling the mezcal a conejo instead of a pechuga but the nomenclature can occasionally be fuzzy. Conejo mezcals are very rare, and, consequently, are much more expensive. For all we know there are many other variations of this out there because we’ve also had a venison pechuga from Guerrero state.
The taste of a pechuga will obviously vary with the contents of the mezcal. If it only contains a poultry breast or rabbit the change is very subtle but it’s clearly a different experience than a traditional mezcal. Some drinkers dislike the mouth feel of pechugas and avoid them. Obviously these drinks are not vegetarian nor vegan. When made with fruits and/or nuts pechugas have wildly different flavors that can mirror their contents or range widely.
We’re kicking off our mezcal encyclopedia with the name “Minero” because we get asked about it all the time and it’s the perfect emblem for linguistic confusion in the world of mezcal. The definition is deceptively simple, it refers to an espadin mezcal from Santa Catarina Minas, but to old timers it just means a joven mezcal, presumably because Santa Catarina Minas used to make them all.
Update: One of our friends noted that the last line in our definition here “but to old timers it just means a joven mezcal, presumably because Santa Catarina Minas used to make them all.” wasn’t as clear as it could have been. We meant that for old timers Minero means any mezcal from Santa Catarina Mina regardless of the agave it was made from. Hopefully that clarifies things for everyone.
Another issue of note is that minero literally means miner in Spanish, we’re unsure of where the association comes from so if anyone can offer a clarification we and the readers of this blog would be greatly in your debt.
A further update: A reader found this quote about the origin of the term Minero.