Shaun Rein, managing director of the China Market Research Group, is the author of the new release “The End of Cheap China,” which addresses, among other things, food safety and food supply issues in China.
Rein’s research shows that China is having an increasing impact on global food supply and that the Chinese taste for imported Western food is growing as is demand for a reliable and safe food system in that country.
Based in Shanghai, he writes for Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek. I spoke recently to Rein about his book chapter dedicated to food safety issues in China.
How is the consumer power of the average Chinese changing?
The book is meant to dispel a lot of myths about China’s economy. The first is that Chinese consumers are price-sensitive and cheap. I have a chapter on food safety, where I explain that they’re willing to spend money on healthy and safe food, so if you’re a producer, it’s worth selling into China. For example, Yum! Brands makes over 40 percent of its global revenue in China. So the Chinese consumer is a great consumer for Yum!, McDonald’s, Kraft and any company trying to sell finished products into the country.
It’s also a great country for the agricultural sector: sales of pork and soy are going up 300 to 400 percent a year.
How is this affecting the way the Chinese eat? How has that changed in recent years?
Meat consumption was very low. Meat consumption in China is only about 35 percent that of the United States, So, Americans eat a lot more meat, but that is changing. Chinese doubled (their average per person) meat consumption in the last 30 years. As Chinese consumers are getting wealthier, they’re eating more meats, and (the country’s wealthiest consumers) are actually willing to spend more per capita on meat than (their counterparts do) in the United States.
Are they domestically producing different kinds of foods to meet those demands?
Yeah, what you’re seeing now is massive investment on the domestic side when it comes to beef, when it comes to wine … all kinds of things. But the reality is that China’s food system has a problem: There’s not enough arable land, and the water is heavily polluted. So China is actually going to have to rely on food imports, from the United States especially, and they’re becoming a massive importer of pork, chicken feet, soybeans, pistachios, all kinds of products. These consumers trust American-produced food products more than they do stuff from China. So it’s really a boom for all different industries involved in the food sector. On the lower end and higher end.
Arable land is only 7 percent (of that available around the world), so it’s a serious problem, and it’s only going to get worse going forward.
What are you noticing in terms of the impact on health in the way Chinese are changing their food consumption behaviors?
Right now, consumers are not worried that much about food when it comes to “is it healthy?” towards their overall diet. They’re eating meat, they’re eating fatty food, and they’re not overly concerned about long-term illnesses, which is why you’re seeing rates of heart disease and diabetes skyrocketing.
But people are worried about being healthy from a toxicity standpoint. We interviewed 2,000 consumers in eight cities last year, and the majority said they feel that KFC, for instance, is healthy. They know it’s not healthy in the traditional sense, but people are worried about eating cooking swill oil [that is old, used oil which is filtered of solids and then re-used for cooking] on the streets, and dying right away.
What are the food safety concerns Chinese have, beyond swill oil?
We interviewed 5,000 consumers in 15 cities last year, and their biggest concern in life, ahead of being able to pay for their kid’s education or for medical costs for the family, is actually food and product safety. People are really worried. That’s why brands like Mengniu Dairy are winning, because they’re positioned as higher priced over Nestlé, they’re about 20-30 percent more (expensive), and consumers are willing to fork out the money because they think it’s going to be safe. So Dannon and Nestlé had to shut their factories in Shanghai this year, because they were competing on price and consumers didn’t want their cheap stuff anymore. Consumers find a correlation between safety and price, and feel higher price will be safe. Now I’m not sure that’s necessarily true in reality, but that’s how they equate it.
In your opinion, how are China’s consumption trends affecting the world beyond?
[They are affecting the world] in a few areas. First, China’s become the market to sell into, so a lot of brands need to think about how they’re going to sell to Chinese consumers, especially women, because women are the decision-makers when it comes to food purchases, predominantly, in families.
It’s also going to mean that there’s going to be inflation. In the last three decades, China has really been a deflationary force on the global economy. But because everyone’s getting fat, and wanting to eat more, better quality foods, you’re going to see a pricing strain on global commodity markets. So the world needs to be prepared for global inflation. American consumers better get used to higher prices at Shaw’s, or Tesco or Carrefour or Walmart, around the world.
Will the Chinese agricultural and food production systems have to change?
They absolutely will have to change. It’s an absolute mess, it’s a disaster, and an embarrassment for China to have such a poor food supply system. Though it’s being changed by two things.
The first is, the government understands it needs to do a better job of oversight. So what they’ve done is shut 50 percent of the nation’s dairies last year, for example.
The real change is going to take place by people willing to spend money when they feel that they’re safe. So brands are going to fix their supply chain and cater to these consumers and make money. The scope of the problem is enormous.
Zester Daily contributor Manuela Zoninsein is a Brazilian-American reporting on sustainable food, travel and business from Shanghai. A former dining editor for Time Out Beijing, her work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, ClimateWire and Newsweek. She writes about her passion for healthy, interesting and sustainable food at manuelasweb.com.
Photo: Author Shaun Rein. Credit: Courtesy of Shaun Rein
The 12th annual Okra Festival in Burkville, Ala., overflowed this summer with its largest crowd to date. I finally had an opportunity to go and meet the savvy, outspoken and downright kind founder, Barbara Evans. She and her Lowndes County community produced a memorable okra extravaganza infused with Guitar Slim’s soulful sounds.
“Okra, it is like our people; that okra, you know, it’s strong, it can weather the drought, it keeps on growing, keeps producing, as long as you pick it. … It really shows the strength of the Southern people. I think it is a sign of hope …” Evans said.
Okra is about more than food — it’s community
Okra got organized and prettied up in her many recipes, parading the family property oiled, fried, baked, stuffed, sautéed, spiced and gumbo-ed. The treasured vegetable partnered with onions, tomatoes, garlic and barbecue; got all French and fancied in a quiche; and even simmered and stewed with an oxen’s tail. In her many guises, okra accompanied artists, writers, cooks, chefs, food vendors, farmers and spiritual folks.
Take a listen to this audio interview while Guitar Slim and the Soulful Saints perform in the background. Hear the Okra Festival vendors share why they attend and what they vend and get a glimpse of what folks are talking about. It features Evans, the Okra Festival’s co-founder and organizer, talking about the origins of the annual event, how okra represents Southern culture and its importance in these challenging times.
You can hear author and social historian Donald P. Stone talk about his grandfather William James Edwards, and Edwards’ connection to Booker T. Washington and the rural school movement; and Simon and Debra Harris deliver their famed seafood gumbo and discuss why they come to the festival yearly. You’ll also hear Janice Douglas, the niece of late Aunt Alice Stewart (Evans’ co-conspirator and Okra Festival co-founder), who reminds us of her own rich cultural heritage from both her parents’ sides and how she values the lessons her elders passed on. Finally, Lisa Lang Stallworth, along with her partner Barbara Robinson, shares her memories of her ancestors, picking okra as a child on these same fields and why she and many others appreciate the Okra Festival and Evans, the beloved organizer.
Top photo: Amos Paul Kennedy and Okra Festival founder Barbara Evans display a poster during the annual event. Credit: Sarah Khan
Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. I woke up this morning with minestrone on my mind. “Must make hearty soup before the electricity goes out.”
Since my Connecticut childhood, I’ve always been at least a half a continent away from East Coast hurricane activity. But this year the timing of my October New York trip is unlucky. (And when has there ever been a hurricane like this at the end of October?)
The subways shut down yesterday at 7 p.m., 24 hours before Hurricane Sandy’s anticipated storm surge. Supermarkets and corner bodegas were packed all weekend, the sidewalks clogged with people carting home cases of water. My mother’s nurse went to buy supplies at the Fairway on the Upper West Side on Sunday morning and she said the shelves were already stripped of bottled water and canned goods.
I’m safe on high ground in Chelsea, in my sister’s fourth floor walk-up. Yesterday she felt pretty confident about the amount of food she had on hand, but by last night, anticipating a few days of both of us being housebound, possibly with no electricity, she reconsidered. That’s why I woke up with soup on my mind.
Bare store shelves
I was at Gristedes before 9 a.m., and it was not packed. The crowds had already come and gone, and just about every basket in the produce section was bare. I grabbed a couple of leeks and a cabbage. Phew! I always feel confident when I have a cabbage in my kitchen because there’s so much you can do with this humble, under-appreciated vegetable.
But where were the onions? “No onions?” I asked the produce guy.
“No, just that little red one, and that’s only there because I went downstairs to look for onions for another customer,” he said.
I grabbed it and the two remaining carrots in the bin, some garlic and some canned tomatoes. I didn’t bother with the droopy parsley because what I didn’t use would only rot in my sis’ half-size fridge.
I snatched up a bag of lentils — dried beans were much more plentiful than canned — and some rice, a hunk of Parmesan with a nice looking rind for my bouquet garni, and headed home to cook.
Lentil and Cabbage Minestrone
Makes 6 servings
A comforting soup for a storm.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small to medium yellow or red onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, cut in ½-inch dice
Salt to taste
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and cleaned, sliced thin
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, minced
½ medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh leaves, or more to taste)
½ pound lentils (about 1⅛ cups), picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
1 Parmesan rind
A few sprigs each parsley and thyme, if available
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes, and add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until the leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes, and stir in the garlic and cabbage, along with another generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant and the cabbage has begun to wilt, about 3 minutes, and stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the thyme, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Stir in the lentils and water and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile tie the Parmesan rind, parsley and thyme sprigs and the bay leaf together with kitchen twine, or tie in a piece of cheesecloth. Add to the soup. Reduce the heat to low, season to taste with salt, about 2 teaspoons to begin with (you will probably add more), cover and simmer 1 hour, until the lentils are tender and the broth fragrant. Remove the bouquet garni.
3. Add pepper to the soup and stir in rice, or just add rice to each bowl when you serve the soup. Taste. Is there enough salt? Garlic? Adjust seasonings. Stir in the parsley. Serve, topping each bowlful with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Photo: Lentil and cabbage minestrone by candlelight during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Melodie Bryant
Except for unseasonably dreary weather, the Cultivate Festival — held by burrito giant Chipotle Mexican Grill to promote its much-praised, large-scale sustainability efforts — went off without a hitch Oct. 6 in Denver, the company’s home base.
However, things could have been very different. Just two days earlier, Chipotle finally agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an advocacy group for Florida’s farmworkers — particularly immigrants enduring conditions of wage slavery — by signing the Fair Food Agreement, which commits the nation’s major tomato purchasers and growers to uphold human rights in the field. Participating supermarket chains and food-service conglomerates pay an extra penny per pound for their tomatoes, which goes to workers of member farms that are in turn required to abide by a code of conduct covering all manner of once-rampant abuses, from forced labor to sexual harassment. In coming on board, Chipotle avoided a massive protest that threatened to undermine its feel-good message at the festival.
Seeds of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
It’s just one piece of a puzzle that has been falling into place since the CIW formed in 1993 — though the rate of completion was arguably accelerated by the 2011 publication of James Beard Award-winning journalist Barry Estabrook’s groundbreaking exposé, “Tomatoland.” In June 2011, Estabrook penned a Soapbox column for Zester Daily about the CIW’s struggle to persuade Trader Joe’s to join Whole Foods Market and fast-food companies including McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell in signing the Fair Food Agreement. Last February, it finally did, much to Estabrook’s shock: “They were so adamantly opposed, and now they’re a cooperative partner. … They resist and resist, and use the same excuses over and over like a broken record, and then, through the media attention on the CIW’s petitions and demonstrations, they get a horrible backlash, the pressure builds up, and they say, ‘We’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to make this problem go away, but it’s not going to cost us anything to pay the penny per pound.’”
Exploitation, discrimination of farmworkers
I spoke to Estabrook on Oct. 3, the day before Chipotle’s announcement and the day after he joined CIW spokesman Gerardo Reyes-Chavez and a longtime acquaintance of mine, Chef Jose Duarte of Boston restaurant Taranta, on a panel at StarChefs’ seventh annual International Chefs Congress titled “The Human Cost of Food: Chefs Supporting Farmworkers’ Rights.” As a Denverite myself, I’d been watching the news about the Cultivate Festival and the controversy surrounding it ever since Duarte alerted me to the cause after his trip to Florida, where he learned of “people who were locked into their trucks at night, up to 10 people in one trailer. People working with crops while they’re being fumigated. Discrimination by gender and age.”
Deciding that chefs need to demand fairly traded products, Duarte organized the panel — and sure enough, said Estabrook, “At the end of it, a chef at a restaurant in Tampa came up to me and said, ‘We had no idea that this was going on in our backyard; we are now aboard.’ That alone is why I went: Because chefs are extremely influential. … If one chef says, ‘I’d rather not buy tomatoes grown by a slave,’ nothing might happen, but if two or three do, a trend has begun.”
Of course, independent restaurateurs don’t have an ounce of the buying power of chains. It’s the latter whose cooperation has ensured the Fair Food Program is working, says Estabrook. Once cut off from any channel of negotiation, many Florida tomato workers now “get told about their rights, about how to file grievances. Human resource managers are passing out cards with a 24-hour hotline number. Crew bosses were once the workers’ entire world; now it extends all the way up to the chairman of McDonald’s.”
Making change before the Cultivate Festival
So when I told Estabrook that the Denver Post, reporting Sept. 27 on the upcoming Cultivate Festival, quoted Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold as saying, “For the last three years, all of the Florida tomatoes we have used have come from growers who have signed the Fair Food Agreement, which creates the same result as if we had signed ourselves,” Estabrook begged to differ.
“What Chipotle is doing is essentially freeloading on the backs of the people who are involved in the agreement,” he said. “First of all, it’s the end buyer, not the grower, who pays the extra penny per pound.” Estabrook calculated that to the difference between making $50 and $80 per day. Then he added: “But it’s about more than the money. Take one of the sexual harassment cases I heard about. This particular labor contractor was very good at his job, besides his inability to keep his paws off women, so the company that employed him was reluctant to take action against him. It finally took the big buyer to step up and say, ‘Zero tolerance is zero tolerance.’ Chipotle’s trying to get the PR advantage of saying, ‘We’re aboard,’ when they’re not. My ultimate answer to them is ‘Guys, if Taco Bell, which makes no pretense of being a conscientious steward of anything, can sign, so can you.’ ”
Clearly, the groundswell of protest — not only on the ground but also in the form of a petition signed by such heavyweights as “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser, “Stuffed and Starved” scholar Raj Patel, and Estabrook — persuaded Chipotle CEO Steve Ells to rethink his position in the nick of time. As Reyes-Chavez put it, “This is a really important moment for food-service corporations. The landscape is changing. We have the most powerful representatives of the fast-food industry on board already, and we only need a few more from the supermarket segment to arrive at the day when business as usual is not a race to the bottom. The 21st-century supermarket no longer has the luxury of distancing itself from labor conditions. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to do the right thing and treat workers right. If you don’t, then the market consequences will apply. It’s just a matter of time.” Look out, Kroger’s.
Top photo: Jose Duarte (from left), Gerardo Reyes-Chavez and Barry Estabrook at the panel discussion on “The Human Cost of Food” at the International Chefs Congress.
Some vegetable gardening books advise the reader not to bother growing potatoes because they are cheap and plentiful in the stores and use up a lot of room in the garden. Instead, they say, use your space to grow such delectable seasonal crops as tomatoes, peppers and green beans. But, I beg to differ. I am finding great joy in growing my own potatoes and have found a way to grow them in containers so that they are not garden hogs.
Several years ago I purchased soft felt-like pots that fold away over the winter and last for years. I stick them in odd sunny places around the garden and at harvest time I tip the whole pot into a wheelbarrow and — voila! — out pour 10 or more pounds of spuds. These pots would allow people without garden space to grow potatoes on back porches or decks, should they so desire.
I also plant several garden rows with Red Norlands, an early crop, because I love to reach into the soil in June to pull out small, thin-skinned potatoes without disturbing the plant, which goes on to produce large potatoes later in the season. I pop the small ones into a steamer and serve them with butter, salt and pepper. You can even leave out the butter because they are so sweet and flavorful. I feel great pleasure in this tactile search for good food available at my doorstep and am touched by the generosity of potato plants that in return for decent soil, sun and water produce an abundance of healthy food.
Yes, they’re healthy
Potatoes have taken a bum rap in the wake of the low-carb crazes that possess the country from time to time. These wonderful vegetables have been portrayed as carbohydrate menaces by people who ignore that potatoes have more potassium than bananas and plenty of vitamin C and B vitamins. Potatoes also are a good source of fiber, especially if you eat the skins. Their reputation for being unhealthy and fattening comes from the American predilection for eating French fries with abandon, which caused James Beard to lament: “The notion that these bits of potato — when limp, greasy, without flavor or texture and barely warm — should be served with every dish in the world is odious beyond belief.” But Beard did go on to say that a baked potato can be a great gastronomic experience when served hot with plenty of salt, pepper and butter.
This view is shared by Truman Capote, who once wrote a preface for a book of potato recipes, “The Potato Book” by Myrna Davis, where he describes a favorite lunch made up of a baked potato, sour cream and a heap of Beluga caviar, all accompanied by a bottle of 80-proof vodka. A catchy menu item, to be sure.
The potato, so familiar to all, has had a long and convoluted history. Native to the South American Andes where archaeologists have found evidence tracing them back to 500 B.C.E., they traveled to the Old World in Spanish ships and eventually found their way back to North America by again crossing the Atlantic. Except for Ireland where potatoes had become almost the sole source of sustenance, the rest of Europe resisted them for centuries believing them to be dangerous to humans because their lumpy appearance led to superstitions that they caused such dreaded diseases as leprosy.
It took a Frenchman, Antoine Parmentier, to overcome resistance and declare the potato edible in 1772 by hosting dinners for such dignitaries as Benjamin Franklin, and serving potatoes in every course to no ill effects. But it wasn’t until the end of that century that the vegetable was routinely eaten throughout Europe. By then, the French were coming up with such dishes as Gratin Dauphinois, scalloped with cheese; Anna, thinly-sliced and baked with plenty of butter; Croquettes, mashed and deep fried and Duchesse, mashed with egg and piped through a pastry bag. These and many more dishes from the French repertoire illustrate the versatility of potatoes.
My own favorites, though, are simple affairs — potatoes added to a stew a half-hour before serving, or cut into chunks and tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted. And let’s not forget about the simple baked potato, which becomes a meal when served topped with cottage cheese and plenty of pepper, and a low-calorie meal at that.
But my all-time favorite is a family recipe we always called Skinny Potatoes in which they are thinly sliced, piled into a pan where a coating of oil has been heating and cooked until crisp on one side, then turned to crisp up the other. Nigel Slater has a similar recipe, but grates the potatoes and tucks garlic into them as they cook.
These dishes run through my mind when I head for the garden and gaze at my potato plants which, by the way, require no work. Their vines need no support, and when I pile more soil onto the plants as they rise up in the bins, I will get more potatoes. And, when I harvest a potato, it smells of sweet earth, a fragrance not found in bags of supermarket spuds.
1 pound of all-purpose potatoes
3 tablespoons of cooking oil
Salt to taste
1. Scrub potatoes, and if the skins are thin leave them on.
2. Slice them thin, using a food processor fitted with a slicing blade or by hand on the slicing side of a box grater.
3. Heat the oil in a wide, shallow pan and add the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt. Cook over low to medium heat for about 15 minutes until the bottom is crisp and golden.
4. Slip a spatula under them and loosen them as they cook so that they don’t stick to the pan.
5. When the bottom is crisp and brown, place a large plate on top of the pan and turn out the potatoes. Then slide the potatoes back into the pan to cook the other side. Sprinkle on more salt and serve.
Photo: Potatoes are easy to grow in containers. Credit: Barbara Haber
When Jackson Family Wines launched the “Really Goode Job” campaign last summer — a nationwide search for a wine country lifestyle correspondent to promote Jackson’s Murphy-Goode Winery brand — the move was a big-time publicity winner and an unusual new-media undertaking in the oft-conservative wine industry.
“In terms of media impressions, oh man,” said Mark Osmun, public relations director for Jackson Family Wines in Santa Rosa, Calif. “We got more than I anticipated, more than I’ve ever seen in any industry for any clients, and I’ve done PR for 30 years, 833 million media impressions.”
The original job announcement read, “We at the Murphy-Goode Winery got to thinking about the new age of communications and we figured it was a pretty good thing. So to get going, we’re looking for someone (maybe you) who really knows how to use Web 2.0 and Facebook and blogs and social media and YouTube and all sorts of good stuff like that — to tell the world about our wines and the place where we live: the Sonoma County Wine Country.”
Inspired by a similar contest that the Australian tourism board had concocted to promote the Great Barrier Reef, the “Really Goode” campaign went on to detail a few of the wine country-specific job requirements, including tasting hundreds of wines, meeting locals in the tasting room and filing reports via weekly blogs, photo diaries, Twitter, Facebook, video updates and ongoing media interviews.
The job was to last six months, pay $10,000 a month and include residence in a two-bedroom Victorian home in Healdsburg, Calif., where Murphy-Goode’s tasting room is also located.
From a pool of 2,000 candidates, 1,000 made the first cut and were invited to post application videos online. Judges whittled that group to 10 and then to one, Hardy Wallace, a laid-off tech worker from Atlanta and active wine blogger. He showed up first in line on that fateful first day in San Francisco when the rules were given out.
“I went at it like a man possessed, and I never worked harder in all my life,” says Wallace. “I wanted to make as big a splash, do as much as I could to make sure no matter what happened, I committed.”
Osmun believes he could do a made-for-TV movie of Wallace’s life before the Really Goode Job. A movie would tell the tale of Wallace’s 12 years spent as a technology sales and marketing exec for Kodak (150 days a year on the road), his development of the popular blog Dirty South Wine and his father’s successful escape from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“That probably throws some perspective on you,” noted Osmun. “That you really don’t want to waste your time doing things that aren’t what you love.” In addition to Wallace, Jackson Family Wines hired Really Goode Job runner-up Adam Beaugh, the former social media director for the governor of Texas, as Jackson’s director of social media. Beaugh will oversee social media efforts for all of Jackson’s brands, which include not only Murphy-Goode but also Kendall-Jackson, Stonestreet, La Crema, Matanzas Creek, Cambria and a host of others. Jackson hired another of the top 10 candidates, Rocky Slaughter, as a social media consultant.
Wine market research in real time
“Social media is an advantage now and a necessity in the future,” Wallace says. “Those who are getting in first are building relationships quickly and are able to learn from mistakes.”
As it turned out, this breadth of knowledge and interest in topics other than wine, along with an ability to connect with a wide range of people over a wide range of topics, has served Wallace well in his six months as Murphy-Goode’s brand ambassador.
“The things people respond to are usually the things you least suspect them to,” he says.
As an example, he points to the blog photo he posted that made it look as though he had a ghost in his house. He titled the entry, “Is the Murphy-Goode house haunted?” Followers immediately and widely responded. He also boosted traffic with a video shot atop Alexander Mountain in Alexander Valley featuring friends and fellow Atlantans Kevin Gillespie and Eli Kirshtein, who were contending at the time on “Top Chef.”
“The hard sell is the death of social media,” Wallace offered. “People turn you off and you’re no longer trusted. The people that I followed I always wanted to hear what they had to say about other stuff because it was from the other stuff they spoke about that showed me that if you like that, and that I like those two things too. It’s kind of like picking friends.”
Wallace was nothing if not prolific. Within a few months, his Murphy-Goode blog drew millions of page views. During his tenure, Wallace has posted some 5,700 social media messages, written 65 blog posts and shot 32 videos.
“Message-wise we wanted to demystify wine,” Osmun said. “Social media goes everywhere, everyone can connect with it, so can wine. I’ve discovered that social media is about much more than putting a message out. It’s about seeing what other people are saying, like market research in real time.”
Not one to take a day off these last six months, the affable Wallace has been an employer’s dream. He can barely sit still, his iPhone constantly abuzz with incoming tweets he wants to see and act on. If he’s not sleeping, he’s working, Christmas included.
“Twitter’s the most important thing, absolutely, in my eyes, where you communicate with people on a minute-to-minute basis,” he says. “That immediate connection is where the value is at the moment.”
Murphe-Goode’s ‘word of mouth on steroids’
Wallace has used Twitter and Facebook to set up dozens of personal private tastings too, pouring for people he met online in the Murphy-Goode tasting room. These visits often led to wine sales and wine club sign-ups.
“It’s not just the sales you get,” Wallace notes. “It’s that these people first of all are active on social media, [so] 99 percent of the time as soon as they walk out that door they talk about Murphy-Goode. It’s word-of-mouth on steroids.”
Jackson Family Wines won’t discuss specifics about how the Really Goode Job has affected its sales numbers but will say that the publicity has positively affected both sales and distribution. Tasting room staff have said that about 75 percent of people who walk into the tasting room mention the Really Goode Job campaign.
“You can more easily sell what’s familiar,” he says.
With his Really Goode Job ending Feb. 15, Wallace had decided to stay in wine country. He put his house in Atlanta up for sale, vowing to stay in California, job or no job. Fortunately for Wallace, he has just been offered a role in Jackson’s marketing department, the experiment to be continued.
Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.
Photo of Hardy Wallace, courtesy of Jackson Family Wines
In 1996, a small food fair was staged in a corner of Turin’s Lingotto exhibition center. Organized by Carlo Petrini of Slow Food, the “eco-gastronomic” movement he had founded 10 years earlier as a positive counterpoint to fast food, it was a modest little market. But instead of the usual tired food fair formula (“half small retail, half folklore,” in Petrini’s words), its aim was ambitious and radically different. The fair would focus on the land, its products and its artisans, bringing them face to face with consumers.
Over the years, the exhibition’s surface area has increased exponentially and the number of visitors has soared from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands. Welcome to Slow Food’s Salone Internazionale del Gusto, a five-day extravaganza for chattering stomachs that is staged biennially in Turin, this year from Oct. 25 to 29. It’s an extraordinary event, a great gastronomic Tower of Babel that requires an open mind, a curious palate, boundless stamina and a belief that what Slow Food calls “good, clean, fair food” is a basic human right.
In the vast marketplace, the beating heart of the Salone, pavilions the size of train stations are devoted to every conceivable kind of deliciousness, edible and potable, drawn from five continents. The air is perfumed with aromas of wild salmon oak-smoked in Ireland, Jabugo ham from Andalucia, American raw milk cheeses and olives and oils from Greece, all punctuated by invitations to taste. (“Un assaggio?” “Vous voulez goûter?” “Quiere probar un pedacito?” “Would you like a taste?”)
Salone del Gusto ‘a journey to the roots of food’
The producers — more than 1,000 this year from 100 different countries — staff the stands themselves, engaging in lively discussion about their products, their animals, their farms, their joys and their sorrows. (The latter generally related to red tape and the burdens of Brussels). “This is one of the things that sets the Salone apart,” observes Paolo di Croce, general secretary of Slow Food International. “At most food fairs, people are just selling. Here, the retailers are the producers — it’s a journey to the roots of food.”
On a lower floor, Salonistas will line up to have their taste buds tickled at a series of Taste Workshops. At the front of each classroom will be a panel of producers and experts who team up to present winning combinations of their products. The audience is seated at desks, each of them armed with a tasting sheet, a biodegradable cardboard plate stamped with the Slow Food snail logo, a wineglass and headphones for simultaneous translation into English and Italian.
Among this year’s countless events, cheese affineur Bernard Antony will select cheeses to go with wines from Alsace; Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses will be paired with the best British beers; and wood-aged Swiss cheeses will be matched with regional wines from the Valais, Lavaux and Graubünden areas of Switzerland. Star chef Massimo Bottura will wax lyrical about traditional balsamic vinegar. Kiwi wine expert Jeffrey Chilcott will take tasters on a tour of the best New Zealand Pinot Noirs. Chef-sommelier Toni Bru of the Celler de l’Aspic in Priorat, Spain, will uncork top cavas from Catalonia, Spain.
In the Theater of Taste, stellar chefs like Fulvio Pierangelini and Davide Scabin from Italy, Magnus Nilsson from Fäviken in northern Sweden, Virgilio Martinez from Lima, Peru, and Enrique Olvera from Mexico City will dazzle Salonistas with their cutting-edge creations.
Finally, up on the famous ramp of this former Fiat building, which spirals snail-like to the rooftop racetrack, Slow Wine, one of the Salone’s most spectacular taste events, will take place. Here, the cream of Italian wines — which have been awarded top scores in the Slow Wine Guide — will be proudly presented by their makers. Tasters will make their way slowly and ever less steadily from table to table, nosing, tasting — but seldom spitting — Italy’s finest: Sassicaias and Ornellaias; Brunellos and super-Tuscans; superb whites from the northern Friuli-Venezia; rich, raisiny Amarones from the Veneto; Primitivos from Puglia; Aglianicos from Basilicata; and Barolos and Barbarescos from Piemonte.
The Salone has come a long way since its humble bake-sale beginnings. It’s both a showcase and a mouthpiece for Slow Food, which has developed into an international eco-gastronomic movement with credibility and measurable political clout. But what is it for? Is the whole crazy, inspiring, exhausting event just a glorified food-and-wine fair and a talking shop for chattering foodies? Or is there some serious purpose?
The idea that savoring raw milk cheeses and sipping Sassicaia will somehow make the world a better place is certainly seductive. But does a small-scale, local system of food production offer a genuine alternative to the large-scale, global model, as the Slow Food mantra seems to suggest? Or is this just a pastoral conceit designed to appeal to a wealthy, well-fed, urban elite while condemning these heroic producers to a medieval model of agriculture and meager returns? Could such a system feed our world?
Di Croce is a pragmatist. “We live in the real world, we can’t be too radical, and we’re not going to convert everyone to small-scale or organics. This is not the aim — and besides, we couldn’t feed everyone that way.” What we can do, he insists, is produce in a more sustainable way, focus on the local and the seasonal, reduce food miles, cut down on chemicals that destroy the soil — and stop wasting so much food.
“The idea behind the Salone is to create consciousness of the need for change,” continues di Croce, “and it’s working — people can see that something is possible. We’re no longer seen as a band of funny Italians wandering about speaking bad English and talking about changing the world. When we can relate our concept of good, clean, fair food to the maximum number of people, then we’ll really be achieving something!”
Photo: A vendor at Salone del Gusto displays his products and samples at the food fair. Credit: Slow Food International
When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions.
If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is. Basically marshmallow is a meringue made with gelatin instead of egg white, so it just takes longer — egg white cooks almost immediately, while gelatin has to stiffen for 12 hours or more in the refrigerator — but the ratio of dazzle to effort is enormous.
In the 18th and 19th century, confectioners extracted a gluey substance from the roots of marshmallow plants and used that where we use gelatin today. They also hedged their bets with egg white. In fact, some modern recipes add some egg white, I really can’t say why.
Limitless variations for flavored marshmallows
There’s one thing we can learn from the old-timers: You don’t have to flavor marshmallows with vanilla. They typically used orange blossom water, which does give a deliriously dainty and elegant effect. If I thought as seasonally as you’re supposed to these days, I’d have saved this recipe for June, because I imagine orange blossom marshmallows could be used in all sorts of romantic wedding-related ways.
You could also use mint or lemon extract. In fact any flavoring you want would work because this is a broad palette on which much can be painted. But the very best marshmallow flavor, in my opinion, is butterscotch. The effect of rich butterscotch flavor in a plush texture is overwhelming.
There are commercial butterscotch flavorings in restaurant supply stores, but I don’t like to rely entirely on them because when a dish contains only two ingredients, sugar and gelatin, the artificiality of artificial flavors becomes a bit noticeable. Instead, I replace the corn syrup in the marshmallow recipe with an English product called Lyle’s Golden Syrup which has been sold in tins resembling small paint cans since the 1880s. Unlike corn syrup, it’s made from sugar cane, but unlike molasses, it has a delicate browned-sugar flavor without the burnt and acid edge of molasses (which is of course perfectly appropriate in other contexts).
Use Golden Syrup and you’re already 85% of the way to butterscotch flavor. In fact, I understand that in England the company sells a butterscotch version of Golden Syrup that we should start importing right away. In the meantime, I like to punch the flavor up with a drop or two of butterscotch extract, but you don’t really have to.
Finding the perfect texture
The proportions of sugar, water, corn syrup and gelatin in this marshmallow recipe are pretty forgiving. You can find recipes with anything from 5 teaspoons to 7½ teaspoons gelatin to half a cup of water, and the proportions of sugar, corn syrup and water are also rather loose. If you use more liquid or less gelatin, your marshmallows won’t whip up as high but they will have a moister, more luscious texture. You may want to experiment with different proportions. I like a high medium-moist marshmallow, so I boil the syrup to the upper end of the soft ball stage, rather than the firm ball many recipes specify.
How forgiving are the proportions? I have made marshmallows with a syrup mixture that had so little liquid that not all the sugar dissolved. The corn syrup kept the mixture from “seizing up” into rock candy, but some of the sugar granules never dissolved. I found the effect pleasant, but maybe the world is not yet ready for crunchy-style marshmallows.
Basic Marshmallow Recipe
Makes 16 marshmallows
1 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup light corn syrup
1½ cups sugar
¼ to ½ teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring
½ to ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
1. Spray an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish with non-stick spray.
2. Pour ½ cup water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow the gelatin to sit for 5 minutes, then set the mixer bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Leave it there without stirring until there is no longer a floating layer of undissolved gelatin, 15 -20 minutes.
3. Remove the mixer bowl from the saucepan and set aside until cool, 10 minutes or so. Return the mixer bowl to the mixer and whip the dissolved gelatin as if it were egg whites until it holds soft peaks, about 1 minute.
4. In a small saucepan, mix the remaining ½ cup water and ½ cup corn syrup with the sugar. Bring to the boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium and place a lid on the saucepan for 3 minutes so that steam can wash any sugar crystals off the edge of the pan.
5. Remove the lid, raise the heat to high and insert a thermometer probe into the syrup. When it reaches 238 F, about 10 minutes from the start of cooking, pour the syrup into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, scraping as much as you can from the saucepan with a heat-resistant spatula.
6. Beat the hot syrup into the gelatin in 6 or 7 small batches, stopping the beaters when you add syrup avoid pouring any of it on the beaters themselves because they’ll waste syrup by whipping it onto the walls of the mixing bowl. Scrape all the syrup you can from the cup.
Two notes: Don’t be disturbed by a faint barnyard aroma, which will disappear when the gelatin cools. And put a paper towel on the counter when adding syrup, because there will be drippage.
7. When all the hot syrup is added, leave the mixer on high speed for 15 minutes. Beat in your chosen flavoring and scrape the marshmallow into the prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
8. In the morning, sift ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar over the surface of the marshmallow. Use a table knife or spatula to loosen the sides, then overturn onto a plate and tap the bottom. You may have to tap quite insistently. When the square of marshmallow has dropped onto the plate, use a sharp knife, preferably with a blade 8 inches long, and cut in four parts and again at right angles to obtain 16 cubes of marshmallow. Dredge each marshmallow in confectioner’s sugar to prevent stickiness and arrange on a serving plate; or on wax paper in a sealable container. Will keep for at least 1 week.
- Orange Blossom Marshmallows: Replace the vanilla with orange blossom water.
- Butterscotch Marshmallows: Replace the corn syrup with Lyle’s Golden Syrup and optionally add a drop or two of butterscotch extract at the end.
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood