Agriculture – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 How To Cook A Perfect Holiday Roast /cooking/technique-cooking/how-to-cook-a-perfect-holiday-roast/ /cooking/technique-cooking/how-to-cook-a-perfect-holiday-roast/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 10:00:14 +0000 /?p=76534 A well-sourced holiday roast doubles as a conversation piece. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

These days, many of us are weighing the impacts and ethics of meat eating in general. So the prospect of buying and cooking a holiday roast is more daunting than ever. Here’s a guide to navigating today’s meat markets and making a centerpiece roast worth celebrating.

Source quality beef

The single most important decision to make is what beef to buy, because flavor is largely predetermined before the roast goes into the oven. Quality beef is strongly correlated with the cattle’s quality of life: Did it live on pasture, even during its final 120 days eating grasses? Did it live without stress — especially right before slaughter? Other considerations include the animal’s age at the time of slaughter (the current thinking is that older animals yield tastier meat) and how the meat was aged (dry aging is preferred over wet aging) and for how long.

In other words, the source is central, and an organic or grass-fed label alone isn’t enough information to go on. Although some supermarkets curate their meat departments to feature cuts from the most sustainable producers, ranchers in every state sell their beef directly to customers either at the farmers market or online. And even if you can’t find locally raised beef, some of the most acclaimed producers in the country, such as White Oak Pastures and Alderspring Ranch, can ship a roast straight to you.

Spend carefully, eat consciously

With better beef, smaller portions are your best bet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

With better beef, smaller portions are your best bet. Credit: Copyright 2017 Lynne Curry

Of course, you’ll spend far more for humanely treated, pasture-raised and well-aged beef. But for a number of reasons — including concerns about animal welfare, environmental impacts and health — most experts today agree we should all be buying the best meat and eating less of it in any case. Plan on 4 to 6 ounces of cooked roast beef per person, then load up on side dishes: roasted or pureed vegetables and winter salads not only balance the plate visually and nutritionally but help reduce costs per serving. A stuffed and rolled roast is another strategy that also offers high presentation value.

Tenderloin is the old standard, known for its tenderness more than its flavor. But there are many other excellent — and far less expensive — cuts, from bone-in rib roast to strip loin, that help support small, independent ranchers who need to sell whole animals, not just a single popular beef cut. This year consider the holiday roast beef from a whole-animal perspective, and you may discover a new favorite. Here’s a list of five roasts I recommend, along with general cooking information.

Roasting techniques

Allow plenty of time for proper seasoning. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

Allow plenty of time for proper seasoning. Credit: Copyright 2017 Lynne Curry

There are three essential steps to roast beef: seasoning with salt, cooking to the correct temperature and resting. Generously salting a well-sourced piece of meat 24 to 48 hours before cooking it is the only advance preparation required. Meanwhile, you can concentrate on determining the best roasting temperature for your chosen cut.

The classic high-heat roasting method — putting the roast in the oven at 425 F, for example, and then reducing the heat to finish cooking — is not ideal for less tender cuts like sirloin tip and top round. Slower roasting at 350 F and below ensures more even, controlled cooking for all types of cuts. You might also try my “genius” roast recipes, which use the reverse-sear technique: cooking the roast at a low temperature and then blasting the heat for the last 10 minutes.

The rest is actually the final stage of cooking. Factor in an extra 30 minutes and reserve counter space to let the cooked roast sit undisturbed. While you finish preparing the rest of the meal, the meat will reach its final temperature — often at least 10 degrees higher than when you removed it from the oven — and the juices will redistribute through the roast.

Roasting tools

You’ve heard before that a thermometer is essential for roasting beef. This is because you cannot determine doneness just by sight, as I painfully learned the year I roasted an 8-pound top round to an even gray-brown for my entire family! Temperature tells all.

There are handy, inexpensive probe models with alarms, though I depend on the pricey but lightning-quick Thermapen. Bear in mind that thermometers don’t think, so you must monitor the roast while you attend to other tasks. Your roast, its shape and size, your oven and a host of other factors determine how long it will take to cook, but the roasting guide below is a good reference.

Finally, you don’t need any special knife to slice roast beef. Once the roast is well rested, any sharp chef’s knife — so long as it is at least 8 inches long — will produce even slices of what could be your most beloved roast beef dinner ever.

High-heat roasting Recommended beef cuts Time per pound Internal temperature to remove from oven Serving temperature after 20- to 30-minute rest
475 F to 500 F Very tender, boneless and small roasts, including tenderloin, shoulder tender and tri tip 8 to 10 minutes per pound 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare, 130 F for medium 128 F to 132 F for rare, 133 F to 137 F for medium-rare, 138 F to 142 F for medium
350 F to 375 F Tender and larger roasts (bone-in or boneless), including rib roast, strip loin, top sirloin, or the modestly tender sirloin tip 18 to 20 minutes per pound 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare, 130 F for medium 128 F to 132 F for rare, 133 F to 137 F for medium-rare, 138 F to 142 F for medium
Slow roasting
275 F to 300 F Any roast, but especially the less tender, lean roasts, including top round, eye round and bottom round 28 to 30 minutes per pound 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare, 130 F for medium 128 F to 132 F for rare, 133 F to 137 F for medium-rare, 138 F to 142 F for medium
200 F to 225 F Tough roasts, including chuck roast and brisket 2 to 2 1/4 hours per pound 185 F to 200 F  185 F to 200 F (no rest required)
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Tips For Buying A Healthier Holiday Turkey /agriculture/poultry/tips-for-buying-a-healthier-holiday-turkey/ /agriculture/poultry/tips-for-buying-a-healthier-holiday-turkey/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 10:00:12 +0000 /?p=76154 The heritage turkeys at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch live much like their wild ancestors on the Kansas prairie. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jim Turner, Turner Photography, Lindsborg, KS

Before deciding whether to brine, deep-fry or spatchcock the Thanksgiving turkey, more Americans than ever are puzzling over a pressing ethical question: “Which type of bird should I buy?”

The majority of the estimated 68 million turkeys sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas come from giant industrial producers like Butterball and Jennie-O. But consumers’ growing preference for meats that meet better standards for animal welfare, along with better nutritional and environmental impacts, is shifting the market toward niche alternatives. Though national statistics are scant, data from industry and retail groups show sales of non-GMO, organic, free-range and heritage turkeys (see definitions in sidebar) growing sharply. With more options in supermarkets and online, choosing a bird for the holiday table is weightier than ever.

Here’s a rundown of the top considerations for choosing a holiday turkey that’s palatable in more ways than one.

Hormones and antibiotics in turkeys

Federal law bans the use of hormones in poultry products. So don’t be fooled by a label claiming “no added hormones.” When a company touts the fact that it is merely complying with legal regulations, consider it a red flag for misleading practices, advises the Animal Welfare Institute.

While the chicken industry, led by Purdue, is stepping back from the routine use of antibiotics, most large turkey producers still administer them in the feed to prevent disease, according to Food Safety News. Bear in mind that all meat must be free of antibiotic residues before sale (beware the label reading “antibiotic-free” — another meaningless label). Still, there is still good reason for caution. Several studies, including this 2015 Consumer Reports study, have found turkey to have the highest incidence of superbugs — drug-resistant bacteria — of any meat. It advised consumers to buy organic turkey or products labeled “no antibiotics administered.”

Fast-growing hybrids and heritage breeds

Mary’s free-range turkeys live in open pens on pasture with access to shelter and shade. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mary's Turkey Farm

Mary’s free-range turkeys live in open pens on pasture with access to shelter and shade. Credit: Copyright 2017 Mary’s Turkey Farm

The modern-day turkey is a broad-breasted, white-feathered bird that grows twice as fast as its native ancestors. It cannot mate, fly or engage in any other natural turkey behaviors. What it can do — thanks to the genetic selection that suits the industrialized food-production system’s demand for high efficiency and food safety at the lowest cost per unit — is eat a lot. Selected for hypothyroidism, conventional turkeys have a metabolic rate that’s 300 times faster than that of heritage turkeys, according to breeder Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. An insatiable hunger ensures that hens gain 26 pounds and toms 40 pounds in just 12 weeks — a rate double that of Reese’s heritage birds.

Modern genetics has succeeded in creating the ample white breast meat many people love, but it has “deformed” the bird’s natural anatomy. With a shortened breast bone, the muscle grows broader, which in turn affects the hip-bone and leg attachments, causing turkeys to wobble instead of walk, according to Reese. The industrial turkey suffers from a range of health problems — from joint pain to diabetes to congestive heart failure — that alarm animal-welfare advocates.

Niche Turkey Options For Conscious Consumers

Non-GMO turkey is fed a mixture of Non-GMO Project Verified corn and soy along with vitamins and minerals. This designation does not eliminate pesticides or stipulate higher animal welfare.

Organic turkey is free of GMOs, antibiotics and synthetic pesticides and is raised according to strict certified-organic standards mandated by the USDA and verified by independent audit. Organically raised turkeys must have year-round access to the outdoors, but they can legally be confined to barns with enclosed porches, so they are not necessarily pasture-raised or free-range.

Pasture-raised turkey is an unverified term for any turkey with access to outdoor habitat, also called free-range, free-ranging or free-roaming. The USDA does not define a minimum amount of time or outdoors conditions; therefore, this claim should be validated by a third-party certifier.

Local turkey is raised within a certain market region. There is no regulation for feed or animal welfare, although local turkeys are generally raised without antibiotics on small farms with access to pasture. They may be either fast-growing, slower-growing hybrids or heritage breeds.

Heritage turkey comprises eight historic breeds listed by the Livestock Conservancy and other naturally mating varieties. Breeds like Bronze, Narragansett and Bourbon grow at half the rate of their modern counterparts; are raised outdoors with sufficient space and natural enhancements to express their natural behaviors; and represent the highest standard for animal welfare.

Non-meat alternatives are any number of commercial or homemade turkey substitutes made from soy, seitan, grains and/or vegetables. Animal-welfare activists argue that they are the most ethical, humane and sustainable choice.

The push toward healthier turkeys is also driving the heritage market, the best option for animal welfare. Between 1997, when the first turkey census was conducted by the Livestock Conservancy, and 2015, the number of breeding heritage turkeys increased 90 percent. Sales of Reese’s turkeys — with less white and more dark meat — through Heritage Foods USA have doubled every year over the past four years, according to owner Patrick Martins. Denver-based Natural Grocers, with 126 stores in 19 states, sells out of Mary’s heritage turkeys every year.

Turkey raised on pasture

Mary’s is a poultry farm established by the Pitman family in 1954 in Fresno, California. Hailed as a model of sustainable production, it raises three types of turkey — non-GMO, organic and heritage (see definitions in sidebar) — all of which are GAP-certified for level 3 and above, verifying a high standard of animal care that includes genuinely free-range conditions.

“In a lot of ways, we’re circling back to the way we did it in the ’50s and ’60s,” said third-generation farmer David Pitman. “The breeds were slower-growing. There weren’t antibiotics, there wasn’t GMO — the birds were organic.”

Mary’s processes 8,000 turkeys a day to meet the Thanksgiving demand while striving to balance customer expectations with cost. At Natural Grocers, Mary’s non-GMO free-range turkey costs $2.69 per pound, the organic free-range bird $3.99 per pound and the heritage breed $6.99 per pound.

Is a healthier turkey worth the price? Heritage Foods USA’s Martins asserts that spending more per person, especially on a special occasion, is key to both humane treatment and better-quality meat. “The huge change is that people are starting to ask the question ‘Where is this meat from?’ the same way they ask about heirloom seeds and vegetables,” he said.

“The more questions that are asked, the better.”

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Rupert Murdoch’s Fingerprints On Moraga Wines /drinking/wine/rupert-murdochs-fingerprints-on-moraga-wines/ /drinking/wine/rupert-murdochs-fingerprints-on-moraga-wines/#comments Sat, 11 Nov 2017 10:00:02 +0000 /?p=75015 A view of the Getty Center from the top of Moraga’s Bel Air vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Standing at the crest of Moraga Estate’s hillside vineyard, you can see Santa Monica Bay and feel the cool Pacific breezes that mark the estate’s wines. Moraga’s fruit ripens slowly, resulting in an elegance that eludes Bordeaux-style wines from Napa Valley and other California regions prone to heat spikes.

But that’s not why this is possibly the most expensive vineyard acreage in the world. Moraga is located in Bel Air, the most exclusive of Los Angeles’ wealthy enclaves.

On a recent visit to Moraga, I’m looking for a secondary mark on the wines, the mark of the current owner, billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Four years ago, with his marriage to Wendy Deng dissolving and a romance with Mick Jagger’s ex-wife Jerry Hall budding, Murdoch bought Los Angeles’ only post-Prohibition bonded winery and 13-acre estate for $28.8 million, an impetuous purchase sparked by an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, one of his News Corp. properties.

Little, if anything, has been written about the place or the wines since the sale. What changes has Murdoch made?

Experienced hands at the helm

Moraga’s viticulturist and winemaker Scott Rich at his desk at the winery. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Moraga’s viticulturist and winemaker Scott Rich at his desk at the winery. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

The good news for wine lovers is that Scott Rich, the winemaker and viticulturist for the past 15 years, is still in charge. His summer instructions to the eight-member vineyard crew remain the same — handpick the leaves around the clusters to give them just the right amount of dappled sun and moisture-wicking breeze. “I want to see light through the leaf canopy,” he explained. “Light gives us our tannins.”

Moraga, named for the sleepy, suburban street out front, sprang from the imaginations of former Northrop Corp. chief executive Thomas V. Jones and his wife, Ruth, who lived here from 1959 until Murdoch purchased it in 2013. They first planted grapes in 1978, when the neighborhood was still zoned for horses.

Victor Fleming, director of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With The Wind,” built the estate’s one-story ranch house in the 1930s. And, while the Joneses updated the place, it remained a modest home relative to the faux French chateaux and muscular Italianate mansions that later sprang up around it. When their friends Ron and Nancy Reagan stopped by, they’d often leave with a basket of fresh eggs from the Jones’ chickens.

Collector prestige

Moraga’s steep hillside vineyards rise behind the winery. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Moraga’s steep hillside vineyards rise behind the winery. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

Moraga wines have been beloved by L.A. wine collectors since Jones started selling them in 1989. Spago, The Polo Lounge and other Beverly Hills restaurants keep them in their cellars. But the estate is private. There is no tour, no tasting room. Viewable only from the tram that takes visitors up to the sparkling white Getty Center, Moraga’s vineyards climb the steep hills overlooking the pulsing 405 Freeway.

Until the Joneses built the wine cave and winery, completed in 2005, winemaker Rich trucked their grapes to a winery near his home in Sonoma. Bringing the winemaking to Moraga was a turning point in the development of the wines, Rich said. Bringing used oak barrels into the new winery, as had been part of their aging protocol, would have brought  microbes into the pristine facility. Instead, they used all new oak barrels for Moraga’s first estate vintage. The switch added structure to the wines. They’ve stuck with all new oak ever since.

Over the years, Rich introduced cover crops, limited the use of chemicals and began transitioning to dry farming to get smaller, more intense berries. “Dry farming teaches you humility,” he said with resignation. “You aren’t in control.”

Murdoch puts personal touch on famed estate

The street view of Moraga’s front gate. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

The street view of Moraga’s front gate. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

Losing control of Moraga haunted Jones after Ruth died in 2013. Already in his 90s, Jones wanted to sell the estate to someone he knew would maintain the vineyard. “The new owner needed enough wealth to not be induced to sell it to developers,” Rich said. When no one stepped forward, Jones placed the ad in the Wall Street Journal and hoped for the best. He died soon after selling to Murdoch.

Not surprisingly, Murdoch gutted the old ranch house. But he left the home’s outside appearance exactly as it had been when the Joneses lived there. Even the gardens remain as Ruth designed them. Murdoch’s fingerprints have been equally light on the wines, Rich said. “He wants us to continue to do what we do.”

Making his mark

Moraga wines wrapped and ready to be packed in wooden cases. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Moraga wines wrapped and ready to be packed in wooden cases. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

Moraga makes one Cabernet-dominated red wine and a Sauvignon Blanc. Fifteen micro-batches representing the vineyard’s various microclimates are fermented separately to allow Rich to create a balanced blend. About a thousand cases of wine are produced per vintage.

As we tasted the wines — just as full of fruit as I remembered with the same nuance and lively acidity I love in a dinner wine — I found Murdoch’s mark. It’s the price: The red blend now carries a $185 price tag, up from $125, and the white wine is $115, up from $65.

Main photo: A view of the Getty Center from the top of Moraga’s Bel Air vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

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Olive Oil: South Africa’s Liquid Gold /world/travel/olive-oil-south-africas-liquid-gold/ /world/travel/olive-oil-south-africas-liquid-gold/#respond Mon, 06 Nov 2017 10:00:00 +0000 /?p=76000 South Africa’s extra virgin olive oils are beginning to turn global heads. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of Lettas Kraal

When Americans think olive oil, South Africa probably doesn’t leap to mind, but like South African wine, the country’s extra virgin olive oil is beginning to turn global heads. The industry was started by an Italian immigrant in the 1950s, but it’s the new flush of small- to medium-size producers that are pressing the premium oils, and winning awards.

About 90 percent of the country’s olive oil comes from the Western Cape, either from picturesque valleys where olive groves neighbor vineyards, or from the Karoo, a semi-desert farther north. “In the past eight years, South Africa’s olive oil production has doubled, to 2.4 million liters (about 634,000 gallons) annually,” says Nick Wilkinson, chairman of industry regulatory body SA Olive. Wilkinson and his wife, Brenda, are also producers; their Scherpenheuwel Valley farm, Rio Largo, is an hour and half drive from Cape Town.

Small industry, high quality

Olive Branch Deli in Cape Town showcases about 40 olive oil producers on its shelves. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

Olive Branch Deli in Cape Town showcases about 40 olive oil producers on its shelves. Credit: Copyright 2017 Ilana Sharlin Stone

With about 160 producers, the industry is still relatively small, but quality is generally high. Take Rio Largo, which in 2016 won gold in the Japan and Los Angeles Olive Oil Competitions, and Best of Class in the New York International Olive Oil Competition.

For starters, nearly all South African olive oils are extra virgin. “There isn’t enough volume to justify secondary production, which in itself is a savior of quality,” Wilkinson says. Olives are handpicked apart from one or two large producers, and because volume tends to be low, are likely pressed soon after harvest.

An Italian connection

At Lettas Kraal, long dry summers and cold humid winters bring out the flavors. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of Lettas Kraal

At Lettas Kraal, long dry summers and cold humid winters bring out the flavors. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of Lettas Kraal

A nurseryman from Genoa, Ferdinando Costa, recognizing similarities in climate, first brought olive trees to South Africa in the early 1900s. “Years after grafting imported cultivars onto Olea Africana, the indigenous wild olive, Costa decided it wasn’t a fantastic bond, and started growing from root cuttings, which eventually became the norm,” says granddaughter Linda Costa, an olive consultant. Costa persuaded a few local farmers to grow this unknown tree, and by the 1950s, the olive oil industry was born. To this day, South Africa’s olive oils are produced almost exclusively from Italian cultivars.

In South Africa, European olive oils are often cheaper due to farm subsidies, but consumers are beginning to favor local over imported, particularly after reports emerged of fraudulent and chemically manipulated imported oils.

Looking to export

Rio Largo uses a customized Italian-made extractor to press its olive oils. Credit: Courtesy of Rio Largo

Rio Largo uses a customized Italian-made extractor to press its olive oils. Credit: Courtesy of Rio Largo

At Rio Largo, a medium-sized producer, Wilkinson blends his oil from Frantoio, Leccino, Coratina and Favolosa olives, using a customized Italian-made extractor with a computerized management system and cameras linked to his adviser in Italy. “It gives me the information I need to be a quality artisanal producer.”

Many producers are looking toward export: They can offer high quality at very competitive prices to countries with stronger currencies. “We also have the advantage of being able to market to the Northern hemisphere in August through November, during the heat of their summer and when their stocks are less fresh than ours,” Wilkinson says. Rio Largo currently exports 35 percent of its oil, but Wilkinson hopes to build on that.

Young producers in the groves

Hestie Roodt puts olives into an extractor. Once a fashion designer, she now helps run her family's olive oil business, Lettas Kraal. Credit: Courtesy of Lettas Kraal

Hestie Roodt puts olives into an extractor. Once a fashion designer, she now helps run her family’s olive oil business, Lettas Kraal. Credit: Courtesy of Lettas Kraal

The industry is attracting a new crop of young producers, such as Hestie Roodt, a fashion designer who runs Lettas Kraal, her family’s olive oil business in the Karoo. After an eight-year stint abroad in fashion, she returned to South Africa, and was enlisted by her father to take on marketing and distribution of the oil produced on their farm. Her passion ignited, she soon took over, and now does everything from farm management to extraction and blending, to labeling and sales.

When the family bought the farm, it had been overgrazed by sheep and goats. “There was nothing there, just rocks for miles and miles. But there’s a beautiful Italian saying that goes something like this: ‘You need stones and silence for olive trees to thrive’ … we have all of that.” Her father planted Tuscan varieties: FS 17, Frantoio, Leccino, Coratina and a little Mission, which she blends. “It’s the high polyphenol count of the Coratina, which gives it its characteristic robustness and bitterness.”  Most South Africans are still used to softer imported European oils, so education is an industry-wide task.

“Our oil is much like oil from Puglia,” she said. “We have similar long dry summers and cold humid winters. This extremity influences the olives and brings out flavors.” Roodt is particularly proud of her harvest-to-press turnaround: from tree to mill within four to five hours. “I’m pedantic about it; I’d rather stay and finish even if it’s the middle of the night. That’s how we derive our quality.” Lettas Kraal has won many awards in South Africa, and Roodt hopes to be exporting soon.

If you’re visiting Cape Town, Olive Branch Deli is a good place to see the diversity of oils on offer, with about 40 producers represented on shelf. Sibling owners Omeros and Hélène Demetriou know the ins and outs of South African olive oil and are bullish about its future.

Main photo: South Africa’s extra virgin olive oils are beginning to turn global heads. Credit: Courtesy of Lettas Kraal

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Ancient Wine Making Brings New Flavors To Italian Wine /agriculture/viticulture/old-techniques-new-flavors-italian-winery/ /agriculture/viticulture/old-techniques-new-flavors-italian-winery/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 09:00:41 +0000 /?p=75923 In northeastern Italy, on the border with Slovenia, winemaker Joško Gravner has taken old techniques to give the defining white grape variety of the region a completely new interpretation. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

The defining white grape variety of Collio in northeastern Italy, on the border with Slovenia, is Ribolla Gialla, and Joško Gravner has given it a completely new interpretation. Every now and then you encounter a wine grower who has really made a difference, challenging accepted practices. Gravner is undoubtedly one of them.

Usually a lightly perfumed variety, in the hands of Gravner, Ribolla Gialla becomes intensely rich, and the reason is his use of amphorae. These days there is a sense that amphorae are becoming rather fashionable in some circles, especially with the growing interest in the wines of Georgia, which had been overlooked for so long and which suffered from a Soviet regime that demanded quantity rather than quality.

A pioneer in the region

Joško Gravner is seen as a pioneer in Europe for his use of amphorae in wine making. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

Joško Gravner is seen as a pioneer in Europe for his use of amphorae in wine making. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

However, in Europe, Gravner is seen as a pioneer. His daughter, Jana, explained that his eureka moment came on a visit to California in the mid-1980s. There was much talk and tasting focused on selected cultured yeast, and he thought: If this is the future, I do not want to be part of it. He looked at the old methods and discovered that the amphora is the oldest wine container. Indeed, if you visit the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, you will see an amphora that was used for wine making in 6000 BC. The presence of tartaric acid indicates a fermentation, rather than merely the storage of the grapes.

It took a few more years before Joško brought amphorae from Georgia. Jana remembered how they arrived, from the Caucuses in a Georgian lorry, in December 1996. They had bought 90 amphorae, but only 45 survived the long journey by road completely intact, despite being protected by large rubber tires. There is something about the clay of Kakheti, the region of eastern Georgia, that is particularly suitable for the production of amphorae, and in addition Georgian clay is free of heavy metal, whereas European clay tends to contain lead.

The underground cellar

The qvevri, or cellar of amphorae, at Gravner. After fermentation, the grapes are moved to barrels. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

The qvevri, or cellar of amphorae, at Gravner. After fermentation, the grapes are moved to barrels. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

A cellar of amphorae, or qvevri, as they are called in Georgia, is a wonderful place, with an atmosphere all of its own. In fact, there is very little actually to see, as the qvevri are buried in the ground. To build a qvevri cellar, you begin by digging a large hole, as though you were building a swimming pool. The qvevri, which are no bigger than about 2,000 liters, are then put in place, and the soil replaced around them.

Working with qvevri demands minimum equipment. The interior surfaces are treated with beeswax in Georgia, and then again when they arrive in Collio, as the beeswax provides a neutral protective coating. The soil provides a natural temperature control for the fermentation, so no refrigeration is necessary. The grapes are de-stemmed — they may use some of the stalks, as that helps break up the cap of skins — and the wine is left to ferment, and then once the malolactic fermentation is finished, the amphorae are sealed and the young wine is simply left to its own devices. It will fall clear naturally. The 2015 vintage was pressed in March and was then returned to the amphorae, where it will stay until the end of September. And then it will be kept in a barrel for a further six years before bottling. Joško and his daughter attach great importance to the seven-year cycle, and their riserva wines are aged for 14 years.

A constantly changing wine

Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla has a touch of honey, as well as streaks of minerality and tannin. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla has a touch of honey, as well as streaks of minerality and tannin. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

And what does the wine taste like? We tasted the 2007 Ribolla, which I would suggest is one of the most original wines I have ever tried. The color is amber and the wine is not a DOC Collio as the color does not conform to the DOC regulations. Ribolla Gialla, when it is ripe, has light golden brown skins, which may even be brown when the grapes are very ripe. The nose is very intriguing. There is a touch of dry honey, and yet it is firm and dry and stony. There is a streak of minerality, which Jana said came from the amphorae, and there is a streak of tannin, which originates from the length of time on the skins. In some ways, the wine is quite austere with a firm linear character. But it is a wine that changes in the glass, constantly leaving you guessing — and returning for more.

Main photo: In northeastern Italy, on the border with Slovenia, winemaker Joško Gravner has taken old techniques to give the defining white grape variety of the region a completely new interpretation. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

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Organic Egg Industry Pits Factory Farms Against Family Farms /agriculture/organic/organic-egg-industry-pits-factory-farms-against-family-farms/ /agriculture/organic/organic-egg-industry-pits-factory-farms-against-family-farms/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:00:37 +0000 /?p=75787 At Ward's Pleasant View Farm in Grafton County, New Hampshire. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jessica Anderson.

If the news shocks you that the dozen organic eggs you just bought came from hens living in factory-like conditions, you are not alone.

Nationwide, most consumers of organic eggs, dairy and meat believe they are paying for more humanely raised products. In one survey conducted by the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 2014, 68 percent of consumers believed that animals raised on organic farms have “access to outdoor pasture and fresh air,” and 67 percent believed that they have “significantly more space to move than on non-organic farms.”

The truth of animal welfare in organic agriculture is not so clear-cut. And no food highlights the problem more than eggs.

Free-range or just cage-free?

Free-range chickens on Zimmerman Family Farm in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jessica Anderson.

Free-range chickens on Zimmerman Family Farm in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania. Credit: Copyright 2017 Jessica Anderson.

Pete & Gerry’s is a large-scale organic egg retailer in Monroe, New Hampshire, where the hens are free-range. Most days — when temperatures are not extreme and there are no predators or disease-carrying migratory birds about — the flock moves at will in and out of the barns, dust-bathing and foraging in organic pasture.

Due south in Hubbardston, Massachusetts, the “girls” at organically certified Country Hen spend their lives inside artificially lit, ventilated two-story henhouses with covered porches. They perch and feed on organic grain indoors; because of concerns about avian bird flu and other risks, they never step outside.

Both brands, bearing the USDA organic seal, are sold at a premium. But their eggs — and the living conditions for the hens who lay them — are not at all the same.

The 2001 national organic law requires that all certified organic producers provide “year-round access” to the outdoors. However, Country Hen appealed to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to allow its porches to qualify as “outdoors” and won its case in 2002.

Ever since, the nation’s largest egg producers have entered the lucrative organic food market, which surged 11 percent in 2015 to $39.7 billion, the largest single-year gain. According to the USDA, at least 50 percent of the eggs currently sold as organic come from industrial-scale producers like Mississippi-based Cal-Maine, which houses up to 200,000 hens in a single, multistory aviary with porches.

A coalition of animal-welfare advocacy groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the ASPCA and Compassion in World Farming, have decried such companies, saying they flout the spirit of the National Organic Program. They argue that a product consumers widely believe to be free-range is rather merely cage-free.

“It’s not uniform,” said Dena Jones, director of AWI’s farm-animal program. “We have a huge range: birds that don’t go outside and high-stocking density inside, and then you have pasture-raised. Two extremes and everything in between.”

Family farms vs. factory farms

Eggs from High Family Farm in Juniata County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jessica Anderson.

Eggs from High Family Farm in Juniata County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Copyright 2017 Jessica Anderson.

The majority of organic egg producers, including Pete & Gerry’s, Vital Farms and Egg Innovations, meet or even exceed the federal standards. The disparity puts these producers — some of which raise birds in ideal conditions, namely mobile chicken coops on pasture — at an economic disadvantage.

“I think most organic customers would be surprised to know how some of the large-scale organic is being produced right now,” said Pete & Gerry’s owner, Jesse Laflamme.

LaFlamme’s parents nearly lost the family farm founded by his grandfather during the late-20th-century surge in shell-egg consolidation and automation. They converted it to certified organic in 1998, and LaFlamme returned to the farm in 2000 just when organics started taking off.

In order to scale up Pete & Gerry’s production to meet demand, LaFlamme partnered with other family farms to raise eggs sold under Pete & Gerry’s label. The company now contracts with over 120 farms.

Stretching across New England, New York and Pennsylvania, this model of production involves entire families working to raise up to 20,000 free-range hens. But LaFlamme worries that they will be pushed out of production just as his parents nearly were. “There are efficiencies in a factory, efficiencies in large scale. We are paying a family farm a living.”

Change agents

Sorting eggs at Dersham Family Farm in Union County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jessica Anderson.

Sorting eggs at Dersham Family Farm in Union County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Copyright 2017 Jessica Anderson.

The USDA is in the process of finalizing a new rule to clarify outdoor access for poultry. The proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices requires organic producers to provide genuine outdoor access with space minimums and soil-type specifications, among many other animal-welfare provisions. It would also disqualify porches once and for all. 

Three truths in labeling tools

If you're looking for assurances that the eggs you buy are humanely raised, check for third-party certifications from animal-welfare groups. Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Step 3 or above and Certified Humane are the most credible, according to animal welfare groups. Bear in mind that the labels "humanely raised," "pasture-raised" and "farm fresh" are unregulated and are as meaningless as "natural" for animal-welfare claims.

The Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog group for sustainable agriculture, published the Organic Egg Scorecard, which ranks an alphabetical list of egg producers researched for the organization's in-depth report "Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture." On a ranking of 1 to 5, the most highly rated producers, highlighted in gold and green, raise hens on quality pasture with ample living space.

Farm Forward, an animal-welfare advocacy group, built the online tool Buyingpoultry.com, a searchable database of brands and area retailers that carry eggs that meet the highest standards for animal welfare.

Meanwhile, the need to increase transparency and consumer trust in food labeling only grows more urgent. In August, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Organic Consumers Association filed a lawsuit against New York-based Handsome Brook Farm for “false, deceptive and misleading practices.” While claiming on its labels and in marketing materials that its eggs were “pasture raised,” the company routinely sourced from conventional farms, the lawsuit alleges.

There’s good reason for egg producers to capitalize on consumer preferences for products that meet higher animal-welfare standards. In the most recent ASPCA survey, 67 percent of consumers said they would likely buy “eggs, dairy and meat products bearing a welfare-certification label with meaningful standards, even if it meant paying a higher price.”

The question remains as to whether consumers will ever get what they believe they’re paying for.

Main photo: Organic Pete & Gerry’s supplier Ward’s Pleasant View Farm in Grafton County, New Hampshire. Credit: Copyright 2017 Jessica Anderson. 

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Handcrafted Coffee With A Whiskey Spirit /agriculture/coffee/ /agriculture/coffee/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:00:41 +0000 /?p=75561 Cooper’s Cask Coffee out of Rhode Island combines single-origin beans with the unbeatable aromas of whiskey. Credit: Cooper’s Cask Coffee

When Trish Rothgeb of the Coffee Quality Institute christened artisanal brews “third wave” coffee in 2002, quality, expertise, sustainability, individuality and a complex, even quirky taste experience began to define the coffeehouse cup of morning joe.

Handcrafted coffee achieved the status of fine wine, craft beer and artisanal bread.

Now, imagine something more.

Cooper’s Cask Coffee out of Rhode Island gives artisanal coffee a whiskey twist. The small new company is named for coopers, the craftsmen who for centuries have built wooden, barrel-shaped casks. Rooted in New England history, casks are also the key to Cooper’s special brew. Master roasters combine the carefully selected, single-origin coffee beans that typify third wave coffee with the unbeatable aromas of award-winning whiskeys.

Making and tasting whiskey-aged coffee beans

Cooper’s Cask Coffee beans are aged in Sons of Liberty whiskey barrels. Credit: Courtesy of Sons of Liberty

Cooper’s Cask Coffee beans are aged in Sons of Liberty whiskey barrels. Credit: Courtesy of Sons of Liberty

At Cooper’s Cask Coffee, unroasted beans are aged in barrels previously used for producing Sons of Liberty whiskey, which has won dozens of accolades including gold at the 2016 World Whiskies Awards. Beans are then roasted in batches so small that they are marked on each package by hand, noting the roast date and the signature of the master roaster. Those signatures belong to Jason Maranhao and John Speights, who also serve as master matchmakers. They skillfully pair the tasting notes of the beans with those of the whiskey. The barrels impart their aroma, producing a boon for the senses with coffees that are vibrant, intricate and thought provoking.

For example, the tasting notes of the Sumatra beans are described as woody and earthy, with a touch of sweet tobacco and a hint of ripe tropical fruits. The sweet vanilla and caramel notes of Sons of Liberty’s stout style American whiskey further enhance the bean’s flavor, creating a memorable cup of joe.

Cooper’s Ethiopian beans boast their own sought-after accents of peaches, strawberries, honey and chocolate. Once aged in the charred barrels from Sons of Liberty’s Battle Cry rye based whiskey, an intense and layered sensory experience emerges. Snappy spice intermingles with sweetness as a touch of floral brightness shines through. In a third offering, Rwanda beans find their soul mate in Thomas Tew Rum, yielding rich molasses, caramelized sugar and toasted notes.

Finding a passion for coffee

Engineers John Speights, left, and Jason Maranhao turned their passion for coffee into Cooper’s Cask Coffee. Credit: Courtesy of Cooper’s Cask Coffee

Engineers John Speights, left, and Jason Maranhao turned their passion for coffee into Cooper’s Cask Coffee. Credit: Courtesy of Cooper’s Cask Coffee

Launched in 2015, Cooper’s Cask Coffee began years earlier as a personal passion for Jason and John when they met while working as engineers in the computer technology industry. They weren’t always coffee aficionados. “In the beginning, I would drink the office ‘stink’ pot of coffee,” Maranhao says. “I’d throw in the cream and sugar to make it palatable.”

But then, he found his coffee passion with a strong DIY streak. “I first started roasting beans on a frying pan on the stove, sending the house smoke detectors into a frenzy,” he recalls. “Then I modified a hot air popcorn popper, and now a commercial roaster. As an engineer, I always enjoy creating new things and crafting coffee is just an extension of that creativity.”

While Maranhao and Speights still work their day jobs, they have high hopes for the future of Cooper’s Cask Coffee. “We want to bring to the world a revolution of craft coffee like how craft beer has turned big breweries on their head,” Maranhao says. They also encourage coffee drinkers, “Give yourself a small escape into happiness,” a mantra printed on each package. Coffee might be mindless morning fuel for some, but the idea behind Cooper’s Cask is to start the day, or reboot the afternoon, with an indulgent coffee experience that is daring, sensual and truly awakening.

Main photo: Cooper’s Cask Coffee out of Rhode Island combines single-origin beans with the unbeatable aromas of whiskey. Credit: Courtesy of Cooper’s Cask Coffee

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Italy’s Ancient Ritual Of Buried Cheese /world/italys-ancient-ritual-of-buried-cheese/ /world/italys-ancient-ritual-of-buried-cheese/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 09:00:26 +0000 /?p=75633 Fossa cheese can be eaten simply with piadina and figs. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Caseifico Pascoli

Cheese lovers may want to travel to Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone in November.

This little town in the Romagna region is famously known for the historical river Rubicon, which Emperor Julius Caesar crossed as he uttered, “Alea iacta est” (“The die is cast”). But it is also known for the traditional formaggio di fossa, a cheese that is buried at the end of August in underground pits (fossa) and resurrected in late November.

The ‘resurrection’

Cheese is buried in a pit in Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Comune di Sogliano

Cheese is buried in a pit in Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Comune di Sogliano

The technique of the infossatura (the burying) dates back to the 15th century, when Romagna residents used to hide food in secret pits to protect it from Aragonese troops plundering the country. Formaggio di fossa can be made with sheep’s milk (which has an aromatic taste and a piquant flavor), cow’s milk (which is delicate, slightly sour and salty, with a bitter aftertaste) or misto, from both milks (well-balanced taste with bittery hints).

The cheese is wrapped in a cloth bag and stacked right up to the mouth of the pit, then covered with more canvas to prevent transpiration. Typically, a pit measures almost 10 feet high, including the neck, with a base of about 6 1/2 feet in circumference. The pit is prepared by burning straw, which removes moisture and damp air, and also reduces bacteria, which may be harmful to fermentation. After the cheese is placed in the pit, a wooden lid is placed over the opening. It is sealed with plaster or chalk, and then covered with stones and sand.

Once the cheese has matured, about three months later, the bags of cheese are taken out.

Annalisa’s favorite fossa cheese dish

The process of fermentation gives the cheese a particular flavor, as well as an uneven shape, Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

The process of fermentation gives the cheese a particular flavor, as well as an uneven shape. Credit: Copyright 2017 Cesare Zucca

The sfossatura (the unearthing) occurs on Nov. 25, the day dedicated to Saint Caterina. Sogliano and the nearby town of Talamello celebrate the event with the annual Festival of Fossa Cheese, a joyous day during which you can visit area farms and enjoy the cheese market.

The process of fermentation gives the cheese a particular flavor, as well as a reduction of whey and fat. It has an uneven shape, a hard or semihard and easily friable consistency, and a color that spans from white to amber. The aroma is strong, with hints of sulfur, mold and truffles, and a pungent taste on the bitterish side. Fossa cheese has been granted DOP status (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), the Italian equivalent of protected designation of origin.

I met with Annalisa Raduano, owner of Caseificio Pascoli in Talamello, a family-managed factory well known for producing artisanal cheeses, including the DOP fossa. She told me that it can be eaten on its own or served with a piece of bread or piadina, or used for preparing a number of regional dishes, such as the traditional broth with cappelletti. It can even be served as a dessert with honey. Annalisa loves to pair the sharp taste of the cheese with the sweetness of the pumpkin in this soup. It’s a quite simple recipe.

I made it, I tasted it, and I loved it.

Pumpkin and fossa cheese soup

Pumpkin and fossa cheese soup is easy to make, and perfect for fall. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Pumpkin and fossa cheese soup is easy to make, and perfect for fall. Credit: Copyright 2017 Cesare Zucca

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Servings: 6 to 8

Ingredients

14 ounces pumpkin or yellow squash

2 ounces fossa cheese

3.5 ounces butter

1.7 ounces spinach

3 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 onion

Salt and pepper

Directions

1. Peel the pumpkin and cut it into cubes. In a pan, melt half the butter with the onion finely chopped, add half of the diced pumpkin, pour the broth and cook 20 minutes.

2. Add the cream, salt and pepper. Mix in the blender to get a thick purée.

3. In a pan, melt the remaining butter, add the remaining pumpkin, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.Then add the chopped spinach. Stir for 10 minutes.

4. Divide the cream among six to eight dishes, sprinkle over the diced pumpkin and the spinach, and garnish with fossa cheese cut into thin slices. Let the cheese melt down and serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

Main photo: Fossa cheese can be eaten simply with piadina and figs. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Caseifico Pascoli 

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Turn Foraged Acorns Into Delicate, Nutty Cookies /general/75354/ /general/75354/#comments Fri, 29 Sep 2017 09:00:41 +0000 /?p=75354 Acorn lace cookie. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Flip through any children’s coloring book, and the images depicting autumn will be guaranteed to contain falling leaves, acorns and pumpkins. Acorns are one of the iconic images of fall.

But for most, they’re simply objects littering the ground as summer fades into snow. In truth, acorns are a very old ingredient, and were a staple food for many  cultures throughout history.

Acorns are a natural fit in recipes such as pancakes, quick breads and cookies. The acorn lace cookies featured here have the added advantage of using a small amount of acorn flour, which means it is an easy recipe for first-time acorn eaters.

So, why has eating acorns fallen out of favor? Acorns are mouth-puckeringly astringent, an effect caused by tannins. Before one can cook with acorns, most of those tannins must be removed with several changes of water, a process known as leaching.

Removing the tannins from acorns can be done by methods known as hot leaching and cold leaching. In hot leaching, larger pieces of acorns are boiled in multiple changes of water until free of tannins. Cold leaching acorns uses cooler water and takes more time. However, the great benefits of cold leaching are that the acorns retain their caramel-like flavor and also a greater amount of starch, which helps the flour to have a more sticky quality when baking.

Collect acorns once they’ve fallen to the ground. Avoid collecting any that have the cap still attached or have visible bug holes.  Further cull out bad acorns from good ones by putting them into a bucket of water. Acorns that float can be discarded.

Place the good acorns onto a baking sheet and roast them gently at 250 F for an hour. This makes the shells less leathery and easier to crack. It also will kill any larvae that might be inside, and it imparts an extra level of toasted flavor to the acorns. Once the acorns have roasted, let them cool overnight.

The next step is to crack and remove the acorn meat from the shells. I believe this task is most enjoyable when many sets of hands join in while sitting in the autumn sun. Use your judgment to decide which acorns to keep. If any look rotten or riddled by bugs, don’t use them.

Once you are in possession of all clean acorn meat, you need to grind them. I like to use a grain mill made for processing corn for tortillas. However, a food processor works just fine. You are looking to end up with a coarse meal, much like almond meal.

You are now ready to leach the acorns. Fill a glass jar no more than one-third the way with acorn meal. I tend to leach acorn meal in several gallon jars because I process large quantities. But to end up with the two tablespoons of acorn flour required for this recipe, you won’t need any more than one-third of a quart jar of acorn meal. Fill your jar with cool water, stirring gently with a long spoon or chopstick. At first, the water will be cloudy. After a while, the acorns and their starch settle to the bottom, leaving tea-colored water above.

Foraged acorns. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Foraged acorns. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wendy Petty

Let the jar sit for several hours at room temperature before carefully decanting the water off the acorn meal, being aware not to disturb the layer of starch on top. Again, fill the jar with fresh water while gently stirring the acorns, and after a few hours decant the tannic water. This process is repeated as many times as it takes to remove the astringent flavor from acorns. At two empties per day, I generally find this takes about a week. The only way to know for sure is to taste the acorns. If you are changing the water twice per day and your home isn’t overwhelmingly hot, this can be done at room temperature. If you need to change the water less frequently, you should let the jars of acorns leach in the refrigerator.

Once your acorn meal no longer makes you pucker, pour off about half of the tannic water. Line a strainer with a cotton tea towel, and place it in your kitchen sink. Give the acorns and water a good stir, then pour the contents of the jar into the strainer.  Let the water drain for five minutes. Then, gather up the edges of the towel around the leached acorn meal and squeeze out most of the remaining water.

Use your hands or an offset spatula to evenly distribute the wet acorn meal on a dehydrator sheet. Dehydrate the meal at least overnight or until it seems completely dry. Once dehydrated, acorn meal can be stored in your pantry in a jar.

For this recipe, the dehydrated acorn meal is ground into flour using a spice grinder.

You can read a more detailed description of the above process accompanying my recipe for acorn falafel.

Acorn Lace Cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 16 cookies

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

zest from half an orange

1 ½ teaspoons flour

2 tablespoons acorn flour

pinch of salt

Directions

1. In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat.

2. Add the cream, sugar and orange zest. Stir to combine the ingredients, then increase the heat to medium-high, and let it bubble for 2 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flours and salt.

4. Let the mixture stand until it is solid but not completely cool.

5. Roll 1 teaspoon of dough into balls, and place them onto a small sheet of parchment paper.

6. Preheat oven to 375 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

7. Place 6 of the balls onto the sheet pan, allowing plenty of room for each to spread as they bake. Do not try to cook more than 6 at one time. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. Watch the cookies very carefully over the last two minutes so they don’t burn. When fully cooked, the cookies will be a deep caramel color and shiny.

8. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit on the sheet pan for at least 2 minutes before handling. Once you can slide a spatula under them without deforming their shape, they can be transferred to a cooling rack. If you are feeling ambitious, it is at this point that the still-flexible cookies can be draped over a small bowl or rolled around a rod so that they dry in that shape.

9. For the two subsequent batches of cookies, baking time may need to be reduced by 30 seconds to 1 minute. Again, watch them carefully to make certain they are not burning. If the acorn lace cookies seem to be burning around the edges before they are fully cooked, reduce the oven temperature by 25 F.

Main photo: Acorn lace cookie. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wendy Petty

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Slovenia’s Cutting Edge Wines Focus On Refošk /drinking/wine/slovenia-istria-winery-focuses-refosk/ /drinking/wine/slovenia-istria-winery-focuses-refosk/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 09:00:19 +0000 /?p=75033 The Santomas winery, with the town of Koper in the distance, lies in Slovenian Istria. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

The wines of Slovenia are being rediscovered after Slovenia’s emergence from the old Yugoslavia, and there are now pockets of excellent vineyards all over the country.

Recently, I was in the Istrian part of Slovenia, which is sandwiched between the much larger Croatian Istria and the Italian city of Trieste. Essentially, it is a narrow finger of land, with a short seaboard, before the country opens out toward the capital Ljubljana. And like Croatian Istria, it is an area of gentle hillsides, with vines and orchards, scattered with small villages. The one town of any size is the port of Koper, which was once called Capodistria, when it was part of Italy. And you cannot escape the proximity of borders in this part of Europe. We breakfasted in Italian Trieste, tasted wine during the morning in Slovenia and were in Croatia in time for lunch, which all makes for an exotic mix.

A daughter takes over

The grapes are sorted at harvest at Santomas. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

The grapes are sorted at harvest at Santomas. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

Leading the way in Slovenian Istria is Santomas, where Tamara Glavina introduced us to her family estate, just outside the village of Sarje, close to Koper. She is bright and vivacious, and highly competent, proving herself to be a talented winemaker. For her father, wine was really just a hobby, but he has invested in a new streamlined cellar and given his daughter a free rein. She focuses on Malvasia, and even more on Refošk, which are the two principal grape varieties, as in Croatian Istria.

Glavina said Refošk is usually made quite simply so that it can be drunk young, within the year, but she is now working on a change of style, developing wines that will have a much longer life.

This has necessitated changes in the vineyard, with single or double Guyot pruning, rather than the traditional pergola system. There is a greater density of 4,000 plants per hectare, and a much lower yield, of less than 1 kg per plant. The old pergola system even allowed for vegetables to be grown between the vines, as the Italians used to do with cultura promiscua.

Wine from the cellar

Santomas has invested in a new streamlined cellar and brought in a consultant oenologist. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

Santomas has invested in a new streamlined cellar and brought in a consultant oenologist. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

In the cellar Glavina has had the help of Claude Gros, a consultant oenologist from the Languedoc, who really saw the potential of Refošk when he came to visit. Glavina talked of her experience of working a vintage in France, a challenge when her French was still fairly limited. And then she treated us to an impressive vertical tasting of her red wines. We began with a young Refošk, with some appealing freshness, that had been kept in a stainless steel vat. Refošk means quite simply “king of the dark” and is deep in color, with low acidity and spicy berry fruit. The berries are large with soft skins — Glavina said that it is impossible to make rosé from it as the skins provide so much color.

Glavina also has some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which she might blend with Refošk. She said that she felt that sometimes it was difficult for people to appreciate Refošk and that some Cabernet or Merlot helped. I could not help feeling that, although the blend, and indeed some pure Cabernet were very good, the quality and character of the Refošk stood alone. So as well as the fresh Refošk, she makes two other cuvées, which may or may not be single vineyards: Antonius, for which she aims for a powerful rich style of wine, that may be either Refošk or Cabernet Sauvignon, and her Grande Cuvée, which she does not make every year, and for which she is looking above all for elegance.

An impressive wine tasting

Santomas has made changes in the vineyard, with single or double Guyot pruning. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

Santomas has made changes in the vineyard, with single or double Guyot pruning. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

Tamara opened bottles back from her first vintage in 2006, and included a 2005 made by her father. Highlights included the 2009 Grande Cuvée Refošk from the Certeze vineyard, given two years aging in French oak. It had some intriguing spice on the nose, with well-integrated oak and perfumed red fruit on the palate, with great length.

A 2009 Antonius from 25- to 50-year-old vines from the Sergasi vineyard, a sunny amphitheater that enjoys a maritime influence, was smoky and youthful, with ripe fruit and tannins. And 2009 Petrache Refošk, another vineyard, was spicy and perfumed with some freshness and elegance. In other words, we enjoyed three quite different Refošk from the same vintage, showing the versatility of the grape.

The 2006 Grande Cuvée from Refošk still retained a freshness combined with a richness, while the 2006 Antonius Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and powerful with cedary notes. We finished with Ludvik Glavina Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, which had developed some elegant cedary cassis flavors, making a fitting conclusion to the tasting. The Cabernet Sauvignon was good, but I came away with a lasting impression of the charm and originality of Refošk.

Main photo: The Santomas winery, with the town of Koper in the distance, lies in Slovenian Istria. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

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