Thursday, March 27, 2008

Caña de Oveja

When I stopped by Premier Gourmet after work today, I was treated to a wide variety of cheese samplings by Janet Ostrow, owner of Premier Gourmet for the last twelve years. One of the cheeses I tasted (and brought home) was Caña de Oveja, a soft-ripened sheep's milk cheese from Spain.

Caña de Oveja is made in Murcia, a dry and mountainous region of southeastern Spain, by Central Quesera Montesinos, a leading producer of Spanish artisanal cheeses.

Caña de Oveja comes in the shape of a log and is covered in a somewhat thick, bloomy, white rind. Immediately underneath the rind is a thin, gooey layer of cheese that quickly gives way to a creamy, crumbly paste. The inner portion of the cheese is slightly acidic, buttery and delicious. It's no wonder the cheese won a Silver Medal at the 2005 World Cheese Awards in London.

Restaurant Magnus in Madison, WI, bakes Caña de Oveja in phyllo dough and tops it with seasonal fruit, a sherry butter sauce and a habanero glaze. That sounds delicious.

I highly recommend this very interesting cheese. It is unlike most cheeses you will encounter.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back to Blogging

I have been traveling for much of the last six weeks--first to China, then to California. As a result, I haven't been able to keep up my usual blogging pace. Actually, I haven't been able to keep up with my work to any significant degree either. In any case, I am settled back in Buffalo and will resume regular blog posting. My apologies for the hiatus.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chinese Medicinal Wines

I've known that wine had medicinal properties, but the Chinese take the concept of medicial wine to another level. While browsing the Qing Ping traditional Chinese medicine market in Guangzhou last week, I came across the following rather interesting set of "wines": Three Snake Wine, Scorpion Wine, Black Ant Wine, Cock Testis Wine, and Snake Penis Wine.

Each "wine" contains the objects denoted by its label. One unlabelled "wine" had some small animal fetuses floating in it. I'm kind of glad I wasn't told what they were. I understand that the wine that is most often used in these medicinal products is rice wine.

(Un)fortunately, the medicinal wine shop was not offering any tastings the day I dropped by. So, I can't tell you what they tasted like. I've heard wine snobs claim to detect all manner of bizarre aromas in wines, but I've never heard anyone claim to detect aromas of snake reproductive organs. (Perhaps Ann Noble should consider expanding the existing categories on her Wine Aroma Wheel.)

I was surprised to discover how many American travellers blog about these wines. Simply Google 'snake wine' and you'll see what I mean. More surprisingly, perhaps, is the number of travellers who actually sample these products. I can't imagine drinking any such concoction.

(Photo credit: Alan Abdine)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Moutai: China's Most Famous Liquor

I just returned from the province of Guizhou in southern China, the home of my newly adopted daughter. I was very pleased to learn that Guizhou is the wine-making capital of China. Its most famous product is Kweichow Moutai (茅台酒), China's most famous and best-selling alcoholic beverage.

'Kweichow' is simply an older English rendering of 'Guizhou'--the same way that 'Peking' is the older version of 'Beijing.' Moutai is a small town in the north of Guizhou. I asked my translator and guide to inquire about taking us to Moutai to see the Chinese wine-making process, but the prices drivers were asking turned out to be prohibitive.

Moutai and other related Chinese beverages are often referred to as "Chinese wines," but this is a result of mistranslating the Chinese word 'Jiu' (酒), which simply refers to any type of alcoholic beverage. Because Moutai and other Chinese "wines" are distilled products and are made from grains rather than fruits, they should really be called Chinese "whiskeys."

Moutai is made mostly from red sorghum, which is somewhat like wheat. Some Chinese wines also contain measures of rice and wheat. At 53% alcohol by volume, Chinese "wines" are rather stout beverages. Scotches, bourbons and other whiskeys contain only 40% alcohol.

The flavor of Moutai is not easy to describe. When Jiyuan Yu was passing around ample amounts of Moutai at a Chinese New Year celebration he hosted earlier this year, Jo Anne Brocklehurst suggested to me that Moutai had aromas of chocolate. I thought she was off her rocker, but out of politeness I didn't say so. The following day, however, I bit into a bar of 90% cocoa dark chocolate and I realized that she was exactly right. Like most Americans, the first chocolate aromas that come to my mind are those of milk chocolate. But Jo Anne was thinking of dark chocolate. Other than recognizing a trace of dark chocolate aromas, I am otherwise at a loss to describe the flavor of Moutai. It is like nothing I've ever tasted.

Unfortunately, because of increased demand around the world, the price of Moutai has skyrocketed. It now sells for over $150 a bottle in America. I was surprised to find it for $100 in China. I thought I could find it cheaper than that in China. Other, less-famous Chinese wines can be found for much less. I brought home one such cheaper bottle. So, if you're interested in trying a sample, I can give you a sip at my next party.

Because Moutai is receiving a wider distribution in America, it is beginning to crop up more often at parties in the west. The look of the bottle and the smell of the beverage are rather unusual. But don't be afraid. It is definitely worth a try.

Upcoming Wine Class at Premier Gourmet

Premier Gourmet (Kenmore, NY) will be offering a Riedel wine glass comparative tasting on Fri., Apr. 4th, at 6pm. The tasting showcases the difference the size and shape of a wine glass can make in your enjoyment of wine.

Four different shape glasses from the best selling Vinum Series will be used: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Over the course of the program you'll discover how your perception of a wine changes on the nose and palate based on the size and shape of the wine glass. You may never look at your old glasses the same way again. The cost is $75 but each participant receives the four Riedel Vinum Series glasses, a value of nearly $100.