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The Mezcal Wars

By Jane Butel  November 10, 2021

Have you sipped Mezcal lately and savored its smokiness or somewhat sharp edge?  It is a growing  trend  for which  some really like.  We have always included a tour of a Mezcal distillery in our Oaxaca Culinary  tour.  There is quite a difference in the earthy taste of Mezcal and the smoother flavor of tequila.  Pictured is a Mezcal tasting after a full participation cooking class this past summer in Oaxaca.

Yet, they have the  same origin--the agave plant.  Tequila must be made from the blue agave which started out around the town of Tequila, north of Guadalajara.  With the growing popularity of tequila, the Mexican government certified that any beverage distilled from the blue agave could be named Tequila. 

Farther south, the soil won't support the blue agave, other agave are used and Oaxaca is the headquarters for most of the small distilleries that create the growing numbers of mezcal, which they often flavor with fruit and coconut.

The reason I labeled it wars is that the number of the tiny distilleries that create the  mescal have become quite trendy and some have even developed into huge bucks for the various investors,  many of which are from the US.  A two page story in yesterday's (November 7, 2021) Business Section of the New York Times  details some of the recent history of Mezcal's growth and projections.  This story is even projecting that Oaxaca just might be the next Napa Valley!

The rationale the NYT writers claim for Mezcal's appeal is "the notion that agave-based spirits are 'clean' and devoid of additives that can trigger a hangover. " 

Also, part of the appeal, is the rustic way lots of Mezcal is made, which incidentally is how tequila used to be created.  The pina or head of the agave plant which can take 7 to 10 years to mature enough for harvesting for Mezcal (or tequila) making is hand harvested, roasted over various favorite woods, then the roasted pinas are thrown into a round trench where traditionally, a blind folded donkey would trample them into a pulp for boiling up and distilling.  

On our Oaxaca Culinary tours, we see a demonstration of the Mezcal process and get to sample various different ones.  We are taking reservations for Oaxaca now and if  you pay in full, there is a 5% discount.  This year's tour is June 14 - 20, 2022.

On another note--I just made the Tamale Pie for guests this past Sunday and made t without Blue Corn Flour.  Three tips I should pass on if you would like to make it--it is very delicious--no one left a single bit on their plate.  Hint #1 Boil the blue corn flour until it is extremely thick.  #2 omit the chicken stock as the blue corn is finer than is cornmeal. #3 Bake only about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  If you need to keep it warm, turn the temperature down to 250F.

Here's one of the floral arrangements I did last Sunday  for the table with flowers from our  yard.

We still have a few openings in our Southwest Holiday class and we are taking orders for gift certificates which are good for a year for our classes.  The calendar for the first three  months is posted on our website and are ready for registration.  The next weekend class is February 18 - 20 2022 and our next week long class is March 7 - 11, 2022.

Here's two favorite Quick and Easy recipes, great for this week!

CHILE SPARKED SWEET POTATO SOUP

Yield: 4 servings

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½” dice

4 scallions, thinly sliced (1 tablespoon sliced tops reserved for garnish)

1 cup evaporated skim milk

1 Tablespoon ground pure hot red chile, or to taste

Few grates of fresh nutmeg

Baked tortilla shoestrings for garnish (optional)

1. Place the potatoes, scallions, and 1 cup water in a 2-quart glass or microwaveable plastic bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on full power for 10 minutes. Or, to cook conventionally, place the ingredients in a heavy, medium saucepan, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until fork-tender.

2. Transfer potato mixture to a food processor. Add the milk and 2 teaspoons of the chile and process until pureed. Stir in the nutmeg. Return to the 2-quart container and microwave for about 2 minutes, or until hot. Serve garnished with reserved chile and scallion.

PER SERVING: Calories 388, Protein 335 g, Carbohydrates 34 g, Fiber 4 g, Fat 12 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 96 mg, Sodium 661 mg.

Reprinted with permission from Jane Butel’s Quick and Easy Southwestern Cookbook.

GRILLED SALSA-MARINATED PORK CHOPS

This super-quick and easy recipe combines the flavors of the Southwest with a touch of Spain in the orange marmalade. Add any favorite rice dish, a fruit and green salad with a tart dressing and a bread or dessert for a very satisfying, yet easy dinner.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

2/3 cup salsa, preferably a thick homemade one, such as Salsa Rojo (recipe follows) or a thick commercial one with a tomato base.

2 Tablespoons orange marmalade

4 (1/2-inch-thick) loin pork chops, trimmed of excess fat

1. Combine 1/3 cup of the salsa with the marmalade in a shallow glass or stainless steel bowl. Place chops in bowl, pressing chops into the marinade and turning and pressing again. Let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour or cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Preheat grill to medium-high or 450F (230C). Place rack 4 inches above heat. Remove chops from marinade, reserving marinade. Place chops on rack and spoon half of marinade over chops; reserve remaining marinade. Grill about 4 minutes. Turn and spoon remaining marinade over chops. Grill 4 minutes or until browned and centers are light pink or 160F (70C). Serve with remaining salsa.

SALSA ROJO

This salsa is hot and typically New Mexican. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator. It’s a common table salsa in northern New Mexico. It is great on most any tacos or burritos and is a great garnishing salsa. Also, it freezes well.

Yield: 1 ½ cups

1 ½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes or 1, 14.5 ounce can diced or crushed canned tomatoes

1 Tablespoon finely crushed chile pequin or to taste

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 Tablespoon cider vinegar

½ teaspoon ground Mexican oregano

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix until thoroughly blended or place in a blender jar and puree if desired.

 

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