Monday, May 30, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, May 30, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – we’re ready for summer with ice cream cookies, French fries, cream soda, iced tea and much, much more

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
Five Six more reasons why you should visit the Farmers’ Market.

La Plaine Trail Produce
I picked up spinach and lettuce on Saturday from Michael Henderson and Jordan Regier, La Plaine Trail Produce. I’ll buy sorrel next week. Michael and Jordan are still really keen on kale – they’ve started growing dinosaur kale, also known as Tuscan kale, which is reputed to be sweeter and even healthier than other varieties. They’re also growing husk cherries (ground cherry, cape gooseberry) and arugula.

Living Soil Farms
Steve Guenther of Living Soil Farms has great organic produce – potatoes, flax seed, lentils, and – this is new – hemp hearts (good source of protein and omega 3). (article about Living Soil Farms here)

Starting next week, he’ll be dishing up organic French fries topped with housemade ketchup and aioli from Souleio or meat gravy from Saskatoon Sous Chef. Look out for his chip wagon in Market Square.

Prairie Sun Orchard
I expect you’re familiar with Prairie Sun Orchard’s ice cream and sour cherry topping. Did you know that they also sell layered ice cream cakes? You choose the flavours and the toppings – from raspberry fudge and sour cherry to a crunchy layer of cookies and fudge. They also have floats, ice cream cones and sundaes.

Prairie Sun Orchard operates the Prairie Fare concession at River Landing. Wayne Pearson says the most popular items are the ice cream cookies – your choice of 4 kinds of cookies (oatmeal raisin, double chocolate, white chocolate macadamia, chocolate chip) and 16 flavours of ice cream.

You can follow Prairie Sun Orchard on Facebook. I wrote an article about them here.

Pioneer Soda
Shea Armstrong’s hobby is home brewing, so he decided to try his hand at non-alcoholic sodas. Using organic, natural ingredients and biodegradable bottles, he’s serving up old-fashioned root beer, original cream soda and vanilla cream soda.

Be sure to try a sample. I’m not a big cream soda fan, but I liked the vanilla cream soda, which is tangy and reminiscent of a cola. If you like sweets and vanilla, go for the original cream soda.

With only 9 calories per 500 ml. bottle and carbonated with carbon dioxide rather than acid, you don’t even need to feel guilty about enjoying a cold, refreshing drink.

News Flash!
A friend was at the first Sunday and tells me that Maria's Clay Oven Baking makes a lovely whole wheat dill bread. It's good to know there will be a baker at the Wednesday and Sunday markets. (Thanks, Karen!)

Collective Coffee
Collective Coffee, on 20th Street, is ready for summer with patio tables and iced lattes, iced mochas and fresh iced tea (sun-steeped organic Earl Grey and natural cane sugar).

They’re serving a selection of Intelligentsia organic, fair trade tea – Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Moroccan Mint.

Raw Chocolate Passion Party
Learn how to make Arriba raw chocolate shots and body butter with Intuitive Path SuperFoods from 7-9 pm on Friday, June 3 at Positive Passions (300 3rd Avenue South). Call 651-7227 to reserve.

Doors Open Saskatoon
Doors Open Saskatoon on Sunday, June 5 from noon to 5 pm is your opportunity to go inside buildings that are normally closed to the public. I’ll be at the Hotel Senator, the Victorian-era home of Rembrandt’s Restaurant and Winston’s Pub.

A piano player will be on hand to take requests at Tusq Restaurant and Staccato Piano Lounge in the Odd Fellows Temple on 21st Street (home of the Saskatoon’s first library from 1913 to 1923).

International Taste and Travel
Glossy magazine covers with tantalizing photographs and titles don’t always live up to expectations. But the introductory issue of International Taste and Travel has been a delightful read with an interesting mix of articles: chocolate recipes and festivals in Belize; European tea salons, Belgian beer and Parisian cooking classes; eating out in Mexico City and epicurean inns in Canada. I long to stay at a tea plantation in Assam, and the Australian gingerbread recipe makes my mouth water. I purchased my copy at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lindsay Adams, Apprentice Chef

the road less travelled – from theatre arts and business to restaurants and vegetarian cuisine

Lindsay Adams is in the second year of a three-year cooking program at SIAST and an apprentice under Chef Moe Mathieu of White Birch Catering. She loves what she is doing, but it has been a steep learning curve as she has transitioned from a university degree in business and the arts to hands-on experience in restaurant kitchens.

Italy: simple food, amazingly fresh produce
Lindsay grew up in Calgary and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario. She majored in theatre arts with a double minor in business and creative writing. “It wasn’t a practical degree,” she says, “but it covered everything I enjoyed and I learned a lot.”

After university, Lindsay lived in Italy for a year and started learning about food. She worked in a hostel in Rome where the young staff shared all the duties, from reception, to laundry, to cooking. “The owner was Italian,” Lindsay explains, “and he weighed in on what we cooked. The Italians laugh at North American cooking because we add too much instead of sticking to simple but amazingly fresh produce.”

For Lindsay, it was a lesson in the value of a few good quality ingredients. “It’s hard to know when to stop,” Lindsay says, “how to showcase a few things really well rather than muddling them all together.”

A real job
When Lindsay came home from Italy, she took a job with a Calgary advertising agency and served in restaurants in the evening. She had waitressed all through university, but she’d fallen in with the commonly-held belief that restaurant work is a good way to support yourself when you’re in school, but you need to find a “real job” once you graduate.

However, as time went by, Lindsay realized that it was her evening job at the restaurant that she looked forward to and enjoyed the most. She didn’t want to work in an office; she wanted to work in a restaurant. But she didn’t want to be a server all her life. It was time to become a chef.

Hands-on apprenticeship
Lindsay is older than her fellow students in the cooking program at SIAST, but she’s enjoying every minute of it. “It’s so hands-on and practical,” she says.

The course combines classroom learning with an old-style apprenticeship under an experienced chef who passes on his knowledge and expertise.

Lindsay’s first apprenticeship was at the Delta Bessborough under Chef Ryan Marquis. She chose this location very strategically as she wanted to gain good habits and be exposed to really nice ingredients right from the start.

It was a steep learning curve for “the waitress who wants to be a cook” as Lindsay jokes, but she survived. One of the unexpected benefits of working in the Bessborough kitchen was the multicultural environment. “Caucasians were in the minority,” Lindsay says. “I was able to learn from other styles of cooking from people who had immigrated to Canada.”

Lindsay then spent a year working at the Yard and Flagon on Broadway Avenue, which she says has a number of vegetarian options on its menu.

She is now apprenticing under Chef Moe Mathieu. “He’s an awesome guy,” says Lindsay. “I’m learning a lot from him, both as a businessman and as a cook.”

Putting it all together
Lindsay’s background in theatre, advertising and business is a huge asset in her current position with White Birch Catering. She is looking forward to marketing the business and developing menu ideas.

Lindsay will also be scouting locations for White Birch events, finding ways to turn their lack of a permanent storefront into an asset. This is where her love of theatre and the arts is proving to be extremely useful.

White Birch held a small dinner in Bill’s House of Flowers last month. It was Lindsay’s idea (she also has a part-time job there), and it was a huge success. The exotic colours and flavours of the Japanese menu were well paired with the setting of plants and flowers. And the owner of the store was “so gracious,” Lindsay says.

Unlike many chefs who are reluctant to leave the kitchen, Lindsay has strong communications skills. She enjoys talking to customers as she serves the food or as she helps a couple plan the menu for their wedding reception.

The way of the future
Lindsay loves bacon – witness the tattoo of a frying pan filled with bacon and eggs on her shoulder – but that doesn’t stop her from being a strong advocate for good vegetarian cuisine. “Vegetarianism isn’t just a trend,” she says. “It’s the way of the future. Chefs need to be competent vegetarian and vegan cooks or they will be left behind.”

Lindsay is always thinking about how to run a business, so she monitors the vegetarian options on restaurant menus. “There are such poor options,” she says. “Pasta and Portobello burgers – you’ve got to offer people more than that. You can’t just take away the meat. You’ve got to find a feature that will carry the meal but isn’t meat.”

Lindsay’s interest in local food has led to a growing interest in the grains that are grown on the Prairies. “Huge quantities of the world’s lentils come from Saskatchewan and cooking with camelina oil is awesome,” she says.

Vegetarian options
Lindsay and a group of friends get together once a month over supper. Seven out of ten are vegetarian, so she has lots of opportunities to practise her vegetarian cooking.

She loves cooking with mushrooms as they add so much flavour as well as umami, which is often lacking in vegetarian cuisine. “Vegetarians often miss out on gravy and sauces, so I’ve made my friends a vegetarian poutine with a dark, heavy mushroom gravy,” she says.

Lindsay also enjoys cooking with zucchini. “They roast really well and have a meaty quality,” she says. “In addition, they hold up to the heat and don’t go mushy as fast as eggplant.”

Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine lend themselves to vegetarian dishes. Lindsay recommends chiles rellenos: red peppers stuffed with wild rice, refried beans, finely-sliced and sautéed zucchini and carrots that is baked and served with a sweet or spicy tomato sauce.

Debt of gratitude
Lindsay’s interests are wide ranging; she’s enthusiastic; and she’s adventurous – characteristics that are sure to help her in her new career.

Over half the students in Lindsay’s class are female, which is excellent for a profession that has historically been dominated by men. Lindsay says she’s gained a greater appreciation for the women who have gone before her in the industry. “There are still obstacles,” she says, “but nowhere near the ones there used to be 10 to 12 years ago. We owe them a debt of gratitude. It’s definitely a lot better than it used to be.”

Photos by Lindsay Adams: Zucchini Risotto in an Egg White Crepe, Spiced Wine and Pear Chocolate Lava Cake with Lavender Cream

Chef Moe Mathieu, White Birch Catering Dinner Club
Three Farmers Camelina Oil

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Juan Gil

As we drive north from Jumilla, the vineyards stretch out to the rock faces of the surrounding hills.

It’s mid- April and the fields are brown and stony with only hints of greenery on the gnarled vines pruned close to the ground.

It’s a stark landscape that reminds me of my home on the Canadian prairies. The climate, the soil and the geography are harsh and demanding. They bring out the best in the people and in the wines.

The vines
Bodegas Juan Gil is a fourth-generation family winery that has earned a world-wide reputation for quality wine. At 700 to 850 metres in altitude, their vineyards are harvested much later (end of September to middle of October) than the vineyards at a lower altitude (and warmer temperatures) south of Jumilla.

The winery has over 350 hectares of vines. 120 hectares immediately surround the physical plant, which was constructed in 2000. The rest of the land has been purchased, one parcel at a time, from neighbouring farmers.

The vast majority of the land is planted with Monastrell grapes. The oldest vines are 60 years old, with many more that are 40 to 50 years old. Young vines, which are less woody, produce a great deal more fruit. Old vines produce less fruit and smaller grapes, but they have intense, concentrated flavour.

The vineyards are constantly being renewed with new plants replacing old, worn-out vines.

Individual attention
Many of the principles of mass production don’t apply to winemaking. The best grapes are collected in small baskets and sorted by hand. The grapes from each parcel are fermented in separate containers.

The older vines, with a low yield but rich flavour, are used for the wines that will be aged in barrels. The Juan Gil Monastrell, which has been aged for four months, comes from vines with an average age of 40 years. The vines used to make Juan Gil Monastrell 12 months are all over 40 years old.

Big red wines
Ripe Monastrell grapes, particularly from older vines, are full-bodied and high in alcohol. It’s the nature of the grape and a sign of a good quality Jumilla wine.

As a result, Juan Gil wines are very popular in California as they have the big flavour that consumers are familiar with from local, Californian wines.

The winery
Ten years ago, when the winery employees were designing their new plant, they very deliberately chose to focus their resources on the production facilities rather than more superficial features, such as the building façade.

The result is a clean, modern, efficient plant. It is air conditioned throughout with computers tracking every stage of the wine-making process.

There is tremendous attention to detail because details, such as cleanliness, will determine the quality of the final product. For example, the floors are white so that it’s easy to tell if they are truly clean at all times.

Coming soon to Saskatchewan
Juan Gil wines are sold extensively throughout Canada and the United States. They are readily available in Ontario and Quebec and will be available very, very soon in Saskatchewan.

Bodegas Juan Gil has chosen to offer a limited range of wines in order to ensure the quality of each one. Juan Gil 4 Months and Juan Gil 12 Months are both 100% Monastrell from older vines so you can expect full-bodied wines with lots of flavour. They go well with a meal.

Pedrera is also 100% Monastrell, but it comes from younger vines with an average age of 25 years and it has not been aged. As a result, it’s lighter and fruitier. It’s a good sipping wine – or, as the Spanish would say, it’s a good tapas wine.

Thank you
My sincere thanks to Loren Gil, the bodega’s Export Manager, for taking the time to give me an informative and enjoyable tour of the vineyards and winery.

Photo Credit: Bodegas Juan Gil

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 years of growing grapes and making wine

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crave Cookies and Cupcakes

From great recipe to great store: growing a business one step at a time

Carolyne and Jodi Willoughby grew up on a farm near High River, Alberta. The house was always full of home baking. In fact, store-bought goodies were a treat because they were so unusual. Both of them loved to cook, particularly Carolyne who has a degree in Food and Marketing Management.

And they had some great family recipes – their mother’s recipe for vanilla cake and their great grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake.

In 2004, Carolyne suggested that they start a cookie business in Calgary. They hit dead ends at first when they were turned down by the local farmers’ market. But a large retail space became available in Kensington, so they opened a store instead. Crave Cookies and Cupcakes was off and running.

They now have four and a half locations in Calgary (one spot is tiny and doesn’t have its own kitchen) and they opened a store in Edmonton in February. And last, but certainly not least, they’ll be opening a store on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon in August.

Is it a craze?
Carolyne and Jodi wanted to offer single-serving desserts. Their initial idea was cookies, but there were lots of cookie boutiques at that time, so they decided on cupcakes instead. Cupcakes are really popular nowadays, but seven years ago when Carolyne and Jodi were doing their research, they only located three cupcake stores – one in New York, one in Toronto and one in Vancouver.

I asked Jodi if she was worried that cupcakes were just a fad and would go out of fashion. She said, “No. Any time you have a really great product, it won’t be a fad. Just look at coffee shops or pizza places.”

Baked from scratch
Crave prides itself on having a fantastic product. First of all, they value their recipes, which have stood the test of time and have been fine-tuned to give them a Crave edge.

Secondly, all their products are baked fresh every morning, from scratch, using quality ingredients. They use real eggs, real butter, real cream. When they make jam thumbprints, they make their own jam. And they source their ingredients locally as much as possible.

A glass wall separates the kitchen and the retail area so customers can watch the cookies coming out of the oven and the cupcakes being iced.

Cupcakes, cookies and more
Crave offers chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with a variety of different icings – strawberry, coconut, peanut butter, and more. They also have cookies (double chocolate pistachio, ginger snaps, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chunk, peanut butter).

According to Jodi, “The whoopie pies have the perfect cake to icing ratio. The chocolate with raspberry butter cream is mouth-watering.” There are also mini cupcakes and you can order full-size cakes.

The regular line-up is supplemented with seasonal and monthly specials. There are squares and Christmas baking in December, pies for Thanksgiving, and ice cream sandwiches made to order in July and August.

There’s also a Craving of the Month, which is currently banana cake, but my mouth was watering at the description of lemon meringue cupcakes with lemon curd in the centre and meringue on top. In the summer, they offer s’more cupcakes – and even the graham crackers are made from scratch.

Growing the company
Crave has grown from one store in 2004 to seven in 2011. “We’ve grown fast,” says Jodi, “but we’ve grown as we could, and we knew we could manage it.”

One key ingredient is the employees, who Jodi describes as “lifelines.” They spend a lot of time recruiting staff who will be a good fit for the company and who share their passion.

Every staff member goes through a training program with Carolyne and Jodi, and the sisters continue to work closely with their store managers and pastry chefs. They pride themselves on low staff turnover. Their original pastry chef, who they hired six years ago, is still working for them.

Staff contribute ideas for the monthly specials, and Jodi and Carolyne continue to work in the stores.

Customer service
Jodi says she still loves cupcakes and hopes that her customers will enjoy them so much that they want to share them as well. “We strive to live up to people’s expectations and to make them feel special,” Jodi says.

Customers are greeted as they enter the store and employees make a point of finding out what customers are looking for and for what occasion.

The cupcakes are sold in pretty boxes tied with a ribbon so you’ll feel happy carrying it down the street and unwrapping your treat.

Is there a life outside of work?
Carolyne and Jodi are married with young families. Jodi has two little boys aged 4 and 6, while Carolyne has a four-year-old son. Jodi enjoys running and yoga, while Carolyne is training for the Penticton Iron Man.

Jodi says that she doesn’t believe in work/life balance. Rather than trying to give little pieces of herself to everyone and everything, she focuses her energy on whatever needs her attention the most at the moment, whether it’s her family or one of the stores.

The Saskatoon connection
Jodi and Carolyne are looking forward to opening in Saskatoon. They like the small-town feel of the city, and they like the Broadway location.

But they also have a personal Saskatoon connection as Susan Echlin of Living Sky Winery has been a close friend since they grew up together in rural Alberta. I suspect that we can look forward to some awesome wine and cupcake pairings. Cherry port and chocolate cupcakes perhaps?

Welcome to Saskatoon, Carolyne and Jodi. We’re looking forward to tasting your products!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, May 23, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – bees and beer, movies, handicrafts and elBulli

Beer and Bratwurst
Join Steve Cavan of Paddock Wood Brewing at Souleio Food’s on June 11 at 7 pm for a pairing of sweet and savoury foods with Paddock Wood beers. Tickets are $30 and are available in advance from Souleio. Every ticket entitles you to entry in a prize draw.

Handmade Alternatives to Plastic Bags
The Rural Crafter makes reusable produce bags in a variety of different styles, sizes and materials – from crocheted drawstring bags made from yarn to bags made out of recycled plastic grocery bags.

Check out her Facebook page as she makes all sorts of other items as well – from really cool hats to reversible washable swiffers.

Cava in Clavet
Cava Wines are now available from Neen’s Nook (Race Trac Gas) in Clavet. Neen’s Nook carries 16 types of wine, from $15 to $25.

Day of the Honey Bee – May 29
Clinton Shane Ekdahl, a Saskatoon beekeeper, initiated the Day of the Honey Bee in 2009 to recognize their important role in pollinating crops. Canada is the twelfth largest producer of honey in the world. The top three provinces are Ontario (31%), British Columbia (26%) and Saskatchewan (15%).

Queen of the Sun
Queen of the Sun follows beekeepers from all around the globe as they strive to keep their bees safe from pesticides and other causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. The 82-minute film will be shown at Broadway Theatre on May 27 and June 2 at 7 pm and on May 28 and May 30 at 9 pm.

The Pisim Project
This film about the Pisim Project follows a group of high school students in Cumberland House as they build a house using energy-efficient technology and traditional building methods. The film will be shown on Wednesday, June 8 at 7 pm at J.S. Wood Library (1801 Lansdowne Avenue) and is co-sponsored by the library and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. (via apm – thanks!)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A season in the kitchen at Ferran Adria’s elBulli
Over the past few years, Ferran Adria’s restaurant elBulli has gained a worldwide reputation. But what is Adria trying to achieve with his unusual dishes, and what would it be like to work in elBulli’s kitchen? Lisa Abend answers both those questions in her book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentices, A season in the kitchen at Ferran Adria’s elBulli.

The food
“Food can be whatever you imagine it to be” is the defining principle behind Ferran Adria’s recipes.

“Yet Ferran is not content simply to emphasize flavour. If he were, he would be serving that liquid-nitrogenized mango sorbet alone in a bowl. He combines pure flavours in new, provocative ways and brings new techniques to the same task not just because they are amusing or taste good but because, in doing so, he allows his diners to re-examine their expectations of what food is and what it can be.”

“ ‘What we’ve done,’ Ferran likes to say, ‘is create a new vocabulary, a new language, for cooking.’ That new vocabulary has produced some startling metaphors: ‘dragon’ cocktails that make the drinker breathe smoke, ‘caviar’ made from tiny spheres of olive oil. But it is his grammar – that is, the way he puts plates together – that is most astonishing. Hot turns into cold, sweet into savory, solid into liquid or air. Adria’s cooking plays with the diner’s expectations, undermines established categories of taste and texture, and constantly, miraculously, continues to surprise.”

The work
The book profiles the 32 apprentices who spend six months preparing the food at elBulli. With no pay and no opportunity to try the unusual dishes they are producing, it’s hard, monotonous work. “Precision, physical endurance, the abilities to overcome disgust and keep one’s opinions to oneself: these are all key qualities in a stagiaire. But although the cooks may not realize it yet, another characteristic will be infinitely more important to their success at elBulli, and that is the mental and emotional ability to withstand the tedious.”

Flavourful Saskatoon May 16, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 years of growing grapes and making wine

“Terroir” is a term commonly bandied about by wine experts to refer to the relationship between a wine and the land where it originates, but what does that mean?

I know that carrots grow better in some soils than others, but I really doubt whether I could taste the difference between a carrot that was grown in Regina and one that was grown in Saskatoon.

I gained a much greater appreciation for terroir – the importance of soil, climate and geography – by spending 4 days in Jumilla, Spain, and visiting 6 of its wineries.

Jumilla is located in south eastern Spain. As you drive to Jumilla, either from Valencia on the eastern Mediterranean coast or Murcia in the south, you see fields full of table grapes (draped in netting to protect them from the birds) and fruit trees, particularly oranges, that flourish in a warm, moderate climate with significant rainfall.

But as you get closer to Jumilla, you start climbing and, as the altitude changes, so do the crops. Almond and olive trees, which require less moisture and can handle lower temperatures, now predominate. Table grapes are replaced by vineyards – knobbly elbows of old vines spaced far about in bare, brown fields.

Spanish wines are classified by designations of origin based on geography. Each designation sets standards to ensure the quality of its wines. Jumilla is one of the oldest designations in Spain, with 45 bodegas (wineries) in the 30,000 hectare territory. They harvested 80 million kilos of grapes in 2010.

Grapes have been grown in Jumilla for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered grape pips dating back 5,000 years as well as gold earrings decorated with small clusters of grapes from the 4th century BC. Interestingly enough, the earrings would have been worn by a man, who was probably both a warrior and a grape grower.

Climate and Soil
Jumilla is 400-900 feet above sea level, so it does not experience the extreme heat of coastal Spain and winters can be quite cold (I saw photos of vineyards with a light coating of snow). Hot daytime temperatures are matched with cold temperatures at night , so plants must be able to withstand extreme temperature changes.

Jumilla gets very little rain. Fortunately, there is a thick layer of limestone in the soil, which holds moisture and sustains the plants. If you look closely at the photographs, the soil is quite rocky.

But the harsh conditions determine what grapes can be grown here and how they will be grown.

80 per cent of the grapes grown in Jumilla are Monastrell. Monastrell is a grape variety that is native to Mediterranean Spain, and it has evolved and adapted so that it flourishes under the geographic and climatic conditions of Jumilla.

Close kin to Monastrell are the Mourvedre grapes grown in Mediterranean France. Mataro, which is grown in small quantities in the United States and Australia, is also a close relation.

Each year the vines are heavily pruned, and each year they send out fresh shoots. They are grown as bushes and are not trellised because this limits the plants’ exposure to the sun and they don’t lose as much water to evaporation.

The bush vines are spaced relatively far apart (approximately 2 ½ metres between plants) as each plant requires an extensive root system in order to obtain sufficient moisture.

Advantages and Disadvantages
The growing conditions are harsh, and the vines have to struggle to survive. They produce much less fruit than trellised, irrigated vines would produce. (Irrigated vines will produce approximately 7 kilos of grapes per vine. Non-irrigated vines produce only 1 ½ kilos per vine.) But the result is small grapes that are rich in concentrated flavour, producing wine that is full-bodied and high in alcohol.

The winemakers all agreed that the best wine comes from vines that have had to struggle to survive. Several winemakers told me that they grew their best grapes to the north of Jumilla where the altitude is approximately 250 meters higher. As a result, the climate is cooler and harvest is delayed by approximately two weeks compared to vineyards at a lower altitude.

Phylloxera devastated Europe’s vineyards, but it had minimal impact in Jumilla. The climate and the lack of organic content in the soil meant that phylloxera couldn’t survive. As a result, many of the vines are original root stock and have not required grafting onto American grapevines that are resistant to phylloxera.

The dry climate also means that farmers do not have to contend with many pests or fungus and other diseases. Producing organic wines requires very few changes in agricultural practices and are a common product of this region.

Growing Recognition
In the past, the wineries in Jumilla sold most of their wine in bulk to other winemakers who valued its high alcohol content and rich red colour.

Fifteen years ago, winemakers realized that although it was simpler to sell in bulk, they were undervaluing their product, which deserved to be recognized as high-quality wine and not just an add-on to other wines.

Jumilla wines are available in Canada. Quebec and Ontario have the largest selection, but Luzon wines are available in Saskatchewan and Juan Gil wines will be available here very soon.

Visits to Bodegas
The six bodegas that I visited are listed below. I will write separate posts on each of the wineries, but they do share many commonalities so a theme that I discuss in regards to one bodega will often apply to some or all of the others. Each of them, however, was unique and ranged from a tiny artisanal winery to a super-large cooperative.

They all welcomed me with open arms and a generosity that both humbled and delighted me.

     Bodegas Bleda
     Bodegas Juan Gil
     Bodegas Luzon
     Bodegas San Isidro
     Bodegas Silvano Garcia
     Bodegas Vina Campanero

See Also:
     Ruta del Vino de Jumilla
     Vinos de Jumilla

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Viña Campanero

On the very edge of the Jumilla’s industrial zone, tucked among fields of grapevines and almond trees, is Bodegas Viña Campanero, a tiny, artisanal winery.

Winemakers, regardless of the size of their operation, are passionate about their vines and their wine. Perhaps it is because there are so many variables – the weather, the grapes, the many different choices of timing and methodology.

The link between the winemaker and his wine is particularly strong at Viña Campanero where a father and son team share responsibility for every phase of the winemaking process.

Viña Campanero is a family winery that was founded in 2002 by Pedro Cutillas Jimenez and his father. They produce 20,000 bottles of wine a year from grapes grown on their own property.

Hands-on operation
All the work is done by hand by Pedro and his father. Because they only have a small acreage, they are able to tightly control the harvest, harvesting each parcel individually when the grapes are ripe.

The grapes are collected by hand in 15-kilometre fruit baskets so that the grapes are not crushed and fermentation doesn’t start prematurely.

The fruit is fermented in containers ranging in size from 500 to 2000 litres (tiny compared to the larger wineries). The grape skins and seeds form a cap on top of the juice that is called a “sombrero” in Spanish. The sombrero on the highest-quality grapes is stirred by hand, while the fruit for young wine that will not be aged is stirred by machine.

The fermenting wine is maintained at an even temperature by inserting a cooling device inside the containers. This is very different from the other wineries I visited, which had cold water circulating around the outside of the containers, and is perhaps indicative of the extra attention that can be paid to small quantities of wine. Pedro believes it is more efficient as the cooling element is located at the core of the container where the heat is greatest and where it can cool the wine, not the external environment.

The wine is initially stored in large subterranean containers. It is later transferred to steel containers in order to remove the solids through natural precipitation. In November, it undergoes a second malo-lactic fermentation.

In December, the wine is tested by the Denominacion de Jumilla to see if it meets their standards. Pedro and his father also conduct their own taste tests. Depending on the quality of the individual containers, the wine will either be aged in barrels (crianza) or bottled as a young (joven) wine.

The winery has only very recently invested in a small bottling machine. They seal all their bottles with natural cork, which seemed to be the most popular choice in all the wineries that I visited in Jumilla. Some of them sealed their young white wines with screw caps, but this was the exception to the rule.

Choice of barrels
Viña Campanero uses barrels made from French and American oak. They are also experimenting with some barrels from Bulgaria and Portugal.

The cost of barrels is very high – 1000-1200 euros for French oak, 300-600 euros for American oak – and they must be replaced every 5 years. Bulgarian oak is much less expensive at 200 euros a barrel, so I could understand its appeal, and the need to explore all the possible options.

Pie franco
60% of Viña Campanero’s vines are Monastrell Pie Franco (ungrafted root stock). The remainder are younger Monastrell and a small amount of Tempranillo. The majority of their wines, particularly the ones that have been aged, are 100% Pie Franco.

A sense of history
Pedro’s uncle was known as El Campanero, and there is a long family history of growing grapes and making wine on the family’s land in the Ardal area to the west of Jumilla.

The wines are named for the region of Ardal and for the old stone wine shelter (un cuco) resembling a beehive that was built to protect the vineyard workers in the 19th century – hence the names of the wine – Vegardal and El Cuco del Ardal.

Viña Campanero has just started to export wine to Mexico and they are exploring another possibility in Japan, but most of their wine is sold regionally and in Barcelona, Valencia and Asturias.

The Spanish wine guide, Guia Peñin, (the Spanish equivalent of Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide) has awarded high marks to Viña Campañero’s wine.

The Cuco del Ardal Semicrianza 2006 received 90 points in 2009. In 2010, the Cuco del Ardal Seleccion 2008 Barrica received 88 points, while the Vegardal Cepas Viejas 2008 received 87 points and the Vegardal Monastrell-Tempranillo 2006 Barrica received 85 points.

Wine tourism
This is a wonderful winery to visit as it’s small and personal – we sampled the wines while enjoying almonds that Pedro’s mother had picked and prepared from trees on their property.

There is a fascinating collection of old winemaking equipment at the front of the winery and next door is a restaurant offering a panoramic view of the surrounding vineyards and hills.

A short video, in Spanish, with excellent photographs of the winery:

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 years of growing grapes and making wine

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Bleda

Bodegas Bleda – a fourth-generation family winery producing award-winning wines in a brand-new facility

I hadn’t intended to visit Bodegas Bleda. It was out of town and I had no car. But they had recently won 7 awards in the Certamen de Calidad de los Vinos de Jumilla (awards presented to the top wines in each category by the Designation of Jumilla), so I made sure that I tried their wines at the mini wine festival in Jumilla’s central park.

It’s no wonder that Bleda is winning awards, because their wines are great. I particularly enjoyed the Castillo de Jumilla White, but the rosado and the reds were lovely as well, and the Amatus (dulce or dessert wine) is a wonderful marriage of complex wine flavours with a sweet, spicy finish.

The wines were being served by Pascual Tomas Solax, Jefe de Bodega, and the care and attention he paid to serving the wines indicated the deep respect he has for his winery.

When he saw how interested I was in Bleda’s wines, Pascual went out of his way to offer me a tour, even though he had already put in a long, busy afternoon serving wine in the park.

Bodegas Bleda is a fourth-generation family winery that was founded in 1915 by Don Antonio Bleda. They are a small- to medium-sized winery. They export 90% of their wine through small distributors around the world, from Canada and the United States, to Japan and Australia.

(It’s worth noting that Spain’s economic crisis has forced most of the Jumilla wineries to look outside their national boundaries for sales, even those that relied primarily on a national trade in the past.)

Bleda’s first wine, Oro Viejo, won a gold medal in Barcelona in 1929. They continue to make a small quantity of Oro Viejo, but it’s very different from their other, more modern wines with 16% alcohol and a taste similar to Cognac.

Bodegas Bleda won seven awards at the Jumilla wine awards in April 2011. The Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell 2010 won a gold. The Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell-Tempranillo 2010 and the Castillo de Jumilla Reserva 2005 won silver medals; and the Blanco 2010, the Crianza 2007, the Divus 2009 and the Amatus 2009 were awarded bronze medals.

They also won three gold medals at the Premios de Cofradia del Vino Reino de la Monastrell in March 2011 for the Castillo de Jumilla Tempranillo-Monastrell 2010, the Divus 2009 and the Amatus Dulce 2009.

The winery was located inside the town of Jumilla until 2008 when they invested their savings in a new property in the Valley of Omblancas, just outside of Jumilla. It’s a spacious, elegant facility with a patio overlooking a terrace garden and a view of Jumilla’s Castillo in the distance.

As we admired the building, Pascual Tomas Solax, Jefe de Bodega, explained that the building was designed and built by the winery’s employees without the help of an outside architect or building contractor.

They have planned for the future with a second storey that is currently vacant but that will be available as office space and a large tasting room when they are ready to expand.

I think the entrance hall with its wood beams and a grand staircase leading up to the second-storey terrace would be perfect for weddings or anniversary celebrations.

The winery put a great deal of thought into designing its building to benefit both the wine-making process and visitor tours. As a result, you can take a circular tour through the production plant, to the barrels room and cellar, to the bottling plant and finally into the shipping area. One full wall of the tasting room is a window overlooking the barrels room.

Production Facilities
The bodega prides itself on being one of the most modern wineries in Jumilla. For example, only three people are required to run all the computerized equipment in the air-conditioned and humidity-controlled processing plant.

Some of the equipment was new to me. The grapes are delivered to the plant via a garage door leading to a shallow metal trough with two large screws which separate the grapes from the stems and move the grapes forward into the tanks. A vacuum sucks up the stems and takes them back outdoors where they are chopped into small pieces, again by machine, and recycled as either compost or animal feed.

The tanks, which vary in size from 23,000 to 100,000 litres, are made from stainless steel and are temperature controlled. The smaller containers are used for the more specialized wines.

The bottling line is completely automatic and two people can fill, label and pack 3,000 bottles an hour. The bottles are filled in a sealed compartment with filtered air to ensure cleanliness.

Grape Varieties
Bodegas Bleda cultivates 250 hectares of vines according to organic principles. The majority of this land is planted with Monastrell grapes. Additional red wine varieties include Tempranillo and Syrah. A field of Cabernet Sauvignon was just planted in March 2011. White wine varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Airen.

Bleda ages some of their wines in French and American oak. They are also experimenting with Hungarian oak, which they expect will be similar to French oak as it is also from northern Europe.

Castillo de Jumilla White
My favourite wine was the Castillo de Jumilla White, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Airen.

I wasn’t familiar with Airen so I looked it up on the internet. The Catavino website says that Airen has been grown in Spain since the time of the Moors and is the single most planted vine in the world. Its durability under extreme temperatures and dry climates as well as a high yield has made it a popular Spanish choice. It was traditionally used for brandy and heavy, oxidised wines, but modern technology now permits the production of “crisp, slightly neutral dry wines marked for early consumption.”

Macabeo is another native Spanish grape that is grown in Spain and southern France. It is traditionally used to make cava (sparkling wine).

Small Quantities of Quality Wine
Bodegas Bleda’s goal is to produce small quantities of very high quality wine. They produce only 600-700,000 bottles a year and they will often run out of a specific variety before the next harvest is ready.

Production figures are based on demand – if they sell out of one variety, they will try and make more the following year, while they will decrease production of less-popular wines.

The Heart of the Winery
I was impressed by the quality of the wine but also by the generosity of the people.

At the end of a busy day, Pascual offered three foreigners a comprehensive one-and-a-half hour tour of his winery. Not easy considering Pascual speaks very little English and the other two visitors spoke very little Spanish, so I became de facto translator despite my limited abilities.

I believe this story illustrates the love of wine that is at the heart of the Bleda winery. Pascual says that they deliberately try to maintain a very high quality to price ratio. They make small quantities of wine and they try to keep the price as low as possible in order to reach a wider audience.

“We could sell our wine for more money,” Pascual explains, “but if we did, fewer people would be able to buy it and enjoy it. That is the difference between a family business and a large-scale enterprise.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Correction – Flavourful Saskatoon May 16

White Birch Catering – May Fundraising Dinner

The correct phone number for White Birch Catering is 881-2033.

Acadian Cuisine – Thursday, May 26, SIAST Kelsey Campus Dining Room
Stacey Cornish, a Saskatoon Culinary Apprentice, will be representing her trade and her province at the 2011 Skills Canada National Competition in Quebec City in June. Skills Canada is a national, Olympic-style, multi-trade and technology competition for young students and apprentices.

Stacey is hosting a fundraising dinner on Thursday, May 26 at SIAST’s Kelsey Campus Dining Room. The six-course meal will feature traditional Acadian cuisine, including tourtiere and cassoulet. Vegetarian options are available upon request. Contact White Birch Catering at 881-2033 to reserve your spot.

Flavourful Saskatoon, May 16, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – cookies on a stick, hens and chicks, Acadian cuisine, Argentine wine, panini, vegetarian recipes and cooking classes

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
New Vendors
The Market was alive with colour and new vendors on Saturday, and we can look forward to more fresh produce and more vendors in the coming weeks.

Sol’s Cookie Shop offers fancy, decorated cookies on a stick (cookie bouquets!) as well as other goodies.

Super Salsas has fresh salsas and homemade corn and flour tortillas.

Cathy Mumford has an attractive display of pottery – both practical and decorative.

And I’ll be doing some research into sea-buckthorn products from Northern Vigor Berries.

Solar Gardens has an intriguing collection of succulents – I’ve always been partial to hens and chicks.

Check out their website – they offer everything from plants to wood oven pizzas to ceramic art to succulent bowl classes and specialty Christmas cooking classes. I’m all in favour of people with eclectic interests.

Sunday Market starting May 29
The Market will be open on Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm starting May 29. Sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon – and free parking as well!

Simon’s Fine Foods
Simon’s Fine Foods is now located at #10 – 2605 Broadway Avenue in the Avalon Shopping Centre (former home of Wild Serendipity Foods).

Simon Reynolds will be offering cooking classes all year round in his expanded quarters. He offers a really wide assortment of classes – from a Farmers’ Market menu based on what he found at the Market that week, to Spanish taps, to English cream tea and gluten-free food.

You can also order meals from Simon’s Fine Foods online. In addition to soups (the Portobello mushroom with goat cheese and basil is SOOOO good), entrees and desserts, Simon is currently offering dressings, pestos and dips, sauces, and marinades.

Earthbound Bakery
Earthbound Bakery (next door to Mano’s and Dad’s Organic Market on 8th Street) has added paninis to their lunch menu, but I still couldn't resist a sandwich on fresh, crusty bread with a bowl of soup on the side.

Acadian Cuisine – Thursday, May 26, SIAST
Stacey Cornish, a Saskatoon Culinary Apprentice, will be representing her trade and her province at the 2011 Skills Canada National Competition in Quebec City in June. Skills Canada is a national, Olympic-style, multi-trade and technology competition for young students and apprentices.

Stacey is hosting a fundraising dinner on Thursday, May 26 at SIAST’s Kelsey Campus Dining Room. The six-course meal will feature traditional Acadian cuisine, including tourtiere and cassoulet. Vegetarian options are available upon request. Contact White Birch Catering at 880-2033 to reserve your spot.

Top of the Hops – Charity Winemaker Dinner – May 28, 2011
Doug Reichel, Doug Reichel Wine Marketing Inc., tells me that Maria Irene Aristi will be representing Bodegas Melipal at the Charity Winemaker Dinner at Top of the Hops.

The Aristi family are the owners of Bodegas Melipal. Doug thinks it’s Maria Irene’s first visit to Saskatchewan so hopefully we’ll welcome her with sunshine and warm temperatures. (Maria Irene is second from the right in the photo.)

Living Sky Winery
Living Sky Winery has just released the 2011 flight of wines. If you prefer dry wines, check out the currant. Or if you like a sweeter tipple, buy the apple.

Meatless Mondays
Meatless Mondays encourages families to start each week with healthy, environmentally-friendly meat-free meals. They offer 3 new recipes each week, and their website has a wealth of useful information.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon May 9, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – White Birch Catering, Melipal wine, cupcakes and cake balls, Korean BBQ

White Birch Catering
White Birch Catering, Saskatoon’s latest special events catering company, is under the direction of Chef Moe Mathieu and his wife Reola.

Moe is a champion of local foods and was formerly part owner of The Willow on Wascana and Beer Brothers in Regina. Reola is the mastermind who coordinates all the logistics and administrative details of their events. They are joined by Lindsay Adams, a Professional Cooking Apprentice.

In addition to catering, White Birch hosts a monthly dinner club. The most recent was held in a flower shop and upcoming dinner themes include Mushrooms, Mushrooms and More Mushrooms in June and an Orchard Dinner in July. I attended a dinner with a beer theme last year and thoroughly enjoyed it (here's my article).

Top of the Hops – Grapes and Grains
– May 26-28, 2011
Top of the Hops will be held at Prairieland Park from 6:30 to 10:30 pm on May 26, 27 and 28. Tickets are $22.50, and there will be over 200 wines, spirits and beers to sample – from Kung Fu Girl Reisling, to Chase English Potato Vodka and Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage, to Dead Frog Nut Brown Ale and Cracked Canoe Premium Beer. Gotta love the names – I haven’t got a clue what any of them taste like!
Luis Manino, Bodega Melipal
The POW City Kinsmen Charity Winemaker Dinner will be held on the Saturday night and will feature local foods paired with great wines from Bodega Melipal in Argentina.

Proceeds will go to Farm in the Dell, a non-profit organization providing residential and vocational opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities in a rural farm-like setting.

Luis Manino, Export Manager for Bodega Melipal, will be at the dinner to introduce his company’s wines. I met Luis last year when he was in Saskatoon for Premier Saskatchewan (here's my article). He’s a delightful advocate for Argentina and Melipal wines, and I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to explore several different wines from the same winery.

Sweet Trends –
     Cupcakes, Cake Balls and Pie on a Stick
Crave Cookies and Cupcakes
I’m always intrigued to see how food trends wax and wane. I would have thought that cupcakes were a dying craze but apparently not as Crave Cookies and Cupcakes will be opening shortly at 802A Broadway Avenue (across from Bulk Cheese Warehouse).

I’m not a huge fan of cupcakes so I was interested to learn that they also sell cookies. Double chocolate pistachio sounds very good. There are also oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, ginger snaps and more.

Crave is an Alberta company started by two sisters who grew up on a farm just outside of High River. They bake from scratch using real eggs and butter – excellent!

Sphere-Licious, The Chocolate Cake Ball Company
A local variation on cupcakes is cake balls – homemade cake blended with homemade icing and dipped in a rich chocolate coating - from Sphere-Licious, The Chocolate Cake Ball Company.

My friend Karen says they’re “yum” and I trust her judgment on all things chocolate. There are a wide variety of flavours from chocolate and toffee to lemon, pina colada and chocolate raspberry cheesecake.

Check out their website or visit their kiosk at The Centre Mall during mall hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until June 30.

There’s also an interesting article in The StarPhoenix on how Celeste Bodnaryk started her business.

Pie on a Stick
I don’t think that anyone in Saskatoon is selling pie on a stick, but this seems to be an emerging trend and is sure to be of interest to the many pie lovers out there. They are available from the Sugar Pie Bakery at Calgary’s Kingsland Market (via Only Here for the Food).

Or you can make your own – here’s a lovely visual recipe and photo from Luxirare.

Sura Korean BBQ
Sweetsugarbean has a very helpful review of one of Saskatoon’s newest restaurants – Sura Korean BBQ at 1517 11th Street West. Sounds like the meal was a hit – a bit too heavily meat oriented to interest me, but I’m sure that carnivores will love the table grills where you can barbecue your own meat.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Flavourful Saskatoon May 2, 2011