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Vol. 3: No. 186 – August 14, 2014

Wine School is a must this month – it’s Chablis time

We have been working through a 12-month program designed so that we can learn something from drinking, as opposed to just tasting wines. This program, Wine School, designed by Eric Asimov, wine critic of the New York Times, looks at Chablis this month. See here for a discussion on Chablis and a list of Asimov’s questions you should ask while drinking the different bottles. Don’t forget to write down notes on your answers..

As usual, we asked our own Sommelier at George, Ian Thresher, to pick three Chablis which can be obtained in Ontario that match the character of Asimov’s picks in New York. He sent us his own comments on Chablis to be considered along with Asimov’s:

“A surprisingly large number of people still tell me that they won’t drink Chardonnay but they absolutely love Chablis. Back when I was in sommelier school, I used to proudly correct the guest that a Chablis is in fact Chardonnay. I quickly found out that a majority of guests did not like being told that. So, I learned the hard way and I now try to explain (if asked) that Chardonnay will behave differently according to where it’s grown. A little more of a friendly approach.

As Asimov says, trying to explain the concept of “terroir” and “minerality” in a wine is not an easy thing but, good Chablis makes it a bit easier. It’s the very cool climate and specific kimmeridgian clay soils (rich in fossil shells of small oysters and limestone) which give the Chardonnay such distinct character. Some wine experts, such as Jancis Robinson, believe that the wine from Chablis is one of the “purest” expressions of the varietal character of Chardonnay, due to the simple style of winemaking favored in this region. Chablis winemakers want to emphasize the terroir of the calcareous soil and cooler climate that help maintain high acidity. The acidity can mellow with age and Chablis are some of the longest living examples of Chardonnay. The wines often have a “flinty” note, sometimes described as “goût de pierre à fusil” (gunflint) and sometimes as “steely.” Some examples of Chablis can have an earthy “wet stone” flavour that can get mustier as it ages before mellowing into delicate honeyed notes. Like most white Burgundies, Chablis can benefit from some bottle age. While producers’ styles and vintage can play an influential role, Grand Cru Chablis can generally age for well over 15 years while many Premier Crus will age well for at least 10 years.

I’ve recommended two Village 2012 Chablis from quite reputable producers: one Petit Chablis from Bouchard Pere et fils (which is always good value) and one Premier Cru from ‘Vaillons’. It’s a 2011 and a dependable Premier Cru from a very good Chablis vintage. It’s about $10 more but I think you will see the finesse and weight of the wine to be quite different from the other two. Pick these wines up fast as it’s Chablis season and these wines will disappear fast.

DOMAINE JEAN COLLET & FILS VAILLONS CHABLIS 1ER CRU 2011
France | Domaine Jean Collet
VINTAGES 650804 | 750 mL | $ 31.95

DOMAINE DES MALANDES CHABLIS 2012
France | Domaine Des Malandes
VINTAGES 111658 | 750 mL | $ 23.95

DOMAINE CHENEVIÈRES CHABLIS 2012
France | Scev Domaine Des Chenevieres
VINTAGES 365031 | 750 mL | $ 22.95

BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS PETIT CHABLIS 2012
France | Bouchard Pere & Fils
LCBO 51466 | 750 mL | $ 19.95”

If you have not been yet, this is an important month to go to Wine School.

Cottage creations

The June edition of Bon Appetit had a delicious looking sour cherry pie on its cover with a recipe within. Some years ago we planted four sour cherry trees on our islands and had one delicious harvest before beavers ate the entire trees we imagined like a superb appetizer course before they brought down the hardwood for their dams. Sour cherries have stuck in our minds as one of the great Ontario fruits ever since.

So when we saw the Bon Appetit June cover, we asked the Chef to buy Ontario sour cherries when they came out. They were available for one week or two and the following picture shows the result from a typical cottage view.

To make the crust we purchased Sterling’s 84% unsalted butter from Olliffe’s which worked well.

sour_cherries

“The Third Plate, Field Notes on the Future of Food” by Dan Barbour

Dan Barbour’s latest book is well worth reading. He is a gifted writer, chef and farmer, superbly qualified to talk about the future of food. His background is impressive. In 2009, he won the Outstanding Chef Award in the US. He runs a Manhattan-based restaurant, Blue Hill, as well as an upstate restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. He differs from many chefs in that he also comes from a farming background. From his own family farm he created the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. All this and he is, in addition, a regular correspondent for the New York Times.

He uses the term “Third Plate” to describe the post war evolution of American food tastes. Choosing a plate of steak as a proxy for tastes, his First Plate is a seven ounce corn-fed steak with a small side of veg. This was the expectation of a really good dinner in the US fifty years ago. The “Second Plate’ he says is where we are now. The steak is now grass-fed and the veg are heirloom varieties grown organically. In the “Third Plate the proportions are reversed; veg is emphasized over a “hulking piece of protein”. The book then lays out how Barbour thinks American tastes in food will evolve.

He spends some time in the book attacking the current farm-to-table fad. He claims it forces farmers to grow food which they think will sell rather than food which assists sustainable agriculture. He says succinctly, “Farm-to-table may sound right – it’s direct and connected – but really the farmer ends up servicing the table, not the other way around.” While this argument seems somewhat convoluted, he defends his position well.

The book is divided into four main parts dealing with Soil, Land, Sea and Seeds. Each section presents his thoughtful view of how the agricultural process has been evolving together with his personal take on how many changes have led to distressing results. The book describes some of his travels in Spain which provide ammunition for his conclusions that much has gone wrong in American agriculture. He does not hold back. For example, in the section dealing with Sea, he blames world chefs for the disappearance of species like the blue tuna because it is chefs who influence what new fish species will be introduced and pushed. He feels they ought to receive much of the blame for overfishing the blue tuna nearly extinguishing it.

The final section deals with Seeds. We thought it was the most interesting. He returns to the notion that a chef’s main job is to use and combine products which provide superior flavours. This is their raison d’etre. He claims that the trend to monoculture in agriculture greatly reduced the diversity of tastes and flavours available to us. Monocultures therefore work fundamentally against chefs. Our ears of course picked up here as we have been trying to develop better bread flavours at the islands this summer. We noted his view that one key to developing a better bread product is milling the flour used in the bread just before you use it in baking. In the case of commercial flour, the natural oils in the germ of the wheat, while it improves the flavour in the short term, make the flavour of the flour rancid after a few days unless you remove the germ. Better for a commercial baker to remove these oils by removing the germ. But then you remove flavour as well as much of the nutrients or goodness in wheat. Barbour says if you want to understand this, think of coffee and how no self-respecting barista would ever use pre-ground beans when preparing an espresso.

Even we could understand this, so we went to the net to find out whether we could obtain interesting and tasty wheat to mill if we used our own mill. Now, we used to own a KitchenAid mill which we threw out during one of our moves since we did not use it more than once. We recall that it came with instructions which suggested the flour milled be stored for three months before use – the exact opposite of what everyone is saying these days. Maybe our memory is faulty.

The web search revealed a series of off-putting homey, yuppie rural lifestyle sites providing any amount of “natural advice” A typical ad might be the following: “How doing dishes can tone your tummy.” We persisted and found a site marketing a hand cranked “Wonder Mill”. Perfect for a solar and wind powered cottage.

Our Baker, Shawn Gabrysch, was overjoyed to learn about the mill believing without reading Dan Barbour’s book that it offered the possibility of improving the taste of his bread. So we ordered it.

As a sidebar, Shawn told us that if we use a greater proportion of whole wheat to white bread (which now I finally understand clearly is 100% starch without anything nutritious in it), we should extend the resting time in our bread recipe which is now 5 to 8 hours to 12 to 18 hours and eliminate one quarter teaspoon of the instant yeast.

The bounty of an Ontario summer is here

The Chef tells us that in visiting the Ontario Food Terminal this week, all the Ontario produce is there (save apricots which are around but scarce, field peppers which are still hothouse peppers in the case of orange and red, and blackberries). What’s better is that the cool rainy weather has extended the season of a few crops like Italian cucumbers, eggplants and okra, which by now usually react to the heat and grow too big losing their flavours. The fava season usually stops around now but it is also extended this year.

The Chef was pleased with the quality and abundance of all he saw including all manner of berries, potatoes, carrots, cherry tomatoes and corn. He noted that wild blueberries looked excellent but were very pricey. This year there have been no tales of angry starving bears assaulting the blueberry pickers.

But despite this abundance, Chef Loseto has found something which is not quite right. He is concerned that there are many fewer farmers setting up shop at the Food Terminal this summer. Whether the smaller farmers have switched to presenting themselves at higher priced farmers’ markets in Toronto or whether smaller farmers have more ominously gone out of business, he is not sure. He notes there are fewer Menonites around. This was a group which traditionally have operated with smaller margins. Some of the larger famers have added product lines to their offering of produce like peaches which the Chef knows they do not grow themselves. It makes the Chef nervous, but he tends to dislike change.

The Chef’s favourite wild mushrooms have started, chanterelles from Saskatchewan.

chanterelles"

At George, the lighter summer meats continue to be featured. On the fish front, the Chef Has found a supplier of wild cobia from Maryland, a white fish which the Chef serves raw and thinks is delicious. Here is a pic of line caught sustainable yellow fin tuna which has been a big hit. Wild salmon and halibut from BC are going strong with Dungeness crab making a comeback after a short absence.

tuna"

On the cheese front, the Chef is trying a decent Quebec-produced fresh mozzarella which compares well with the fresh mozzarella flown over weekly from Italy but is slightly firmer and a bit tarter.

Verity’s Patio Garden

In the Jack and the Beanstock vein, we present our banana tree which started in June as a 3 foot tree and is pictured below. No bananas have appeared yet.

banana"

English Whisky appears at the Bay

Our old friend, Richard Odumodu, passed by our cottage recently bearing a curiosity: a bottle of English Whisky from the only whisky producer left in England. With Scottish separation possibly looming, it’s good that the English have this fallback if negotiations get rough and Scotland shuts off its whisky supply in a fit of pique.

The whisky is made by the Nelstrop family who claim to have grown and milled grain in England for over 500 years. Their operation, St George’s Distillery, is located in Norfolk. The taste is peaty and we thought the product delicious. See www.englishwhisky.co.uk for details. You need to buy it in England at the moment.

Many thanks, Odie!

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.