Tag Archives: mezcal

Cultural Continuity and Sustainability in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Valley

I thought it was important for the North Carolina State University Study Abroad students to spend an overnight in an indigenous Zapotec village while they were here in Oaxaca. So, I recommended to Professor Ricardo Hernandez that we include a stay in Teotitlan del Valle as as part of our itinerary.

Teotitlan del Valle church sits atop Zapotec temple, archeological site

The students were here in Oaxaca — the valley and the coast — to study sustainability. Through the experience they learned that the definition is wide-ranging and far-reaching. It has to do with the land and her people, traditions and beliefs, values and practices. It is economic and social and political. It is still small scale agriculture here where farmers use age-old practices rather than technology.

It is instructive to study cultures where people have been successful for generations by transmitting knowledge as a way of life.

The market experience in Teotitlan del Valle

Afterall, this is the region where corn (maize) was hybridized over 8,000 years ago up the road at Yagul. We talked about Monsanto and GMO, how to overcome hunger and develop crops abundant enough to feed people without sacrificing nutrition. We compared the industrialized agriculture of the USA and the disappearance of family farms, and noticed how things work — and don’t — in Mexico.

Olivia, Alysia and Emory enjoy artisanal hot chocolate

I arranged for them to sleep at two local bed and breakfast inns — Casa Elena and Las Granadas B&B — operated by three generations of women. They ate home-cooked and delicious meals prepared from locally sourced, organic meat and vegetables.

After lunch at El Sabor Zapoteco, Reyna Mendoza treats us to nieves de tuna

Teotitlan del Valle is one of the few villages that still operates a daily market. It is a sight to behold entrepreneurial farmers and vendors who sell native corn, squash, beans, squash blossoms, poultry and meat, and more, plus all the household necessities for a home to operate here.

After indigo dye demonstration, the group gathers for a photo, Galeria Fe y Lola

After the market, we toured the church and noted the carved stones inlaid into its walls. When the Spanish arrived, they razed the Zapotec temple and used the stones to build the church walls. The stucco has been peeled away to reveal this part of the village history. We walked around the back side of the church to see the recently restored archeological site that was the temple foundation.

Grace tries her hand at weaving with Omar, while Alysia is next in line

This is a rug weaving village. There are now about 10,000 people who live here and more than 2,000 looms. Only about a dozen families use natural dyes to color the wool they use. We visited one of them — the home workshop of Galeria Fe y Lola –to see the process and learn about this part of the culture.

In Teotitlan del Valle, the Chavez Santiago family makes red dye from cochineal
Professor Hernandez talks with master weaver Federico “Fe” Chavez Sosa

Student takeaways:

  • It was wonderful to be in the village market and explore it on our own.
  • Meeting 26-year old Omar Chavez Santiago from Galeria Fe y Lola was a testimony to artisan life and pride of workmanship — he is dedicated to continuing his culture. This is refreshing to see.
  • The church offered me a glimpse into the blend of Zapotec and Catholic traditions.
  • There is a reverence for community here that we don’t see at home.
  • Families are close-knit, welcoming to outsiders.
  • Everyone was consistently kind.
  • It was important to see the different ways people earn an income: baking bread, sewing, selling food, services and repair work, doctors and teachers, musicians and weavers — it looks like a self-sustaining community.
  • Walking the back streets of the town gave me a perspective for how people live in rural Mexico.
Watch and listen to Omar Chavez Santiago talk about natural dyes
Guillermo decides to take this one home to Wilson, NC

At Gracias a Dios mezcal palenque in Santiago Matatlan at the far end of the Tlacolula Valley, Emmy Hernandez, the daughter of mezcalero Oscar Hernandez, showed us the artesanal process of making this distilled beverage. Agave is an important native plant and agricultural product in the region. It contributes to Oaxaca’s economy and reputation as a tourist destination. This is also a family business and Emmy is the next generation to sustain it.

Mezcal, not at all like NC moonshine, yet still made by the same process

How many different types of agaves are there? They say over 200 types of agaves exist and 30 are suitable for making mezcal. Espadin is cultivated and easily to reproduce, and therefore, the most sustainable. The wild, or silvestre agaves, have a long growth cycle and are rare. I love cuishe (also spelled cuixe) and tepextate and tobala. For everyone harvested, some growers like Gracias a Dios are planting three to replace them. The wild ones are earthy and take on the flavors of the soil they grow in.

We are accepting reservations for 2020 and 2021 university study abroad programs. It takes about a year to plan this program. Please contact us for a proposal. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Agave in the fermentation vats — oak barrels, just like wine-making
Emmy Hernandez, the next generation to sustain artisanal mezcal

Japan Regrets Sale: Sake (or Mezcal) Cups

While these are sake cups, they can also be used for mezcal or any sipping liquor or cordial. That’s what I had in mind (mezcal) when I bought them.

This first group includes three hand-wrought pewter sake cups bought in Kyoto, Japan from Seikado Studio, the venerable workshop making these things since the Imperial Edo Period (1838). The studio is located on Teramachi street, close to the original Imperial Palace.

It was their hand-made-ness that captivated me. Each piece is original and hand-hammered, true to the Japanese wabi-sabi life. There are slight differences between the matched pair. The upright cup is a one-off. Each comes in its own handmade box personally calligraphied by the maker.

Two cups on left: 1-5/8″ high x 2-2/16″ diameter
Cup on the right measures 2″ high x 2-1/2″ diameter.

The two on the left are sold as a pair for $265 plus $8 mailing. The one piece on the right is $145 plus $8 mailing. I will ship USPS Priority Mail.

Send me an email if you want to purchase along with your mailing address. I will send you an invoice.

The two cups below are hand-blown studio glass that I bought in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Perfect for mezcal or sake, or any sipping liquor or cordial.

The blue measures 1-3/4″ high x 2-3/4″ diameter.
The gold leaf glass on the right measures 1-7/8″ high x 2-1/4″ diameter.
The pair is $145 plus $8 USPS Priority Mailing

Wouldn’t any of these also make a terrific wedding or housewarming gift?

Send me an email if you want to purchase along with your mailing address. I’ll send you an invoice by email to pay with a credit card. Thank you.

Leftover Rosca de Reyes Bread Pudding Recipe

After about a day, Rosca de Reyes becomes more like dry cake, good for dunking into coffee or hot chocolate, but not so tasty for eating plain. What to do? Make bread pudding, of course.

I got a little carried away in the Teotitlan del Valle market and bought three Roscas. They are so pretty. After giving one away, there were still two. Friends came over for dinner last night, so I decided to use up what I had and make bread pudding.

Rosca de Reyes bread pudding, leftover deliciousness

Using a New York Times basic bread pudding recipe, I adapted it for Oaxaca flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small Rosca de Reyes sweet egg bread loaf, cut into 3″ cubes (be sure to remove all the plastic Baby Jesus dolls)
  • 1/2 c. chopped pecans
  • 1/2 c. raisins
  • 4 cups milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 T. butter + 1 T. for greasing baking dish
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. Reposado mezcal
  1. Put the cut up bread, including candied fruit, nuts and raisins into large mixing bowl.
  2. Heat milk, butter, vanilla, and sugar in saucepan until butter is melted.
  3. Cool liquid mixture to room temp. (Put in fridge or freezer for speedy chilling.)
  4. Beat eggs in another mixing bowl. Add  liquid and beat again until combined.
  5. Add mezcal to liquid. Stir. (Note: Some recipes call for whiskey or bourbon. We’re in Oaxaca. Why not use mezcal?)
  6. Pour over cake bread. Let stand 30-40 minutes or until bread is soft.
  7. Pour into a buttered baking dish (preferably deep dish).
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until top is crusty and custard is completely cooked.
  9. Serve warm. Serves 6-8.

Rosca in it’s original form before it becomes pudding

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. Another part of my creative past life still emerges from time-to-time.

Harvesting Espadin Agave for Mezcal in My Front Yard: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Mezcaleros Hilario and Emmanuel loading agave espadin piñas

Only in Oaxaca do you wake up to find a guy cutting down agave cactus for mezcal in your front yard, Kalisa Wells told me yesterday morning.  Kalisa is house-sitting for me in Teotitlan del Valle while I’m sojourning in Durham, North Carolina.

First, cut off the sharp, spiny leaves

Kalisa is really there to puppy sit until Luz and Sombra come of age, ready to adopt out. It should be soon. Then, she’ll be taking care of Mamacita and Tia until I get back.

Kalisa Wells took all these photos! Thank you!

There has been espadin agave on the land where I live among the maize fields ever since I can remember. When I first arrived, twelve years ago, these were tiny immature plants. Omar, youngest Chavez Santiago family son, tells me these agave were planted seventeen years ago! Now, some are sending up reproductive shoots, topped with baby agaves. Bees swarm and give up agave honey. After a few months, the mother plant dies. Topples over. The dead stalk can be used for fire wood or home construction.

Farmers want to harvest the agave when it is ripe and before it sends up the stalk, when the sugar energy is concentrated in the piña, perfect for making mezcal.

When Teotitlan del Valle mezcalero Hilario and his son Emmanuel showed up to cut and dig out the piña, Kalisa took photos and a video to send to me. She keeps me informed about life around the casita. Don Federico supervised. It’s his land, his agave, and this is his cash crop.

Niss Gubaa Dau mezcal brand, Teotitlan del Valle

Seems Kalisa has been buying local mezcal from them for a while. They make the distilled brew in their patio, behind the molina (mill) across from the church and market.

Almost ready to dig out. See the video for how they do it.

They are working hard on all the agave, writes Kalisa. I hear the sound of primitive and very effective tools. I hear the Zapotec language and the smell of fresh cut agave drifting into the casita. 

Teotitlan del Valle mezcal brand contact information

Demand for artisanal mezcal has skyrocketed around the world. There are now more than 300 brands. There is worry and big buzz about whether there will be enough agave to satisfy the demand. Every food and beverage writer weighs in on this as they come to Oaxaca to sample the offerings.

What’s left — only the remains of leaves and a piña to be loaded.

Small operations, like those of Hilario and Emmanuel, are still producing home grown, home distilled mezcal for local consumption just as they have been doing for hundreds of years. Fiestas in Teotitlan del Valle are fueled by mezcal. It is de rigueur to bring a bottle as a host gift.

(Here in North Carolina, we call this beverage, moonshine, made the same way in a shiny, copper still.)

Some mezcal facts and tips:

I see by the photos that the landscape of my front yard has changed, denuded of espadin. The agave in my front yard and along the fence line is no more. Last year, I planted rows of immature espadin plants in anticipation that someday Don Federico might harvest these treasures.

Before the cutting, my garden decor.

I’ve expanded my cactus garden to include tobala, tepeztate and cuixe.  It will take them many more years to mature and offer me unlimited high desert beauty. They may certainly outlast my lifetime!

The tipsy glass of liquid gold — Pineapple Lime Mezcalita

 

 

Oaxaca to Durham–Pineapple-Lime Mezcal Cocktail Recipe: Serves Two

Is it a Mezcalini or a Mezcalita?

First you need tasty espadin joven mezcal. My limited stash in NC.

Most of the weight in my checked baggage from Oaxaca, Mexico to Durham, North Carolina, USA was attributed to three bottles of Gracias a Dios mezcal — two of Gin Mezcal and one of Cuixe (also spelled Cuishe, pronounced KWI-SHAY). I had four bottles packed and couldn’t move the luggage, so I reluctantly removed one.

(I buy my Gracias a Dios mezcal directly from Oscar Hernandez, the mezcalero, at his palenque in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca, the world capital of mezcal making.) He blends the Gin Mezcal with 32 aromatics including lavendar and juniper berries, ginger and rosemary.

The first pour!

Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve experimented with mixed drinks in addition to loving the aroma and taste of mezcal straight with no flavor additives. A little sip goes a long way! Never throw back a mezcal shot. It’s not done that way.

Start with ripe pineapple (more yellow than this one) and squeezable limes.

For the uninitiated, a Mezcalini is like a Martini in appearance only. Mezcal and pulverized fresh fruit with a bit of simple sugar syrup, are shaken together with ice and strained. Then, the bartender pours the aromatic liquid into a stemmed cocktail glass. Sometimes herbs and spices are added, like rosemary or ginger, in the shaken (not stirred) motif. Serve it straight up.

The Tipsy Glass of liquid gold — Pineapple Lime Mezcalita

But, for my version of a Mezcalini, I prefer to adapt the Margarita, substituting mezcal for the more lowly (IMHO) tequila. In restaurants, I order this as a Mezcal Margarita so no one makes a mistake. I like it over the rocks with a salted rim, garnished with worm salt.

Cut off crown, then bottom, and whack the sides off.

Let’s all now rightfully call this a MEZCALITA.

The classic will be fresh squeezed lime juice, mezcal and Cointreau (in Mexico, look for Controy).

It will look like this when you trimmed off the spines.

In Mexico City, I ordered such a drink on the rooftop terrace of the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, overlooking the Zocalo. So good, I returned again. And then, once more. It was blended with fresh pineapple and lime juice.

Section into quarters, then cut out the core.

I’ve been working on perfecting the recipe here in Durham, making it for every at-home occasion I can plan. I think I finally have it down, and I’m passing it along to you.  No cheating. You can’t use tequila.

Here’s how you cut out the core. No mess.

Cut into 1″ cubes. Get your lime squeezer ready.

Pineapple-Lime Mezcalita Cocktail — Serves 2

In a blender, add together:

4 ounces of Joven mezcal distilled from the Espadin cactus

2 ounces of Cointreau

2 T. simple syrup (dissolve 2 T. sugar in 4 T. boiling water until liquid is clear)

1 C. fresh ripe pineapple, cut into 1″ cubes

2 ounces of freshly squeeze lime juice

6-8  ice cubes, or more for a slushier consistency

Add all ingredients to your blender.

Pulse your blender a few times to mix the ingredients. Then, add the ice cubes and turn speed to LIQUIFY. In seconds, your drink will be ready.

Add your ice cubes, and then …

I have two wonderful, clear, Tipsy Glasses, hand-blown by Asheville glass artist Ben Greene-Colonnese. You can order them online. Not sure where you can find mezcal where you live but definitely worth the search!

Blend on LIQUIFY, pour and enjoy.

We use this lime squeezer throughout Mexico. It’s a part of every kitchen. Mine is the cheapest and totally functional, all aluminum. I’ve had it for years. Where to buy in the USA? Amazon, of course.

At home in Teotitlan del Valle, I have a collection of many favorite brands made from wild agaves like tepeztate and tobala. Some, I bought from the distiller and they are unlabeled and not available for export.