While my sister Barbara has been to Oaxaca many times and spent her honeymoon here in the 1980’s, this is my brother Fred’s first visit. They are only here a week. Hardly enough to scratch the surface.
But a priority visit is mezcal tasting in Matatlan and one of my favorite palenques is Gracias a Dios. Thank God for mezcal.
I’ve known mezcalero Oscar Hernandez since almost the very beginning of the brand. His daughter Emmy runs the retail and tour side now. Over the years they have grown, added on a bottling facility, and they just built a new big pit where they roast and smoke the agave cactus. They export to the USA and internationally, too.
My son Jacob likes their tepeztate and Gin mezcales. He put in an order for my brother to bring a bottle of each back to California.
I also wanted to introduce my Zapotec family to this palenque so we did a road trip to Mitla. It ended up being an all-day event, with an added visit to the archeological site and to meet Epifanio, my favorite dealer of antiquities.
Mitla is a post-classical Zapotec archeological site that came into dominance after the decline of Monte Alban. Many of the buildings’ carved designs are replicated in the rugs woven in Teotitlan del Valle. On the day after Christmas, the site was packed with visitors.
The admission fee is 75 pesos per person and entry closes at 5 p.m. You need at least an hour to see the primary site, climb down into the tombs and climb up the steep stairways to the ceremonial patios.
It’s a good 30 minutes to get to Mitla or Matatlan from Teotitlan del Valle. If you are coming from the city of Oaxaca, plan for at least an hour on the road. Many people stop to look at rugs in Teotitlan del Valle either coming or going. If you are traveling independently (without a tour guide) consider visiting the workshop of Fe y Lola rugs. They are my host family and their work is exceptional.
Mitla (Mitclan in Nahautl) was the burial site for Zapotec royalty and priestly class. A very important precursor to Day of the Dead celebrations.
Have lunch in Mitla at a lovely little comedor, Doña Chica. We did. It is always delicious. Try the mixed grill molcajete and order your tlayuda with chicken instead of tasajo if you are so inclined.
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.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Travel & Tourism
Tagged adult beverage, cocktail, Gracias a Dios, lime, margarita, mescal, Mexico, mezcal, mezcalini, mezcalita, Oaxaca, pineapple