Archive for the 'Tastings' Category

If it’s Legal, Is it Still Moonshine?

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

There’s a certain mystique (at least in my mind) about the production of spirits. When it comes to homemade, I haven’t yet even dabbled in wine or beer. In this venue, I appreciate the efforts of others. I have no deign of trying to replicate the results. I’ve visited several wineries and nodded appreciatively at aging tanks; at breweries I have gazed at networks of tanks connected by pipes and valves, following their path through the assistance of diagrams. I haven’t really felt like I’ve left those places with an understanding of how they have worked, yet I’ve wanted to someday try my hand at making my own, perhaps.

Whiskey, on the other hand, is something that I’ve never pondered making on my own. The act of distillation adds a level of complexity that I don’t want to try on my own. Somehow, though, seeing a working small-time still (even if not at work when I saw it) condenses in my mind how spirits are made in a way I hadn’t grasped before. Then again, the tour guide probably has at least as much of a role in that understanding as anything else.

Last week, I visited Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpepper, Virginia, and received a whirlwind of a tour from its very hands-on, quick speaking proprietor, Chuck Miller, who provides many such walk-throughs at his “living museum.”

His operations should by no means be assumed to be the only working still in the hills of central Virginia. His work draws heavily on the history of moonshining in the area, and Miller even touts his product as “legal moonshine,” operating with “the blessing of the Commonwealth of Virginia because we pay them taxes.”

Truth be told, the still also has to comply to other regulations in order to maintain that blessing: the product reaches fruition at a natural strength of 150 proof, but Miller must dilute it to 100 proof in order to comply with the law. Even so, despite having produced spirits for sale since 1988, it’s only since 2006 that Mr. Miller has been able to make sales of his product on his farm—the first time since George Washington that anyone’s been legally able to do so in Virginia, as Mr. Miller points out more than once.


Some Thoughts on Coffee

Friday, May 30th, 2008

There was apparently minimal fanfare nor reaction to La Prima’s decision at some point in the last several months to eliminate Monsoon Malabar from its menu of coffees. During my last visit to their roastery, I ordered a couple of pounds to begin my order. The man at the counter looked briefly alarmed and grabbed for their printed list of coffees, “Don’t tell me that’s still on there!” It wasn’t. They had recently canceled it, he explained, in short, because it hadn’t sold well.

I was surprised. The first time I had tasted coffees, Monsoon Malabar was the sleeper hit: the bean I’d never heard of that captured my palate with its smooth balance and unique aroma. The one that proved all coffees aren’t created equal.


Big Avocados

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I’m so accustomed to seeing only hass or calvado avocados in the stores that I never gave much thought to what other types of avocados might be out there. My friend Pauli put an end to that when she brought be a couple of avocados from her parents’ tree in Miami.


Banana Sampler

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Now that I know that a banana doesn’t need to be a Cavendish, I decided to branch out the last time I was at the grocery store and give some of the lesser appreciated bananas a taste.

My local grocery store had three non-Cavendish bananas in stock when I went: Red (they’re the red ones), Nino (they’re the ones that look like miniature Cavendish), and Plantains (which, though not uncommon are not anywhere near as popular as the Cavendish, with which they are genetically identical).


Plantain Chips Found!

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Talk about instant gratification. I went shopping in the Strip District this morning and at Reyna Foods (corner of 21st and Smallman) I found Goya brand Plantain chips in three different sizes. I haven’t cracked my bag open yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality vs. the Lays Colombian type, but with only three ingredients in the snack, I anticipate that they will be quite similar. So, if you’re living in the ‘burgh, it’s quite easy to try this snack. If you’re living elsewhere, you should consider moving here because it’s a great city; but short of that, Goya is widely available, so I’d expect that you could find plantain chips in virtually any Latin American market.

Platanitos Cronch

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

This is a Frito Lay snack food sold in Colombia. Some friends who visited the country were kind enough to bring the bag back for me as an example of the snacks available there.

It is a very straight-forward snack; the ingredients are plantains, vegetable oil, and salt—basically the plantain version of a potato chip, but much less greasy than Lay’s potato chips tend to be. I really enjoyed the flavor, and if I ever see its equivalent sold in the states, I’ll be certain to pick up a bag.

Apple Varieties I’ve Had This Year

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

We’re getting to the end of local apple season.  Most orchards still have some available, so stock up now to help get you through the winter.  If you find yourself inundated with apples, a pot of applesauce is a great way to use up many at one blow.  This year has been a good one for me in terms of scouting out varieties of apples.  It started out poorly–I didn’t get to the orchard in July or August and as a result missed both the Lodii (the best applesauce apple I’ve yet found) and Rambo (the second best; early apples tend to make great sauce).  I’ve made up for lost time, though, thanks to my new job as a demonstration chef that has allowed me to travel the Pennsylvania countryside.  I’m documenting the apples I’ve used this year to perhaps inspire you to get out to an orchard and try a variety you’ve never had before, and also to inspire me next year to try an even wider selection.

  • Lodii–Two grew on my Lodii tree.  I used them, but only for a tart; not for sauce. 
  • Macintosh–par for the course, widely available, but still a good apple
  • 20-ounce Pippin–large, green, somewhat tart though also soft in texture.  Not a good eating apple but great for cooking, especially pies
  • Cortland–very white flesh, somewhat soft in texture, but makes great pies.  matches well with Pippins
  • Northern Spy–I wish I’d gotten a bag of these, too; but the place where I got the cortland and Pippins only took cash and I had to choose two of the three to buy.  I sampled it but have noi recommendations on its use.  I list it mainly because it’s on my priority list for a larger quantity next year.
  • Red Delicious–among my least favorite apples.  Mushy and mediovcre, but it comes in my CSA box.  Honestly, I wish the farm had a wider variety of tough to find apples rather than locally grown versions of supermarket favorites like this one and
  • Golden Delicious–OK to eat but better for cooking with
  • Golden Supreme–Better for eatingthan golden delicious by far.  Similar in appearance, though the Supreme tends to have a bit of a pink blush to it when it gets fully ripe
  • Unknown–By far my favorite CSA apple was a pinkish apple.  The farmer doesn’t know its variety because the trees were labeled as Golden Supreme when he received them.  Crisp and sweet, I wish I knew what it was called.   
  • Stayman Winesap–purchased from a roadside stand featuring an honor box, this batch was a little bit wormy, but the variety is very tasty and cooks well.  If you do wind up with wormy apples, don’t discard the whole apples.  It’s easy to cut around the worms/ worm damage to use the portion of the apple that is unharmed.  Really, the presence of the worms indicated to me that these were likely the only apples (including organic) that I ate that weren’t dosed with large amounts of pesticide.  And, yes, organic produce is treated with pesticides, just not synthetically created chemicals.  Naturally ocurring doesn’t necessarily mean healthful, though–for instance, one of organic apples’ most common pesticides is copper sulfate, which is rather noxious and definitely poisonous (that’s why it kills insects).

The apple I seek and have sought for years is the Gravenstein, the juice of which is available from whole foods, though I’ve never found the apples themselves.  If you have apple tales of your own or know about where to get Gravenstein Apples, let me know!

East End Chocolate Stout Cupcakes from Dozen

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

I discovered a new flavor of Dozen Cupcakes today. I’m not sure how I missed out on it previously, but, damn! is it tasty: a chocolate cupcake featuring Pittsburgh’s own East End Brewing’s Black Strap Stout is covered with chocolate ganache and then a dollop of Bailey’s butter cream frosting. Why hadn’t I visited on a Saturday before? And why wouldn’t my wife let me eat two while we were there?

Actually, the second question has an answer… it’s because I’d already purchased a red velvet cupcake to go for my at-home enjoyment.

For pictures of Dozen’s cupcakes and their full weekly schedule, check out their website at

A Couple of Thoughts About Barbecue

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

So while I’m on the topic of pulled pork barbecue, I thought I’d address the topic of what’s what.

Personally, I like Eastern Carolina style. It’s dressed with a spicy, vinegar-based sauce. It’s thin, liquidy, and dresses the meat in a visually subtle manner, though it packs a lot of flavor.

Go westward through Carolina and you’ll find a tomato-based sauce. I’ve only had this a couple of times, but to me it seems much more like the kind of barbecue sauce you’d get from the store: thick and red, with a standard, unsurprising flavor.

Don’t even get me started on South Carolina: they put mustard in their barbecue. It’s a travesty and it ought to be a crime (along the lines of putting tomatoes in clam chowder, which is rightfully outlawed in Massachusetts).

Kansas City barbecue is a strange phenomenon. You get the meat, and then the restaurant has a wall full of sauces and you can choose what you will to dress your own sandwich. I suppose a bit of variety can be a nice thing to have, but when I go to a restaurant, I like when they prepare my food for me, and that includes tossing the shredded meat with the sauce to evenly coat it. They’ve got the advantage of having large bowls in which they can toss the meat, whereas when they give it to you to dress yoursel, your stuck having to pour it over the top–whereby half the meat gets loads of sauce and the other half is still nude. I’d much rather they serve me a fully-prepared meal.

I’ve only been to Texas once. Houston. I hated it. Too many highways, too much sprawl, too many Texans. I may have been remiss in not having barbecue while I was there, but I was also stuck without automotive transportation in a non-walkable city, so my options were few. Nonetheless, I’m unable to offer an opinion on Texas barbecue except to say that I can’t imagine any barbecue good enough to lure me back to that hellhole of a state.

Raw Milk

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

jesse - I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about the miracle health benefits of raw (unpasturized) milk. apparently it can cure eczema, asthma, and even hep c. I can’t get it in NJ (until I cultivate some black market raw milk farmers) so might be planning a raw milk pit stop on my next trip to albany and/or pgh.



All of my propoganda on raw milk comes from the same source as yours does, the folks at the Weston A. Price Foundation, who sponsor the Real Milk campaign. I gathered up some of their literature and attended a lecture they organized about the benefits of raw milk at the Pittsburgh “Farm to Table” conference on Saturday.

The organization is dedicated to propogating the beliefs of Weston A. Price, who, in the 1930s, “traveled to isolated parts of the globe to study the health of populations untouched by western civilization” and decided, based on his observations, that these civilizations enjoyed better health (namely dental) than most westerners and that their diet was the reason behind this situation.