molinillo

molinilloA molinillo is is the traditional Mexican turned wood whisk used in the preparation of hot beverages such as hot chocolate and champurrado. Held between the palms and rotated by rubbing the hands together it creates a creamy froth in the drink that makes the addition of milk unnecessary. And while I don’t make a lot of hot chocolate myself, I nevertheless found myself transfixed by the artistry as well as the mechanics of the molinillo on display at Mucho Mundo Chocolate. Rest assured I’ve got one safely squirreled away in my luggage.
molinillo falling from the sky

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mucho mundo

muchoMucho Mundo Chocolate is the first museum in Mexico dedicated to enhancing the experience of chocolate – as if chocolate needed any help. But beyond the purely hedonistic aspects of consumption, the museum puts chocolate in a historical context, tracing its origins back to the Mayans, who first fermented the seeds inside cacao pods and used them to create a hot bitter drink we’ve come to know as chocolate. The favored drink of kings and priests, it was considered food fit for the gods. When the Aztecs gained control over the Maya, cacao seeds were elevated to the level of currency, making drinking chocolate a luxury few people could afford. The arrival of Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate to a wider European audience, yet is still remained a product almost exclusively consumed by the wealthy until industrialization brought about the arrival of solid, mass-produced chocolates. Today we take the ubiquity of chocolate for granted, but a demonstration in Mucho’s test kitchen made clear to me how labor intensive making chocolate the Mexican way once was: first you heat the metate, a traditional grinding stone, while shelling as many roasted cacao pods as you need. (Hint: more than you think.  Roasted cacao seeds are as addictive as cocktail peanuts.) Then grind them on the metate by flicking your wrists with a mano, an elongated pestle. Add a handful of raw almonds to the mixture – their natural oils will slowly release and bind the cacao together – and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. After a bit of sweat you’ll have a crumbly paste, which can be added to water to make drinking chocolate, or serve as the base for baked goods and, after further processing and tempering, chocolate bars. I scooped up a bag of the crumble and munched on it as is; savory, slightly sweet and spicy, it was a tart reminder of why I hate milk chocolate: the fat in dairy dilutes the pleasing bitterness of the cacao. Which, I guess, is why the world is divided between devotees of milk and dark chocolate. On some things we must agree to disagree, however; after experiencing the effort involved, I won’t pop a truffle into my mouth with casual disregard again.

mucho metate

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a holy trinity

IMG_2651A proper pint of Guinness, thick slices of brown bread, and half a dozen Carlingford oysters at PJ O’Hare’s. This is what I think of when I hear the phrase ‘holy trinity.’

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last looks: languedoc

vineyard panoramaMy experience in the south of France has been one of daily discoveries and simple pleasures – one I won’t soon forget. But I won’t lie: I’m really looking forward to giving my liver a break. And I can’t tell you how much I’m craving a kale salad.

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côté mas (in the kitchen with taïchi)

beef tatakiThe daily menu at Côté Mas is short, seasonal and mostly locally sourced. San Miguel cured ham is sliced to order on an antique slicing machine; Aveyron beef and lamb are cooked Mediterranean-style and served with garden vegetables; desserts, such as Ile Flottante, are all contemporary takes on French classics. The surprise comes in the subtle use of Asian ingredients, such as in tuna tataki, marinated with garden herbs and served with black radish, wasabi spaghetti, soy jelly and yuzu. The reasoning becomes clear as soon as you notice Taïchi Megurikami leading the kitchen. A Japanese chef at the helm has long been part of proprietor Jean-Claude Mas’ plan. “They will take something as inspiration and make it better,” he says. “They will create something sublime.” Like spheres of duck foie gras with very three distinct flavors: soy sauce, honey, and red mulled wine. Then again such an unorthodox approach to French cooking is in keeping with Mas’ attitude towards making wine, full of the spicy, new world aromas and flavors of the Languedoc.

IMG_2412 ile flotante Taïchi Megurikami

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abbaye de valmagne

IMG_2611The magnificent Abbaye de Valmagne in Montagnac, founded in 1139, is one of the most well-preserved in France. Unusual in that though it was home to just a small handful of monks, the church and accompanying cloister are massive, having been inspired by the great cathedrals of Northern France. As with all good ruins it went from prominence to obscurity in just a few short centuries. Eventually it was confiscated by the government and sold into private hands. Having been looted and abandoned the empty church made the perfect 18th century wine cellar for a Mr. Granier-Joyeuse. Ironically it was the wine that ultimately saved the structure, providing support to the interior walls until proper buttresses could be added to the exterior. To this day the abbey remains in private hands, focusing its efforts on organic gardening and in a nod to monks, brewing small batch beer.

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a word from our sponsor

jean paul masIn the interest of putting to rest the rumors that I’ve devolved into a wino, it’s high time I introduce you to the man who’s brought me to the south of France: Jean Claude Mas, owner and winemaker of Domaines Paul Mas, which comprises seven estates spread across the crus of the Languedoc – most of which I’ve by now had the chance to imbibe. Jean Claude is an ambassador of sorts for both his family owned estate and a unique concept called “le luxe rural,” or affordable, everyday luxury. There’s no pretense about him, just as there’s no pretense to his wines. And more importantly, Mas isn’t selling some imagined romantic notion a la Ralph Lauren, but bringing the best facets of the rural way of life center stage; made by hand and built on traditions that stretch back to his grandfather, who first farmed a small vineyard close to the estate.  It’s an intoxicating conceit because it smacks of authenticity, not just marketing savvy. Mas talks the talk, but he also lives the life: utilizing the local farms, promoting local craftsmen, pressing his own olive oil, commissioning local artists, even creating a line of clothing line based on provincial designs and textiles. Wine, it turns out, is but the tip of a far grander ambition: taking the ordinary out of the quotidian. Now that’s a life we all could live.

domaine paul mas

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cheeky labels

arrogant frogOld world wine with a new world attitude, Arrogant Frog has to be the cheekiest label around. Grown in the gravely, clay limestone hills of the Herault Valley in Languedoc, these eminently drinkable wines have a personality that tastes of their distinctive terroir. Good marketing only goes so far towards establishing a brand, but these are good value everyday wines that will have you coming back to the barrel in spite of the clever labeling.

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tasting reds

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tasting whites

tasting whites

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video: vin sans romance

IMG_2300I’ll be the first to admit that I had a somewhat naive idea about how wine is produced in the 21st century. This being France, I assumed little old men in flat caps individually filled each bottle with a pipette out of oak casks – while precariously dangling a cigarette out of the corner of their mouth, natch. But oh, how times have changed: industrialization is everywhere. As I recently discovered at Domaine D’Astruc in Malras – and as these two video clips below make abundantly clear – it might completely shatter the romance of winemaking, but there’s something beautiful in the startling degree of efficiency achieved.

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9,999 bottles of cremant on the wall

9999 bottles of cremant

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mauzac de limoux

IMG_2321Following a little dirt road along the Martinollet River as it winds its way through vineyards, olive trees, and garrigue in the shade of the Pyrenees, it eventually ends at the modest estate of Chateau Martinolles, part of Domaines Paul Mas. This part of Languedoc is rich in heritage. In Medieval times Cathars settled in the area to escape – ever so briefly – persecution by the Catholic Church. Nearby is the Abbey St. Hilaire, where in 1531 the method for creating sparkling wine was discovered and Prima Perla, the first bubble, was born. The rugged climate and topography together create a superb terroir for chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, but it’s Mauzac that stands out. A local varietal, it’s the key to Blanquette de Limoux and Cremant de Limoux, two effervescent AOC sparkling wines redolent with apples and freshly cut grass.

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danger, wine up ahead

danger ahead

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food crush

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