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Exploring Balkan Wines

As a part of our companion series for Wine Wednesday our Sommelier John Aranza, is writing companion pieces to give you an overview of the region we are exploring and what we taste. Read on for an exploration of Balkan Wines, and join us this month for Wine Wednesdays!

Today we are going to skip across the Adriatic to the Balkans. Formerly Yugoslavia, this area had been cloistered from the rest of the world of wine export for some time until the late 1990’s. It was then with the independence of Croatia, Slovenia, Montengro that these long standing wine producing arease were able to bring their wares west.

The Balkans refer to the range of mountains that extend inland across these Eastern European lands. It is just now being made aware that wine has been made here for centuries with the same intensity & warmth that many familiar producers display in France and Italy. Today we are going to talk about three characters in this play that have often been snubbed by the Oscar’s, but deserve a nod for their continued, expressive roles in the Balkan wine community.

The First, is from Ilocki Podrumi. A combined effort of Cabernet Sauvignon & an Austrian/Hungarian descendant called Blaufrankisch. BF is a late ripening, tannin-realized red grape. Expressive on its own, and possibly explosive with CS, but this invocation is soft in the hands of one of Croatia’s oldest producers. In the glass it is Burgundian, in a sense, with its soft balance & red fruit delivery. Perhaps this is why IP wines were served at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Next we travel to Montenegro. Off the shores of Lake Skadar, which borders Albania & Montenegro claiming the largest lake in the Balkan Peninsula. From the cool, Mediterranean climate comes Vranac (translated black stallion) from producer Monte Cheval. Firm in tannins, this fruit-forward workhorse dates back to Roman plantings. This medium bodied red can be found throughout the region and further inland in Serbia as well. Familiar to residents of the Balkans, this is the favorite son served usually fresh from the producer in local Konoba’s! Red meat and game are a perfect match for the dark-horse of grapes!

Lastly we travel a bit inland, completely land-locked to the Mostar region and the limestone plateau’s of Citluk in Herzegovina. Zilavka is the grape, and aromatic is the name. Tropical fruit, and hints of grass dominate this white. Reminiscent of Pinot-Gris in its earthy tones, it pulls from its stony roots…literally…and delivers a wine that has been schooled in the cool mountain evenings and bathed in its sunny afternoons.

Having family roots in Croatia I appreciate the education these wines deliver at the table. A history of a people & terroir that is just now being realized by discerning palates that have been denied these pleasures for far too long. Enjoy all, join us for dinner one evening and raise a glass. It’s an affordable trip to a magic place.

Zivjeli!


Chef Matt & The Kitchen Crew Visit Spence Farm

by Matt Saccaro

Feeding the heirloom pigs at Spence

As soon as we arrived at Spence farm, I was reminded of a farm described by Michael Pollan in his book ‘The Omnivores Dilemma.’ Pollan describes the ideal farm and a farmer primarily concerned with raising healthy animals, nutritious vegetables and sustainable practices to ensure that his farm would remain strong and viable for years to come just like generations before him; an alternative to the industrial feedlots and chemical laden produce that tend to fill grocery store shelves. Spence farm operates on these principles and we were fortunate enough to see it for ourselves.
After meeting Marty Travis, his son Will and wife Kris who now operate Spence Farm, I was struck by their passion for their work and the sense of responsibility to the fields, forests (they are foragers as well) and animals that that ultimately provide the food that lands on our plates. Like the farm Pollan writes about, Spence farm doesn’t rely on one item to sell every year, but constantly evolves to grow what works best on their land but also what their customers are asking for. “Diversify,” Marty will say again and again, driving the point that chefs and farmers should work together. If there is something you want them to grow, they plant it for you.
Our day began with some chores. The animals needed to be tended to, so we let the chickens and ducks out of their houses to roam around the farm (they were out and about the entire time we were there). Next we fed the pigs, an adorable breed called Guinea Hogs. This breed was originally from Guinea, Africa and was brought back from the brink of extinction in this country through the efforts of small farmers willing to raise heritage breeds of pig. We discussed the raising and breeding process as we moved the pens to different sections of the pasture so the pigs could graze on fresh vegetation.
The pasture is surrounded by four different varieties of cornfields. We tasted some of the baby corn right off the stalk. At that point, the corn is sweet and the inner leaves and ‘corn silk’ are all edible. When the plant matures, the kernels will be harvested and ground into cornmeal.
Adjacent to one of the cornfields is their wheat field. Spring wheat and Winter wheat are harvested to provide restaurants with whole wheat berries and wheat flour which they mill in one of their barns.
Our next move was into the woods. The farmers were very happy to have found some mushrooms growing on dead tree branches after a recent and very rare rain this summer. They had harvested several pounds of oyster and chicken of the woods mushrooms. We went back in for more and found some more oyster mushrooms, but also searched for a fruit called the ‘paw-paw’ indigenous to the Midwest and Northeast. Since it was such a hot dry summer, the trees suffered resulting in a low yield, but was still managed to shake about 10 lbs. of fruit off of the trees.
From there we walked through the fields where the farmers are growing several different vegetables this year, including kale, bok-choy, several varieties of potatoes and heirloom tomatoes, including one variety from the Galapagos Islands that can be traced back to Darwin’s expeditions to the area.
I am proud to work with these farmers. We are able to off our customers heritage breed meats and varieties of vegetable unavailable anywhere else. Passionate and thoughtful cooking will always come from our kitchen, but we must understand that it starts on the farm.


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Bringing News of Verjus to You!

As promised, while we finish our repairs, we are going to the source to find the very best of what is going on out there and bring it back to you this fall.  Our first trip was this past Monday we headed up to Hickory Creek Farms  for their Verjus celebration.  Fortunately, it was one of those rare below 90 degree days and only about 90 minutes from Chicago, in other words, the perfect day trip.  Indeed it was.

 

What is verjus you ask?  Good question, verjus (translated literally – greenjuice is the very first pressing of grapes during the season).  It can also be done with sour fruits such as crab apples.  Historically it was used in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, it is also found in Syrian Cuisine.  As what you ask?  Think vinegar substitute (heck it is really an unfermented vinegar — could certainly be fermented in a a barrel or cask of your choosing).  In cooking it can be used when a mild acidity is called for.  It is similar to a little citrus juice although the flavor is a bit rounder.

 

Beyond the obvious uses, our hosts (including Beverly Malen) encouraged us to try Verjus Cocktails from Adam Seger  including a fantastically herbaceous Rooibos, Verjus & Rum Punch w/ sour cherries and herbs, a Gin, Verjus & Ginger Beer Cocktail w/ fresh thyme and a Verjus Manhattan w/ Rye.  Important to note: all the spirits were from the fantastic newcomer to the local spirits scene, Journeyman.  They are located in Three Oaks a very short drive from Chicago and well worth the visit.

 

 

Palazzolo’s Sorbetti

 

After a nice covered trolley tour of the vineyards we returned to a tasty feast of goat, which had been roasted by Chef Leonard of another West Suburban local fav, Marion Street.   A feast under the apple tree was accompanied by the wines of Hickory Creek as well as some wines from a Long Island vineyard that may make an appearance on our fall list.  The meal finished with a little crushing of the grapes and a verjus sorbetti from Palazzolo’s Gelato.  The result was a delicious and refreshing alternative to the more traditional lemon or lime flavors.

 

 

So the versatile verjus reminds us that everything old is certainly new again.  We have one question for you?  Do you verjus?  Well if you want to try check out the very brief recipe below and let us know if you have new successes of your own using this interesting acid.

 

How to Make your own Verjus:

Note/Disclaimer: you need a lot of grapes to attempt this.  Figure about a pound and a quater of green wine grapes for one cup of verjus.  Try Midland or call a local winery to see if you can acquire… with the very dry summer it may be a more difficult task then usual.

 

You will need a food mill (wine press is great if you have one), fine strainer, grapes, mason jars to store the juice.  First stem the grapes as much as possible, then run through the food mill in batches.  Then pour through a fine mesh strainer to catch the rest of fruit (you will still have a little sediment on the bottom).  You can strain directly into sterile mason jars or a spouted container useful for mixing cocktails or into a punchbowl for immediate serving.  As with most things food related it is best used fresh but will hold for up to 6 mos if you add citric acid and a little sodium metabisulfate.  If sulfites disagree with you this is probably not something you want to do.

 

Happy pressing!

 

 

 

 

 


Vinitaly2012 – Part 1 or Scooters, Fiats & Cividin

Some Delicious Large Format Bottlings

When asked, “What is Vinitaly” an easy American response would be “Google it.” There is no meta-description that can aptly describe, which this event certainly deserves ten-fold …..and then there are the scooters.

Vinitaly may have inspired the cantina scene in “Star Wars.” Italians, Brits, Americans, Chinese, leaning into the slickest trade-show booth’s that only an Italian could have imagined. Speaking languages that all are translated by hand-gestures & understanding of a common interest in uva-culture. Castles, enoteca’s….night-club, music-pumping booth’s manned by models across from modest looking vintner’s in jeans & sport coats. Entering its perimeter takes a careful eye, & knowledge of Italian terroir. Italy’s 20 wine growing regions, each represented in a building the size of the UIC Forum….within those buildings the individual territories broken down even further. Wine makers from these individual DOC’s & DOCG’s show their new vintages, and occasionally, if you are worthy, produce some of their older vintages, richer, deeper examples of their wine-making prowess.

Fresh Goat Cheese from the Farm on the Bulfon Estate

It was my first trip back in 11 year and it has grown, showcasing the ever vibrant, Italian wine scene. We were guided by true gems of this industry. Bevery Malen of Imports Inc. “Strong is the force in this one”….Beverly represents some of the finest Italian Producers, with special strength in the North, including Friulian Elder-Statesman Emilio Bulfon , responsible for championing the survival & vinification of the rarest varieties of this region. There is more though. It is a proud story of someone close to his land, his heritage, his maker. The varietal wines he produces have names like, Cividin, Ucelit, Sciaglin sounding very exotic and indeed they are some of the most interesting wines that will ever touch your palette. Showcasing an exciting diversity of flavors and styles.

Bulfon and his family are true custodians of their Region, his daughter is an avid conservationist and fascinating historian of the area and every inch of the winery and grounds are dedicated to preserving and showcasing the most authentic and very best traditions that Fruili has to offer. Bulfon has only visited this country once to proudly showcase his wines 8 years ago on North Michigan Avenue at Cafe Spiaggia…we were lucky enough to be there. In the fall, his son will return to do the same, right here, in Berwyn….as I write this I realize the parallel’s and it makes me grin…..but these are stories to be detailed in future episodes.

Oh those darn scooters!

Side View of Large Cask at Bulfon

Then there is Aldo Zaninotto of Wine D.O.C. Aldo is a citizen of the world & whom introduced us to Mariano Buglioni’s wines this past summer. We found ourselves staying at his warm & welcoming Locanda & witness to his old-world sensibilities peppered with new-world polish. Wines vinified from oft forgotten, secondary grapes are transformed into front-running contenders. He revels in doing this but also excels in more classic wines such as Amarone & Recioto. Interested? Well stay tuned for a personal introduction on Roosevelt Road later this summer as part of a very special dinner we are planning.

Buzz, buzz, beep.

Like bees around the daisies, these Vespa’s zoom in & out in front of your Fiat….if you’ve driven in Italy you know what I mean, stressful but we were fortunate enough not to directly feel the sting. This is why one risks to enter the hive…to come out with honey so sweet. Mission accomplished.

We can’t wait to share the new found treasures & relationships of our trip with you this year and beyond! The Voyage was not not only fruitful, it was inspirational. To see the owners of a little cafe in Berwyn U.S.A so warmly received by our Italian & Croatian hosts & inspirations….what..Croatian’s you say? Yes….but that is for a future episode. Look for more entries on VinItaly and our trip over the next few weeks.


Our 10 day trip to Europe

Rainy Morning Market Visit - Split

John & I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy and Croatia. Three countries in 10 days with 5 of them at Vin-Italy in Verona, then a visit to Emilio Bulfon and his amazing estate in Fruili, then on to Trieste and finally a drive across the border and through Slovenia, down the spectacular coastline of Croatia arriving finally in Split. After several days there and a visit to John’s family to say hello and see their winemaking facilities we headed back up to Italy to stay at Lake Garda for a night before braving the Milan traffic for the flight home. All in all a fantastic trip which energized us and filled us with inspiration for the spring & summer menu and of course wine events.

Over the next few weeks we will share the trip with you and introduce you to some of our favorite wines & winemakers from the trip, many of whom you will have the chance to meet at the restaurants in coming months. Also, look for some new entries from our chefs on techniques they use in the kitchen and of course more on the greenhouse & patio!


A Weekend at The Farm – Part Deux, Croatian Wines

When we first started to look at wines for the program at Autre Monde, our goal was to bring original, affordable wines, showcasing the rich variety of the Mediterranean to our guests. We also plan to showcase some domestic and even Midwestern wines, ( Michigan and Ohio are doing some nice Italian varietals – story for another entry). Wine is one of those things where local, in the Midwest is still a bit hard to achieve if you want to have a serious wine program. Our criteria with winemakers will focus more on the technique and farming practices of the vineyards on our list.

With that said, at the outset however, we had not considered Croatian wines. Not because they aren’t a fit, the Adriatic Coast of Croatia is across the water from Italy where the coastline of Slovenia and modern day Croatia is a mirror image of the boot. However, the long and difficult history of the former Yugoslavia, meant that the coast of Croatia remained a relatively closed society that only recently became a real tourist destination. The country has much of the same charm, cuisine and dedication to all things grape and olive as its neighbor across the sea. Jackie Kennedy is rumored to have favored it over all other places when visiting the Mediterranean.

Our interest is personal as well. My husband John has family near Split on the Adriatic Coast. On his first visit to Vinitaly, he and our friend Henry Bishop took a side trip to visit them and try some wine back in 2003. Henry helmed the wine program at Spiaggia for menu years and knows the wines from Italy about as well as anyone could. Just a short ferry ride from Ancona to the Croatian coast, they found a place where a new generation of wine makers are reinventing classic styles and making some exciting wines. Henry was as interested and impressed as we were and actually brought a few Slovenian whites and a Dignac back for the Spiaggia list. While they raved about the trip, I drooled over the video of the haltingly beautiful, unspoiled coastline. In the past few weeks, we happened upon an importer who is bringing in a number of Croatian wines and we quickly signed up for a tasting. What we enjoyed with Sasha confirmed that these wines are really coming into their own and will be a great addition to our list. (more…)


A Weekend at the Farm – Seeds, Divine Food and Croatian Wines

[dropcap1]S[/dropcap1]o we are back, fresh from a weekend in the Ohio River Valley, filled with some great menu experimentation, lots of discussion about what to plant in the greenhouse and tasting a lot of lush Croatian wines. It was a centering respite from the din and craziness of construction. Since we covered a lot of territory over the three days, we are going to split the blog discussions into two entries. The first will be an update on the greenhouse and seed plans and the second will cover a short intro to Croatian wine and a sneak peek at some of the dishes Beth and Dan whipped up this weekend, like the delicious gigante beans you see here.

We definitely ascribe to the idea that the flavor and benefits of the foods we eat has everything to do with how it is raised or grown. With that said, the earliest discussions about any menu evolve from a discussion of “product” a rather industrial term for the fruits, veggies, meats, spices etc. that are the roots from which any menu grows. In our case this translated directly to developing a plan for what we will grow this year in the greenhouse and at the farm. Once we establish that we can decide which purveyors will fill in the blanks in our spring / summer menu and will share news about those suppliers as we finalize our menu. (more…)