As some of you may have gathered from my previous posts, Mexican food is a real a passion for me. So when I had the opportunity to take a class on Mexican food last night at Balboa Park Food & Wine School From Susana Trilling, I skipped the Chowhound function at Parallel 33 :-( and did the class instead. I'm sorry I missed the hound function because I heard the food was fabulous and that everyone had a great time, but I'm also very glad I attended the class. And for those of you that don't know who Susana Trilling is, she is an ex-pat American living in Oaxaca who has spent a long time learning about the food and culture of Oaxaca and has put it into 2 cook books and a PBS series. She also runs a cooking school called Seasons of My Heart.
The class was not structured like a typical cooking class, and there was no hands-on instruction. Instead, what we got was a socio/cultural/anthropological presetnation by Susana on the foods of Oaxaca, particularly the indigenous foods and the role they play in daily life. She also had samples of many of the traditional or artisan products that she had managed to get past customs. For anyone interested in alternative medicines there was a brief discussion about the medicinal uses for many of the local products. Which was followed by an explanation of the fiesta culture of local villages.
Susana then retired to the kitchen to complete preparations for the food tasting. She was followed by a Ron Cooper an American artist who lives half time in Taos, NM and half time in Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca. Ron is involved with a company that imports Single Village mezcals. He, of course, had brought a sample of each mezcals from the 5 villages that produce the mezcal for all of us to try.
Each of the mezcals he works with is named for the village in which it is produced. The villages vary in altitude from about 6,500 ft. to 8,200 ft. and reflect the individual micro-climate of that village. These mezcals are twice distilled and unblended, made from 100% mature agave Espadin. So they are essentially organic, hand-crafted mezcals produced in the same way that mezcals have been produced for the last 400 years. Ron shared slides from each village showing the agaves, and the various roasting, fermenting and distilling processes. He also contrasted this method with methods used by the larger producers of both mezcal and tequila.
Then came the really fun part. Each of us was given a very small wide adobe bowl, glazed on the inside, but that could hold no more than 1 oz of liquid. A small portion, probably about 2 sips, was poured. We sniffed, we sipped, we swallowed. Wow! What a revelation. In smelling the first sample there was that clear aroma of the agave that is typical of tequila, but there were also much more complex citrusy and even floral tones as well, definitely not typical of tequila. Not to mention you could get a little tingle around the nostrils just from sniffing. But the flavor on the tongue and the mouth was so amazing. There was an intense vibrancy to the flavor, without the harshness that can sometmes accompany tequila (especially the cheap stuff ). We moved up in altitude as we sampled each mezcal, and each one was different from the previous. Some had a more pronounce aroma, some had a tangier, or more floral flavor on the tongue, or affected different parts of the mouth, and some had a smoother finish. Very, very little of it burned on the way down.
This was truly an incredible tasting and truly an incredible, if not short, presentation from someone passionate about their food product. Indigo Grill in Little Italy (in San Diego) offers a mezcal tasting flight of all these mezcals if anyone ever wants to try them. I will include the URL for the mezcal web site for interested readers. And, there is supposed to be at least 1 liquor store in Old Town that sells these products.
Susana returned with a food tasting of Oaxacan specialties. We had Tlyudas con Frijoles, large oversized corn tortillas that are much more leathery than a typical (Mexcian) corn tortilla, they were designed to last and be portable for farmers and travelers. Oaxaca is one of the last places in Mexico where they are still common. The Tlyuda was topped with black beans, asiento (chicarrone drippings), real Oaxacan string cheese that made it past customs, some shredded cabbage and a salsa verde that while spicy with some heat did not overwhelm the dish. This was the first time I had had a Tlyuda and it is different. The Tlyuda is chewier than a regular corn tortilla. The bean had been cooked in an olla with epazote and were wonderful. A lot of complimentary flavors in a flat package.
There was an Ensalada de Nopales Asados, which was roasted Nopales that had tossed with diced tomato and avocado in a viniagrette, and was served on a tostone and topped with crumbled Oaxacan quesao anjeo. Mole Coloradito Oaxaqueno was severed with chicken and was truly memorable. No one ingredient was overly evident, but the sauce was incredible. There was definitely a depth of flavor that can only be attributed to the roasting and toasting of everything.
The tasting was capped off with Antes de Mango, which was a bread pudding with a mango sauce. This was good, but not as good as the 3 preceeding items. Then Susana passed around a basket with chocolate that had been ground and made on her Rancho. Chocolate is still ground and made from Cacao beans in Oaxaca and the little pieces we were given were wonderful. They sort of dissolved on the tongue and the cinnamon (canela) and almond flavors kind of "popped". Really, a very nice way to end a meal. And way, way better than any of the Mexican chocolates we can get on this side of the border.
So while I am really sorry I had to miss the Chowhound *do* at Parallel 33, I didn't do too badly for myself.