Food Routes Food & Travel Blog
Welcome to the Food Routes blog. Here at Food Routes, we are passionate – or one might say fanatical – about food and how we believe it to be a major component in defining “a sense of place”. Name a particular food and a country immediately comes to mind….foie gras = France; pasta = Italy; paella = Spain. How many times do you find when talking about your best travel experiences, you realise that amasing edible adventures are inextricably interwoven in your tales? More often than not, we would surmise!
Just as that pinch of special seasoning elevates a food from the dull to the divine, we hope to enhance your Food Routes experience with the Table Talk blog. A regular sprinkling of stories on the history of the foods of South Africa, spotlights on culinary luminaries both past and present, exciting food events, festivals, wineries and unique food producers are certain to spice up your journey and hopefully whet your appetite for more Food Routes adventures.
GET A GRIP ON GRAPPA-STYLED SPIRITS AND HIT THE MARC WITH TANAGRA
A Bit of Background -
First of all, you may ask what is grappa? Grappa is an Italian brandy distilled from grape pomace/marc (the solid remains – crushed skins, pips and stalks – leftover after the pressing for juice). In accordance with E.U. regulations, only in Italy may this spirit be legally labeled as grappa. However, the style has been produced in all the world’s wine regions for eons. In France it is known as marc, in Germany tresterschnapps, in Peru pisco and in South Africa husk spirit must appear on the label, but many artisanal producers as Tanagra also use marc as a designation.
Turning One Man’s Trash into Another’s Treasure
For centuries, grappa and grappa-styled spirits were looked upon as grape-based moonshine, more rocket fuel than a refined libation. The use of the dregs from wine production accomplished several objectives. It provided wine producers a means to dispose of their refuse and garner some extra income. In the beginning, distillers travelled from vineyard to vineyard with their stills. Eventually permanent distilleries were established, thus creating another economic engine in the grappa producing regions. But of most import, grappa was an affordable drink for the poor; providing much needed calories and feeling of warmth during the cold winter months. A shot of grappa in the morning - which in later times and today is more often a splash added to espresso (known as a caffé correcto) – was a way to numb themselves from the back breaking work in the fields. “Strong like grappa!” is still a frequently heard phrase in the Friuli region of Italy.
In the early 1960’s, the marriage of Benito and Giannola Nonino was one not only of the heart, but of two great talents. Since 1897, Benito’s family had been distilling pedestrian grappa. With a determination to spin straw into gold – turning one man’s trash into another’s treasure – he approached making grappa with the ardor of an ancient alchemist. He modified and created a specialized discontinuous still to better control and improve the distillation process. He began to use only the freshest pomace from the region’s premier wineries that he collected and distilled within hours of pressing.
The next audacious move was revolutionary and made by Giannola. Tired of seeing Benito’s grappa quietly ignored by friends whenever she brought along a bottle to dinners because they viewed it as a common place drink, she took action. Grappa had always been made from an imprecise mixture of pomace. Giannola’s inspired idea was to pick the rarest and most revered grape in Friuli – Picolit and she urged Benito to create the first grappa made from a single varietal. She courted the best wine farms to sell her their pomace and she paid them well. The first batch was small, around ten gallons. It was a glorious grappa, imbued with power and elegance and filled with the floral honey notes for which Picolit is renowned. The char girl of the spirits world had been transformed into Cinderella.
Whilst Benito’s genius was in production, Giannola’s was in promotion. Taking small apothecary bottles Benito found at a chemical supply store, Giannola began to package their liquid treasure. Handwritten labels were tied around the neck of each bottle which sported a silver-plated stopper. Pricing their prized creation at price points akin to single-malt scotch along with Giannola’s adept personal touch at points of sale, the Nonina grappa brand soon became THE grappa in restaurants and wine shops in Italy and beyond. Grappa had finally entered the modern era of finely crafted artisanal spirits.
Here in South Africa we are fortunate to have had our own long history of distilling pomace from the grape harvest. Witblits (white lightening), the Afrikaans name for a traditional pomace brandy is an example. According to documentation, unlike early grappa, there have been some fine examples of quality witblits made throughout the years. However witblits was and still is, for the most part, inferior in quality and viewed as a stepchild in the South African world of wine and spirits. Only recently has there been a resurgence and renaissance in premium husk spirits fueled mainly by immigrants to this country from Italy, France and Germany.
One such brand is Tanagra, produced by a German couple, Robert and Anette Rosenbach. And like the Nonino’s, theirs too is a love story. On a recent visit to their lovely place, Tanagra Wine & Guest Farm just outside of McGregor, Robert recounted how he, a business consultant and Anette, a linguist discovered this area and began their new life here. In 1996 Robert had accepted new job position and there was a healthy measure of free time prior to its start. So the search began for a spot to enjoy an extended holiday. Robert smiled as he recounted how heading to Australia was the initial idea. But his height and long legs combined with the thought of such a long flight in cramped quarters made them look elsewhere. Thus, South Africa came into play with its 14 hour flight time beating out Australia’s 22 hour long haul. Fate had cast her net once again.
Upon arrival, Robert and Anette began a 10 year love affair with Southern Africa and especially South Africa. Deciding that their lives needed a bit of an adventurous shake-up, they found the farm of their dreams and immigrated in March of 2009. Coming from the Mosel region where Anette’s grandfather had grown grapes on the steep slopes of its valley, both Robert and Anette had a deep understanding of and appreciation for all the effort that is put into producing fine wines. In addition to renovating the farm into an amazing guest farm retreat and winery producing a lineup of five wines, they opted to add a complementary component to the mix, a distillery.
Their familiarity with the pomance brandies of Europe – grappas – marcs – tresterschnapps and their growing popularity led them to see the opportunity of producing finely crafted versions here in the Breede River Valley. The raw materials were here ready and waiting. So, they purchased a column still in Germany, shipped it to South Africa and set about making their marc!
Today Tanagra boasts a stable of six varieties of marc (grappa). Each of these offerings exhibit the wonderful aromatic qualities for which this spirit is known. For his Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc single varietal marcs, Robert uses only the best pomace sourced from none other than the renowned Springfield Estate. Owner and winemaker Aubrie Bruwer is adamant in the careful and gentle handling of his grapes combined with minimum interference in the vinification process. Thus, Robert is assured of a consistent source of premium pomace which he treats just as conscientiously throughout the distillation process.
The Tanagra lineup also includes Marc de Chardonnay Barrique which is matured for two years in wood and their Marc de Hanepoot sourced from local grapes. Rounding out the team are two offerings made from Tanagra’s own grapes; a single variety Marc de Cabernet Sauvignon and TanaGrappa made from the skins of their house wine Heavenly Chaos – a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz.
At Tanagra, Robert and Anette also produce outstanding eaux-de-vie (waters of life). While marcs/grappas are made only from grape pomace, eaux-de-vie are distilled using other fruits. As well, the French produce eau-du-vie de vin which is made using whole grapes rather than pomace. It is the designation given to those brandies made from whole grapes outside of the regions of Armagnac and Cogac.
Tanagra offers three eaux-du-vie de vin. Two are made from Tanagra wine – Felicity is made from their Bordeaux blend wine of the same name and a single varietal eau-de-vie de vin is made from their Shiraz wine. The third offering is unique. It is called Cabernet Sauvignon Eau de Vie de Lie which is distilled from the lees of Springfield Estates Cabernet Sauvignon.
Four additional fruits are used in the creation of Tanagra’s eaux-de-vie. Organic apricots, peaches and quinces are sourced from local growers, individually distilled and bottled. The Lemon Eau de Vie is crafted using lemons grown at Tanagra. It is the jewel in crown – a Food Routes Favorite! The citrus floral notes come wafting from the bottle and once in the glass bloom into an intoxicating fragrance. The taste is clean, dry and with a smooth lushness - simply a stunning sip!!!
Tanagra’s marcs and eaux-de-vie provide a valuable addition to your culinary commissary. From the traditional practice of providing intriguing digestifs to conclude a magnificent meal to enhancing the flavors of offerings from cocktails to dessert – Tanagra consistently hits the marc!!!
Tanagra Hits the Marc Meal
This is an easy delicious three-course meal for a casual night spent with friends, showcasing the added flavor dimensions that Tanagra’s TanaGrappa and Lemon Eau de Vie brings to the table. Most of this meal can be prepared ahead of time with the main course taking less than 30 minutes to prepare!
Sgroppino al Tanagra Lemon Eau de Vie
Ingredients Serves 4 Time: 5 minutes
350ml lemon sorbet
350ml dry Sparkling wine
60ml Tanagra Lemon Eau de Vie
15ml lemon syrup (optional – add to taste) To make: Combine 250ml water with 250ml sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature, then add 355ml fresh lemon juice. Tip: When making simple syrups with fresh fruit juice, add when syrup is cool to preserve the fresh flavors. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator between uses. Should last up to one month.
Sprigs of fresh mint (optional)
Place all the ingredients (except the fresh mint) in a chilled stainless steel mixing bowl. Quickly whisk the ingredients together by hand using a light touch until a light and frothy mousse forms. Note: Overly vigorous whisking will cause ingredients to separate and become soupy. Spoon the mixture into pre-chilled champagne flutes or cocktail glasses, garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and strip of lemon peel. Serve immediately. Tip: Do not make drink in advance or allow to stand – ingredients will separate.
Serves 4-6 Time: 30 minutes
3 large egg yolks
125ml heavy cream
1 large onion, halved and sliced
125g of quality streaky bacon, cut into short ribbons
1 liter shredded cabbage
3.75ml ground juniper (if you can only find dried berries, grind them)
7.5ml coarsely ground black pepper (use as needed)
125ml Tanagra’s TanaGrappa
125ml grated pecorino plus extra for serving. Substitution: Grano Pandano
Bring a large pot of salted water (30 to 45ml salt per gallon) to a rolling boil. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and heavy cream, set aside.
Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add onions and sauté until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add streaky bacon and sauté for another minute. Add cabbage and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Add ground juniper, pepper and HALF the TanaGrappa. Stir well.
When pasta is ready, reserve about a cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta and add to pan with the cabbage mixture. Add the egg and cream mixture and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add just enough of the reserved cooking water to make a creamy sauce; all may not be needed. Turn off heat and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and remaining TanaGrappa. Stir well. Serve with additional cheese. Serve with green salad or vegetable of your choice.
Ingredients Serves 8 to 10
125ml dried currants
125ml Tanagra TanaGrappa
225g packed demerara sugar
115g granulated sugar
340g cake flour
115g walnut flour – Make your own nut flour by lightly toasting, cooling, then grinding nuts food processor or coffee grinder until close to the texture of flour. Do not over-grind and turn into nut butter. You can use almonds as a substitute for walnuts. But walnuts are the best!
2.5ml ground cloves
5ml baking soda
5ml baking powder
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
115ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml chopped fresh walnuts (see note)
2 Rome apples (or any soft tart cooking apple), peeled, seeded and shredded (about 350ml in volume)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Serve with mascarpone at room temperature or sweet whipped cream flavored with four teaspoons of the reserved soaking TanaGrappa.
Place the currants in a small bowl, add the TanaGrappa, and set aside to soak for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly butter and flour a Bundt pan or ring pan.
In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cake flour, walnut flour, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix until well blended. Add the egg yolks, oil and buttermilk, and, using an electric mixer, beat until smooth.
Drain the currants, reserving the soaking TanaGrappa. Fold the currants, walnuts and apples into the batter.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the batter, and then pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. Then invert the cake onto a plate.
Allow cake to cool before applying a dusting of powdered sugar. Use the reserved soaking TanaGrappa to flavor to taste either the mascarpone or the sweetened whipped cream.
Or you can make a simple glaze made from icing sugar to drizzle over the finished cake. Take 250g of icing sugar. Add 30ml of full cream milk and gradually add little by little the reserved TanaGrappa liquid until the glaze is of the correct pouring consistency. Do not get the glaze too runny. You want it just liquid enough to pour on the top of the cake and run a bit down the sides.