Debt.com article about buying and drinking mead

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Debt.com article about buying and drinking mead

Lovely article about mead; too bad the only mead the author sampled was what I’d consider to be an extreme endpoint example, not even an American mead, and certainly not one of the very best ones out there. Too bad she didn’t visit Kookoolan Farms and Kookoolan World Meadery’s tasting room — now more than 150 different meads on the shelves from all over the country and all over the world, with more than 40 different meads open for tasting TODAY.

Tour the World of Meads at Kookoolan Farms

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https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=JRbEg0grIIc

Kookoolan World Meadery, 15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon. Now over 150 different meads from all over the country and all over the world, including our own international-award-winning “Elegance” mead. Tasting room with more than 30 bottles open for tasting any given day. Open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays 11am to 5pm year round, and anytime by appointment at (503) 730-7535. Wassail!

Memorial Day Weekend: our CSA vegetable gardens and vineyard are also open for a self-guided walking tour!

Mead and Paleo Food

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If our paleo ancestors were drinking alcohol, it was mead:  the ability to make mead may be 20,000 years old or even older (an article by Christopher Underkofler suggests archeological hard evidence dating to 45,000 B.C.E.!), and certainly predated agriculture, which was itself a technology required for the later development of wine and beer making.  Paleo foods are Real Foods and today’s foods:  an emphasis on fresh, local, organically-raised vegetables, and pasture-raised animals, and an avoidance of grains, simple sugars, and processed foods.  This philosophy for sourcing food marries both philosophically and aesthetically with mead:  a craft artisan beverage made with intention and respect for the environment, nurturing and economically supporting our precious honeybees.    Meads are also gluten-free and grain-free (excepting only the category of braggots).  Drier meads have very low sugar and that sugar comes only from honey, or from honey and fruit. 

Truly the Paleo Diet is not a fad diet; but rather a return to our species’ 2.5-million-year-duration diet that runs up until the beginning of the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago.  Archeological evidence suggests that 55% of calories consumed in hunter-gatherer societies is meat: but wild-caught meat, with a healthier balance of Omega 3 fats, rather than meat from animals raised on corn and soy in feedlots, which is loaded with less healthy Omega 6 fats.

Nell Stephenson, author “Paleoista,” says there are five rules for paleo:  (1) fill your plate 2/3rds full of fresh vegetables, the more color and variety the better.  (2) one palm-sized serving of protein, local, organic, wild, fish or grassfed meat is best.  (3) add some good fat (avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts), (4) add some fruit, and (5) no “inflammatory foods,” meaning no grains, no legumes including soy and peanuts, no dairy, no refined sugars, basically nothing in a wrapper.  Note that there’s no calorie counting because if your plate is 2/3rds full of fresh vegetables there’s simply no need to count!  Eat a breakfast that looks more like dinner, less like “a grain festival.” 

Hardcore adherents of the original Paleo diet refuse all grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, and alcohol on the assumption is that the only available sweetener at the time was honey, and that no wine or beer was yet being made. 

“Paleo 2.0” is a somewhat looser interpretation.  Stephenson advocates three “cheat meals” a week, acknowledging that we humans have a hard time staying away from temptation, and that one or two missteps should not ruin your general commitment to a healthier lifestyle.  Other adherents of the Paleo diet take some dairy or legumes on a regular basis, and allow maple sugar in addition to honey.

Recipe

Paleo Eggs Benedict, from “Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining” by Hayley Mason and Bill Staley.  In case you thought that description of the paleo diet sounds Spartan, this will change your mind.  Indulgent and company-worthy, serve this with one of Heidrun’s brut-dry methode champenoise sparkling meads, Die Hochland Imker’s sparkling mead, any dry to semi-sweet chili-pepper-infused capsumel, or an apple cyser.

Hollandaise Sauce

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

  • 10 tbsp grass-fed butter, melted over low heat

    Roasted Asparagus with Bolete Mushrooms

  • 2 lbs. asparagus

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, melted

  • 1 loosely packed cup dried Bolete mushrooms, chopped

  • Salt & pepper to taste

    Eggs Benedict

  • 6 slices ham

  • 6 eggs

  • 2 sprigs green onion, sliced

    Instructions:

  1. In a high-speed blender or food processor, make the Hollandaise sauce by blending the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper. Add the melted butter at a slow drizzle for 2 minutes. Pour the Hollandaise sauce into a serving dish, and set aside until it is time to serve it.

  2. For the asparagus and mushrooms, preheat your oven to 400° F. Rinse the asparagus under cold water. Break off the tough ends by grabbing them at the base and the top and allowing them to naturally break as you bend them. Place the asparagus in a roasting pan and toss with the coconut oil, mushrooms, salt and pepper. Roast at 400° F for 35 minutes.

  3. For eggs Benedict, slice the ham thinly (about 1/4 inch thick). In a large heavy skillet, sear the ham over medium-high heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side until the ham is golden brown on the edges.

  4. Poach the eggs for approximately 5 minutes or until the center is tender but not firm. This will yield a slightly runny yolk. If you’re not accustomed to poaching eggs, you can also steam them by cracking them into a skillet over medium heat, adding half cup of water, and covering with a lid. The same test to see if they’re done applies, gently poke them at their thickest part to determine the firmness of the yolk.

  5. Plate each dish with roasted asparagus and mushrooms at the bottom, top with a slice of ham, a poached egg, the Hollandaise sauce, and garnish with the sliced green onions.

 

The line dividing “Paleolithic” from “Neolithic” ancestors was the Agricultural Revolution:  the truly revolutionary idea that we needn’t follow our food sources around while following a vulnerable, subsistence hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  Somehow we collectively had the huge ah-ha moment somewhere between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago that plants could be planted and nurtured, that livestock could be domesticated, that land could be cultivated and improved, and that shelters could be immovable, permanent, and defendable.  Many hypotheses about when, where, and how this revelation occurred have been put forth; there is really no way to test them.  New archeological evidence may be uncovered at any time to challenge the “proven” or frontrunner hypothesis, and old evidence may be reinterpreted.  These ancient Paleolithic ancestors left some cave paintings, but did not have any writing to be able to tell us the amazing story of their lifestyle transition.  Some fragments can be gleaned:  “The Seven Daughters of Eve” tells the mitochondrial DNA story of Europe, woven together with linguistic and archeological evidence; it’s worth reading yourself but the spoiler version is that farmers from the Middle East moved northward into Europe, interbreeding, assimilating, and outcompeting the indigenous lifestyle of hunter-gatherers.  The Basques who live in the isolated mountainous border region between France and Spain speak a language related to no others; it is assumed (but not proven) to be descended from whatever languages were being spoken in Europe before the agricultural revolution.  Pretty much all other European languages (excepting, I think, Finnish? …this needs a fact checker) are members of the larger Indo-European language family, and some of the oldest shared root words in this language family imply a common history of fishing, hunting, and gathering.  The word “mead” itself is so old that it is cognate with the modern Hindu word “Madhu” which means honey, implying that the existence of mead dates back to the Proto-Indo-European language predating all modern languages.

So how did we settle down and start farming?  There are several hypotheses and they are all contentious.  There is some evidence suggesting that Paleolithic societies were gathering wild cereals for food use at least as early as 23,000 BCE.  One hypothesis is that we started nurturing wild patches of wheat and barley and other cereal grains by wedding and thinning them, and then coming back around in our migratory paths to harvest what we had tended.  Eventually we were saving seeds and deliberately planting them in cleared fields; rather than cycle back around to them a season later for harvest, we began to settle nearby to protect the planted fields from human thieves and migrating herds of ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc, who would feast on such a find.  This widely-accepted theory has some Old Testament scholars as adherents:  commandments such as the “thou shalt not covets” really are rather like the social indoctrination that parents give toddlers not to touch what belongs to others.  To the migratory animals that early humans were, the idea of “property,” the idea that some crop or livestock animal could be “owned,” must have been quite foreign.  The scholarly idea exists that the very origin of religions in general sprang from a societal need for new rules as people began to form village sociologies.  Grain was planted for food, and only once farming had advanced to the level of providing grain surpluses above and beyond the subsistence need for gruel, bread and couscous did people begin to make beer.

Another idea, and the one I favor, is that the ancients had alcohol fermentation figured out long before that, and that alcohol itself was the impetus for the agricultural revolution.  Here’s the argument:  hunter-gatherers can’t carry much.  They only walk; there are no carts or wagons and no domestic animals like donkeys or horses to pull them.  Perhaps there were sledges to drag some cooking vessels and tents; these would need to be pulled by the strongest men.  Children and elderly couldn’t carry much; women likely carried young children first and items second.  They had to carry all their housing, weapons, cooking vessels, eating utensils, drinking water, medicines, and everything else.  These groups were small: maybe 20 to 30 clan members.  So it must have been true that mostly they ate what they found on the same day they found it.  Most meat would’ve been small animals and fishes; most plants would be eaten fresh.  Some things might be dried, a preservation method resulting in a relatively lightweight item. 

And yet there are cave paintings dating to before the agricultural revolution of honey hunting, and there are cave paintings and bone piles substantiating the fact that humans sometimes took down huge caches of honey, and sometimes took down large game animals such as mastadons.  Big hauls like that were risky to undertake, expensive in terms of both calories/energy and also in terms of casualties, injuries, and armaments (arrows, spears, ropes) spent to acquire the bounty.  Such gifts are never wasted, never left unfinished.  In some versions of this logical and supposed legend, a desperately-thirsty hunter happens upon some “spoiled” i.e. fermented honey; perhaps some rain water had fallen into a broken hive and fermented into mead.  He is pleasantly surprised and fills his drinking water pouch, taking the surprise home to his mate or offering it to his hunting companions.  Perhaps upon drinking the magical potion his mate is more receptive to his amorous advances.  Perhaps upon drinking the magical potion he becomes more romantic and nostalgic in his verbal interactions with his mate, and she ascribes the change in her mate’s personality and articulation to the gods’ gift of poetry.  Note that once the yeast-laden beverage was transferred to a drinking-water skin bag or vessel of any kind, that vessel was now impregnated with yeast spores that would spontaneously reactivate in the presence of any new sugars.  The vessel had been “taught” how to make wine:  a phrase that persisted in many languages up into the 19th century!

Generally, in hunter-gatherer societies today, fermented beverages are low in alcohol and sugar, and drunk very young, suggesting that session meads are the most authentic style for the Paleo diet.  Tej, the Ethopian style of mead, would also be appropriate, as would any dry or semi-sweet mead, metheglin, or melomel.  The earliest archeological pottery remnants of brewing residues suggest mutli-ingredient brews, so really the wilder the more authentic!

RECIPE:  Blueberry Gorgonzola Salad, a “Winning Reader Recipe” from Katherine Emmons of North Oaks, Minnesota, published in Sunset Magazine, September 2013.  The sublime combination of sweet fruit and salty blue cheese means you can keep the rest of the salad simple. White balsamic vinegar gives the dressing a light flavor.  For a purist Paleo version, leave off the cheese, but I love the combination of blue cheese and honey (i.e. mead), and blue-ripened cheeses are a great source of probiotics.  Pair with a blueberry melomel, Tej, or your most local traditional session mead.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 10 cup loosely packed mixed lettuces (3 oz.)

  • 1 cup blueberries

  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

  • 4 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

  • Pepper

Preparation

1. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and salt. Add lettuces and blueberries and toss to coat.

2. Divide mixture among 4 salad plates. Sprinkle with pine nuts and gorgonzola, and grind pepper over each salad.

 

In any case, what I’m trying to say is, our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors had the fermentation of honey figured out long before they settled down into farming.  In fact, we humans have pretty much fermented any sugar source we could get our hands on, in any culture and any epoch, every place on the planet we have ever looked.  We’re endlessly creative: we mix fruits and grains, honey and spices, berries and agave nectar, whatever we can get our hands on.  From a Paleolithic standpoint, all we lacked was decent-sized fermenters to get us out of small batch homebrewing and into large-scale production that the whole clan could enjoy: big fermenters cannot be carried around in backpacks.  We had to settle down in order to invent clay and clay-firing kilns to ferment and store our beverages in; and once we had that figured out, then we could work on streamlining the production of fermentable sugars by cultivating vineyards and grain fields.  Both honey (diluted with water) and most fruit juices including grape juice ferment spontaneously due to naturally-occurring yeasts; in fact, one must go out of their way to prevent such a fermentation from happening.  In order to make beer, the starches in grains must first be converted to sugars, and then fermented – a much more complicated and less-likely-to-occur-accidentally process.  Even the most inexperienced homebrewer quickly realizes that ageing meads, wines or beers makes them taste a lot better, and allowing longer times for the fermentation results in a higher-alcohol product.  Both of these observations would lead to longer camp times and eventually to permanent settlements.

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The author’s year-old pinot noir vineyard: I still have to wait at least two more years before I get my first grape!

Finally comes the question of at-risk farming and entrepreneurism.  As a small farmer who planted a small vineyard in the eighth year of my farming adventures, I can tell you that the initial cost of planting a vineyard is very high, and waiting for the first harvest of grapes is very long, at least three years.  During all this time the young grape plants require a great deal of maintenance in terms of training, pruning, and weeding.  Grape leaves are good eating both as stuffed grape leaves in human cuisines and also as delicious fodder for marauding deer, antelope, etc.  One only invests this much in a vineyard if all the other pieces of a successful winery are in place:  customers (i.e., the town or trading routes already exist), an alternate source of one’s own food calories (someone engaged in vineyard and winery activities needs to be able to buy or trade for food obtained by someone else); vessels for fermentation and ageing, and vessels for sale and transport.  At that point, a vineyard becomes a cheaper and more convenient source of fermentable sugars than hunting for wild beehives.  Further, the conversion of wild meadows and forests to vineyards and grain fields reduces the forage for wild honeybees, and therefore drives up the cost of honey (even if that cost is measured in human activity and not in currency).  These factors all led to a growing abundance of beer and wine in the Neolithic period (those would be our farmer/villager ancestors once the agricultural revolution was under way).  So in that sense, the diehard Paleo Diet adherents are correct:  beer and wine are the foodstuffs of the agricultural revolution, and cannot predate it.  i.e. there was no beer and wine in the Paleolithic era.  However, I believe we can be pretty dang sure there was mead.

Further, the paleo diet puts its emphasis on grassfed and free-ranged meats, line-caught fish, wild game, and fresh, local, organically-raised and heirloom-variety vegetables, an absence of grains and legumes, and the use of only honey as a sweetener.  This entire philosophy of eating, not a fad but really millions of years old, ties in brilliantly with the whole craft and artisan beverage movement, and suggests a multitude of delicious and authentic food and mead pairings.  “Gather, The Art of Paleo Entertaining” is a beautiful and inspiring book on Paleo food as haute cuisine, and will give you lots more ideas.  Here are some to get you started. 

Menu from “Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Manual to Adventurous Cooking” (with Carolynn Carreno).  Serve with a rich red pyment, with a traditional semisweet oak-aged mead, or with Tej.

Rosemary Grilled Leg of Lamb

Ingredients

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • Zest of 2 lemons

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

  • 8 large garlic cloves, sliced

  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

  • 1 cup chopped onion

  • 1 cup whole rosemary leaves, plus 12 sprigs (9 in. long); 4 oz. sprigs total

  • 1 bone-in leg of lamb (6 1/2 lbs.), with hip bone and upper leg bone removed*; or 1 fully boned leg of lamb (4 1/2 lbs.)

Preparation

  1. Combine oil and all seasonings except for rosemary sprigs in a shallow pan. Add lamb and turn to coat inside and out. Cover and chill 24 hours, turning occasionally. Let lamb sit at room temperature 1 hour before grilling. Brush off excess marinade. Tie with kitchen twine to make a compact roast.

  2. Meanwhile, heat a grill to medium (350° to 400°) with burner turned off (for gas) or coals pushed to half of firegrate (for charcoal) to make an indirect heat area. Or light an indirect charcoal-and-wood fire in a Cowboy Cauldron (see “Cooking in a Cauldron,” below).

  3. Grill lamb over direct heat, turning as needed, until browned all over, 10 minutes. Set lamb on a V-shaped rack in a roasting pan. Set pan over indirect-heat area (on Cauldron, lift rack and put pan down on firegrate, then replace rack–it helps retain heat). Top meat with rosemary sprigs. Stoke the fire (see “Cooking in a Cauldron”); for charcoal, as you cook, add 6 to 8 briquets every 30 minutes. Cover charcoal or gas grill.

  4. Roast lamb, rotating meat in pan every 20 to 30 minutes so each part is exposed to heat, until lamb reaches 140° in thickest part, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours; rosemary may fall off. Let lamb rest on a board 15 minutes. Remove twine and carve; serve with grilled vegetable salad (below).

GRILLED VEGETABLE SALAD

For an easy accompaniment to lamb, Ford seasons mixed summer squashes (pattypan, zucchini and crookneck) and peppers (bell peppers, mild chilis, and Padrons) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then grills them until softens and streaked with grill marks.  He cuts them into large chunks and tosses them with lettuces, a little crumbled goat cheese, and a white balsamic vinegrette seasoned with fresh basil, oregano, salt and pepper.

 

SNAP PEA AND CABBAGE SLAW, recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine, July 2013.  This was run as a kid-friendly salad, and it is, but the bright colors and raw vegetables fit right into the paleo plate.  Cabbage and peas are complemented by ginger; try one of the many terrific ginger session meads with this light dish.  Recipe by Sue Li.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon honey

  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

  • 1/4 small red cabbage, thinly sliced

  • 8 ounces sugar snap peas, thinly sliced crosswise

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or basil

PREPARATION

  • Whisk oil, lemon juice, and honey in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add cabbage, snap peas, parsley, and mint and toss to combine.
  • DO AHEAD: Vegetables can be cut and dressing can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill separately. Toss vegetables and dressing together just before serving.

Another recipe from “Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining,” this is a recipe that can be used to stuff and bake (or grill) just about any fish.  Serve with a seasonal salad and ginger or hibiscus mead session, or with widely-available Die Hochland Imker sparkling mead, or an orange blossom or lime blossom honey mead to pick up citrus notes.  Also good paired with blueberry, fig, or citrus melomels, or with HoneyMaker Lavender Mead (from Maine).

Recipe:  Stuffed Red Snapper.

Ingredients

4 whole red snapper fish, about 1.5 pounds each

3 tablespoons grass-fed butter

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 tablespoon ground sage

1 tablespoon black pepper

5 sprigs rosemary

8 garlic cloves

2 lemons, thinly sliced

PREPARATION

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees on convection setting.  Rinse the snapper under cool running water, and pat dry, including the body cavity.  Rub the snapper with butter, including the body cavity.

In a small bowl, combine the seas salt, ground sage, and black pepper, and generously sprinkle the fish with the seasoning mixture.  Stuff each fish with a heaping handful of rosemary, two garlic cloves per fish, and 3 lemon slices.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, and serve.

 

Afraid you’ll be missing those starchy grains in a paleo menu, or stymied trying to come up with a menu for gluten-free friends?  Two standards that you can easily find dozens of recipes for are Paleo Cauliflower “Rice”, and hash-browned sweet potatoes.  Each make terrific side dishes with any number of meat or vegetarian entrees.

 

MEAD SUGGESTIONS FOR A PALEO DIET:  Any traditional (honey only) meads, since domesticated ingredients by definition came after the paleolithic era.  Single-honey-varietal meads, which approximate the single-hive honey source of a wild-harvested mead.  Sessions meads, approximating “quick meads” or “short meads” meant to be drunk young, which were certainly the first deliberate ferments.  “Weirdomel” combinations of honey, fruit, spices, and even malted grains, inspired by “Chateau Jiahu” and the idea that our paleolithic ancestors would have thrown just about any fermentable sugar source into the pot.  Tej-style and iQuihlika style meads because those are the styles most similar to the homebrew styles still enjoyed by hunter-gatherer societies in Africa.  In keeping with the low-sugar philosophy of the Paleo diet, any dry and semi-sweet meads and melomels. 

So Many Meads, So Little Time….

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So Many Meads, So Little Time....

So many meads, so little time … this has been a week of 15-hour workdays, mostly outside in the vegetable gardens battling the heat and getting our irrigation system set up for summer. And yet I’m working on this book about mead and food pairings, and the book will include the most complete encyclopedia of American meads and meaderies ever published. To that end, dozens of American meaderies have generously contributed bottles of their meads for me to include in the book.

I first learned about mead in 1980 at the age of 16 during the requisite reading of Beowulf, and another ten years passed before I finally found my first taste of mead. In 2003 there were only about 30 meaderies in the entire U.S., and commercial meads of any kind were very hard to come by. Only in the last five years have I enjoyed any access at all to a good selection of high quality meads, and only in the last six months have I had essentially unlimited access to the very best American meads available.

I know this sounds ridiculous, and trust me this is the Nirvana I have been waiting my whole adult life for, but I have a backlog of close to 100 bottles of contributed meads to taste and photograph my way through. Here is a photo of my desk taken in March…my current pile on my desk is four times this large, and these are all meads that are NOT distributed in Oregon. So this collection is IN ADDITION to the 130 or so commercial meads that are available for sale in our tasting room.

At best I can get through about three meads a day: I have to photograph the bottle several times unopened, with and without glassware. Then I have to pour a glass, sometimes in several different glasses, and take several more photographs. Some of the wineries have also sent their branded glassware (i.e. glassware with the logo printed or etched on the glass), so in those cases I take even more photographs. Because I only have one bottle of each of the various meads, the single opening has to be a historical record I can refer back to months in the future: I fill out a complete judging sheet. Then I taste again, making very detailed tasting notes for pairings, including as complete a list as I can brainstorm of inspirations for pairings. Then I taste again, mentally comparing to all other meads in the same category, and including some notes about what state the meadery is located in, and in what states that mead is available. Although it’s a deeply pleasurable activity, it’s also hard work and exhausting!

Patrick McGovern in Portland Friday May 16

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Patrick McGovern in Portland Friday May 16

Okay, admittedly, this is truly geeking out.  So I will be there for sure.  World-famous “fermentation archeologist” Patrick McGovern will be giving a lecture in Portland this Friday, May 16.  The lecture is free.  The reception afterward is $20 per person.  Want details of the archeological dig at Jiahu, China, that revealed remnants of 9,500-years-ago meadmaking and beermaking?  This is the guy who did the work.  Always wanted to taste hard-to-find “Chateau Jiahu” beer from Dogfish Head Brewery?  Here’s a rare chance to taste some!  http://brewpublic.com/beer-events/the-northwest-china-council-presents-drink-in-china-ales-wines-and-spirits/

Friday, May 16, 2014, 6pm – 7:30pm lecture is free

7:30-8:30pm reception is $20 per person

 

Pairing Mead with Polish Food

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Three Polish import meads, all available at the mead superstore at Kookoolan World Meadery in Yamhill, photographed with Polish Haluski stroganoff, one of the beautiful entrees on the menu at Bar Dobre.

Bar Dobre, 3962 SE Hawthorne, Portland, Oregon, offers a menu of authentic Polish dishes made from locally-sourced ingredients.  Chef Stan Pratnicki smokes the meats in-house, makes all the charcuterie in-house, makes the pickles, and bakes the rye bread in house, as well as making all the noodles and pierogi wrappers in house, from scratch.

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The Menu at Bar Dobre

Polish and other Central European cuisines share many similarities:  rich in meats, winter vegetables, and spices.  Meats include mainly pork, chicken, beef, and game.  Vegetables include a number of winter root vegetables, especially members of the brassica family such as cabbage, beets, and turnips.  The cuisine also employs many kinds of noodles and cereal grains, and often include cream and eggs.   Traditional dishes often require a generous amount of time to prepare, serve, and eat.  Meals tend to run long and late, with the traditional lunch being the main meal of the day, and starting at 2pm or later, traditionally composed of a soup, an appetizer, a main course of roast meat and vegetables, and dessert.

Polish national dishes include bigos; pierogi (potato dumpling); kiełbasa (sausage); kotlet schabowy (breaded cutlet); gołąbki (cabbage roll); zrazy (roulade); roast meats; sour cucumber soup; mushroom soup; tomato soup; rosół (meat broth); and żurek (sour rye soup).   Leafy green salads are now common and popular, but very recently vegetables were more typically served as surówka  – shredded root vegetables often with lemon and sugar (carrot, celeriac, seared beetroot) or sauerkraut.   Side dishes are often boiled potatoes, rice or more traditionally kasza (cereals).  Meals often conclude with a dessert such as makowiec, a poppy seed pastry, or other cakes.  A friendly, succinct, and well-curated list of Polish foods and recipes can be found at www.tastingpoland.com

Pierogis may be the most easily accessible Polish food nationwide; the freezer section of any chain grocery store will surely offer a frozen box of potato pierogis.  They have the universal appeal of noodles and parmesan cheese, so inoffensive that it’s impossible to imagine not liking them.  These can be popped into a covered frying pan with a sliced onion, some butter, and a half cup of water, and sautéed until hot and cooked through, and golden brown on the bottom, similar in  appearance and in cooking style to Chinese pot stickers.  But this simple dish is no more representative of Polish food than plain noodles would be representative of Italian or Chinese food!  Homemade pierogis have endless variations, and may be filled with various ground meats and sausages, vegetables, mushrooms, or even made as a dessert version similar to crêpes.

Ironically, modern Poles tend to save their very strong, very sweet meads for after dinner and for special occasions, and tend to drink wine or vodka with dinner.  If the Polish import meads strike you as not very dinner-friendly, I would have to agree, but don’t let that keep mead off your Polish dinner table!  There are other options!

Golabki, or stuffed cabbage rolls in tomato sauce, is a delightful dish that shows up in the cuisines of most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Scandinavia.  A mixture of ground meat is wrapped in a leaf of white cabbage and stewed, steamed, or fried until cooked through.  The mixture may contain groats or rice, onion, mushroom, and spices; the meat may be pork, beef, fowl, or mutton; vegetarian versions exist but are less common.  A finished cabbage roll is about the size of a large Chinese eggroll, and is plated over boiled or coarsely mashed potatoes,  and topped by a thick tomato sauce.  The Czech and Slovakian version is called holubce; the German version is called Krautwickel or Kohlrouladan, and the Swedish version is called Kåldomar.  This dish is nicely complemented by malty braggots – avoid those with large doses of hops or other bittering agents, though.  I’m partial to dark, stout- or porter-like braggots, such as Fire Cirkl Meadery’s “Dragon’s Blood.”

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Golabki at Bar Dobre in Portland, Oregon

Smoked fish, grilled mushrooms, smoked sausage, and smoked meats would all be complemented beautifully by full-bodied, oak-aged, semi-sweet meads such as “Solas” from Sky River Meadery in Washington State, or Sugar Maple Mead from Sap House Meadery in New Hampshire.

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Grilled mushroom skewers, pierogis, and garbanzo beans with kale.  Try this meal with a red-grape pyment, a hopped or semi-sweet cyser, or a malty braggot!  Grilled and smoked foods pair marvelously with oak-aged meads.