New Publications by Gary Gillman

I’m referring to publications separate and apart from our frequent blogging here on different facets of beer, distilled spirits, other drinks and food.

We had a short piece earlier this month in Calgary Metro, a daily print and digital commuter newspaper which is part of the Star Media Group. It was part of a spread for Calgary International Beerfest held May 5-6. The piece, “A Resurgence of Many Styles of Beer To Enjoy”, can be viewed on pg. 15 in this link. It may re-appear in Edmonton soon we understand.

It’s directed to a general audience and was written accordingly. Nonetheless it reflects some long-held ideas we have about the origin of the modern proliferation of beer types.

In addition, Brewery History, a long-established scholarly journal devoted to beer and brewing history, has just published its latest issues, nos. 168 and 169. No. 169 contains two articles of mine. One is a lengthy, fully-referenced and illustrated piece on the history of American musty ale. The other is a review of Empire of Booze, the book published last autumn by English drinks writer Henry Jeffreys.

Brewery History is a fascinating and important resource for those interested in the historical aspects of beer and breweries. Anyone interested to obtain the current issue, or to subscribe, should write to Dr. Tim Holt, the Editor, at tim.holt@gmail.com. He can assist or direct you accordingly.

As the policy of Brewery History is to permit the book reviews to be publicly accessible on publication, my review may be read here (scroll down to pg. 82). The reviews contain much else of interest, especially the review of Frank Appleton’s new book. He is a pioneer of craft brewing in Canada.

Finally, our legal blog at www.lawgill.com has been updated with a multi-faceted discussion of the Canadian 9.09% whisky blending rule. It factors useful background we have gleaned from our historical studies as reported here in past postings as well as certain experience gained advising clients recently on this matter.

 

 

 

Beer. Paris. Now.

The beer scene in Paris, based on a week’s stay after a lapsus of seven years, is still dominated by brands of the large groups: Heineken/Pelforth, Carlsberg/Kronenbourg, AB InBev/Stella Artois. These are the main cafe beers available. Occasionally you will see Jupiler, also from AB InBev, a Belgian lager which was the best of the bunch. Meteor’s pilsener too appears here and there, from Hochfelden in Alsace. Meteor is independent.

I assume Heineken is the same all-malt brew we get, so it has an inherent quality, as does Jupiler. The others, all local staples, had a strong note of brewing adjunct to my taste (corn, wheat, or some kind of glucose addition). In particular Pelforth Blonde, which is or used to be an ale vs. a lager, seemed to decline a lot since my previous visit. The basic Kronenbourg was metallic-tasting, the 1664 version a bit better.

Meteor makes a range of beers some of which surely have character- a Grande Malt looks good – but the beers are hard to find in Paris as the main market is in Alsace-Lorraine.

An option is sometimes offered by these breweries in the form of an “abbaye“, a Trappist-style beer, or a “blanc” or vaguely Belgian white style. Of these I tried the blonde Affligem, familiar in export markets as well. It was good with the perfumy, chalky yeast background typical of Belgian top-fermentation. I had a taste of Grimbergen as well, darker but similar. These are salutary to have but don’t alter the general picture much.

The concept of guest beer seems almost unknown, at least I didn’t see it. This is the system where an industrial brewer allows a true craft beer on the bar it supplies.

The one shining light in the general commercial system was the appearance albeit rarely of Brooklyn Brewing’s lager or East India Pale Ale. I tried the lager and it was great, better than I remember here. Based on a Twitter discussion, it seems it’s brewed by Carlsberg under license in Denmark now. All to the good IMO and in truth it was one of the best beers on the trip. It is the “bon ton” beer of the young crowd and it appears Carlsberg is promoting it quite actively.

This is just the cafe scene, or the beers at the corner brasserie or “tabac“. There is plenty happening at a deeper level, in different ways. There are at least 15 beer bars proper, new school I call them and easily found on an Internet search (“best craft beer in Paris”). They sell craft beers from Paris, elsewhere in France, and beyond, some may brew on their own. I was only able to visit one, Brewberry in the Mouffetard area, Left Bank. La Fine Mousse was the other I wanted to see especially as there was a tap takeover by a Lille bar, but we ran out of juice that day.

I liked The Bowler in the 8th arrondissement a lot, which projects an English pub image but is really just a good beer bar with a changing international selection, both draft and bottled. When I was there there were some primo lagers including Westerham’s Bohemian Rhapsody from England, an awesome Czech-style lager with delicious sweet malt and a ton of aromatic Saaz hops. And surprises (for me) like Innis & Gun’s Gunpowder IPA which had none of the coconut-like taste from aging in American oak barrels and was superb, better than similar session IPAs here.

There is, side-by-side with this newer group, an old-school list of beer bars, some of which date to the 1950s. And here is a good time to say, when you read a breathless description how craft beer is new in Paris, that the scene only took off in the last five years, blah-blah, well, no. There has always been good beer in Paris. You had to search it out, but that’s not so different than anywhere or today’s Paris really.

Places like Au Trappiste, Sous Bock, l’Académie de la Bière, Falstaff, Hall’s Beer Tavern and more carried the flag and still do. There was also the Frog group of British-style pubs, still going strong with seven bars. And there was O’Neil, an outpost of the now sizeable and international Au Trois Brasseurs which started in Lille. These overlap with the newer group and all together offer a lively scene.

On top of this, there were in past days a number of beer specialty retailers, some of which are still in business notably Bootlegger in the 14th arrondissement. So again these join to the newer retailers and the expanded selection you find in some supermarkets.

Every generation thinks it has found something new, but there has always been good beer in Paris and if you want to go back to the 1800s, that was the heyday of local brewing with dozens of breweries in business. I took a tour organized by a local beer group which reviewed this history and impressive it was.

The American citric hop taste is new but it has only penetrated the EU in general in recent years. At Brewberry, I had a textbook black IPA made in Italy as it happens. A juniper- and rose-flavoured beer from Lorraine impressed much too, both in a range often found here.

In a wine bar off the Champs Elysées, an IPA from Brasserie Artisanal de Paris had a strong citric/dank taste very similar again to our IPA. The beer bar De Mory, whose bottled beers are made currently in Germany, also makes a good IPA indistinguishable from our versions. And so on for sours, stouts, saisons, etc.

 

In Franprix, a ubiquitous supermarket system in Paris, you can find London’s Meantime Beers (now owned by a large group), and other good-tasting beers including some of the more widely distributed Belgian and northern French beers.

The pioneering artisan beers of 30 years ago from Lille and environs (into Picardie, west to the Atlantic, east to Champagne) still do well. Jenlain, Trois Monts, La Choulette, Thellier, Gayant, Ch’ti are the main names. Jenlain was disappointing, thinnish and nearing the mass market taste IMO, at least the regular amber. I didn’t get to taste the others except for the amber of Ch’ti below.

 

It was rich-tasting, craft in every sense but demonstrated the house flavour, a “corky” taste I never liked.

The best beers I had were Brooklyn Brewing’s lager, Jupiler (very acceptable, malty and bitter), Guinness West Indies Porter – a newish, malty release that needs to appear here – and the IPA from BAP mentioned.

Good beer abounds in Paris, both in bar and at retail. With just a little effort you can seek it out. And what you’ll find is similar to here, a similar range of craft flavours with perhaps more influence from Belgium given its propinquity to France. By the same token, the cafe beers are quite similar to our mass market beers, in part due to international consolidation in the industry.

Finally, Belgium’s multi-generational influence in the international beer arena is a story unto itself. From the founding of the importer Merchant de Vin in the U.S. some 40 years ago, about the same time Belgian beer started to penetrate the U.K., to today’s exponentially larger craft and import industry, Belgian brews glitter in the beery firmament. Through times of boom and bust in craft brewing, of changes in the economy, Belgian brewing retains its lettres de noblesse. Whether this is merited is another question, for another day.

 

 

 

The Pâté of Houdan

“Protecting the old ways, for me and for you”

– “The Village Green Preservation Society” (Raymond Douglas Davies, 1968)

A feature of French gastronomy which gives hope to retain its distinctiveness and honour is the restoration of local breeds, and dishes based on them. One sees it occasionally in other countries; the Rare Breeds Survival Trust is an example in the U.K. But in France, the level of committment is nonpareil.

Examining Ninette Lyon’s charcuterie (cooked meat and sausage) selection for Paris-Isle de France in her 1985 Le Tour De France (Gourmand) Des Spécialités Régionales (Marabout), I decided to check on the fate pâté de Houdan. We have seen how at least two brie cheeses she mentioned, Melun and Coulommiers, still exist and are sold in Paris today, but what was or is Houdan and its pâté ?

There is a surprisingly rich history behind Ms. Lyon’s brief listing. Houdan is a locality west of Versailles in the Yvelines district of Isle de France, an hour’s drive from Paris. It was noted for its poultry market in the 1800s and until WW I. The village gave its name to a breed of chicken with many distinctive features, including its five toes versus four for most breeds, and its striking butterfly comb.

You can read in Wikipedia here details of the Houdan chicken. Its lineage is old and not fully understood, but the Dorking, an English variety also with the rare five toes, is thought to be part of the bloodline. In this regard, one might ponder that England ruled Houdan between the end of the Hundred Years War and 1475.

Its meat was highly prized and said to resemble partridge or fine pigeon. North Americans might think of squab, which is young pigeon. The breed was an aristocrat of the poultry family, as the poulet de Bresse is, and was formerly served at the Versailles and St. James courts. It was the subject of a detailed manual in 1874 by the Briton Charles Lee. (Read the introduction for a masterful exposition of Victorian gentlemanly tact).

The meat was used to make the pâté after a local charcutier devised the dish in 1850. To be sure, pâté in a pastry crust was not confined to this type of meat. It is a feature of northern cuisine in general – Amiens has one based on duck –  but is known elsewhere in the Hexagone, sometimes as a festive dish. There has been a revival of interest in recent years in such pâtés, and chefs have introduced their versions in recherché restos. This 2012 report from Le Figaro gives the background.

English cold pies based on hot water pastry are well-known, or used to be, and bear more than a passing resemblance to the French pâté en croute. Melton Mowbray pork pie is a classic example. Once again we see how English and French influences compare, contrast, and intermingle, in food, languages, and other aspects of culture to this day.

Gastronomic associations have strived in recent years to save the Houdan breed and promote the once-famous pâté made from it. A recent Confrérie devoted specifically to the Houdan chicken and pâté has held two annual events to celebrate this history and keep it alive. Details can be viewed on its Facebook page with numerous images of the rescued dish. This association is one of many in France which promote interest in traditional foods, dishes, and beverages – indeed one in Paris devoted to beer appreciation hosted the in-depth tour I attended last Tuesday of former Parisian brewing sites.

This level of involvement by the general populace  – not necessarily professionals of the food industry – testifies to the special relationship France has always had and still has with the world of food and drink. No other country can claim, even today and despite the advances made by foreign dishes in Paris, such lettres de noblesse.

A gastronomic restaurant in Houdan, “La Poularde de Houdan”, features the pâté, you can see it on the menu here. It’s not clear to me if the real Houdan meat is used as so few of the birds are left and are used mainly for show purposes, but at any rate the famous bird and old recipes are the inspiration. In fact, it seems the breed disappeared completely from France by the 1960s but it was re-introduced from breeding stock sourced in the U.S. and Germany where specimens had been maintained since the breed’s renown in the 1800s.

That a stylish country restaurant would place an old local dish on its menu shows a respect for tradition – and an interest in simple good eating – that is typically French. In other countries, restaurants rush to offer the latest, usually foreign-inspired fad, neglecting so often their own culinary or agricultural history.

Ms. Lyon mentioned poultry among other meats used for pâté in Houdan. This is probably because the meats were sometimes mixed as is characteristic often of pâté, but in any case the version based on chicken was a culinary star at one time in Isle de France and Paris. Writing in 1985, the influential Ms. Lyon thought fit to mention the tradition, something which perhaps contributed to its restoration in recent years.

This online culinary guide proposes an authentic formula for the dish which uses multiple meats including foie gras. More detailed recipes are available online for the dish or its general type. If anyone makes it – try it with squab instead of chicken – let me know you make out.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced at loulouchanel, a French historical images site, here. The second was sourced from the Wikipedia entry on Houdan chicken linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Hommage A Mme Ninette Lyon

Ninette Lyon was a prolific French culinary author and journalist. While writing many conventional books, some in English for Faber & Faber, she had an interest in food history. With Alan Davidson, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, and a few others she was a path-breaker to what is regarded today as a valid academic study.

Her inventory of French regional products and dishes written in 1985, mentioned in my previous post, is a landmark in food studies and deserves to be better known. You can buy it currently on Ebay here for a song. While essentially an enumeration – of some 350 pages – it is not bereft of her trademark humour, as when she says of coq à la bière, or chicken cooked in beer, in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, it should be made with a coq de combat (fighting cock), those “qui ne se sont pas montrés assez agressifs”. She adds, when you order it in a restaurant, it is far from certain you will get a former coq de combat, but it will be enough that they send you a rooster, not a chicken.

Below is a short extract of her Isle de France-Paris chapter, on charcuterie. (The cheese listing below it is only partial, it carries on on the next page but brie forms an important part. You can see images of brie de Melun and brie de Coulommiers today in my previous post mentioned, satisfying links to the past).

I had a brief correspondence with Mme Lyon c. 1990 a propos the French origins, as the case may be, of two Quebec dishes. She was extremely helpful and wrote me to boot in perfect English. I highly recommend her book to anyone interested in depth in French food. Indeed it is still relevant, if only to hunt down many rare but surviving specialties. And some things she remarks are quite contemporary, for example the infatuation of Paris with green beans. Indeed the legume formed part of three dishes on our short tourney of Paris recently.

I raise a glass to her memory.

 

Fun Food Facts – France

I’ll start with a due disclaimer: just a week in France, and only in Paris at that, must give a limited perspective on eating in the country. This is especially as everyone’s experience is defined by their choices, pocketbook, and parts of the city they saw.

Still, dans ce cadre, my impressions: when I first visited the city some 20 and 30 years ago, the central arrondissements had a large number of charcuteries, boucheries, cheese-vendors, and bakers. Their number seems far less now. Correspondingly, there are many more Franprix and other supermarkets, and frozen food shops.

Similar items are still sold but meat and cheese is packaged in foil or plastic wrap of some kind. In a word, the industrial food system now dominates over the older, artisan and shop-based one.

I am not saying none of the older-style shops exist, and probably there are more of them outside the city and in smaller towns. But I saw very few on a number of rambles through various parts of the Left and Right Banks.

A generation ago, you saw large piles of rillettes, the white/pink/scarlet/red-coloured pork spread described in Ninette Lyon’s 1985 Le Tour De France Gourmand Des Spécialités Regionales. The exact hue depended on the cooking time, she said. You saw the large Paris baguettes, 700 gr. as she describes, with a white and pliable crumb. Today, the baguettes seem smaller and saltier too than I remember. I didn’t see a single large pile of rillettes anywhere, or one shop indeed where the meats were hanging from rafters or piled on the counter unwrapped.

We had a number of different breads at our hotel each morning, part of the generous breakfast included with the room price. Good to eat certainly but generally the crumb was darker than I recall, perhaps reflecting more whole grain usage. The croissants and pains chocolat were similar though to past decades.

The flavour of the famous Auvergne ham, a Paris staple, seemed as good as ever despite the presumed change in packaging. Quality too depended of course where you ate it. The best I had was at a brasserie near boul. St. Germain, it was served sandwich-style, cut into small squares to facilitate eating with a drink.

These changes reflect of course the march of time. The kind of daily shopping the old economy permitted, when most mothers did not work, has disappeared with the much greater number of women in the work force and improvements in the day care system.

Food is still taken seriously of course, and overall quality is high as compared to North America, but changes there have been. One area that impressed much was cheeses. Our hotel provided a changing variety each morning and the taste was strong and pungent for the most part, reflecting limited or no pasteurization.

As to restaurants, we ate in bistros, brasseries and ethnic restaurants, so I can’t speak to the more traditional “cuisine” places often benefiting from a Michelin star or more. This part of the culinary scene is very active still and since menus must be posted by law, I was able to read many of them including from the Relais and Chateau down the street from our hotel. The Escoffier-based cuisine which was a Right Bank staple many years ago, only partly challenged by the nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s, seems largely replaced by a more diverse scene.

The old dishes are sometimes still available, but lighter cuisine and often the chef’s personal interpretation seem more the order of the day. One place featured the “molecular” cuisine, a fad in recent years. Some of the high-end places reflected the fusion trend which has been an enduring part of the culinary scene internationally. One good bistro we went to had dishes where Thai or other Asian influences were evident.

There are many more Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants than before, of excellent quality to be sure. The French, today, like international variety in their eating at least in Paris but Paris is a bellwether: il n’est bon bec que de Paris is an old adage. Bagels are a fad today, there are shops on almost every corner although the famous Jewish bread form looked rather pallid to me.

The one real disappointment was the reduction in classic bonne femme and provincial dishes that were the standby of every bistro and middle-class restaurant. Dishes like lentils from Puy with salt pork, roasted chicken, smoked herring and potatoes, sliced tongue, various fish preparations from the North sea (fish supplies are reduced, I saw pollack offered once!), onion soup, earthy andouillettes, etc. Only the steaks beloved of France are still available everywhere, the bavettes and rib steaks with the familiar pepper or butter or herb sauce and French fries on the side.

Vegetarian dishes and especially burgers have progressed in proportion. Burgers are hot in Paris. Almost every brasserie offers six or seven types. They looked good but it seemed odd to order one in France so I didn’t. Of course too all the major chains are there, McDonald’s, Quick (French-owned I believe), KFC, Burger King now, and more.

The old dishes certainly exist, I saw them here and there, but you have to search them out more. Food in restaurants on average is still of high quality, paralleling the general high quality of ingredients. A veal tournedos in port wine sauce stood out for me, and dish of lieu (colley, a cod-type fish) with chopped fresh cabbage. There was a faultless choucroute Alsacienne, the sauerkraut and meats dish of Alsace, and a fine tajine with lamb in a local market.

I should add that the old “zinc” or bistro which specialized in (generally) Beaujolais wines, reduced in number even 30 years ago, has almost disappeared. La Tartine on Rivoli street still carries the flag, and one or two others. The zinc bars still exist, physically that is with their curious warmth, repurposed for other uses. No wine is bottled any longer in the bistrot’s basement from barrels shipped by winery or wholesaler, at least that is what I was told. It used to be put in bottles without a label and you paid only for what you drank.

In general food “looks” more American than it used to. In part, our own food looks more foreign than it used to, or different anyway. Probably the twain are meeting somewhere on the way, as the languages will over time.

 

Paris Peregrinations

I will write some notes on our recent Paris journey, in three phases. First, general impressions of the city. Second, our reaction to the food scene there. Third, comments on beer in Paris (while not intending to focus on our pet subject, inevitably I was drawn to it when in situ).

As for 20 and 30 years ago when we first visited the city, the architecture is the main draw. At every corner you think you are in a museum of some kind, an outdoors one based on buildings, monuments, and the engineer Haussmann’s long-lived design. Paris survived almost intact the two major wars of the 1900s, and his work and the previous infrastructure left standing retain all their glory. You get a burnished golden look to many of his buildings which helps define the city.

This museum-character is virtually unique among major cities of its age and importance.

The famous Metro works as well as ever. The RER (interurban system often aboveground) works well too although in general the cars seemed older and scheduling less rigorous. Traffic is thronged, and somehow the city manages without the speed bumps and bike lanes which have made city-centre traffic so dense and slow-moving in many Western cities. I have a feeling there are aesthetic reasons too why these refinements of social paternalism are dispensed with there.

The city, while it has the same look as preceding generations stretching to the late 1800s, is however less French than before, dans un double sens one might say. The French language has increasing amounts of English in it, in public signage and in newspapers and other media. Even where French seems unaffected by English, one can see that many phrases borrow their word order and ideas from English. For example, the verb se positionner, or to position yourself (say to make a run for office), seems of this type.

Much of the business language in the press uses cant words from New York and London, but in French. I suppose practical people would say it’s gagnant-gagnant (win-win).

Many signs now are bilingual, one sees it in the Metro, the system to buy tickets certainly, in museums, in many shops.

I’d think in a couple of hundred years French will be replaced by English as the lingua franca (sorry).

As well, many more Parisians speak English than before. Not just in hotels and restaurants, but those whose work requires interaction with Britain, U.S., or other parts of the EU. Of course globality and the Internet promote all this. Still, knowing some French helps the visitor a lot. With my Montreal upbringing, expressing myself came easily but I had trouble following some of the French due to the speed and monotone style in which Parisians speak. Quebecois speak much more in a musical way which to my mind is more understandable, but it’s all relative. All the French I met expressed great interest in Quebec and many said they would like to visit here.

I told one person that most French Canadians trace their lineage to Normandy or Brittany. He expressed surprise at this and said the modern Norman accent is not like Quebec’s, but of course things change over time.

In mid-2017, most of the tourists seemed Asian or East or North European – very few North Americans. The reasons are well-known, especially the fear of more Islamist terror attacks. One sees soldiers festooned with submachine guns frequently in town, especially near the seats of government in the 2nd arrondissement.

A group of Czechs was in town wearing white and red football-like costumes, some with funny hats. A bunch of them, men and women, sat in a line in a cafe and ordered large mugs of beer at noon. My kind of crowd. We met some on the Seine tour boats as well.

The city remains very livable. Like London, it almost instinctively knows how to preserve a kind of tranquility once the traffic dissipates and dusk falls. This is achieved in other ways too. Walking for hours each day, I think I heard an emergency siren once or twice – in Toronto it would be many more times. There is less heavy construction, of course because so much of the city remains the same, hence less noise from that source.

I didn’t see any of the zones where large numbers of French and immigrants live of North African or similar origin. These areas must be relatively distant from the main arrondissements of the city centre. There is an ethnic diversity in that city centre of course, but it seemed not much different from decades ago.

The media especially tv seemed preoccupied with politics especially the election just held. The style of news seems much influenced by what we first saw in America, the panels where each speaker tries to shout down the other, the experts brought in from academy, army, or business to weigh in on this or that. It’s still very French though. Emmanuel Macron’s victory speech was a triumph of banalities in my opinion, just vague, inspirational talk, and he mentioned almost nothing of policy. Frequently this was the tone of the commentary as well including the print versions (Figaro and other newspapers).

There is an intellectual tone to all this that seems impressive but sometimes you get the impression people like to hear themselves, and others, speak…

In the end, Paris remains itself, and that draws untold millions to see its wonders, and will no doubt into the distant future.

A Note of Interrogation

Wine and Cheese Across the Hemispheres

In 1937 a columnist for The Argus in Melbourne, the pseudonymous Oriel, met an English visitor travelling for the chemical giant ICI. A chat revealed that in England, unadorned wine-tasting had been superseded by tasting the wines with cheese. The Englishman was a member of Liverpool’s “Food and Wine Society”. Likely this was an early chapter of the seminal, International Wine and Food Society founded by French-born André Simon, with A.J. Symons, in London in 1933.

The indefatigable M. Simon (1877-1970) ranged the world to set up branches, reaching New York but also for example San Francisco by 1935. It appears some British cities outside London were already in his orbit even before WW II.

Oriel’s account strikes just the right mordant tone, trumping perhaps two American counterparts who tried a similar approach, as discussed earlier in these pages.

Melbourne’s scribbler put it this way:

Wine tasting is one of the pleasantest epicurean pastimes to which a man of sensitive palate can be introduced but yesterday I heard a lot in favour of cheese-tasting as an appetising diversion. It was told to me by Mr Norman D. Lees, an English visitor whose business interests are associated with that vast modern enterprise Imperial Chemical Industries. Mr Lees who is a member of The Liverpool Food and Wine Society told me that besides holding regular banquets the society organises occasional cheese-tasting afternoons. He went on to enumerate the many kinds of cheeses of which the members are connoisseurs but seeing a note of interrogation in my glance he made haste to add that it was customary to sip wine between bites.

In those circumstances ORIEL makes haste to recommend the pastime to those Melburnians to whom plain tea-tasting and wine-tasting produce a sensation of insipidity.

Actually, The Wine and Food Society, now called the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS), already had a branch in Melbourne when Oriel did his reportage. It was established in 1936 as explained on the IWFS’ site, here. 

It may be of interest that the branches I’ve mentioned, and there are many more today world-wide including in Toronto, all continue in fine mettle.

Oriel’s full article may be read here, courtesy Trove digitized newspapers. The reference to tea was no doubt a dulcifying element, perhaps an editor’s addition. Melbourne always was the most prim of Australian settlements. As this was the 1930s one has visions of clubs and lawn bowling, posh homes, lazy fans, louvered ventilators. One part of society takes tea or learns the finer points of wine in soirées; another is resolute on the malt at plain chair and table, as I’ve explored earlier, too.

In one, the restrained, rather English tones of aspirant Melbourne; in the other, the broader twangs of Sydney and the more distant Territories. The salon; the cheery hotel.

That’s an acute observation about insipidity though, I’d never think to put it that way. Maybe he meant insensibility, but had to go with another word given the reference to decorous tea.

Who was Oriel, one wonders, so much is lost to the vaporous mists of history…

Note re sources used: the image above was sourced from an Ebay listing, here. The quotation from the Oriel column was sourced from the 1937 issue of the The Argus referenced in the text. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users, and are used herein for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Colour of Mauve

Wine is the colour of…

Major Ben C. Truman, a long-lived newspaperman, author, and expert on California wines, wrote a prescient piece in 1911 for the Pacific Wine and Spirits Review. It is well-worth reading as he predicted accurately the future of the industry. The only difference, albeit not a small one, from his shape of things to come was the hiatus of Prohibition and post-Prohibition. This was an enormous setback for the domestic wine industry. It took years for vineyards to recover in the 1930s, e.g., re-planting grapes more suitable for wines than table-grapes, only to be set back again by Depression and WW II.

By the 1950s, European producers in a revived European economy – boosted by the Marshall Plan – were sending lots of wine to the U.S. and establishing good markets both at the popular and high ends. As a result and due to the lost momentum of 1920-1945, California achieved at most a jug wine image and perhaps for decent table wines, but not more. The natural ascendancy to wine stardom which would have occurred by the 1940s had Prohibition and war not happened took another generation to achieve.

Hence the phenomenon of many American gastronomic dinners into the 1960s featuring only European wines, and perhaps too the kind of event I described in my last post.

(This doesn’t mean American wines were ignored by gastronomes, as I’ve explained in earlier posts. A latent appreciation for the top end of California production later merged with an international acknowledgement which started with the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Together they created a surging confidence in local production).

And so the American industry proceeded from an insecure, apologetic view of its wines, finally gaining an increased confidence by the start of WW I, losing the momentum with Prohibition, the Depression, and WW II, and slowly re-building to where it stands now. While many regions of the world have become quality, not just bulk, producers including Italy, Chile, and Spain, California wines especially from Napa and Sonoma retain high prestige. But it was something hard fought for.

Truman must be counted a pioneer, someone confident in his nation’s produce and not afraid to say so, often with a dry humour, and not a little boosterism characteristic of the good salesman.

 

Forty years ago no pretentious club house in California, and not a score of genteel home entertainers placed native wines on their tables — partly because they were inferior and partly because they were cheaper, and their use “not in good form.” All this has been metamorphosed, as all the clubs keep dry and sweet California wines altogether for general use, while their use in families and hotels and restaurants is quite as general and in perfectly “good form.” There are clarets and hocks, burgundies and rieslings and other red and white dry wines in our leading wine and grocery stores at present, as good and much purer than many of those whose bottles are bedecked with pictures of some old chateau on the Gironde or old crumbling castle on the Rhine; while such sweeter offerings as Cresta Blanca, Angelica and many muscatels appeal to palates that enjoy a luscious savor without an undue exhilaration.

Much more praise, even, may be bestowed on our ports and sherries and brandies — and especially those made in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California — whose flavors and other delicious qualities are quaint and fascinating, something one cannot describe any more than one can impart an idea of the different shades of mauve. The California port is the truest, the purest and best that can be obtained anywhere in the world at present, as all the imported ports have been sophisticated and most of them basely adulterated; and it is matter of fact that nearly all eastern physicians, in prescribing ports as a tonic or otherwise in a medicinal way, recommend California ports on the ground that they are honest and pure, while the Oporto ones are not.

Regarding our sherries, it may be truly said that, while they are honest and pure, and of great medicinal value, they do not as yet possess that nutty flavor given the “high-priced sherries” manufactured from cheap American whisky, water, burnt sugar, prussic acid and other chemicals in New York, and from potato spirit, maidenhair, capillaire, prussic acid, water and coloring chemicals in Hamburg, which sends out more “Genuine Amontillado” annually than leaves Cadiz in ten years. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as pure sherry— except the California sherry — in England or the United States today, and there has not been for more than fifty years.

Truman is an English name, well-known I might add among beer devotees with an eye on Albion. But Major Ben Truman, just as his namesake President Harry Truman, was a quintessential American, despite his likely English blood.

A Pot-Pourri of Gastronomy in the Glitter Era

Paging through some 50 years of Wine and Food Society of New York menus in the NYPL’s digital menu archive, one is continually struck by the richness and variety displayed. Later menus seem to encompass more dinners and buffets, although it may be luck of the draw that more of these appear than “straight” wine tasting menus, the earlier pattern.

An April, 1973 menu created to accompany a Society meeting that year sets forth a stunning five buffets, some comprising cold and hot items. The buffets were: Chinese, French, Italian, Mediterranean (Greek-, Turkish-, and North African-influenced in this case), and Scandinavian. The event was held at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.

Each buffet comprised about 20 items and the Scandinavian one had a dedicated cheese component. On top of all this, a separate cheese board was offered comprised of French and Italian selections. And on top of all this, there was a dessert table.

The wines were divided into aperitif, white, red, and rose sections, with a separate group of German Rieslings.

Numerous were in the popular category, which makes sense given the large number evidently in attendance. Some of the popular names are no less today, Riunite from Italy, Entre Deux Mers from Bordeaux, Liebfraumilch from Germany.

A similar approach could be taken today, except I think the rose category would be replaced by sparkling. Also, the sherry and vermouth offerings in the aperitif section have a period touch, one indeed that reaches back to the Thirties and Society events in its first 20 years. Today, cocktails more likely would be offered. At that time though, cocktails and hard liquor, except in the form of brandy or sometimes another spirit for post-dinner, were viewed askance. This was an article of faith in French-influenced circles, then.

There seems to have been an evolution in American drink habits as earlier events of the Society focused, for example, on “summer rum drinks”. With the increasing European influence on American gastronomy in the 50s and 60s, assisted by better communications and cheaper travel, the emphasis on the hard stuff lessened over time, at least judging by the menus available in the NYPL resource (perhaps 50, not a large sample to be sure). This has now changed and hard spirits and cocktails are much in vogue in all parts of the culinary world.

I can’t recall that bourbon or straight rye were ever the subject of a Society tasting. Park & Tilford had a blend of straight whiskeys in a late 1940’s tasting, but otherwise bourbon is rarely or never mentioned in the menus. Old New England rum, under the carriage trade label S.S. Pierce, was included in the after dinner drinks for another 40s tasting, which is nice. Someone saw that the New England rum heritage was passing and a taste of it should be included before it was too late.

There was no beer, which Beer Et Seq finds regrettable, but 1973 was just ahead of the start of the American beer renaissance. Beers would have been appropriate at least to accompany the smorgasbord (but then too no akavit was in evidence either). Tuborg beer would have been a good choice as it was a fine-flavoured lager in those years. Even Michelob would have worked, nay especially, as it too was a very sound product then. The New York-area breweries were closing fast but Schaefer was still being produced in New York I think, another good choice. No doubt such beers had a ballgame image then and weren’t considered. Ballantine IPA was still in the market though…

The thing that really stands out to me as unusual is the absence of American wines – not a single one was included. U.S. viticulture had greatly improved since the 1930s. The scene was already set for the Judgment of Paris. Given the popular focus of the wine table, a good Napa Chard or Cabernet would have fit well. Since the Society certainly occasionally tasted choice American wines from the 1930s through the 1950s at least, their absence seems odd. Perhaps since no element of the buffet was identified as American, it was felt no U.S. wines need be present. There was no German buffet presented, though…

I like the mix-and-match approach of the buffets. Apart from being typically American, or North American – our insouciance permits such helter-skelter – it shows the great strides foreign cuisines had made on the American culinary consciousness. It was people like James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Myra Waldo, Craig Clairborne, Graham Kerr, the Browns (husband and wife duo), and many others who laid the groundwork.

And so, what a party. Bang that gong.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced at the Bremer’s Wine & Spirits site, here. The second was sourced at the Culinary Institute of America’s website, here.  All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

A Wine and Cheese Tasting at the Pierre, 1945

In 1936 and 1939, the Wine and Food Society of New York held seminal wine-and-cheese tastings, events regarded by the press at the time as novel. Indeed they have no precedent we are aware of. If any similar events were held in the 1930s, it was probably in London or other branches of the same organisation founded by the gastronome André Simon.

The New York branch continued to mount tastings during the war although likely on a reduced scale. Quite naturally, these reflected wartime conditions. Few if any wines from France, Italy and of course Germany were tasted. Also, the surviving wartime menus – by which I mean those in the digital menu collection of the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org) – often are “stripped down”. They contain few introductory and taste notes, and are relatively spartan. See an example, here.

Inadvertently, by needing to focus more on domestic sources of wines, this gave no doubt a new appreciation of varietal and other interesting wines coming out of Napa and Sonoma in particular. The slow but steady rise in appreciation of American wine post-WW II in good part can be laid to this cause, in my opinion. True, the Wine and Food Society was small, but very influential. People like the New York-based James Beard, Craig Clairborne, Julia Child and Myra Waldo all would have known of its events and probably attended many of them.

In March, 1945, the Society held a Tasting of Red Wines, Cheeses and Cheese Biscuits. The venue was the iconic Hotel Pierre, on Fifth Avenue. Before discussing the approach taken, I might mention that it was by no means usual for the Society to table cheese at its wine tastings. In fact, judging again by the menus publicly available today (albeit a small sample), tasting cheese and wine together was the exception, not the rule. Many of the menus on the nypl.org site between the 1930s and mid-1950s mention no food at all or perhaps cheese straws or, at holiday time, cakes, mince pies, and similar. Sometimes other foods were tasted with wine, oysters, or a selection of hams.

This means I think that the idea of tasting wine almost invariably with cheese developed slowly, even though the Wine and Food Society was a – maybe the – key innovator here.

The 1945 tasting is interesting on numerous accounts. First, the war had not ended, although its end, at least in Europe, was near – Germany’s surrender came seven weeks later. Second, numerous cabernets and pinots from choice California vineyards were tasted, many with some years age. Numerous vineyards are still existing or remembered, e.g., Simi, Louis Martini, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu. Beaulieu in particular was a progenitor of the prestige Napa and Sonoma houses of today.

Third, brief tasting notes were included, modern in style and formulation. A Fountain Grove 1939 Sonoma cabernet was called “soft”, with “excellent bouquet and flavour”. An Inglenook pinot was compared favourably to a good French Burgundy. And so on, peruse the menu and read these impressions of 71 years ago, they read much like one would write today, and of essentially the same type of wines: cabernets and pinots, Zinfandels, and Italian-style wines, one said to be like a Chianti, mostly from California.

A couple of wines hailed from other parts of the U.S., one from Ohio. Winemaking in states other than California was widespread before Prohibition and it was starting to come back even in the east and central regions.

The ports were both American and Portuguese, the latter either prewar or perhaps shipped during the war by neutral Portugal if that was possible.

The cheeses were either domestic, or from Mexico, Argentina (a blue cheese), or Canada (Oka Trappist cheese, cheddar). Two have French and Italian names, Camembert and Bel Paese. I’d guess these were American versions.

One of the most interesting cheeses was a goat cheese from Arkansas, made from “mineralized goat milk”. The description is similar to what one might read today of artisan cheesemakers in Food and Wine magazine.

Crackers and cheese straws rounded out what was a very interesting event.

N.B. viz Argentine blue cheese: Argentina still produces blue cheese, indeed it makes something of a specialty of it.* See this discussion by blogger Dan Perlman of numerous current Argentine blues, one of which is pictured above, San Ignacio.

Note re images: The first image above was extracted from the original 1945 menu linked in the text, available courtesy the New York Public Library, www.nypl.org. The second and third were obtained from the producer`s website, here.  All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users, and are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*In a subsequent exchange with Dan Perlman in the comments section of his post mentioned, he indicated that Argentina does not really specialize in the blue cheese area, it’s just that he found the group of blues he reviewed interesting.