Pages

Dec 30, 2009

Two Great Food Products of 2009


As a food writer, I'm occasionally sent products for review. I'm happy to try them out, but it's rare that I find a product to be so exceptional that I'm willing to fork over valuable real estate to write about it. In fact, all this year I only reviewed two products: chocolates from Jean-Philippe Patisserie (in the Belagio, Las Vegas) and Fever Tree's new Ginger Beer.

However, there were two more new products this year that I wanted to tell you about. Since time is running out on 2009, I'm going to do quick reviews on both:

Donsuemor French Almond Cakes: Last year I wrote a review about Donsuemor's Madeleines, which were sinfully delish--as good as any madeleine I've ever had in France, and better than many. So earlier this year, when I received these French Almond Cakes, I approached them with a bit of skepticism. How could they possibly improve on the madeleines?

And, in fact, they don't actually improve on the madeleines; but they're not supposed to. These petite and elegant cakes head in a different direction, one that's equally luscious. They have a more "cakey" mouth presence, while being moist and light and almond-ish. I savored them slowly, one a day, always with a glass of milk. They are just heavenly. Donsuemor does a fabulous job with their packaged delights; they really do seem to be bakery-fresh. I continue to be really impressed with this company. For more info and to buy a supply of your own, visit Donsuemor's website.

OliVaylle Extra Virgin Olive Nectar: An Australian company, OliVaylle unabashedly describes this ultra-premium product as "the finest extra virgin olive oil in the world." It just might be! I have treasured every drop of this taste-explosion, saving it for simple salads where the nectar's slightly biting taste can rule in all its glory.

Australian olive oil imports are something new, but at one time the importation of Australian wine was new, too--and just look at what's happened with that. Australia's climate is similar to other wine- and olive-producing regions in the world: California, Italy, France, etc. So, really, it should come as no surprise that Australia can turn out a fabulous olive oil.

OliVaylle was founded in 1997 by Jorge de Moya with the express intent of producing the world's best olive oil. Moya's family-owned olive plantation and olive oil producing facility are both located in Victoria.

Why do they call it nectar? Simple: in classical mythology, nectar is considered the life-giving drink of the gods.

Visit the Olivaylle site, where you'll find lots of info and recipes for an Australian Family Dinner, a Cuban Fiesta, an Italian Date Night, a South African Fusion meal, and an evening of American Entertaining Elegance. You can also order Olivaylle's olive oil nectar in the site's shop.

Pop those corks tomorrow night, readers, and here's to a great 2010!

Dec 28, 2009

Bottle Shock: A Must-See for Wine Lovers

 Bottle Shock's  Jim and Bo

Over the Holidays I finally had a chance to watch Bottle Shock. This somewhat fictionalized 2008 movie recounts the stunning wine competition of 1976 that has come to be known as The Judgment of Paris. This blind tasting pitted then-upstart California wines (mostly from Napa Valley) against “unassailable” French wines such as Mouton Rothschild and Puligny Montrachet. To the shock of everyone involved, California's wines won easily in both white and red categories. At that moment, California wines stepped from obscurity and onto the world stage, where they have not only remained---but ruled.

Bottle Shock's judges

“The contest was as strictly controlled as the production of a Chateau Lafite,” wrote Time Magazine on June 7, 1976. “The nine French judges, drawn from an oenophile’s Who’s Who, included such high priests as Pierre Tari, secretary-general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes, and Raymond Oliver, owner of Le Grand Vefour restaurant and doyen of French culinary writers. The wines tasted were transatlantic cousins---four white Burgundies against six California Pinot Chardonnays and four Grands Crus Chateaux reds from Bordeaux against six California Cabernet Sauvignons.”

“The French judges,” stated the New York Times, “voted the 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and the 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars the two best bottles in the tasting. Both wineries are relatively new; both are in California’s Napa Valley.”

We don’t really hear about Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Bottle Shock, which focuses on Napa’s Chateau Montelena and its owner, as well as on the tasting’s organizer. Jim Barrett, played by Bill Pullman, owns the winery; he’s assisted, sort of, by his hippie son, Bo Barrett (Chris Pine). Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, the British wine shop owner who lived in Paris and organized the event.

Chateau Montelena

There was plenty enough in the actual events to provide lots of interest and dramatic tension, but for some reason the movie makers threw in a couple of side plots. Bo Barrett’s romance with a beautiful winery intern really didn’t add much (I’ve no idea if it was fictional or true, and don’t care). The other side plot was better: a real-life winery worker at Chateau Montelena named Gustavo Brambilia (Freddy Rodriguez) added color and depth to the Napa Valley story. However, after doing a little research today, I learned that Brambilia didn’t join the winery until after all these events had occurred. So even though he himself is not fictional, his actions in the movie were. Today Brambilia is in partnership with Thrace Bromberger in the Napa Valley winery, Gustavo Thrace.

The real Bo and Jim today

But the above paragraph is a mere quibble. If you’re at all interested in California wine, you’ll enjoy Bottle Shock. It's not brilliant, but it's amiable and fun. The Judgment of Paris is big and important history in the wine world, so it’s worth knowing about. And the Napa scenery is gorgeous--almost as good as driving through it yourself.

Also, one of my favorite-ever wine movie moments is in this movie. Alan Rickman, as Spurrier, travels all over Napa Valley, sampling wine to come up with the best selections for the blind tasting. You see him in hotel rooms, sitting on farm porches or in restaurants, always sniffing and tasting. In my fave scene he’s sitting at a small table outside, on a hill, with vineyards all around him and fading into the distance. He’s gazing at a glass of red wine in his hand.

Alan Rickman at work

The humble-looking winemaker walks to the table and places a small bowl of Guacamole and another bowl of chips on the table. Rickman, the proper Brit with French appetites, gazes curiously at the bowls and then takes a chance, scooping the guacamole onto the chip and into his mouth. It tastes good…he thinks, though he’s not quite sure. Then he lifts his glass and takes a sip. Rickman’s face lights up. It is the perfect pairing of moment, food and wine. If you have ever had a moment like that, and I hope you’ve had many, you will know exactly how he feels.

À votre Santé!

----------------------------------------
The Culinary Gadabout Recommends:

Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine -- a book by George M. Taber

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1976, a Paris wine shop arranged a tasting as a gimmick to introduce some California wines; the judges, of course, were all French and militantly chauvinistic. Only one journalist bothered to attend, a Time correspondent, looking for a possible American angle. The story he got turned out to be a sensation. In both red and white blind tastings, an American wine won handily: a 1973 Stag's Leap cabernet and a 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay. When the story was published the following week, it stunned both the complacent French and fledgling American wine industries—and things have never been the same since. Taber, the Time man, has fashioned an entertaining, informative book around this event. Following a brisk history of the French-dominated European wine trade with a more detailed look at the less familiar American effort, he focuses on the two winning wineries, both of which provide him with lively tales of colorful amateurs and immigrants making good, partly through willingness to experiment with new techniques. While the outrage of some of the judges is funny, this is a serious business book, too, sure to be required reading for American vintners and oenophiles. Photos.

Dec 19, 2009

A look at mythical NYC restaurant Le Cirque


Starchefs, a website devoted to professional chefs, has begun an interesting new series of articles devoted to the nation's "Mythic Kitchens." The articles will explore historic eras in famous kitchens---times when the stars lined up just right to combine the kind of food and chefs that helped build the definition of American cuisine.

First up in the series is an article by Heather Sperling that examines New York City's Le Cirque under Chef Daniel Boulud (whose legendary years at Le Cirque were 1986-1992). Below you'll find the first two paragraphs, and you can continue reading here.
Le Cirque, 1989
It’s 8:30pm, and kitchen of Le Cirque is working at a frenetic, feverish pace. The pre-theater crush has passed, the tourists are midway through their meals, and the crème de la New York crème have just settled into their coveted 8pm seats. Owner Sirio Maccioni strides into the kitchen: “Chef! I forgot to tell you that Paul Bocuse and Roger Verge are here, and the King of Spain is going to be 12 people, not eight.” Daniel Boulud nods tersely. As soon as Maccioni disappears back onto the dining room floor, the chef begins tearing through boxes of produce picked up at the market that morning. Truffles, foie gras, and Tuscan lardo di Colonnata, smuggled into the country after Maccioni’s last trip to Italy, are gathered and lie ready to be spun into special courses for the VIPs. As the kitchen buzzes around him, cooking for the nearly 100 other guests, Boulud puts down his head and begins to create. It’s 1989, and it’s just another night at Le Cirque.

“Sirio was such an unpredictable madman,” says Boulud, “and the greatest restaurateur in New York City.” Le Cirque always was—and remains—Maccioni’s creation. It was 12 years old in 1986 when Boulud took over for Alain Sailhac, and critic Bryan Miller had praised it in a recent three-star New York Times review: “Nowhere in the United States, nor anywhere else as far as I have seen, is there a dining room that crackles with the high-voltage energy of Le Cirque.” The restaurant was utterly vogue; the food, under Sailhac, was mid-century French with a touch of Italian, by request of the Tuscany-born Maccioni...  Continue reading

The Culinary Gadabout Recommends: Want to cook like Daniel Boulud? A good place to start is with Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud Cookbook: French-American Recipes for the Home Cook. Says Publisher's Weekly: "Echoing the French-American accent of food from his casual Café Boulud, the New York City chef also acclaimed for Restaurant Daniel encourages home cooks to prepare meals as he does, by attending to four inspirations: his own French tradition, seasonal foodstuffs, international flavors and the kitchen garden."

Dec 14, 2009

Top 10 Food Trends for 2010: The Food Channel

Not surprisingly, the economy is a big influence on food trends for 2010, leading to less time spent in restaurants and more cooking at home; more experimentation in dining; a boost in purchase of foods that are beneficial to health, and more. That’s according to Cable TV’s Food Channel, which lists as the upcoming year’s hottest Top 10 Food Trends:
  1. Keeping it Real: In a back-to-basics economy perhaps it is natural to return to basic ingredients. This isn’t about retro, or comfort food, or even cost. It’s about determining the essentials and stocking your pantry accordingly. It is about pure, simple, clean and sustainable. It's a shift from convenience foods to scratch cooking, now that we have more time than money and more food knowledge and concerns. Read more
  2. Experimentation Nation: Restaurant concepts are in flux as people redefine what going “out” to eat means. Gastropubs, fusion dining, shareables, and communal tables are all being tried. While this started because of the economy it will finish because consumers will indicate what works for them and what doesn’t. New concepts around “fresh” and DIY will do well. Experimentation is the trend, so we’ll see concepts come and go. Read More
  3. More in Store: The Food Channel predicts growth in grocery stores, particularly as private labels assume prominence. Those old generics have morphed into their own brands, so that there is a blurring and less of a caste system—there is no particular glory in using a “name brand” anymore (unless you are ketchup). And that’s not the only way grocery stores are growing. They have been paying attention to the trends and are doing things such as upgrading their delis and fresh take out sections, and are even returning butchers to a place of prominence. Just as in restaurants, the stores that can help redefine the family dinner table are going to show the most gains. Read More
  4. American, the New Ethnic: This is all about flavor delivery. Immigration has come to the plate, and we are now defining a new Global Flavor Curve. Part comfort, part creativity, the latest flavors are coming from the great American melting pot. So, it’s about grandma’s food, but the recipes may be written in Japanese. American food is distinctive in its lack of identity outside of the hamburger—until, that is, you mix in our heritage. This is the year we’ll do it in a big way. The presentation of food, the flavor, and the experimentation is coming into its own in 2010. Read More
  5. Food Vetting: You are what you eat, and we are big into understanding ourselves! That’s what’s leading this trend—our constant need for assurance that we are eating the right things, that our food is safe, that we are not ingesting pesticides or anything that will someday prove harmful. If we can provide jobs, help the economy, protect animals and ensure a sustained food supply at the same time, well, that’s all the better. Call it food vetting, sourcing or whatever you want—the issue is that people are asking where their food comes from. We call it the “new luxury food” because it can be more expensive to include that traceability into delivery, but we want it anyway. Read More
  6. Mainstreaming Sustainability: Sustainability has become mainstream. Unlike a year ago, when we were somewhat afraid to use the word, now it flows trippingly off the tongue. America is just now learning how to be sustainable, and Americans are holding themselves responsible. In 2010 we’ll see people and companies becoming sustainable for authentic reasons; they are doing it to make a difference. After all, that’s what comes with understanding. Read More
  7. Food with Benefits: Call it what you will—nutritional, healthful, good-for-you—but this trend toward beneficial foods is growing at a pretty big rate. Expect food to either have nutrients added, or have the word “free” (gluten-free, allergy-free). Just last year we talked about “functional food,” which was really about adding ingredients to pump up the nutritional value. Before that, it was “fortified.” Next year we see this idea morphing into a grown-up version. Read More
  8. I Want My Umami: The “foodie” has settled into a more universal designation of someone who loves food—not a food snob. The point is experimentation and a willingness to try new things. They are the ones who find their adventure leaning over the cookstove rather than climbing the mountaintop—although a mix of both would be just fine. The new foodie is driving all kinds of adventures in flavor, too. Read More
  9. Will Trade for Food: What do we do in a bad economy when we have more time than money and skills that we still want to put to use? We barter. The Food Channel predicts that we’ll all see more of the barter system come into play now that technology can assist with the connections. Read More
  10. I, Me, Mine: It really is about you. It’s the rise of the individual. While sharing has come into its own in restaurant concepts (goodbye additional plate charge), there is a separate but equal trend toward individuality. It’s part of the reason why we are making our own cheese, smoking our own meats, and making our own specialty desserts. Expect more attention to the individual, but it’s not just about portion size—it’s also about food that reflects personality. With the decline of the economy, it’s more important than ever that you have a voice. Read More

Dec 4, 2009

Great ways to use canned salmon


Fresh, wild-caught salmon is one of my favorite things to eat, but it’s expensive. So for a few years I’ve also gotten into Alaskan canned salmon. I really like it because:
  • It’s made from salmon caught in the wild, in cold Alaskan waters, with nothing added except a bit of salt
  • Like fresh salmon, It contains massive amounts of omega-3 and calcium, and is a good source of vitamin B12
  • It’s inexpensive
  • It’s versatile in the kitchen
For years I’ve been using canned salmon only to make salmon burgers, but lately I’ve been branching out. That’s thanks to a website I discovered run by the Alaskan seafood industry, which has an entire subsite devoted to canned salmon.

This subsite serves up a generous helping of recipes using canned salmon. Some of them don’t do much for me, but others open new possibilities for enjoying salmon in a can:
There are many more recipes for you to enjoy here.

From left: Salmon Meatball Soup,  Salmon/Spinach Pasta, Salmon Chili

Nov 23, 2009

Monterey’s Great Wine Escape Weekend

road_signt

Earlier this month I attended Monterey's annual Great Wine Escape Weekend and had a fabulous time. But who wouldn’t? The scenery is gorgeous everywhere you go. Outdoor and cultural activities abound. The cuisine is splendid, with top-rated chefs taking full advantage of just-picked produce in the region known as America's "salad bowl.” Not to mention just-caught fish landed by the local fleets, and locally-raised farm animals.

And, of course, there was the wine. In the last decade or so many of California's wine-growing regions have emerged from the huge shadow cast by Napa and Sonoma with strong contenders of their own. One of the greatest success stories is Monterey County, which is producing sensational wines with intense varietal flavors. In an upcoming post I’ll discuss a few of these wines in more detail, but right now I’d like to pass on a few highlights of my trip just in case you’ll be heading coastward sometime soon.

Monterey Plaza Inn and Spa

Monterey Plaza Inn and SpaI stayed at the luxurious and excellent Monterey Plaza Inn and Spa, located on the bay side of Cannery Row. Whoever designed this hotel had the priorities straight: no matter where I walked or stood I was confronted with a view of that big blue bay and the endless Pacific stretching beyond. Throughout the public area are dozens of viewing platforms, balconies, plazas, umbrella tables, benches, and chairs where you can lounge while gazing outward. The huge lobby offers a veritable surfeit of comfy couches, all arranged in cozy conversational groupings with full-on views.

I criss-crossed the outdoor piazza half a dozen times a day as I came and went, catching those awesome views at dawn, when the sky turned pink with the rising sun; at mid-day, when everything seemed to be one shade or another of blue; and late at night, when lights twinkled all the way down the Monterey Peninsula.

My room was quite spacious and beautifully done. Even the best hotels seem to have boring art on the walls, but there was something here—a reproduction of an ancient Monterey Bay map—that I would like to own. I had a pretty garden view (water views are much more expensive). The highly-rated Duck Club Grill is here, as well as the more casual Schooners Bistro. A full-on spa and a fitness center are resident, but, alas, I never had time to use either one.

River Road Wine Trail

hahn_estates If you’re into visiting wineries, you can’t miss with the absolutely beautiful drive along the River Road Wine Trail in the Santa Luca Highlands, where a dozen or so wineries—including Paraiso, Sleepy Hollow, Smith & Hook, and La Estancia—reside in bucolic splendor (many are open for tasting). Spending some time here, sampling wines and enjoying a picnic, would make for a memorable experience.

The Highlands became an AVA in 1991. The vineyards planted high in the southeast facing terrace of the Santa Lucia mountains, looking out toward Salinas Valley, experience long sunny days tempered by elevation and cool maritime breezes in the afternoon—particularly good conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the warmer canyons and slopes, Syrah and other Rhone-type grapes do quite well.

As always, I encourage winery goers to drive with care. If you know you’ll be sampling a lot, consider going with a professional driver. In Monterey, as in many wine regions, you'll find something to suit just about any pocketbook, from private limos to van tours. Our media group was very happy with Ag Venture Tours; they have pre-set tours you can join, or can work with you to craft a personalized itinerary.

Carmel Valley Wineries

chateau_julienAnother great wine adventure awaits on a drive through Carmel Valley, where many boutique wineries and tasting rooms have sprung up in recent years.

Our group of writers visited the tasting rooms for Heller Estate Organic Vineyards, Joyce Vineyards, and Robert Talbott Vineyard and Winery.

At the impressive Chateau Julien Winery Estate (pictured to the left) we sampled not only their excellent wines, but those of Galante Vineyards and Cima Collina. We also had a knockout lunch in one of the private rooms.

All the wines we sampled that day were excellent—not just my opinion but that of most of the other writers—but my favorite wines of the day were from family-owned Joyce Vineyards. The story about how this family got into winemaking to begin with is pretty interesting: after buying land high on a Carmel Valley hillside, they determined that the slope behind their house was so extreme that a landslide might wipe them away, so they decided to plant vegetation to hold down the soil. Grapes seemed a logical choice, given the southwest facing slope and loamy chalk rock soil, and so in 1987 they planted their first grapes.

As it turned out, Dr. Joyce had a talent for making wine. The winery now produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. We tasted only Pinots on our visit, and they were among the best I’ve ever had: extremely berry, sometimes cherry, notes; soft tannins; always elegant, with layers that just keep coming. Marvelous! The wines have won many awards.

The tasting room is in the Lyonshead Art Gallery in Carmel Valley Village (see below), with tastings Friday through Sunday. More details


Carmel Valley Village

Carmel Village On our Carmel Valley wine exploration we spent a few really delightful hours in Carmel Valley Village. Though I’ve lived in Northern California for a long time, and traveled in and around Monterey/Carmel/Carmel Valley countless times over the years, I had never heard of Carmel Valley Village.

This charming, bohemian place has evolved on its own over the years; there’s nothing even remotely commercial about these two short streets of small, simple bungalows that date from (I’m just guessing here) sometime in the 1920s to maybe the mid-1950s. Many have courtyards and arbors, all are surrounded by long-established trees and gardens. They hold shops, cafes, an antique shop, art galleries, and, of course, wine tasting rooms.

If this sounds good to you, the Village is about 12 miles in on Carmel Valley Road after you turn off Highway 1.

The Farm

sculpture - the farmIf you’ve ever driven through the Salinas Valley on your way to and from Highway 1, you’ve probably seen the giant, 18-foot tall cutouts of farm workers beside the highway (left). That’s the outdoor art gallery of The Farm. The figures, by Salinas artist John Cerney, show men harvesting lettuce, one of a great many products grown here.

This high-energy agricultural showplace is not only a farm but an education center where school groups and others come to learn about farming in today’s world. You can also buy fresh produce, take a tour, pet farm animals, and more. This is an enjoyable stop for anyone, but I imagine that kids, in particular, would really love it.

Cannery Row Tasting Rooms

cannery row Cannery Row has a few tasting rooms these days, and I managed to visit two.
  • Scheid Vineyards Tasting Room, 751 Cannery Row: A relaxed and convenient way to sample Scheid’s superb artisan wines. You’ll find a tasting and lounge area with a fireplace made of local stone; wine-related items are also for sale. Classes are given (winemaking to blending), as well as food and wine seminars, and you can arrange for trips out to the vineyard. Scheid makes delectable wines, many in the $50 range. But when I visited, the big hit among a group of wine writers was the $19 2007 Odd Lot Red. It was delish—and, as it turned out, consisted of a happy blend of various lots of wine that “highlights the best traits of each to achieve a harmonic whole.” That’s not marketing hype; it’s true! 
  • Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room, 499 Wave Street: Just off The Row and just opened, this attractive and friendly tasting bar is the place to go if you want to try something new. To be sure, Pierce offers wines you know about such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, but you’ll also find an eclectic mix of Bordeaux, Rhone, and Iberian varietals you may not know: Tempranillo, for instance, acknowledged as the flagship wine of the Iberian Peninsula. Or try Touriga, Cosecheiro, Vinho Doce, or Albarino. These varietals have been chosen because they grow quite well in Monterey County.
So, there you have it—a few good ideas, I hope, for your next Monterey County visit. You’ll have to wait until 2010 for the next Monterey Great Wine Escape Weekend: November 12-14, 2010

--------------------------------

The Culinary Gadabout Recommends: For a trip to any of California’s wine countries, bring along a copy of Backroads of the California Wine Country: Your Guide to the Wine Country's Most Scenic Backroad Adventures. The gorgeous pictures by Gary Crabbe and the lively text by award-winning travel writer (and my friend) Karen Misuraca make this book a “can’t miss.”

Photo Credits: MCVGA/Steven Gunnerson (Chateau Julien, Directional road sign for wineries, Hahn Winery); Suzie Rodriguez (Carmel Valley Village); The Farm (farm worker)

Nov 11, 2009

Fast Food, Obesity, and the USA


Click the chart to see its entirety

I just came across a fascinating New York Times article from last May. Written by Catherine Rampell, it refers to a report entitled "Society at a Glance" by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This report offers an overview of social and policy trends in the 30 member countries.

One of the trends tracked is how much time people in these countries spend eating and drinking. The French are at the high end, with nearly 140 minutes devoted to the table each day. Countries on the low end include Mexico, Canada, and--yep!--the USA. Americans rank third from the bottom with about 75 minutes per day spent on eating/drinking.

Rampbell plotted out the relationship between the time an average person in a given country spends eating and that country's obesity rate (measured by the percentage of the national population with a body mass index higher than 30). As you can see from the chart, Americans rank at the top, with nearly 35% of the population having a 30+ BMI. Korea and Japan, with less than 5% of the population reaching those BMI levels, ranked at the bottom.

Looking at this chart, it's difficult to deny the connection between eating speed--i.e., fast food--and obesity.

Viva slow food!

Nov 1, 2009

St. Helena Media Wine Tasting

CIA's Rudd Wine Center
Last week St. Helena held its annual media wine tasting, and I was there---lucky enough to sample five separate flights of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, a few other red varietals, and a few red blends. Nearly 50 wines in all, and with two exceptions they were all 2006 or 2007 vintages.
The tasting was held in the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art, sleekly-modern Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies, on the California campus of the Culinary Institute of America, just north of St. Helena.

St. Helena AVA: An Overview

ASH boundaries Courtesy Appellation St. Helena
The birthplace of Napa Valley’s wine industry, St. Helena has been an official appellation since 1995. Appellation St. Helena (ASH) is one of 14 sub-appellations within the Napa Valley Appellation. To see an interactive satellite map of ASH, with hot-linked wineries super-imposed, go here.
According to the association of Napa Valley Vintners, vineyards in this appellation are largely protected by the western hills from incursions of fog and wind. This helps to keep growing conditions warm, with mid-summer temperatures often in the mid- to high 90s.
St. Helena elevations range from about 150’ (the valley floor) to 600’ (in the hills); and soils are primarily sedimentary/gravel clay with low fertility to more fertile volcanic. With its Mediterranean climate, the valley has moderate rainfall primarily in winter.
Principal varieties/characteristics grown here include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot (deep, ripe, often jammy flavors, with firm tannins for structure, and appealing aromas of currant and black fruit); Rhone varieties such as Syrah and Viognier (fleshy, supple and slightly earthy); and Zinfandel (blackberry-like, well-structured).

So, anyway, the tasting…

St Helena 10-09 (2) (Large)Place Setting for the First Flight
Bob Dye, ASH President and co-owner of Charmu Winery with his wife, Louise, got the ball rolling with a quick welcome and then introduced three winemakers.
Mark Porembski, winemaker of Anomaly Vineyards, Charmu, and Zeitgeist, discussed the 2006 vintage, which he described as a “bit of a sandwich vintage” between the ‘05 and ‘07---a very good vintage, as it turns out, but one that apparently had had everybody worried at one point, since it had to work its way through massive rains, a delayed growing season, etc.
Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards talked about the 2007 vintage, which he described as the sort of “idyllic vintage winemakers hope and pray for.” Everything about the growing season was ideal, from elevated temps at the end of January, a slightly early bud break followed by perfect weather (moderate), and the harvest coming in a little early.
Pam Starr. owner/winemaker of Crocker & Starr Wines, discussed the 2009 vintage, just coming to the end of its harvest. Another wonderful year, with a dry-season start, followed by a burst of rain and then warm weather. A mild summer, with splashes of heat followed by cool-downs. And an early harvest: when the surprisingly early heavy rains hit on October 13th, most of the harvest was in.

The Wines

A few of the wines from the St. Helena media tasting
A few of the wines poured at the media tasting
When you’re talking Napa Valley wines, let’s be honest: there usually isn’t much, or even anything, to complain about. And that certainly held true for this tasting. A couple of wines tasted somewhat sour to me, but I’d need to try them again under different circumstances before I’d venture to pass judgment publicly. I don’t know what it’s like for others, but when I taste so many wines at once I find that negative taste feedback isn’t always accurate (on the other hand, when a wine strikes me as outstanding in the midst of such a tasting, it almost always holds up on later inspection).
Anyway, here’s a general comment about the tasting: with some exceptions, most of the 2006 and 2007 wines needed another year or two before drinking, and a few needed more than that. But for most of the wines, everything a wine should have was right there; that all-important structure was firmly in place. A little maturity and they will do very well; a few will do brilliantly.
Looking at my tasting notes, a few wines that stood out to me include (in no particular order):
  • Charles Krug/Peter Mondavi 2007 Limited Release Zinfandel St. Helena
  • Bressler Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Jaffe Estate 2006 Metamorphosis (a blend of 85% Cab and 15% Merlot)
  • Robert Biale 2007 Varozza Vineyard Zinfandel
  • Salvestrin 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Spottswoode Estate Vineyard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Vineyard 29’s 2006 Aida Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and its 2006 Clare Luce Abby Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Charmu Winery’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Whitehall Lane 2006 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Wolf Family Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Crocker and Starr’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chase Family Cellars 2007 Zinfandel (which comes from 106-year-old vines).
By the way, bottle price of wines tasted ranged from $25 (Charles Krug/Peter Mondavi 2007 Limited Release Zinfandel St. Helena) to $175 (Vineyard 29 2006 Aida Estate Cabernet Sauvignon). Both of these wines made it onto my informal “favorites” list before I had any idea of their price.
If you’d like to see a list of all wines tasted, as well as the winemaker’s tasting notes for each, go here.
All photos: Suzie Rodriguez

Oct 21, 2009

Winery Visits: Robert Mondavi Winery, Part 2

Bufano's St. Francis at the Mondavi Winery

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explored a bit of the background of Robert Mondavi Winery. But now let's take a look at what you'll find on a visit here...

Touring Mondavi

The first part of my visit to Mondavi consisted of a vineyard tour led by Senior Wine Educator Inger Shiffler. The winery offers something fairly unique: a small demo vineyard where major grape varietals are planted in clearly-labeled, side-by-side rows. This gives visitors the opportunity during the growing season to see the difference between varietal grapes, and from late summer until harvest they can taste that difference. When you nibble on a merlot grape and then a cabernet grape, believe me: any question you had about how those two varietals differ disappears instantly.

A special touch to the demo vineyard, one that I really appreciated, is the two rows of Mission grapes. California's first cultivated grape, it was originally planted in the late 18th century by Franciscan monks at the missions. I'd read about the Mission grape, but never had the opportunity to bite into one. They're not particularly tasty, as I found out (what was the wine like?!), but I nibbled on quite a few just for the sheer historic pleasure of the experience.

Robert Mondavi Winery offers five distinct tours and/or tastings and a few wine education classes, allowing you to enjoy an experience that's perfect for you. Want something simple and inexpensive? Wine Tasting Basics is a real bargain: for $15, you'll get a 45-minute tasting led by a wine educator, covering how to read a wine label, why and how to swirl wine in a glass, and how to smell, taste, and describe wine. Curious about the Reserve wines? The $50 Reserve Tasting, in the company of a wine educator, gives you the chance to taste some of the winery's limited production, reserve, and older vintage wines in a private tasting cellar. You can read about these and other tastings/tours here.

We spent about half an hour in the impressive, multi-level, state-of-the-art To Kalon Fermenting Cellar, where Reserve, District, and vineyard-designated red wines are produced and barrel-aged. I found To Kalon fascinating in the way it combines the best of old and new. It's an architectural study in minimalistic modernism and populated with the latest technology. But the grapes were being sorted box by box, by hand---an expensive but quality-producing undertaking that you don't often see. Wine is moved from crush to fermentation to barrel aging by the ancient principle of gravity flow. The Cellar is filled with these wonderful contradictions.

The Arts at Mondavi

Emerging from To Kalon, we were met by VP of Cultural Affairs Margrit Mondavi. Originally from Switzerland, Margrit joined the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967, a year after its founding. At that time, wineries did not entertain visitors other than to pour wine; they didn't offer art galleries, bocce ball courts, restaurants, and most didn't even have a gift shop. But, says Margrit, "I had a dream to show wine with art, music and food."

Margrit Mondavi

Almost immediately she began turning that dream into reality. Supported in her efforts by her her husband, Robert Mondavi, she founded the winery's Summer Music Festival in 1969, which is still going strong (headliners over the years include Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Harry Belefonte). In the 1970s, she introduced cooking classes at the winery designed to pair wine and food (Margrit is co-author with her daughter, a professional chef, of a cookbook, Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen). She has created countless other programs and undertaken projects of all sorts, but that would take a book in itself, so we'll stop right here.

On my visit Margrit showed us a portion of the winery's Benjamino Bufano collection. If you live in the Bay Area, you can't help but get to "know" Bufano. Born in 1898 in Italy, he moved to the USA at the age of three. Eventually settling in San Francisco, his streamlined, minimalistic works of people and animals (often in marble) can be found throughout the Bay Area. Known particularly for his large sculptures---as, for example, the huge, mosaic/glass/bronze sculpture of Saint Francis that stands at the winery's entrance (shown at the top)---Bufano also produced smaller pieces, such as Dromedary and Camel, shown below, which is owned by Robert Mondavi Winery. I was told that children love to sit atop these camels.

Dromedary and Camel, by Bufano

Food at Mondavi

Then we were off to enjoy lunch with Margrit on the patio of the Vineyard Room, sitting 'neath huge umbrellas and soaking in the vista of vineyards, mountains, and sky. Winery chef Jeff
Mosher prepared four courses paired exquisitely with Mondavi wines.
Beet, Carrot & Navel Orange Salad
Pickled Shallots, Pistachio Citrus Vinaigrette
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Chardonnary Reserve

Seared Loch Duart Salmon
Garden Eggplant Puree
Grilled Late Summer Vegetables
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Pinot Noir Reserve

Pan Seared Niman Ranch Ribeye
Mashed Purple Potatoes
King Trumpet Mushrooms, Butternut Squash, Cipolini Onions
Bordelaise Sauce
2005 Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon

Apple & Huckleberry Galette with
Amaretti Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
2008 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Moscato d'Oro
Throughout the meal I was reminded anew of how incredibly drinkable Mondavi's upper-end wines are. Excellent on their own, but when paired with the right food they are unbeatable (I particularly liked the Ribeye/Cabernet pairing).

You, too, can enjoy such a meal at Mondavi. Three days a week the "Harvest of Joy" program includes a winery tour followed by a three-course lunch paired with signature wines in the Vineyard Room. Other food and wine programs available include the ultimate "Four Decades" Tasting and Dinner---you'll taste wine from the 70s on up to today and enjoy an all-out dining experience.

So...I ended my first post by wondering how the legacy of Robert Mondavi has held up in the 1.5 years since his death. I'm not wondering any more: this winery continues its adherence to excellence with wines, the arts, and the visitor experience. What more can you want on a trip to Napa?

==========
Want to learn more? These books are a start:

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry. This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success. Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading.

Buy Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business
---------------------------------

Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

From the Publisher: The wines of the Robert Mondavi Winery are acclaimed the world over. Less well known is the fact that the winery features a private dining room to rival the best restaurants in the Napa Valley. Here in the Vineyard Room, innovative chef Annie Roberts brings a refined sense of taste and balance to her creations, always designed with the perfect wine in mind. The winery is also home to elegant music and art events, all planned to perfection by Annie’s mother, Margrit. And so a mother and daughter come together to deliver a wine country experience like no other. In Annie and Margrit, renowned cookbook author Victoria Wise shares behind-the-scenes stories of Annie and Margrit’s collaboration over time, along with Annie’s fabulous recipes, reflecting treasures and traditions from her mother’s cooking and influences from life in the Napa Valley. From the start, Margrit and Annie cooked with one another, Annie learning at Margrit’s stove. Years later, Annie became the first executive chef of a winery in the Napa Valley, and developed a repertoire including Squab with Cabernet Sauvignon–Onion Marmalade and Spatzli; Salmon Fillets with Whole Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc; Poussins with Swiss Chard Gratin; and Fresh Plum Galette. Annie and Margrit takes you inside the Mondavi experience, evoking the tastes, sights, and sounds of a day’s visit to the winery.

Buy Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

Oct 20, 2009

Winery Visits: Robert Mondavi Winery, Part I


Robert Mondavi Winery and Vineyards (Credit: Mondavi Winery)

One day earlier this month I turned off Highway 29 and headed down the long drive toward Robert Mondavi Winery. It was late morning, a crisp and cool day, and well into the autumnal harvest and crush. Before me the earth-toned winery, which resembles one of California's ancient missions, melded beautifully with the landscape; beyond, the extensive Mondavi vineyards stretched north and south, backdropped by the rising hills on the Valley's western side.

Even though Mondavi is one of my favorite Napa destinations, I hadn't been there in ages. As a travel, culinary, and wine writer living in wine country, it seems there is always something new that I need to check out: a winery resembling an ancient Persian capital (Danioush Winery), a stunning vegetarian restaurant (Ubuntu), the latest martini on the Martini House menu. By necessity, old faves often get pushed to the back burner. Over the last couple of years I'd driven past Mondavi countless times, thinking: "You need to visit again." Now, thanks to an invite from the winery, I was joining a few other writers for a tour, followed by lunch with VP of Cultural Affairs Margrit Mondavi.

Unless you're a vinophile, you may not realize the impact this particular winery and its founder have had---not just in Napa Valley but across the entire world of wine. Established in 1966 by Robert Mondavi, it was the first large-scale winery built in the Valley since pre-prohibition. Mondavi knew what he was doing: the son of a winemaker, he'd been involved in the making and business of wine all his life. Before long, the new Mondavi winery gained worldwide recognition for the excellence of its wines. In Mondavi's wake a new generation of winemakers began moving into the Valley.

Napa Valley was much different in 1966 than it is now. Prohibition and the Depression had killed off much of the once-prosperous wine industry, and the area had become something of a backwater. I've talked to people who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in the Napa town of Yountville, which they describe as being, then, an extremely poor farming community. Today Yountville is one luxurious town, home to some of the finest resorts and best eateries in Northern California. It's also where you'll find the three-star French Laundry, considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world.

Although there had been a slow-but-steady re-emergence of Napa winemaking after World War II, there weren't really that many wineries in the Valley in the 1960s. I once heard Jack Cakebread talk about the first couple of years he and his wife, Dolores, spent on their land back in the very early 1970s, establishing the highly-successful Cakebread Cellars. There was so little traffic on Highway 29---now a busy, busy road---that when they heard a car coming they'd peer out the window to see who it was.

At any rate, in Napa and even in the much larger world of wine Robert Mondavi is invariably credited with kicking off and then guiding Napa Valley into the pre-eminent position it holds in today's world. When Mondavi died in 2008, the Wine Spectator called him a "visionary winemaker and brilliant marketer" who was:
"One of the most influential and admired winemakers in California history...His name, influence and passion for wine and life spread well beyond Napa and California. Winemakers around the world credited Mondavi with encouraging them to set higher standards and make better wines...Mondavi's love of wine spilled over into what he termed a gracious way of living. He showed a deep appreciation for music and the arts, and he embraced fine cuisines of the world and elegant dining, in which food and wine enhanced each other. As Mondavi's reputation grew, the stylish Mondavi winery became a mecca for visitors to Napa. Its educational tours and tastings, art shows and summer concert series became a focal point for many tourists."
As I parked and headed toward the winery, I was curious to see how the great Mondavi legacy had held up in the year since his death.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of my visit to Robert Mondavi Winery

==========
Want to learn more? These books are a start:

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry. This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success. Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading. Buy Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business
---------------------------------
Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories
from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

From the Publisher: The wines of the Robert Mondavi Winery are acclaimed the world over. Less well known is the fact that the winery features a private dining room to rival the best restaurants in the Napa Valley. Here in the Vineyard Room, innovative chef Annie Roberts brings a refined sense of taste and balance to her creations, always designed with the perfect wine in mind. The winery is also home to elegant music and art events, all planned to perfection by Annie’s mother, Margrit. And so a mother and daughter come together to deliver a wine country experience like no other. In Annie and Margrit, renowned cookbook author Victoria Wise shares behind-the-scenes stories of Annie and Margrit’s collaboration over time, along with Annie’s fabulous recipes, reflecting treasures and traditions from her mother’s cooking and influences from life in the Napa Valley. From the start, Margrit and Annie cooked with one another, Annie learning at Margrit’s stove. Years later, Annie became the first executive chef of a winery in the Napa Valley, and developed a repertoire including Squab with Cabernet Sauvignon–Onion Marmalade and Spatzli; Salmon Fillets with Whole Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc; Poussins with Swiss Chard Gratin; and Fresh Plum Galette. Annie and Margrit takes you inside the Mondavi experience, evoking the tastes, sights, and sounds of a day’s visit to the winery. Buy Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

Oct 15, 2009

Recipes from The Golden Door

The Golden Door Cooks at Home
The Golden Door has been the premier destination spa in the USA since the day it opened its doors back in 1959. With architectural elements modeled after 17th- and 18th-century Japanese inns, and with programs incorporating Zen philosophies of balancing physical and spiritual health, it has revolutionized the way America thought of the spa experience.

Bold and innovative cuisine has always played a major role at the Golden Door. Eschewing food fads and fleeting diets, the spa’s ever-evolving menus have always been grounded in timelessly healthy and delicious whole foods, reminding guests that a healthy lifestyle can be a pleasurable choice. And now---in the new Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite Recipes from the Celebrated Spa---the spa’s executive chef Dean Rucker shares his most sought-after recipes and cooking tips.

With a focus on lean proteins, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and other wholesome foods, the book’s recipes combine ingredients in remarkably delicious ways. The book also includes a detailed list of SuperFoods, and sidebars on mindful eating, meditation, and fitness.

Try out this recipe from the book:

Adobo-marinated flank steak

Adobo-Marinated Grass-Fed Flank Steak
with Spinach Salad and Roasted Poblano Dressing
This recipe serves 4

Notes: (1) Adobo seasoning is a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, cumin, oregano, and cayenne---delicious on beef, poultry, and grilled vegetables. It can be found in the Mexican or Latino foods section of many supermarkets. (2) You can use the grill to roast the red bell and poblano peppers for the salad and dressing.

For the steak:
  • 1 pound grass-fed flank, skirt, or strip steak (about 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 orange)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 2 teaspoons adobo seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the pickled red onions:
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon
  • sherry vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar
For the spinach salad:
  • 2 ears corn, husked
  • Olive oil, grapeseed, or canola spray
  • Roasted Poblano Dressing (recipe below)
  • 1/4 small to medium jicama (5 ounces)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 12 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, grill-roasted (page 74), peeled, seeded, and diced, or 1/2 cup diced store-bought, drained, roasted red peppers
  • 1 medium avocado, cut in 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 ounce queso fresco, crumbled (1/4 cup)
  • Kosher salt (optional)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
Preparation:
  1. Prepare the steak. Place steak in shallow pan just big enough to hold it. Whisk together orange juice, lime juice, adobo spice, cilantro, and garlic. Pour over the steak and turn the steak over to fully coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare the pickled red onions. Place the red onion in a small bowl and add the sherry vinegar and sugar. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.
  3. Prepare a medium-high grill or set a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly spray the corn all over with oil and place on the grill. Grill until nicely marked on all sides, turning with tongs as necessary, about 5 minutes total. Remove from the grill and let cool. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the ears and set them aside. Discard the ears.
  4. Prepare the roasted poblano dressing (recipe given below).
  5. Remove the steak from the marinade and season on both sides with salt. Grill until the outside has nice grill marks and the center is pink, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
  6. While the steak is resting, finish the spinach salad. Peel the jicama and cut it into 1/2-inch dice; you should have 1 cup. Toss with the lime juice and set aside. Put the spinach in a large bowl. Add the roasted peppers, the reserved corn, and the jicama. Add the avocado and queso fresco. Pour half of the roasted poblano dressing over the ingredients and toss to coat well. Taste and season with a pinch of salt if desired. Thinly slice the steak against the grain.
  7. Mound the salad in the center of a large serving platter. Fan the steak slices on top of the salad. Spoon the pickled onion with its juice on top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Serve.

Roasted Poblano Dressing

Mildly spicy poblano chiles are roasted to soften them and add delicious, smoky flavor. When blended with the other ingredients the peppers become a creamy, emulsified dressing. Makes 1 cup
  • 2 whole poblano chiles, roasted (page 74), peeled, and seeded
  • 4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
In a blender, combine the poblano chiles, vinegar, agave syrup, garlic, salt, and 3/4 cup water. Blend until well combined but not completely smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the cilantro and pulse a few times until it is chopped. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Buy Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite Recipes from the Celebrated Spa on Amazon

Oct 8, 2009

Riskiest FDA-Regulated Foods

Leafy greens, eggs, and tuna are on the top of a list of the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  • Leafy greens: 363 outbreaks involving 13,568 reported cases of illness.
  • Eggs: 352 outbreaks with 11,163 reported cases of illness.
  • Tuna: 268 outbreaks with 2,341 reported cases of illness.
  • Oysters: 132 outbreaks with 3,409 reported cases of illness.
  • Potatoes: 108 outbreaks with 3,659 reported cases of illness.
  • Cheese: 83 outbreaks with 2,761 reported cases of illness.
  • Ice Cream: 74 outbreaks with 2,594 reported cases of illness.
  • Tomatoes: 31 outbreaks with 3,292 reported cases of illness.
  • Sprouts: 31 outbreaks with 2,022 reported cases of illness.
  • Berries: 25 outbreaks with 3,397 reported cases of illness.
These 10 foods account for nearly 40 percent of all foodborne outbreaks linked to FDA-regulated food since 1990. That's no reason to forgo the occasional salad Niçoise, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which authored the report, nor need one pass up tomatoes, sprouts, and berries, even though those foods are also on the list. But the nonprofit watchdog group says the presence of so many healthy foods on such a list is exactly why the United States Senate should follow the House and pass legislation that reforms our fossilized food safety laws.

In July, the House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act with broad, bipartisan support. That measure would give FDA authority to require food processors to design and implement food safety plans, provide specific safety standards that growers would have to meet, and require FDA to visit high-risk facilities every 12 months or less, and most other facilities every 3-4 years. In the Senate, similar legislation, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), is pending.

Download a free PDF from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that details the ten riskiest foods regulated by the U. S. FDA.

Oct 5, 2009

NY Times' sad and shocking cautionary tale

If you buy frozen ground beef patties, or regularly consume fast-food burgers, you must read "E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection." The article appeared in yesterday's New York Times, and its revelations about the the fast-and-loose manner in which many meat processing plants play with our health are nothing short of shocking.

Author Michael Moss introduces the piece by telling the story of Stephanie Smith. A children's dance instructor, she was 20 years old in 2007 when she ate a hamburger grilled by her mother. The patty was part of a batch of frozen burgers made by food producer Cargill and labeled "American Chefs Selection Angus Beef Patties." Stephanie contracted E. coli (O157:H7) from the burger, developed seizures, and entered a 9-week coma. Ultimately, as a direct result of eating the burger, she became paralyzed from the waist down. She will probably never walk again.

The label of the contaminated burgers specify Angus Beef Patties, but as Moss makes clear in his article:
"Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria."
Moss traces the various routes of the meat, fat, and trimmings that comprise the burger, discussing the lack of inspection along the away. It's an infuriating eye-opener about a system that's supposed to protect the American consumer but---what else is new?---has fallen down on the job. Badly.

More Info