Tasting Costa Rica In Chocolate

Four samples of Nahua chocolate: 100%; 90%; 70%; and one with an additional ingredient to be identified during the tasting session

Our first taste of place experience was a small gathering, but a lively one, and fulfilled our objective. Today we continue with our second event, focused on the ingredient-sourcing, production, and sustainability aspects of bean-to-bar chocolate. We will also taste four different chocolates, each with a different level of chocolate and one with an added mystery ingredient. Our supplier, Nahua, is a pioneer in Costa Rica’s sustainable cacao farming, as well as in gourmet chocolate production. Guests at this event will learn about the history of cacao in Costa Rica, much less well known that the history of coffee here but rapidly gaining a global following.

Tasting Costa Rica In Mead

Today we start a “taste of place” series with Costa Rica Meadery as our first artisanal showcase. And the first beverage we will be tasting is this best-selling mead that celebrates Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. A fusion of a mead, a “chicha”, and a local drink called “agua de sapo.” Made with multifloral honey, ginger, native corn malt, and spices from the north. Very refreshing, light-bodied with a strong aroma and taste of ginger and citrus.”

The idea is to taste all that with a small portion and a brief discussion, and then onward to four other mead products. Come taste the place!

Taste Of Place Experiences In Costa Rica

While bee populations have waned throughout rural America, urban hives are thriving in cities such as Detroit, producing honey that’s reminiscent of mint, clover or goldenrod. Photo by Patricia Heal. Prop styling by Martin Bourne

Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:

The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading

Authentica & Sense Of Place

After completing our work in India and transitioning home to Costa Rica in late 2018, two properties came back to the forefront of my attention. The property above is set on a coffee estate in the Central Valley and the one below is set on a Pacific beachfront property that is 90 minutes from the Central Valley property. I knew both properties during their original construction and opening phases and ever since then believed that these were among the most special Marriott properties in the world.

They were going through renovations that started in 2018 and were to be completed in late 2019. My attention was drawn by a creative new focus on sustainability, the tiniest of examples being this one. Another example was that they invited proposals for how the gift shops in both hotels might be managed differently going forward. We submitted a proposal–with a focus on locally produced and design-forward products–and it was chosen for implementation. The rest is history that I have written about plenty in the last year.

Authentica has started its second year of operation, and Costa Rica has just re-opened its borders to receive international visitors again. These two Marriott properties have transformed operations to ensure maximum safety in response to the global health concerns. Our shops have transformed accordingly, and yet our original intent is as strong as ever: come in and sense the place.

Organikos coffee, our best-selling “taste of place” product, was joined in both shops last week by another way to sense the terrain of Costa Rica’s various regions. Pollen Keepers is a small family business whose bee colonies are placed to capture unique characteristics of a location. One of those is a coffee farm, and the honey produced there is unlike any I have had before. I am still learning the vocabulary for tasting notes for honey, which we have been sampling in recent weeks at home, so will keep it simple: Cafetal is my favorite, so far.

Brewing, Tradition & Innovation

Trucks loaded with hops (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

Outside Magazine offers this primer on the ascendence of one of the key ingredients in one of the oldest fermented beverages:

How Hops Became the Star of American Brewing

The craft beer revolution turned the tall cousin of cannabis into a breakout ingredient, infusing your brew with flavors and aromas that range from stone fruit to barrel oak. Christopher Solomon hits the road to understand why hop madness isn’t over yet—and why brewers and plant breeders are always on the prowl for the next big thing.

Hop harvesting in Washington State’s Yakima Valley (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The 2019 American Hop Convention, held in January in Monterey, California, was part agriculture conference and part old-home week. Almost all of the nation’s beer hops—and roughly 40 percent of all hops in the world—are grown by about 75 farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, many of them owned by families who have farmed hops for four or five generations. At the convention, everybody seemed to know everybody. This gave a loose feel to the proceedings, which recognize and celebrate the fact that only one thing can be done with the crop the conventioneers produce: mix it with malt and water, ferment the liquid, and drink the beer you’ll get after a few weeks. During afternoon coffee breaks, everybody cracked a cold one.

That wasn’t the only reason for the festive mood. The past 15 years have witnessed a spectacular surge in craft brewing in the United States; more than 85 percent of Americans now live within ten miles of a brewery. U.S. beer culture, once a punchline, has become the most vibrant on earth.

Hop bines being loaded into a machine that shakes out the aromatic cones (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The hop industry has been a beneficiary and driver of this renaissance. Hops once were considered a drab ingredient, tossed in mainly to preserve the beer, thanks to antibacterial properties of the resins found in hop flowers, which are also called cones. Today, hops are the star of American brewing. Continue reading

Transporting Via Words & Photos

On the Madison River in Ennis, Mont.

Thanks to the author and her publisher for taking us there:

In Montana, the Art of Crafting Fly-Fishing Rods

“One thing about Montana,” says Matt Barber, an owner of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, “is if there’s a moving body of water, there is probably a trout in it.”

Photographs and Text by

Shiny agate stripping guides — through which the fishing line will run — are wrapped (attached to the rod) using garnet thread and brass wire.

I live only a few miles away from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, Mont. But entering the workshop feels a little like stepping off a plane in a foreign country.

A row of rods ready for handle-shaping.

The language that circulates around the shop catches my attention. Continue reading

Aficionados-R-Us

Tandoh-cheese

When you talk with aficionados, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to veer away from curds, whey, and mold, and toward matters of life and death. Photograph from Alamy

Ruby Tandoh, a food writer and the author of “Eat Up!,” has written an essay that fits perfectly on our platform. It happens to focus on the culture of cheese, which has not featured much here because for the first six years we were in India and since then we have been back in Costa Rica, and there is not much of a culture of cheese in either of those locations. But aficionado should be a category with which to tag most of our posts, whether the topic is coffee, authentic artisan handicrafts, sustainable travel, etc. So thanks to Ruby for emphasizing the aficionados in her essay (I will save for another day the surprise of feta cheese, which a farmer in Costa Rica is now making at Greek quality level):

How a Cheese Goes Extinct

The late Mary Holbrook, a white-haired maestro in the British cheesemaking world, was known for her soft cheeses and her sharp temper. Once a week, she made the trip from Sleight Farm, her home in the southwest of England, to London to check on her wares as they ripened in the maturation rooms of an upscale cheese shop. Holbrook’s apprentices, hardened to her singular style of mentorship, knew to brace themselves for reprimands when she returned. Occasionally, though, Holbrook would come back with bags of treats—yogurt, mangoes, sweets—which she spilled across the kitchen table of her cold mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse on the crest of a hill, and they knew that the cheese must be tasting good, and that Mary’s little world was in order. Continue reading

Hats, History, Heritage

Mr. Espinal, 52, is widely regarded as the greatest living Panama hat weaver. All photographs by Roff Smith

Having lived and worked in Central America and South India, weaving with palms for shelter and adornment has been part of cultural norms. But in most cases, the craftsmanship has been simplified versions that lacked permanence – for the sake of festivals, traditional artesania , or with the knowledge that the woven shelter would last several seasons of rain before requiring replacement.

The artisan ethos described here mirrors both the fine work and collaborative efforts of Kerala sari weaving communities like Chendamangalam. In all cases, the “stuff of royalty.”

A Glimpse Inside the Workshops of the World’s Finest Panama Hat Makers

Creamy as silk and costlier than gold, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion.

Creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion. The finest specimens have more than 4,000 weaves per square inch, a weave so fine it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used — only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration.

“You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” says Simón Espinal, a modest, soft-spoken man who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats, possibly the greatest ever. “When you are weaving it is just you and the straw.”

Mr. Espinal’s hats average around 3,000 weaves per square inch — a fineness few weavers have ever even approached. His best has just over 4,200 weaves per square inch and took him five months to weave.

The 52-year-old Ecuadorean is one of a dwindling number of elite Panama hat weavers, nearly all of whom live in Pile, an obscure village tucked away in the foothills behind Montecristi, a low-slung town about 100 miles up the coast from Guayaquil.

Continue reading

Wine & Biophilia

22Pour-Illo-mobileMasterAt3x

Brian Britigan

Biophilia is a frequent topic here; wine, only a fraction as much. An article touching on both is a rare treat:

From Good Wine, a Direct Path to the Wonders of Nature

For this city dweller, wine provided the opening to a greater understanding of food and agriculture, and their precarious balance.

Last year a friend asked me a question I had never considered before: Over the many years I had been writing about wine, what was the greatest thing this job had given me?

I answered almost reflexively. As a New Yorker who has spent most of my life living in Manhattan, wine had provided me a connection to nature that I most likely would never have experienced otherwise. Continue reading

Singing the Praises of Wild Foods

A Wild Box from Allora, available for delivery in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, might include, clockwise from top: squash blossoms grown on the farm; a bouquet of common vetch (also known as wild peas), linden flowers, dame’s rocket, and bedstraw; a hunk of a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom.Photograph by Courtney Sofiah Yates for The New Yorker

We’ve long been fans of foraged foods on this site, whether that be the seasonal delights of wild mushrooms, or the community gleaning of urban trees and gardens. These Wild Boxes are definitely an inspiration to get outside with an expert, and find a meal.

Foraged Foods Shorten the Supply Chain

Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms that fry up like their namesake, snappy sea beans that need no extra salt, sassafras syrup, and other edible offerings from the wilds outside the city limits.

“Alot of the talk about quarantine cooking, in the beginning, was, like, ‘Here’s twenty ways to use a can of tuna,’ ” James O’Donnell recounted the other day. “It was very much survivalist.” O’Donnell and his partner, Amanda Kingsley, own Allora Farm & Flowers, in Pine Plains, New York, where they grow what they need for their floral-design studio, plus vegetables. It struck him that “a lot of people at home could probably use feeling connected to the natural world right now, a little bit of excitement and wonder.” Before the pandemic, a substantial part of O’Donnell and Kingsley’s business was supplying restaurants with ingredients that they foraged sustainably from the acres that they lease, as well as from friends’ properties and from public lands in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. With the restaurant market shrinking, they decided to experiment with a direct-to-consumer weekly-ish Wild Box, available for delivery in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

To forage safely requires a good amount of training. Perfectly edible plants can look nearly identical to perfectly poisonous ones. In some cases, a berry that grows on a tree may be as palatable as its flower is lethal. Still, eating my way through a Wild Box gave me hope for my chances of surviving should even the canned tuna run out. Learn the rules—many inherited from indigenous peoples—and unlock access to treasures hiding in plain sight in thickets, on riverbanks, and by the shore. A hefty wedge of chicken-of-the-woods mushroom pried from a tree trunk performed exactly as its name would suggest, its edges pan-frying to a crisp golden brown that rivalled a buttermilk crust, its creamy interior shredding almost like meat.

A vial of sassafras syrup, made by steeping bark and small roots removed responsibly from a sassafras tree, was transformed into an aromatically fizzy glass of root beer when mixed with soda water. The detailed ingredient key that came in the box suggested treating tender, sweet, snappy sea beans—a succulent, also known as samphire, that grows on beaches and in coastal marshes—like salad greens, but to leave the salt out of your vinaigrette until you had tasted the dressed beans. Sure enough, they were so infused with a natural brine that they didn’t need a single grain. Continue reading

Threads

The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.

Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.

The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading

Glowing & Growing

CoffeeClean1

CoffeeClean2As we prepare to plant coffee Amie and I yesterday completed washing 14,000 beans, give or take, from the most recent harvest of coffee from this land where we live. As big as that number sounds, it is just a few pounds of green beans, picked from several trees that have held on over the years.

CoffeeClean3

In previous years this would provide a month’s drinkable coffee, but this year we will germinate the beans instead. We selected the fully formed, unbroken beans like those above, separating out the small percentage of broken or misshapen beans like those to the right. After germination, by August we expect to have between 3,000 and 4,000 viable seedlings we will keep in a nursery. One year from now those will be saplings ready to plant in the ground.  We are approaching this task traditionally, by hand, sight of eye, and a few simple analog tools.

CoffeeClean4This morning we will dig holes for the first of the shade trees going onto that land where the coffee will be planted. But first, the news. The best I could find, for motivation, involves a man temporarily in New York City, working in a museum. His work, and the exhibition he is tending to, provides me context for the countryside as it still is for many coffee farmers here, and the technology transforming the countryside for future generations. Already plenty of coffee farmers are using technology as advanced as that of the tomato man in the story below. Without romanticizing the hard labor of traditional coffee farming, the work we are doing makes me more appreciative of the coffee farmers we source from. Thanks to Elizabeth A. Harris for this story:

The Museum Is Closed, but Its Tomato Man Soldiers On

Although the Guggenheim’s “Countryside” show was shuttered by the pandemic, its crop of cherry tomatoes is still growing, and feeding New Yorkers.

merlin_172484226_e841d84e-bb0a-47af-8329-6efdd50ef85c-jumbo

Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

17tomatoes8-superJumbo-v2

Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The halls of the Guggenheim Museum are pretty quiet these days, with mostly just its ghosts and some security guards as company for the art.

Oh, and there’s the guy who takes care of the tomatoes.

David Litvin, an indoor crop specialist, tends the plants in a temporarily shuttered exhibition, “Countryside, The Future.” He moved to New York from Tel Aviv in February, along with his wife, Stefanie, and their Dutch shepherd, Ester, with a plan to stay six months harvesting the Guggenheim tomatoes. He was going to see the city, too.

“I went out once to a comedy bar, but that’s it,” he said.

The museum has been closed since March 13, but Mr. Litvin still walks across Central Park every day around noon from his rental on the Upper West Side to tend to his flock. “When you grow tomatoes on Fifth Avenue, you want to have the perfect tomatoes, there’s no room to mess up,” he said. “If I have ugly plants, I’ll hear it from the neighbors.” Continue reading

If You Drink Organic Coffee, Consider 100% Forward

B48D6CF4-8DC4-4222-B550-6BA976D449B6

The 12 selections of Organikos specialty coffees had enough time on display at the Authentica shops, prior to current circumstances in Costa Rica and everywhere else, to establish the organic selection as a top seller.

AmistadNewDuring those months–the shops fully opened in late November and until early March were nonstop full of guests–I had hundreds of conversations with travelers.

I got excellent feedback on our original coffee packaging. Briefly stated, the recurring message was that people wanted to “see more Costa Rica” on the package. They also wanted to know more about what our 100% Forward commitment meant. We have used the time since travel halted to work with our graphic designer to begin addressing that feedback.

We also have used this time to prepare a virtual approach to the business, focused on coffee at the outset. We will start with the organic, due to its performance during the shops’ peak operations. We will offer this for home delivery in the USA soon…

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Buford

The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)

When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.

9780307271013Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…

Support Chefs Who Support Immigrant Workers

p&f_askchefsanything_LA_bigsquare_collage1-04-04

Los Angeles’s participating chefs Photo: Courtesy of Ask Chefs Anything

Devorah Lev-Tov, a writer who covers food, among other things, surprisingly has not shown up in our pages before. I am happy to link to this particular story as a first. Food and agriculture have been central to this platform since we started it in 2011. Also, immigrants-r-us, so I appreciate the effort on their behalf as much as I appreciate the visibility it is receiving in a location surprising to me. Vogue is an unlikely publication for me to source from, but credit where due, a great story:

Ask Chefs Anything: Famous Foodies Are Auctioning Their Time in Support of Immigrant Workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and force businesses to shut down, among the hardest hit are immigrant workers—many of whom worked in the restaurant or other service industries. Now, they are left with no jobs and no unemployment benefits, struggling to put food on their plates and send money home to their families, while fearing getting sick without any support from the government.

In an effort to help them, dozens of famous chefs—including Alison Roman, Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Suzanne Goin, and Dominique Ansel—are auctioning off 30-minute virtual discussions where they will share recipes and cooking tips via a new initiative called Ask Chefs AnythingNew York City’s ended last week, Los Angeles’s auction is going on now through May 11, and Philadelphia’s takes place May 13 to 17, with more cities to follow. Continue reading

Searching For Bread

000064298Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about bread, which reminded me of Cherchez le pain. This guide to the best bakeries in Paris was published when we lived there, and its author had been my professor at Cornell. As soon as I saw the publicity for the book I sent him an email congratulating him. To my surprise, he was on sabbatical leave, living just a few blocks from where we were living, so I invited him to join us for dinner.

I had sat through enough of his lectures on the history of food to anticipate an interesting dinner, but I was not prepared for what might sound now like a parlor trick. As soon as we sat for the meal, he picked up the bread in front of him, our favorite from a bakery we had chosen from dozens during our first few months living in that city. He held it to his nose, then brought it to his ear and tapped it with a spoon. He broke it in two and pressed his face into it. Maybe there was more to the show that I have forgotten now. What I do remember is that he named the bakery it was from.

I was impressed. And I was gratified after that when he said we had chosen well. But then he mentioned that if we were willing to walk just two blocks further we would find a bakery that ranked in the top five out of six hundred bakeries he had sampled in Paris. Next morning, of course, we went to that bakery and bought what might be the best bread of our lives. As we walked home with our bread, our entire family halted as we approached the bakery that had been our regular bakery for the past several months. We decided to walk an entire city block out of our way so that the baker would not see us having bought our bread elsewhere.

This Headline Catches My Attention

merlin_152866413_609459f1-4de4-461f-8e13-a961bae7438b-jumbo

Organic cabernet sauvignon grown near the town of Cowaramup in the Margaret River region of Australia. Frances Andrijich for The New York Times

During 2003 and 2004, life in Paris was full of wonders for our family. Bread was really art, we learned. And tarte tatin, which Amie had modified for years using mangos in Costa Rica, is best of all modified by using various French heritage plums available in a nearby marché in late August. And cheese! Plus plenty more, but for now I am reminded of the occasional wine expositions–cavernous spaces filled with hundreds of kiosks of artisanal wine makers–we would attend. At one of those I first tasted natural wine. So today, this headline shouts down all the others. Just the fact that Eric Asimov is still on this particular beat is enough to make me think things are okay, or will be okay, or at least could someday be okay:

France Defines Natural Wine, but Is That Enough?

The wine industry and many consumers have long sought a definition, but the adoption of a voluntary charter may not clarify anything.

merlin_171485409_9bb9d6f4-c698-4e74-a6c7-eb92ca40e585-jumbo

Marie Carroget

Natural wine is healthy and pure; natural wine is wretched and horrible. It’s the future of wine; it’s the death of wine.

For 15 years, natural wine has been a contentious time bomb that has divided many in the wine community, creating conflicts fought with the sort of anger that stems only from extreme defensiveness.

Since 2003, when I first encountered what has come to be called natural wine at the seminal restaurant 360 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I have been a fan, though a cleareyed one, I hope.

I believe in the promise and beauty of natural wines, while acknowledging that many examples are not good, as is true with all genres of wine. The truth is that natural wines have made all of wine better. Continue reading

Librarians Of Bread

00SCI-SOURDOUGH1-jumbo

Karl De Smedt in the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, in St. Vith, Belgium. Puratos Center for Bread Flavor

Bread is a frequent flier of a topic on this platform, including sourdough specifically. Ditto for libraries and their librarians and the creative things they do. Franz Lidz is not a writer we have featured in our pages before, but with a story like this one we will be watching for more.

At the Sourdough Library, With Some Very Old Mothers

Some starters never die, they just get filed away here.

In these housebound times, Americans have gone stark baking mad. Shut-ins are channeling their anxieties into pandemic pastries and quarantine cookies, some with icing piped in the shape of surgical masks, others frosted with the face of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Baking essentials such as yeast and flour are in short supply, and Google searches for bread recipes are on the rise, so to speak.

00SCI-SOURDOUGH2-jumbo

Puratos Center for Bread Flavour

Curiously, during this apocalyptic spring, the best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread. The most coveted isolation loaves seem to be sourdough, a knobbly, rugged variety that requires patience, handmade fermentations and something like affection. “Working with sourdough is part art, part science,” said Karl De Smedt. “You don’t tell the dough when it’s time to be shaped. The dough tells you.”

Mr. De Smedt is the curator of the world’s only sourdough library. Located in the flyspeck village of St. Vith, 87 miles southeast of Brussels, the library houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, those bubbling beige globs of bacteria and wild yeast — known as “mothers” — that bakers mix into dough to produce flavorful loaves with interestingly shaped holes. If a mother isn’t regularly divided and kneaded and fed with flour and water, she will eventually go dormant or die. “A starter has its own heart, almost its own will,” Mr. De Smedt said. “Treat a starter nice and it will reward you tremendously, like a good friend.” Continue reading

Lyon, Bread & Costa Rica

200413_r36217

The bread from Bob’s boulangerie united a neighborhood of food fanatics. Illustration by Leo Espinosa

My first mention of Bill Buford was so brief, you might have missed it–just a link to an event he was moderating. The second was a link to his writing. And then another link to his writing. I am glad to see that he is still harvesting from his experience living in Lyon. It is a city that I have been to twice, with exceptional food memories which I will save for another time. For now I will just mention that one baker in Costa Rica has recently mastered the art of world-class bread-making, including baguette and chiabbata. During these challenging times for this country’s family farms it occurs to me, thanks to Bill Buford’s story, that ensuring the survival of this bakery is worthy of attention as well:

Baking Bread in Lyon

For a newcomer to the city, a boulangerie apprenticeship reveals a way of life.

In Lyon, an ancient but benevolent law compels bakers to take one day off a week, and so most don’t work Sundays. An exception was the one in the quartier where I lived with my family for five years, until 2013. On Sundays, the baker, Bob, worked without sleep. Late-night carousers started appearing at three in the morning to ask for a hot baguette, swaying on tiptoe at a high ventilation window by the oven room, a hand outstretched with a euro coin. By nine, a line extended down the street, and the shop, when you finally got inside, was loud from people and from music being played at high volume. Everyone shouted to be heard—the cacophonous hustle, oven doors banging, people waving and trying to get noticed, too-hot-to-touch baguettes arriving in baskets, money changing hands. Everyone left with an armful and with the same look, suspended between appetite and the prospect of an appetite satisfied. It was a lesson in the appeal of good bread—handmade, aromatically yeasty, with a just-out-of-the-oven texture of crunchy air. This was their breakfast. It completed the week. This was Sunday in Lyon. Continue reading