Friday, February 26, 2021

The First Wine to Circumnavigate the Globe

Most Sherry in Spain is bone-dry & used as an aperitif or with a 1st or 2nd course

The 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s around the world voyage was celebrated in 2019.   In 1519 Magellan set sail in a fleet of five ships from southern Spain.   King Carlos I of Spain financed most of the voyage in an attempt to outmaneuver the Portuguese who had locked in the eastern route to spice-laden Indonesia.   

In the course of preparing for this 500th year celebration, historians uncovered a 200 page document detailing the supplies loaded on the fleet before it sailed.  This original manuscript lists 250 casks of Sherry (166,500 bottles).  In today’s dollars, the price would be approximately $80,000.  Magellan spent more on Sherry than he did on armaments to protect his men. 

It’s no surprise that the first wine to circumnavigate the globe was Sherry.  One of the world’s oldest wines, Sherry has been part of the world’s greatest empires and civilizations.  Enjoyed by the Phoenicians (who brought the original grapes for Sherry to Spain), and then by the Greeks, Romans, Moors, Spanish and the British.  During the period when Magellan set sail, Sherry was one of the world’s most popular wines.

                                   The town of Jerez is the capital of Sherry production

Sherry is also produced in the south of Spain very near the area from which Magellan sailed, so this may have also influenced why it was chosen.   Since then laws were enacted in the 1930’s to prevent Sherry from being made anywhere else but a small area surrounding the city of Jerez (not far from the straits of Gibraltar).  While many Americans associate Sherry with a sweet wine, there is an entire portfolio of bone-dry Sherry.  In fact, in Spain the most popular Sherry is completely dry with no trace of sugar.

Wine-Knows will be visiting the Sherry wine countryside this October on our tour to Seville (55 miles from Jerez), and Granada.  There are only four spaces remaining.  Home to the flamenco and mind-dazzling Moorish architecture, this part of southern Spain is the most fascinating in all of the country.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Spain’s Iconic Ham

Spain's ham is coveted by gourmet chefs around the globe

When it comes to food from Spain, there is nothing more classical than Spanish ham (jamón).  Take it from someone who eats very little red meat, Spanish hams are nothing short of magnifico!  And, they are not even remotely related to any ham we have in the US.  This is because the process of producing ham in Spain is very different.  It’s not only lengthy (can take up to three years), but there are technical differences such as labor- intensive traditional curing methods which have been handed down from generation to generation.

Spain’s connection to pork can be traced back to its rural past.  Pigs were extremely important in country villages….so important that they could literally determine the fate of poor farming families.   Once the pig was ready for butchering, not one part of it could be wasted.  Refrigeration only came into being in the late 17th century; prior to that Spaniards had to have a way of preserving meat from ruin.  Out of necessity began the process of curing ham and this very method is still used today.  

The top quality Iberico ham can be *mucho* expensive

Approximately 40 million hams per year are produced in Spain.  They are a mainstay on any Spanish table.  There are two different categories of ham:

Jamón Serrano, which literally translates to “ham from the Sierra mountains,” is from the white pig.   This hybrid pig (a mix of centuries of a variety of mountain pigs) produces a good ham which is reasonable in cost.  Serrano ham accounts for the nearly 90% of ham sold in Spain.  Its aging time is a maximum of 15 months.

Jamón Ibérico, “Iberian ham” is from a pig that is thought to have been introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians nearly 1,000 years BC.  This ancient pig then interbred with Spanish wild boars resulting in a darker color breed.  Spaniards call this pig Pata Negra (black hoof).  

There are actually three levels of Jamón Ibérico which are categorized in accordance with quality based on the pigs’ diet:

  •  Jamón Ibérico de Bellota:  This is very top level quality.  It comes from Pata Negras that are allowed to roam free in oak forests.  The black-footed pig's diet of acorn, combined with aging for three years gives this meats its rich, complex flavor.
  •  Jamón Ibérico de Cebo, in contrast,  is the lowest level.  These same formerly wild boars that have bred with an ancient pigs are fed a diet of grain, and their meat is cured for a maximum of two years.  

  • Jamon de Recebo is the middle quality with the special breed being fed a diet of acorns mixed with grain.  The meat is then aged for at least two years.

             Jamón Iberico de Cebo with melon & mint is a perfect starter (or *is* the meal!)

The actual process of preserving ham in Spain is a dry-curing one---hams are hung in the open air for as much as five years for the country's finest quality.   It also involves salt, water, patience, humidity, varying ambient temperatures, and time.  Hams are dried and matured according to actual laws for aging minimums.   Unlike Italian prosciutto, Spanish hams are not covered with any other external ingredient other than salt in the very beginning.    

          A perfect bite tapa:  Jamón Serrano & roasted piquillo pepper with pistachios for crunch

Spanish ham is some of the best cured meat in the world.  Wine-Knows will be sampling all types of jamón on its two trips to Spain this September and October.  Travelers to the island of Mallorca (only 2 spaces available) will try jamón tapas, and those attending the Granada & Seville trip (4 spaces)  will taste both Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano.

Friday, February 12, 2021

A Perfect Way to Say Love on Valentine’s

                                                  Julia Child's pear tart screams amour

Any cupid should be thrilled to finish a Valentine’s Day meal with this delectable tart from Julia Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.   What’s not to love about perfectly ripe pears that have been simmered in red wine, and then magically combined with an almond cream filling and a shortbread cookie crust?  

Julia Child composed this recipe in the late 1950’s at a villa in Provence in the south of France not from the Mediterranean Sea.   Pears still remain one of Provence’s prized autumn fruits.   Julia, however, may have first learned about pear tarts when she was a student in Paris at the prestigious Cordon Bleu during the late 1940’s.    After all, the “city of light” had been famous for its pear tarts since the turn of the century.

But, Julia’s version is not just any pear tart.  Madame Child ups the flavor ante by cooking her pears first in red wine with a stick cinnamon.   The result is a more intense flavor profile, and its bright lipstick-red color should appeal to young and old lovers alike for a special ruby red valentine dessert.   

In September 2022 Wine-Knows has leased the very villa in which Julia wrote her two hallmark cookbooks.  We have only two spots remaining.  For more details on this food and wine homage to Julia, check out our website:

BTW:  Julia’s pear tart recipe can be found on page 642 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.   If you don’t have a copy, there are several online versions, but the following one is almost a dead-ringer for Julia’s original.  (Note:  while I prefer bosc pears, any ripe pear will suffice.)

Wishing you a love-filled Valentine's....

Friday, February 5, 2021

Best-Ever Broccoli

                            A just-plucked-from-the-garden gift was the inspiration 

Supermarkets and farmers markets are now full of fresh emerald green broccoli.  It was, however, a dear friend who loves to garden (thank you, Conni) who brought me a gorgeous wicker basket full of her broccoli that inspired me  to look for a new recipe.  While I love this vegetable, I’ve never found a healthy broccoli recipe that is irresistible….until now.   Broccoli is very nutritious (extremely high in Vitamin C and K), so I hate to cover it up with layers of cheese, or oodles of sour cream and butter.  Not only have I found a healthful rendition, but this recipe is so luscious that you’ll swear it must be unhealthy.

First, a few facts about broccoli that may surprise you.  Broccoli is Italian in origin ---it’s name actually means “flowering top of a cabbage,” which makes sense as it belongs to the same family as cabbage.    Next, broccoli raab (also called rappini), is not actually part of this family but instead is part of the turnip family.  Last,  broccoli is a cousin of cauliflower.

I scoured magazines and the Internet for low carbohydrate and low fat recipes using broccoli.  This recipe received rave reviews and 100% of cooks would make it again (always a positive sign for me).  Yes, the sample size was small but I gave it a whirl as I had all of ingredients in my home.  The result was magic:  deep and complex flavors.  Moreover, the recipe was fairly easy and used only 5 ingredients other than broccoli and salt. 

Best-ever broccoli

The recipe is out of last February’s Bon Appetit, however, if you don't have the magazine it is now posted on  Although I always have Parmigiano-Reggiano in my frig, I didn’t even use it as I wanted to taste a virginal rendition.  (Didn’t miss it, although I’m sure it would have even been more unctuous with a few gratings.)