Spirits: Two Campari challengers
By Jason Wilson
The Washington Post - November 16, 2010
It's an immutable law of food and drink writing: You must invoke Proust's madeleine whenever you speak of taste and memory. I myself am guilty of comparing sloe gin, Dutch genever and a pork-roll-egg-and-cheese sandwich to Marcel's cookie. I'm sorry; rules are rules.
Still, the metaphor never gets old. And it was a pleasure to see Deirdre Heekin invoke that madeline in her delightful 2009 book, "Libation: A Bitter Alchemy," which I've recently been reading. "I'm trying to remember the first time I tasted Campari," she writes, in a chapter called "Ode to Campari." "What's difficult is isolating the occasion for the sense of that first taste: the setting, the weather, the conversation.
"Perhaps every Campari is a first Campari," Heekin suggests, "and each time you drink it the taste surprises you â?¦ and marks the experience that much more clearly, while at the same time bringing on a flood of all the past Campari."
I feel the same way. Campari has been part of my life for so long, I pretty much take it for granted. A bottle of the bitter red aperitif is always sitting in the door of my refrigerator, ready for a splash of club soda or orange, or to be mixed with sweet vermouth in an Americano. And then there is the Negroni, with gin and vermouth, about which I have waxed nostalgic before, at considerable length.
I'm always surprised, then, when I meet someone who hates Campari. When they say those three words - "I HATE Campari" - I feel it so palpably, it's as if they hate me, too.
But there was never anything I could do about it. You either like or don't like Gaspare Campari's 19th-century recipe for a 48-proof spirit, infused with 60 herbs, spices and fruit peels and colored bright red with cochineal, the mysterious red dye made from pulverized insects.
In Italy, there are number of red aperitivi called "bitter" (always in English). But in the United States, there has rarely been an alternative to Campari. Until recently, that is.
Over the past few months, two new bottles have appeared on the market that might change the landscape, for Campari lovers and haters alike.
One, Gran Classico Bitter, imported from Switzerland by Tempus Fugit Spirits, might be just the right introduction for people who didn't like their first experience with Campari. The other, Luxardo Bitter (by the same distiller that makes the Luxardo maraschino liqueur I often recommend), offers Campari lovers a cheaper option, at $17 compared to around $28 for Campari.
I tried both Grand Classico and Luxardo straight and then, in my ultimate test, mixed in a classic Negroni.
Gran Classico Bitter is not cheap (at $33), is a slightly higher proof than Campari and does not share the bright red color; it's instead a tawny brown. Served neat, Gran Classico is a lovely spirit, with a flowery nose, rhubarb and sweet orange on the tongue, and a long, bitter finish. But to me, it makes a strangely sweet Negroni; you don't even need an orange peel garnish. That, of course, might be appealing to someone who has never fallen in love with Campari.
I also tried it in a spritz as a substitute for Aperol (mixed with prosecco and club soda), and the strange bittersweet flavor wasn't quite right there, either. For those who already enjoy Italian bitters, I think I'd stick with drinking Gran Classico with just soda water (and be happy doing so).
Luxardo Bitter, on the other hand, offers an even more bracing bitter-forward taste than Campari, and it's not as viscous. It isn't something to take straight, but in the Negroni, Luxardo Bitter absolutely shined.
Now, Campari and its alternatives might seem to be more of a summer thing. But I think aperitivi such as these are great to serve as the first drink of the afternoon on Thanksgiving. After all, in Europe they're specifically consumed "to open" (in Latin, "aperire") the appetite. For that reason, I'm including here a new Negroni variation I'm enjoying, which calls for rum.
Heekin, in her book, poetically describes the role of such bitter spirits. "Each of us drinks our Campari and soda, trying to make the cocktail last, because when we finish we must go to dinner; and, while we are greatly anticipating dinner, it will mean we are that much closer to the end of the meal, and therefore the end of a blissful day."
Ah, bittersweet: just like Proustian nostalgia, and holidays, and the aperitif itself.
Read the original article on WashingtonPost.com.
Deirdre Heekin’s Bitter Alchemy
October 25, 2009 by Meg Houston Maker
“I am une garagiste, a woman who makes wine in her garage, and I am maître liquoriste. I am the would-be parfumeur. I am mistress of alchemy.”
—Deirdre Heekin, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy
Deirdre Heekin smiles a welcome as she hands us each a glass of sparkling Nebbiolo. It’s a glittering Vermont evening in high summer. The sun’s still shining, so the day’s full moon hasn’t yet risen over the rolling fields to our east. We raise a genial toast to her, then carry our glasses from the shelter of this open barn to greet the other guests in the garden.
There’s a group already gathered by the tasting station, lined with the evening’s wines from Tuscany and Campania. Other guests stroll the fledgling vineyard or drape languorously on lawn furniture, savoring this bright moment of our fleeting northern summer.
Deirdre’s husband, Caleb Barber, is at the cooking station, stoking the hardwood fire, furiously toasting bread and grilling eggplant and radicchio for crostini. A slate chalkboard displays the evening’s menu of simple, elegant appetizers contrived to pair with the wines. It’s really just finger food, but no one will leave hungry.
The guests gathered here at Deirdre and Caleb’s home are writers and restaurateurs, publishers and professors, software execs and Aikido sensei. Each has come to enjoy the party in the barn and vineyard the hosts call La Garagista.
The couple runs a tiny, flawlessly authentic Italian restaurant and wine bar in Woodstock, Vermont, Osteria Pane e Salute. Now in its thirteenth year, the restaurant has won acclaim from such publications as Food and Wine, Bon Appétit, and Travel and Leisure. Its Italian “revivalist” menu of traditional regional dishes is complemented by an extensive wine list.
Read the whole article here.
Air America Blog
5 Tips To Growing Your Own Produce
By Verena von Pfetten
With the Obamas’ recent visit to Blue Hill restaurant in New York, and Michelle’s White House garden in full bloom, the topic of locally-grown produce has never been hotter.
But for many, the idea of growing your own vegetables is daunting, if not seemingly impossible.
Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, the owners of Osteria Pane E Salute, a restaurant and wine bar in Woodstock, Vermont and the authors of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love and Libation, A Bitter Alchemy, are veritable experts on the subject and grow 75% of the produce they use in their restaurant. When asked what their five tips would be to growing your own, this is what they had to say:
1. Grow something you like that you can’t easily find locally. For example: We love radicchio, but I can’t find any grown within easy local reach. It’s readily available through our produce purveyor, but the source isn’t anywhere near us. And we want to try to raise several varieties of radicchio, so that we can offer an unusual selection at our restaurant, not to mention at our own table. Growing different varieties contributes to plant diversification and healthy soil, lessening the effects of monoculture.
2. Water. Gardening gold for vegetables. If it hasn’t rained for two days, start watering every day. Just remember to water the ground, not the plant, and if you can, water after sunset. Even right before you go to bed is best, when the soil is cooler and more able to saturate and retain the water. Don’t drown everything, just dampen the soil well. Collect water in a bucket off your roof, or out in the open to help conserve water from the well or reservoir. And when you wash that lettuce, save that water for your plants.
3. If you have space, grow more than you need and give away what you can’t use. Donate extra produce to soup kitchens or food shelves that take perishables. Share the bounty with your neighbors and your friends.
4. If you don’t have much space, grow something in a container. Pole beans make a beautiful plant, and produce over a long period. Be sure to give them something sturdy to grow up that can’t be blown over.
5. Find a way to compost if you can. City or country. It is the single best source we have for renewing the soil.
Both books are published by Chelsea Green and just came out this month. To kick off their book & restaurant tour, Heekin and Barber are headed to NYC this week, event details can be found here.