The progress of Peru’s coffee processes

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans

Cayona in the Chulucanas mountains.

Cayona in the Chulucanas mountains.

Ten years ago, a group of grocers from the West Coast visited Cepicafe co-op in Piura and coffee farms in the mountain town of Cayona in northern Peru. I’ve heard about that trip for years. When an anniversary trip was announced, I was ecstatic to be given the wonderful opportunity to partake in a similar trip. The objective was to learn firsthand how the co-op works and, for those who went on the previous trip, how things have advanced.

Cepicafe co-op began 18 years ago with 14 farms producing coffee, chocolate and brown sugar. They have since joined forces with other co-ops under the new name Norandino. They now work with about 7,000 organic farms in the co-op, some of which produce cotton, fresh fruit and marmalade. We visited some coffee farms in the small mountain town of Cayona, Norandino’s coffee milling facility, as well as their quality control, or “QC,” lab for chocolate and coffee, and the packaging plant for brown sugar.

A makeshift bridge along our travel route.

A makeshift bridge along our travel route.

Our trip into the mountains
The van ride up into the Chulucanas mountains started with pavement but mostly followed a gravel road cluttered with small boulders. In the summer (a.k.a. the rainy season) the road is impassible. We drove through several riverbeds and about a dozen small streams and creeks that make the drive unmanageable many months out of the year. The road on the other side of the mountains goes through Canchaque and adds a couple hours to the trip.

We were lucky to miss the rainy season and be there in time for the harvest. Our van, packed full of weary travelers, wasn’t what you’d call a four-wheel-drive vehicle. After exiting the van several times to pass some tough terrain, we were happy to reach our destination.

Where's Marni?  The group of farmers that met us on our arrival in Cayona.

Where’s Marni? The group of farmers that met us on our arrival in Cayona.

Welcomes changes – power and roads
When we arrived in Cayona, we were welcomed warmly by many of the farmers. Some of traveled several hours to see us, arriving by donkey. I was so honored by the villagers’ innate hospitality and kindness; they do not get visitors often.

One of the major upgrades the villagers got in recent years was electricity. The government came through and added power throughout the village, and grated a road up through Canchaque using bulldozers. Parts of this new road were previously footpaths.

Harvesting coffee is hard work
These farmers are living and working at 5,000 feet with steep inclines in their fields. I was having a tough time not falling down the mountain while picking. But not to worry, we all made it through a few hours of harvest, with only slight wear and tear.

One of the farmers, Luciana, took me under her wing and helped me pick. She showed me how to pick the red coffee cherries and the ones starting to turn color. She then went through all the trees and picked the ones I missed!

Washing the beans.

Washing the beans.

Once the beans are washed, they are spread to dry outside. The dark beans are dried with the coffee cherry intact. Once dried, they are bagged and stored until taken to the milling facility in Piura.

The beans are poured into the tank above, after their first washing they go to the de-pulper, says plant manager Don Sergio with Tom Hanlon-Wilde from Equal Exchange translating.

Processing the beans
After the beans were harvested, we walked alongside the donkeys hauling the bags of beans headed to the de-pulping and washing station. The coffee cherries are gravity- and water-fed through the de-pulper. Once the cherries have been sliced open they continue down the washing station, where they pass through a large screen.

They are soaked overnight in water to ferment, then continue down the washing station the following day on their way to be dried in the sun. In previous harvests, they hauled the beans in wheelbarrows down to be dried. With modernization the last couple of years, they are now piped under the road, then hauled a short distance to be raked out into a thin layer.

Once the beans are dried, they are placed in their new storage facility, awaiting their long trek to the city. The cherry pulp is then composted and used in a fertilizer mix later in the year that is spread over the coffee plants.

Coffee plant diseases, roster eye and rust on a leaf.

Challenges in the field decrease yield
The farmers are working with Luis, Cepicafe’s agronomist, to cultivate the soil to increase production to combat the problems they are having with disease. In Cayona, they’re fighting two problems: rooster eye and rust. Four years ago, the farmers were yelding about 225,000 to 250,000 pounds of good-quality, exportable coffee. This year, they are hoping for 100,000 pounds.

A handful of green coffee beans sent from the farms. In the top right corner, you can see the parchment (or paper) that needs to be removed before it is ready for export.

Milling, cupping and tasting
We drove the smoother but longer drive up through Canchaque (the proclaimed organic coffee capital of Piura) and back down to the town of Piura. When we visited the co-op’s coffee-milling facility, the plant manager showed us how they process the coffee coming from the farms. This is where they remove the parchment from the beans, sort them and bag them into 60-kilo burlap bags. Upstairs was the QC lab with small roasters and a variety of brewing methods used to check the quality of the crop coming in from the farms.

After going through the de-pulper, the beans flow through the screen into the fermentation tanks below.

Great White cacao beans are cut in half. In the center is the most desirable quality; they are an even brown, not too dark or too light.

Along with coffee cupping, we were lucky enough to taste some chocolate. Coffee and chocolate – yes, please! The cacao farmers have discovered they have been farming a rare heirloom varietal thought to be extinct. This white cacao is fetching top prizes and top dollar in the world market.

In the lab, we tasted the roasted beans, pure chocolate liquor and sampled chocolate. I was quite intrigued to find the characteristics of the beans were prominent in the flavor of the finished product. The liquor was intensely flavored and salty, with notes of sesame seeds, almonds and vanilla with underlying acidity throughout and a slight bitterness and smokiness on the finish. The finished chocolate bar had notes of coconut on the nose, with a tangy-tart tamarind fruit on the palate, followed with black currants and finished with an almost malted barley creaminess.

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans.

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans.

This was such a wonderful, truly incredible trip! I’ve learned in talking with our local coffee roasters that several of them have been buying beans from Cepicafe over the years; it was great to make the trip and have that local connection. If you would like to hear more stories of my travels or see more pictures, please stop by the Corvallis Market and ask me about it. I am happy to share them with you!

Boarding the plane to Peru to bring back tales of beans and brew

I have a wonderful opportunity to go to Peru to learn how they harvest, wash and dry coffee beans. This week, I will fly into Piura and meet the staff of CEPICAFE and take a tour of the processing plant. Then we will drive to Coyona and meet with the co-op members. Working with the group, I will harvest beans and see how they transport them to the mill, where we will de-pulp and sort them. I will be learning about shade-grown coffee and organic farming. And I will have an opportunity to tour the nursery and learn about the trials and tribulations of the coffee bean farming industry in northern Peru. This is a fantastic opportunity that I will be sharing with all of you through pictures and my blog when I return. Wish me luck!

And be sure to read Tom Hanlon-Wilde’s post on our Travel Blog about the conditions of the family farms of the small co-op Jose Gabriel Conorcanqui.

Of mudslides, rust and 10 years of friendship

This blog was contributed by Tom Hanlon-Wilde of Equal Exchange. Corvallis Coffee Steward Marni Furse will be traveling to Peru this week so check back soon for a blog about her trip.

Losing a cow is like having your savings account wiped out. Several animals were lost to the family farmers of the Cooperative José Gabriel Condorcanquí in Peru when this past March, unusually heavy rains fell for a few days and caused small mudslides. The innumerable shade and native trees farmers maintain around their coffee plants limited damage, but for those small-scale growers who lost livestock and stables, the loss can push them to the economic brink.

Equal Exchange works with democratically-organized, small-scale farmers. In northern Peru, those growers farm a handful of acres on which they cultivate their own food and coffee intercropped with orange, banana and shade trees. When the harvest is bountiful and prices are good, growers will use extra income to invest in animals – cows, goats, chickens, etc. When savings are needed for medical bills or a wedding or other big life events, those animals can be sold to provide the income. Several growers lost that safety net. In response, the members of Condorcanquí are developing plans for a co-op built and owned stockyard.

“This project will improve the nutritional options not only for the farmers but also the entire population especially the school-age children, expecting mothers, and elderly members,” explains Arnaldo Neira, co-founder and general manager of Cooperativa José Gabriel Condorcanquí.

This year will not be the year farmers recover from the loss. World coffee prices are low and yields are down. Equal Exchange pays prices the farmers set democratically to ensure a dignified living. This level, defined by the Small Producers Symbol certification program, is 75% higher than the current world market price. Prices for coffee have fallen because the crop looks to be very good in East Africa and Colombia (and hopefully benefitting our farmer partners at Gumutindo, Sidamo, and CCAOC), as well as in Brazil and Vietnam.

While yields are good in some areas, the farmers in Peru at Condorcanquí are facing substantial crop losses due to the yellow coffee rust. This plant disease, which weakens the coffee tree and thereby reduces fruit development, spreads quickly and is affecting growers from Mexico to Bolivia. The farmers of the co-op are fighting back with organic disease-control methods and, through their national level organization, have already won government assistance following a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture. These efforts will likely bear fruit but not in time to save the 2013 crop.

Despite it being a tough year, the farmers of Condorcanquí are excited for the upcoming visit by the same store managers who first visited their village of Coyona a decade ago.

This week, Marni Furse of Market of Choice, Bob Gerner of the Natural Grocery Company, Michelle Franklin of La Montanita Co-op and Hilary Dart of BriarPatch Co-op will return to Coyona a decade after their first visit. Also joining the tour are Kimberly Hash of Lakewinds Natural Foods, Joe Damiano of Greenstar Co-op, Claudia Crowder of MOMS Organic Marketplace, and Domie Brown, Hilary Johnson, and Rafael Aviles of Equal Exchange.

Black Sheep Creamery

Black Sheep Creamery is owned and operated by Brad and Meg Gregory who juggle family, farming, cheese making and retailing with humor and grace. I wanted to see how they do this and they were kind enough to find a day that wasn’t booked solid to let me come out to the 100-year old farm that they’ve called home since 1992. You can see great photos and monthly musings from the farm at their website.

Located just six miles west of Chehalis, Washington, Black Sheep Creamery was busy when I arrived for my visit between the sun showers of mid-June. Meg Gregory was working with Kathy, one of their seven part-time employees to pull together an order for a local distribution house. A truck was parked in the driveway ready to carry the cheese off to a Portland warehouse and then to customers throughout the Northwest. Brad Gregory was finishing up the morning milking in the white cider block building that houses the milking parlor and make room for the creamery. The “girls” are milked six at a time and, with 78 milking ewes, this takes two and a half hours and is done twice a day. Cheese making is done from February to September and supplies four different Farmer’s Markets in the summer and year round demand from restaurants, retail stores and their own farm stand, which also sells the wool from their sheep.

Brad and I walked behind the milking ewes as the resident “sheep herding” dog directed them back to their grazing pasture that sits next to the Chehalis River. There are also two “guard dogs” that follow the sheep and keep watch to prevent the local coyotes from attacking the sheep. They also have a forth dog that Brad says he’s ruined and made a “stick dog” because all it wants to do it play fetch! He stopped at the large pen holding this spring’s lambs to check the condition of a hoof or two while more lambs crowded around hoping for treats and attention.

I’m a shameless fan of Black Sheep Creamery’s fresh cheeses and when I see lambs in the fields, I know it’s time for those great seasonal cheeses! Available only April through August, these cheeses have a wonderful, creamery texture and come in several flavors. The “Fresh “ is the plain cheese while the “Honey Vanilla “ is delightfully sweet and amazing crumbled over fresh berries or lightly grilled peaches. My personal favorite is the “Tomato Basil Garlic.” It is delicious spread on rustic bread or crumbled over a salad. These flavors and more will be featured at your Market Cheese Shop on the Savories ad that starts July 12 so come in and check them out!

As we walked, Brad talked with me about the operations of the creamery and some of the goals that he and Meg have for the future. They are doing enough business that expansion is on their minds and hopefully a larger cheese vat in the future! Happily more people are becoming aware of sheep’s milk cheeses and how they are not only wonderfully full flavored and protein rich but also more easily digested by people that can have problems with cows’ milk. Black Sheep has a range of aged cheeses, some like their Tin Willow has their sheep milk mixed with cows’ milk from Tin Willow Farm and other cheeses such as their Feta and Mopsy’s Best are all sheep milk. They’ve received American Cheese Society awards for cheeses submitted to competition for several years and I’m sure this year their winning streak will continue!

Stepping into the packaging room in front of their aging cooler, I could see skeins of colorful wool yarn and roving that is available for sale at the farm and also at great events like the Black Sheep Gathering that happens in the early summer in Eugene. After chatting for a bit, I took a tub of my favorite fresh cheese and headed out so that they could continue with their busy day. As I drove through the lovely green country side of western Washington I thought about how lucky we are in the Pacific Northwest to have Brad and Meg doing great cheese in our corner of the world!

Mondovino 2013: Dawn of the Red, The Climax, Vive la France!

For a sense of terroir, iconoclasm, and just plain orneriness, there’s still no place like France. What a shame to see this disappear as the homogenization of wine, in the guise of Brighella and his fourteen hands slinging stinky red herrings to and fro, continues with furious alacrity.

“Contre nous, de la tyrannie,
L’entenda sanglant est leve!…
Marchons! Marchons…!”

Taking this to heart, I made my way back to the table where Monique Bonnet poured me a glass of the 2009 Chateau Suau Cadillac, Cotes de Bordeaux Rouge. Fermentation in stainless, with aging after malo in French oak (30% new) for 12 months. Forty five percent Merlot, 55% Cabernet. Linear, with lots of berry jam and notes of roasted chestnut elegantly juxtaposed.

Further south the wines take on a different expression. The Cooperative S.C.V. Castelmaure was founded in 1920 and consists of 65 members. The vines are planted on 350 ha. around the hamlet of Embres in south western France’s AOC Corbieres. I visited the property in 2006 and fell in love with the stone bridges dating from classical Roman times, and the angular, vertiginous landscape. The wines exhibit the unique terroir of the area, showing flint, peppery, chewy tannins and smokehouse notes with plenty of jam. 2010 Castelmaure Col des Vents Rouge, 50% Carignan, 35% Grenache and 15% Syrah.

Chateau Fontane is located on the Vidourle River, near Sommiéres in the Languedoc. Vines are grown on 25 ha. of clay and limestone. 2011 Chateau Fontane “Cuvée M” Côteaux du Languedoc had vivacious tart black cherry with a play of dried herbs and spices rounding out a very appealing sense of terroir. Hope to see this one on the shelf soon!

“…it makes a sweet melody when you walk beside it, and its voice is softer than its character. Many French poets were born along its banks. Rivers do more than irrigate the soil. Wine grows on the slopes, and poets flourish. The troubadours sang here in the Middle ages.” From Joseph Roth. Yes, I’ve finally arrived at that most magical of terroirs, where the white cities rise on the plains and mountain tops and history recedes into a heat mirage. In the middle of the Rhone valley is the city of the anti popes, Avignon. And the source of the wine that comes in the bottles with papal regalia often stamped on the neck.

First stop is Domaine Grand Veneur and a friendly chat with Christoph Jaume. I was impressed with the 2011 Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhone Rouge Reserve. Inky red with lavender pouring from the glass. Full, luscious mouthfeel with prickly acidity and clay tannins providing firm support. Long and powerful finish. In stock now at our Willamette Street store. Following this stellar act was the more elegant 2011 Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Les Champauvins. Seventy percent Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. Fine grained tannins with garrigue, subtle notes of oregano, olives and baked clay. Simply spectacular was 2011 Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Les Origines. Fifty percent Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. Average age of vines is 70(!) years. “It exhibits significant creme de cassis, kirsch, blackberry and licorice notes along with a touch of vanillin. Full-bodied, but also accessible, plump and succulent, it can be drunk early in life or cellared for 10-12 years.” Wine Advocate #203 Oct. 2012: 90-92pts.

At the next table I was delighted by a perennial favorite. Chateau de Ségriès Côtes du Rhone 2012. Fuller than the ’11, a touch darker and with noticeable lavender overtones, ripe fruit and hints of baked clay. Look for this to arrive in a month or so as we are almost sold out of the ’11. Fifty percent Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Carignan and 10% Cinsault.

To end my tour of the white cities, I finished with the Henri de Lanzac 2011 Côtes du Rhone Clos de l’Hermitage, from a 3.5 ha. vineyard located in the “Quartier de la Chartreuse de Villeneuve-les-Avignon.” Thirty three percent Grenache, 33% Syrah and 33% Mourvédre. Average age of vines is 40 years. Twenty one days skin maceration in temperature controlled concrete vats, nine months in 5% new French oak from Seguin Moreau and 95% in 1 year-old barrels. Lively with lots of peppery tannins, luscious berry layered with baked clay and subtle, smoky components ending in a powerful, integrated finish! Coming very soon…

All the wines listed above are either in stock (as noted) now or in shipment to arrive soon at our Willamette Street store.

As I was in an area of the country steeped in history, I brought my son along to soak up the ample ambience. Here we are making the acquaintance of a very young George Washington near a little log cabin he used as a military office from 1755 to 1756 while planning and building Fort Loudoun in Winchester, Virginia.

Monodovino 2013: Dawn of the Red

After initial pleasantries and some dalliance with bubbly, I finally arrived at my favorite tables. Coming full circle, I began with the Rubus Old Vine 2010 Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, Australia, and the Old Vine 2010 Zinfandel, from Lodi California. Ninety points from the Wine Spectator: “Polished, supple and juicy, with red berry, black cherry, licorice and white pepper flavors…” The Zin was finished in French and American oak for nine months. Dark ruby red with lots of interlocking cedar, berry and spice notes and a peppery finish. I’m looking forward to both of these arriving soon!

Chakana Winery (see my March 14 Mondovino 2013 post below) just keeps making outstanding reds that consistently beat down the competition. The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Malbec 2011 (in stock now at the Willamette store) are no exception. The Malbec in particular is showing ripe, dark berry fruit and velvety, dusty tannins that flow into a fine, powerful finish.

And so many new wineries to contemplate:

Cholila Ranch, with a picaresque history: “On February 20, 1901, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, boarded the British ship Herminius and steamed off to build a new life for themselves in the ‘United States of the Southern Hemisphere.’ They settled in a sheep ranch at Cholila Ranch, in the deepest Argentine Patagonia, under the alias of James Ryan and Harry A. Place, where they were considered respectable citizens.” – Extract from Digging Up Butch & Sundance, by Anne Meadows.

Point man for the winery is Roberto de la Mota. The winery is located at 39° south latitude, in a landscape crisscrossed by dusty roads paved with stones. The Cholila Ranch 2011 Malbec is aged in American and French oak for nine months. Black in the glass, with wood smoke, vanilla, blueberry and plum notes. Very long finish.

Viejo Isaias, in Mendoza, is owned by Rodrigo Manuel Romero. Rodrigo’s initial vintage was in 2004. I have a particular weak spot for Bonarda, both from Italy, where it has one expression, and Argentina, where it has another! Viejo Isaias 2012 Bonarda Clasico is a wonderful example of what can be done with this varietal in Argentina. Fuliginous in the glass, packed tight with tart black cherry, tobacco and a hint of exotic five spice!

Early last year we tasted the Viña Siegal 2010 ‘Uber Cuvee’ Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicious and lively blend of 85% Cabernet and 15% Syrah from the Cochagua Valley. A stunning value that many of you bought by the caseload to take advantage of our 15% discount. Well, I’m happy to say the 2011 is equally ‘uber’ drinkable! Owned by Alberto Siegal and his father, Don Germán. Winemaker Nicolas Oyarzun uses grapes from 15 year-old vines harvested in late April. The wine is then given eight weeks of aging in French with a medium toast.

Moving, dodging and ducking, I made my way to the Aussies and Thorn-Clarke Winery. Started working with these wines in our old location and have always found the Milton Park Shiraz to be a prime value wine exhibiting that unique Australian terroir. Evocative of Bordeaux is the Thorn-Clarke Quartage 2010. Blended from 43% Cabernet, 33% Cabernet Franc, 12% Malbec and 12% Merlot. Even better was the 2010 Shotfire Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz. Very dense in the mouth with pencil lead and dust focused on rich berry fruit with lots of mouth grip and length. A powerful example of what Barossa can achieve! Ninety one points from the Wine Advocate. Coming soon!

In addition to these wines, there were some extremely attractive private label bottles from Thorn-Clarke. Under the Cool Winds label, a racy Shiraz 2010 with lovely blackberry and plum notes and Pinot Noir 2010 that sported tart pie cherry and brioche managed to distract my attention momentarily from the next table. Vive la France!

Up next, Dawn of the Red: the Climax. Stay tuned…

Sierra Nevada Brewery

A short time ago, I had the opportunity to visit Sierra Nevada’s brewery in Chico, California. This was a real treat for me, because I have known its beer for a very long time, and know that it delivers a quality product. I was especially excited to see, and taste, its small batch and specialty beers that are part of the High Altitude and Specialty Brew series.

Upon driving up, you know that this is a large brewery. One of the first things that you see are the rows of 800-barrel fermentation tanks.  What came to my mind first is: “Oh no, another large, corporate brewery with an emphasis on the bottom line.” It is then, however, that you notice that the brewery is seemingly surrounded by empty hop fields. I immediately wanted to know more!

As the tour started, I became steadily aware that even though this brewery puts out more than one million barrels of beer a year, it still holds true to the quality standards that it started out with. It is still a family-owned company, with one of the original founders still coming to work every day. As a home brewer myself, I recognized the same ingredients and techniques that I use. Sierra Nevada still brews with all grain, no extract, as well as whole hop. It even bottle finishes all of the beer, which always gives beer a better head and lacing.

The tour continued, and it became increasingly evident that this place is making a considerable effort to be sustainable.  The entire roof of the brewery is covered in solar panels, generating on average 60-70% of its electricity.  All of the excess gas from the fermenters is captured and reused. Over 99% of solid waste is composted and used in its own farm as well as spent grains sent to local dairy farms. Sierra Nevada also uses some of its waste to fuel the delivery trucks.

Finally, after visiting five bottling lines, it was on to the tasting rooms! We got to try some exciting Ovila lines, including the barrel aged quad and double.  All of the Ovila brews are made in an actual religious abbey that is only a few miles away. Maybe next visit.  Excellent and complex beers, very representative of the styles they represent. Also got to try the upcoming Narwhal and Hoptimum. The Hoptimum should be coming out soon, so keep your hop-tasting senses peeled. Wonderful imperial IPA.

Also look for the next seasonal, the Summerfest! It’s a wonderfully complex and hoppy pilsner style beer. Incredibly drinkable and refreshing.  Perfect for the nice spring and summer days that will get here eventually (fingers crossed).  Also, don’t forget about the Torpedo IPA. Tasted it again, and realized that there is a reason that this is the #1 IPA in the country.  Wonderfully balanced, but with an amazing hop nose and flavor. Hopheads always love this one.

Stop by your Market of Choice Beer and Wine Department to see what new products we have, and to see what’s coming up from Sierra Nevada and other breweries.

Mondovino 2013

Food at Mondo VinoIn my never ending quest to go beyond the mundane, and confound the three international wine and liquor corporations that control over 50 percent of shelf space in the USA and flood the supermarkets with bulk wine of little merit crouching covertly behind cutesy animals and clever bon mots, I traveled to Virginia to attend Mondovino. This massive tasting of over 400 wines from around the world is hosted by Kysela Pere et Fils, importer of wine, spirits, and beer. I’ve been working with Fran Kysela since 2005, and have been consistently amazed at the quality and prices of the wines with which he works.

Undaunted, I entered the huge warehouse lined with pallets of Caves de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet, one of my favorite whites for everyday sipping when the oysters are fresh and the sun is slanting off the Mediterranean blue in the burgeoning summertime. We arrived a bit early. It’s always good to get off to a fast start, especially when there are over 400 wines to get through. Always hard to keep focus at these events, but being the pro that I am, I started with the whites and rosés. Standouts at almost every table:

Rubus 2012 Rosado Prieto Picudo. You may be familiar with the Zinfandel that I’ve worked with for the past five years, well, this is its equal in pink power!

Chakana Winery, founded by Juan Pelizzatti in 2002 on Chakana, the celebration that marks the day when the Southern Cross becomes vertical in the southern celestial sphere. Some of you were lucky enough to get in on the Chakana Malbec and Red Blend earlier this year. Good news, the next vintages are just as tasty. But focus! Let’s get back to the whites! Maipe Chardonnay 2012, their entry level label, lovely and loaded! Nuna, the next level, 2012 Torrontes, floral, gingery, zingy acidity…what more could you want?

Well, at the next table from Australia a lively, refreshing Moscato, First Light NV was frothy, expressing appealing notes of orange peel, lychee and mango. There you have it, low alcohol, made for the deck and lazy summer evenings when the big reds and whites just won’t work and a dip in the pool seems perfectly apropos!

It’s hard to restrain myself in the face of so many good wines: focus, focus! In any event, the whites from France began to beckon and I, of course, heeded!

Monique Bonnet and Tom KenneyOy. Chateau Suau, the ever impressionable and attractive Monique Bonnet, and Tom Kenney, whom I met in 2006, were present to talk about and pour the 2011 Bordeaux Blanc. Expressive on the nose, with nice length and richness of fruit revealing pleasing tropical notes. 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle. Dessert wines have always held a sweet spot in my heart. Chateau Suau 2009 Cadillac Vin Doux is already on the shelf, here. Rich, complex with honey, tropical fruits, hints of cream and peach. Very long on the finish, it was a pleasure to sample this one again. Jean Claude Courtald 2011 Petit Chablis is up next. Beautiful green/gold. White flower, lime and steel. Charming, somewhat flirtatious, lively, but serious. 18 hectares in Beine, Lignorelles, Chablis, Fyé and Villy.

Vey… now I have to steel (the Chablis helps…) myself while passing the Rhone reds beckoning enticingly.

Fortunately, Chateau Gaudrelle and the Loire Valley are up next. I visited the property in 2006 and found the wines to be attractive, exhibiting terroir and exciting combinations of tropical fruit, melon and chalk with staying power at the end. My favorite this time was a lithe jeune fille, Chateau Gaudrelle La Petit Chenin NV.  Expressive orange and tangerine notes with a bit of nervy chalk underneath. Looking forward to seeing this one with the advent of springtime!

South African whites and rosés were very attractive. The Royal Chenin Blanc 2012 will be making an appearance shortly, and one of my favorite rosés, Riebeek Cape Rosé 2012 made entirely from Pinotage, was beaming loads of tart cherry and cranberry notes with perhaps a hint of sauvage.

Carole ChampionNothing wrong with wrapping this quick lark through the whites and rosés with some vigorous bubbly action. Two years ago I became acquainted with the champagnes of Roland Champion (pronounced shamp-ion). I’ve been working with the Brut Blanc de Blancs Chouilly Grand Cru ever since. 100% Chardonnay, 30 months minimum ageing. Free run juice only, from 2005, ’06 and ’07 vintages. Dosage: 8 grams/liter. Exquisite!

But then came the Brut Rosé! 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir. 70% clear run juice from 2007 and 30% from ’05. Color comes from 15% red wine from Verneuil aged 4 years. Interlocking flavors of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry with toast and brioche notes in the attack playing games on the palate with developing orange peel, apple and citrus as the wine airs in the glass. Outstanding palate development!

Look for my assessments on the red in an upcoming entry! In the meantime, come in and enjoy our Festa Piedmontese on Friday, March 15. Delicious wines, foods and guests from the area talking about their traditions and lifestyles!

Wisconsin cheese tour: Day 4 – Wrapping up our trip with some of the best

On our last day in the great state of Wisconsin, we rose early, ate breakfast, packed our bags and walked to a small trade show in a room off the lobby of our Green Bay hotel. There were so many great Wisconsin cheeses on display, the thought of sampling so many at such an early hour was a bit overwhelming.

The team and I stopped at the first table, nibbled, and let him know it wasn’t personal, just early. He looked me in the eye and said, “Well, ya know this is Wisconsin. We wake up and start eating cheese about three or four in the morning, take a break around eight to mix it up with some summer sausage, and then start eating cheese again about 11.” I took that as a call to arms, rallied to do right by cheese, myself and the Market of Choice reputation, and like a Wisconsin pro, ate more cheese!

We shuffled among the tables, a bell letting us know when it was time to move. It was like cheese speed dating – sometimes we found true love, sometimes a new friend, and a couple we’d rather forget.

I was impressed by a table of “bread cheeses” –  baked, Finnish-style cheeses that you can put in the oven or sauté until warm all the way through. They don’t melt into a puddle or fall apart, but they do squeak! There was plain bread cheese, herbed bread cheese, and a new flavor infused with bacon. And of course the ultimate-stuffed bread cheese, with Parmesean, goat cheddar or traditional cheddar. Cheese on cheese, stuffed with cheese!

One vendor offered sweet cheese balls in a variety of flavors. Some looked like frosted cake bites, others chocolate cheese fudge. It was hard to believe that all the sweet goodies were made with a blended mixture of Wisconsin cheese.

After the show, our merry group of retailers marched out to the bus and loaded for Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Upon arriving, we noticed the myriad of Green Bay Packer yard decorations covering the lawns of homes across from the stadium. We took photos next to the enormous statures of Vince Lombardi and wandered into the two-story pro shop to buy souvenirs. Just outside the shop, groups of loyal fans waited for the tours that take place several times a day. In Wisconsin, there are two things you don’t mess with – cheese and the Packers!

Then time came for us to head to the airport and return to Oregon. Market of  Choice Cheese Stewards Erick, Cassie and Nicole joined me at a café at the airport, where we talked about our trip. The experience was amazing, the people were hard working and friendly, and the cheese was great!

Here’s a sneak preview of some of our favorites that will be coming soon to your Market Cheese Shop:

  • Sartori’s Pastoral in January  & Sartori’s Rosemary Asiago in March
  • Saxon’s Snowfields in February
  • Henning’s Hatch Chili Cheddar and Heritage Peppercorn Cheddar, Fall 2013

Let us know what you think!

Wisconsin cheese tour: Day 3 – Quadruple the fun!

Our first stop was Henning’s in Kiel, Wisconsin – a fourth generation family-owned business since 1914.

A small retail shop quickly gave way to a smaller back room, where we discovered antique cheese-making equipment laid out like a mini museum and large picture windows that allowed us a peek into the production room.

On this particular day, they were making horseradish cheddar, requiring workers to wear gas masks. What a sight!

Did you know … Henning’s is one of the only remaining cheesemakers to create a mammoth cheese wheel, weighing in at that highlighted the making, wax coating and storage of their cheese. As he discussed the different cheeses, one in particular grabbed our attention – a heritage cheddar called Hatch Pepper.

Hatch, New Mexico, the “Chile Capital of the World” is the source of this cheese’s seasonal chiles. Back at the retail shop, we all rushed to try it, and we were not disappointed. I was sure to bring some home and was happy that everyone, especially my dad, enjoyed it as much as they did. My supply dwindles with every football game, leaving me anxious to get my hands on more. Clearly, my supply won’t make it to the playoffs.


sartori cheeseOur next stop was Sartori, a fourth generation family-owned company since 1939.  They feature a variety of aged cheese from Asiago to BellaVitano, for which they have received numerous awards.

Walking into their lobby in Plymouth, we were greeted with shelves of ribbons, plaques and trophies. Expectations were running high – we were in for some great cheese.

They ushered us into the “kitchen,” an amazing display of marble and stainless steal, where each cheese is sampled on its own wooden cutting board. A Satori family original is the BellaVitano Gold – nutty, fruity, rich and creamy; it’s perfect for any cheese plate.

Saxon Homestead

saxon cheeseWe were then off to Saxon Homestead Creamery in Cleveland. Named for their farming ancestors who came from Saxony, Germany in 1850, Saxon makes a small variety of cheeses using milk from cows on the farm.

Gerald Heimerl led us on a tour of the facility. The cheeses are formed in molds, branded with the Saxon logo and a leafy design, reflecting the homestead’s connection to nature.

We also witnessed the “painting” of a Saxony washed rind. Nutty and supple, it’s a great tasting cheese and it was fun to watch. I also learned that Saxon offers a gift box that includes homemade maple syrup. Tasty stuff!

Bel Gioioso

Our last stop was Bel Gioioso’s mozzarella and provolone plant in Glenmore. The cheese making processes were so unique, we had to sign a confidentiality agreement! So all I can say is, it was an amazing experience. Oh, and the cheese was excellent!