Friday, April 27, 2012

Taste of The Nation: Helping Feed The Children

Cue the irony, a large group of people gorging on plentiful food and alcohol while nearly 17 million children struggle with hunger. Fortunately, the event is aimed at alleviating the problems of childhood hunger, and 100% of all ticket sales go directly to these efforts.

The Taste of the Nation, which was established in 1988, has run numerous events, all across the country, bringing together chefs, mixologists, wineries, bakers, and more all to help fight childhood hunger. Ticket sales directly support Share Our Strength’s efforts and this year's funds went to their program,No Kid Hungry. This is a very serious problem and this event is doing something significant to combat it, and all of the participants, who mostly have donated their time, food and drink, deserve kudos for their efforts.

I had a fun and delicious time at this event, tasting many interesting dishes, wines and cocktails while getting the chance to chat with some chefs and vendors. It was not overly crowded so you didn't have to wait at most of the tables. I want to highlight several special items at the event, some very new to me, others which continue to impress.

Seafood charcuterie is up and coming, and I definitely want to write a story on it soon. It is an intriguing idea and seems to work well from prior items I have tried.  606 Congress presented a Monkfish Chorizo, which is made with monkfish, cream, egg whites, and chorizo spices. It was tasty, with a creamy texture to it and the spices added a nice balance.

Masa, with locations in Boston and Woburn,  infuses their own Reposado tequila to make a Habanero Watermelon Margarita. I love the taste of watermelon and this cocktail presented a nice watermelon taste, not too sweet, with a tequila undertone and a very spicy finish. I would have enjoyed a big glass of this refreshing, spicy margarita and will have to stop by the restaurant to have it once again.

Mat and Evan of Turkey Shore Distilleries, makers of Old Ipswich Rum, were pouring some of their rum and they recently won three medals at the American Distilling Institute's 9th Annual Craft Distilling Conference & Vendor Expo. Their award is pictured above, a mini-still which actually works! I previously reviewed their distillery and rums, which are worthy of your attention. On May 5, the public is invited to attend Turkey Shore Distilleries' one-year Anniversary Celebration and Rum Release party from 1pm-5pm at their headquarters at 23 Hayward Street in Ipswich.

A bowl of savory and salty Crispy Pig's Ear Chicharrones made by Franklin Cafe. A perfect snack and I wish I had a bowl in front of me right now.

Chef Jason Santos of Blue Inc. served up some Pastrami Dumplings, which were very crunchy, reminding me more of wontons than dumplings. The pastrami fitting went well with the crunchy coating and they were also an excellent comfort food.

Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta, who I often see at charity events, presented an intriguing dessert, a smooth and creamy pudding-like item that uses lucuma, a Peruvian fruit which is also known as egg fruit because its flesh seems to resemble the texture of a hard boiled egg. It reminded me of a delicious butterscotch pudding,  and I had a couple of them because they were so good. Peruvian ingredients deserve much more respect as their diversity offers so many intriguing flavors.

Of all the wines I tasted, the best value finds were two wines from Biohof Pratsch, an organically certified Austrian winery. Both wines were in one-liter bottles, which is 1/3 more than a usual wine bottle, and cost only $13, which would be equivalent to about $9.30 for a regular 750ml bottle. The 2010 Gruner Veltliner was crisp and dry with bright citrus flavors and hints of spice. A very refreshing wine that would be excellent with food or just as a summer sipper. The 2009 Zweigelt was light bodied and smooth with plenty of tasty red fruit flavors. Another easy drinking and flavorful wine, and both also only have 12% alcohol. Excellent values and both are strongly recommended.

I had the pleasure to meet Michele da Silva and Dana Masterpolo, the owners of Bantam Cider, a new cidery in Inman Square, Cambridge. The cidery opened last January and they currently sell a single product, the Wunderkind, which was named in honor of Amelia Earhart. The cider contains only fermented pressed apples, honey and sulfites. The apples are a mix of Cortland, Empire, Macintosh and green apples, all from western Massachusetts. They use a sparkling wine yeast and ferment it dry, adding the honey later more for body than sweetness. It has an alcohol content of 6%, is gluten free and sells in a 650ml bottle for about $8.  

Michele and Dana wanted to make a hard cider that would be accessible to all. They also have plans to make other varieties in the future. In addition, they self distribute so they are still trying to get their product into more venues. I was impressed with the Wunderkind's taste, which was mostly dry, with only a light sweetness, lots of tasty apple flavors, hints of some floral elements and a fuller body than some other hard ciders. It was refreshing and the type of hard cider that you can easily drink a few bottles on a nice summer day.

Michele and Dana emphasized that the cider was food friendly too, pairing well with cheese and spicy Asian dishes. With all of the new artisan breweries and distilleries sprouting up, many of them appear to be run by men so it is good to see women getting involved as well. They have created a good product here, and I look forward to seeing what else they will develop in the near future.

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