Thursday, September 30, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely and tips well.
1) Chef Will Gilson and his culinary team at The Lexington are set to open Geppetto on Saturday, October 2, at his multi-concept venue The Lexington at Cambridge Crossing (CX). Geppetto will feature modern Italian fare in a sophisticated yet approachable space.

Geppetto will offer diners a modern Italian menu exclusively for dinner service. The menu will center around house-made pastas and a seasonally influenced menu of raw fish, shareable plates, and family-style entrees- all sourced from the freshest, highest quality ingredients available locally. Menu highlights will include Chicken Parm Polpette, Smoked Short Rib Carpaccio, Hand-Cut Pappardelle with Wild Boar Bolognese, Mushroom Agnolotti, and Beet Cavatelli. The dessert program, executed by acclaimed Pastry Chef Brian Mercury, will feature modern interpretations of Italian classics and a rotating selection of house-made gelatos.

The menu will feature a variety of fun and funky Italian wines; six rotating, signature cocktails on draft; an amaro cart; as well as affogato and amaro gelato creations.

Geppetto will be open for dinner service from 5 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday.

2) Fogo de Chão, a Brazilian steakhouse, is set to open its second Boston-area location on Tuesday, October 12th, in Burlington. The restaurant will be in the newly-redeveloped area of the Burlington Mall. 

For over 40 years Fogo de Chão has mastered the centuries-old culinary art of churrasco, roasting high-quality, simply-seasoned cuts of meat over an open flame, each expertly butchered and carved tableside by gaucho chefs. Fogo’s seasonal Market Table welcomes guests to discover fresh salads and soup, exotic fruits, vegetables, imported charcuterie and more. Those looking for a more casual, relaxed experience can order signature cocktails, award-winning South American wines and smaller, shareable plates in Bar Fogo.

The Burlington team is led by General Manager and Head Gaucho Chef, Raido Ramos, who brings over five years of experience with Fogo to his new position. Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Ramos joined Fogo de Chão as part of the Heart of House team and quickly climbed the ranks, most recently serving as Assistant Manager at the Rosemont, IL, location, one of Fogo’s busiest restaurants located in a suburb of Chicago.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Baijiu Class with Derek Sandhaus

Baijiu might be the most popular spirit in the world, but it's still relatively unknown in much of the U.S. More education and exposure to Baijiu is needed to elevate the recognition of this fascinating spirit. I've written about 15 articles about Baijiu, helping to promote this beverage. Recently, i attended a Baijiu class held by Derek Sandhaus, a Baijiu expert, to expand my own knowledge and it was fun, tasty and informative.

The class was held in Chinatown, at Shojo, and only a small group attended. It would have been better if the class was better attended, if more locals had come to learn about Baijiu. It remains a tiny niche spirit, but that needs to change. With all the emphasis on mixology in the Boston area, Baijiu would be an excellent addition to any bar as it's a versatile and unique cocktail ingredient. 

Derek Sandhaus, pictured above, has spent many years in China as a China-based writer and editor and has previously published two books, Tales of Old Peking and Tales of Old Hong Kong. He also wrote two books on Baijiu, including Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits and Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture. I've read both books and they are comprehensive, educational and fascinating, definitely recommended. Derek also runs a Baijiu consultancy and is a partner in the Ming River Baijiu project. In person, Derek is very personable, down to earth, and obviously passionate about Baijiu. 

During 2006-2013, Derek was in China working in the publishing business, eventually moving from Shanghai to Chengdu. He learned that the Sichuan province was the center of the Chinese distilling industry, and he became fascinated with Baijiu. He started to learn everything he could about Baijiu, visiting numerous distilleries, and that led to the publication of his first book on Baijiu.

During the course of the class, Derek provided plenty of information about Baijiu, from its lengthy history to its intriguing production process. Although many Americans think all Baijiu tastes like the famed Maotai, the category actually has much diversity, including at least 12 different styles. During the class, we sampled Baijiu from the top four types. 

About 8 billion liters of Baijiu are annually produced in China, and there are a few Baijiu distilleries outside of China, in places from New Zealand to Oregon. Currently, the term "Baijiu" isn't legally protected so it can be used by any distillery around the world. As there are only a handful of non-Chinese Baijiu distilleries, there hasn't been a real need to protect the term, but that could change in the future. 

Brand Finance creates lists of the most valuable spirit brands in the world, and in their latest list, the Top Five Spots all belonged to Baijiu producers, including Maotai, Wuliangye, Yanghe, Luzhou Laojiao, and Gujing Gong Jiu. The 6th spot was taken by Jack Daniels, and the rest of the Top Ten included Hennessy, Smirnoff, Bacardi and Johnnie Walker. Who would have realized the vast popularity of Baijiu?

We began the class with a Baijiu cocktail, the Bai Bai Mule, which is on Shojo's Drinks menu. It's made with Ming River Baijiu, Cucumber, Lime, Mint, and House Ginger Beer. It was tasty and refreshing, not too sweet, with some tropical fruit flavors. An excellent summer drink, and a nice way to show the versatility of Baijiu. It possessed more flavor than a traditional Moscow Mule, which is made from Vodka. 

We then tasted 4 types of Baijiu, the most popular types, including Rice Aroma, Light Aroma, Strong Aroma, and Sauce Aroma. The Baijiu included Vinn Baijiu, Kinmen Kaoliang, Ming River and Maotai Prince, varying from 40% ABV to 53% ABV. The Vinn was produced from brown rice while the other three were made from sorghum. Each Baijiu had their own distinct flavor profile, and there certainly would be at least one type that appealed to any spirit lover. In China, Baijiu is commonly drank straight, in shots, but Americans might find Baijiu more appealing in cocktails, at least until they get used to the unique flavors of Baijiu.

The Ming River Baijiu, which I previously reviewed, is a Strong Aroma Baijiu, the most popular type, which occupies about 70% of the market. It possesses three layers of flavor. 1) tropical fruit-pineapple, 2) floral, anise, licorice; and 3) funky, cheesy, earthy, umami. After Derek's first Baijiu book was published, he was approached about opening a Baijiu Bar in China. This bar, Capital Spirits, became the first Baijiu bar in the world. It's primary clientele were ex-pats and younger Chinese, who enjoyed cocktails.  

Then, Derek, and his partners, Bill and Matthias, were approached by the Luzhou Laojiao distillery who wished assistance in producing a Baijiu that would appeal to the international market. They joined this project, which led to a variety of blending experiments, with input from numerous bartenders. The end result was Ming River Baijiu, which was intended to work well with a variety of cocktails, such as Tiki drinks. 

The Ming River (about $38) recently became available in the Boston market and it would be an excellent introduction to Baijiu, showcasing its delicious taste and versatility. I've been enjoying a simple and refreshing blend of Ming River and lemonade. You can also find some suggested cocktails on their website. You could enjoy the Ming River on its own, or experiment with cocktails at home.  

Shojo also provided some snacks for the class.

Duck Fat Fries with Sriracha Aioli.

Fried Chicken Bao

For more information about Baijiu, Derek has created an online course, Baijiu 101: The Fundamentals of Chinese Spirits. It is free and additional courses will be added in the future. 

Expand your palate and try some Baijiu, ignoring your preconceptions about it. The Ming River Baijiu would be a good starting point, to experiment with your favorite cocktails. Or go to some of the restaurants and bars that have Baijiu cocktails and give one a try. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

International Plavac Mali Day: Skaramuča Plavac Mali

Today is International Plavac Mali Day!

The Croatian Wine Alliance, a group of global teams promoting Croatian wines led by the US-based duo, Aroma Wine Co., and Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc., made September 21 to be International Plavac Mali Day. This collaboration is a public and private partnership among organizations from the US, Canada, Australia, Europe and Croatia – all dedicated to telling the many stories of this indigenous and predominant Croatian red variety. 

Plavac Mali is a descendant of Zinfandel (aka Tribidrag or Crljenak kaštelanski) creating a natural hybrid with another indigenous variety, Dobričić. Plavac Mali produces several styles of wines, from medium-bodied and easy-drinking, to elegant and robust wines. The aromas in Plavac mali are predominantly dark berries and Mediterranean herbs with expressive tannins, and mineral on the palate. Plavac Mali means ‘little blue’, referring to its appearance, small and dark blue berries.

Two years ago this month, I visited Croatia, and wrote numerous articles about my experiences in that beautiful and wondrous country. I learned much about Plavac Mali, having visited numerous vineyards and wineries, and tasted a diverse variety of the wines. That diversity is compelling, as you can enjoy fresh and light Plavac Mali wines, as well as heavier, more robust wines that will age very well. So, you can enjoy Plavac Mali with a wide assortment of foods, just dependent on which style you prefer. 

My article, Volarević Winery: Organic Rakija & The Complexity of Plavac Mali, provides more information about Plavac Mali, its origins, as well as the efforts to study and research this fascinating grape. In some respects, and despite the long history of Plavac Mali, there is still much to learn about this grape, and that that times, research and experimentation. As I said in that article, "This is a grape which can present greatness, which can compare well to other famed red grapes around the world."

Onto a couple Plavac Mali wines that I recently drank.

The family behind Vina Skaramuča family has growing vineyards on Pelješac Peninsula of Croatia for several generations. However, when Ivo Skaramuča, the vineyard only had a few hectares which has now grown to about 20 hectares. Most of their vineyards are in the Dingač region,  and they now  possess the largest vineyard in this region. In 1961, Dingač became the first protected wine region in Croatia and it is well known for its Plavac Mali wines. Today the winery is managed by Igor Skaramuča, Ivana and Branimir Anđelić

The 2017 Vina Skaramuča Plavac Premium ($16) is made from 100% Plavac Mali from vineyards in Pelješac and the Dingač. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged for 6 months in large 3000L barrels, aged for another 6 months in the bottle, and has a 13% ABV. This is a lighter, easier drinking Plavac Mali, with plenty of tasty red and black fruit flavors, good acidity, and some subtle spice notes. This is an everyday wine, perfect on its own or with everything from pizza to burgers, tacos to salmon. 

The 2016 Vina Skaramuča Plavac Mali Dingac ($24) is a different style of Plavac Mali, a bigger, bolder version. It is 100% Plavac Mali, all organically grown, and using natural yeasts. It is aged for 12 months in large 3000L barrels, aged for another 6 months in the bottle, and has a 14% ABV. This wine tends more to richer, black fruit flavors, like plum and black cherry, with an ample spicy element, strong tannins, and a touch of earthiness. A lengthy finish, nicely balanced, and quite tasty. This is a wine to pair with hearty dishes, from steak to stews. Or some wild boar. 

How did you celebrate International Plavac Mali wine Day?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Rant: Going Beyond Beef, Pork & Chicken

For many Americans, they rarely, if ever, go beyond the basic trio of beef, pork, and chicken. Those three proteins constitute the center of the vast majority of their meals. It hasn't always been that way. Historically, our ancestors had much more diverse palates, enjoying a wide variety of other animals on their plates. Somehow, during the last hundred years, Americans stopped eating so many different meats. 

Why have Americans become so boring with their food choices?

There are numeroius reasons why you should be eating other animals, beyond the common three, the cow, pig and chicken. First, other animals can be more sustainable, better for our environment, and that is currently a significant issue for our world. Second, they can be more nutritious, better for your health, especially if the common three are produced by factory farms. Third, other animals can be quite tasty, presenting different flavors that the common three animals. Fourth, they are usually no more difficult to cook and prepare as the common three. Fifth, it's just exciting to try something new and different, to be adventurous with your palate. 

As for poultry, most people only eat chicken, with an exception for turkey, although that is usually only on holidays like Thanksgiving. Why not expand your palate to include duck, quail, goose, squab, pheasant, and guinea hens? As for other meats, go beyond beef and pork, and try animals such as bison, elk, venison, rabbit, wild boar, lamb, goat, or go even more exotic with items like kangaroo, snake, yak, llama, and more. 

Did you know that the USDA stated Rabbit was the most nutritious meat? It's also very sustainable, can be prepared in a myriad of ways, and has a tasty, mild flavor. 

At the very least, you should seek out more heritage and special breeds of cows and pigs, from Waygu cattle to Mangalitsa pigs. Those breeds are usually raised in a more sustainable method, on a smaller scale, and possess much more flavor than the usual beef and pork you consume. 

Why have Americans become so boring with their food choices? Primarily, it's a psychological issue, that many people won't eat other animals because it seems so strange, or the animal is too cute, or they are unwilling to venture out beyond their comfort zone. It's rarely a taste issue as these other animals are delicious. 

Practically, there are a couple obstacles, but they are relatively minor, and can be overcome. First, it can be difficult to find these other animals at the usual grocery stores, although even they are now offering more than the common three. And a couple chains, like Wegmans and Whole Foods, offer a variety of different meats, from duck to bison. Some of these meats can also be ordered online, delivered to your home. If you are willing to have an adventurous palate, you can find these different meats.

Price may be a concern as well, but you need to properly consider that issue. First, most people eat too large a portion of protein and it would be healthier for you to eat a smaller portion. And small portions would be less expensive. Second, you also get what you pay for, usually higher quality meat, free from the problems of the larger factory farms. Third, not all of these different meats are as expensive as you might think. 

If you want to step your toes into the water, try some different meats at a restaurant. Many restaurants commonly offer something different than the common three. And once you enjoy such a dish at a restaurant, you'll be more likely to want to eat it at home as well. Try duck wings instead of chicken wings, some chicken fried rabbit, or a venison steak. 

Stop being so boring, and let your palate take an adventure. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

New Sampan Article: Balut Brings Business to Cavendish Game Birds

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

For over a year, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It is published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written twenty-nine articles for Sampan, and you can find links here.

My newest article, Balut Brings Business to Cavendish Game Birds, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. On a recent trip to southern Vermont, I visited Cavendish Game Birds, to tour the farm and learn more about the fascinating success story during the pandemic. Pre-Covid, the farm's customers were nearly all restaurants, so when all those restaurants had to close, the farm faced a serious dilemma. Fate intervened to provide them a unique opportunity. The farm primarily raises quail, and now has entered a niche market, supplying Quail Balut all across the country.  Learn more about this intriguing tale in the full article.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

2019 Les Vins Pirouettes Eros By Vincent: An Orange Wine From Alsace

When you look at the tall, slender bottle, the wine appears to be a Rosé, yet it was produced from only white grapes. In fact, it's what is commonly called an "orange" wine, a skin-contact wine, and it's delicious and intriguing. Many excellent wines comes from Alsace, and this is certainly one of them.

Domaine Christian Binner is over 250 years old, having been established in 1770. The estate now owns vineyards in the Kaefferkopf, Schlossberg and Wineck-Schlossberg Grands Crus and other parcels in Ammerschwihr, with most vines averaging 35 years old, and the rest between 60 and 100 years old. It has been sustainable farmed for about 35 years and in 2012, the winery built an eco-friendly winery, whose roof is covered in soil. They produce a wide range of wines, from Crémant d’Alsace to Late-Harvest.

As a related endeavor, Christian Binner established the Les Vins Pirouettes label as a means for small, organic and Biodynamic grape growers, to produce their own wines instead of selling off their grapes. There are currently 14 grape growers in this project, and their first name is always placed on the label. I haven't discovered yet why the label doesn't include their full name. The grape growers are assisted by the enologists Xavier Couturier and Pierre Sanchez,  and collectively produce about 80,000 bottles annually. 

The name Pirouettes was chosen to "symbolize the fun they’re having" as well as  because “these wines are like beautiful artistic figures, the result of certain know-how and mastery. Pirouette is a gesture of freedom, emotion, and joy,”  All of their wines are natural, using spontaneous fermentation, and there is no fining, filtration, or added sulfur. 

The 2019 Les Vins Pirouettes Eros By Vincent (about $25) is a blend, of 20 year old grapes from a Biodynamic vineyard, of 40% Pinot Gris, 40% Riesling, and 20% Sylvaner. The grapes are fermented on the skins for about 25 days, and the pink color of the wine comes from the Pinot Gris, which is a pink-colored variety. The wine is also aged on the lees in large foudre for about eight months. 

On the nose, there's an intriguing aroma of spice, citrus, and apples, although there are hints of even more. And on the palate, there's a compelling and complex melange of flavors, such a joy in the mouth. It is primarily savory, with baking spices, pepper, black tea, and more, combined with a variety of fruits, from citrus to pineapple. It is crisp, dry, well-balanced and with a pleasing, lengthy finish. Each sip brings something a little different to your mouth, and this is a wine you can slowly savor and enjoy. I paired the wine with some quail breasts and it was a very fine pairing. 

This is a wine I'd highly recommend for any adventurous wine lover. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Rant: Candy Apples vs Caramel Apples

With the advent of fall soon, there are certain seasonal treats which become more readily available, especially items using apples. One of my favorites, which can be found at many local farms, are fresh, cider donuts, and my favorites are from Russell Orchards. Prior to the pandemic, when we used to have local fairs, carnivals, and festivals, you would also find candy and caramel apples, which might be covered with coconut, nuts, colored sprinkles or other items. They are more difficult to find now, but are still available at some shops and farms. 

Most sources claim that red candy apples were invented first, by William Kolb, a candy-maker in Newark, New Jersey around 1908. Sources also claim that caramel apples were first developed by Kraft Foods in the 1950s. Although I found multiple references to "candy apples" in 19th century newspapers, none of the references were specific enough to identify their actual nature. Some of the references almost seemed to indicate they were merely a type of candy, and not what we think of when we think "candy apple."

However, I was able to find multiple, specific and detailed references to candy apples which predated their alleged invention in 1908. The St. Louis Republican (MO), November 5, 1900, published an article about local candy shops that were lowering their prices. It also mentioned that one of the shops had introduced a "Russian delicacy." The article continued, "The new thing was candied apples on a stick. The apples were raw but the candy was red and sticky, and altogether winning." 

A competing candy store quickly learned how to create these candied apples, and the price dropped from 3 for a nickel, to one penny each, and finally to 2 for a penny. It's now clear then that Kolb wasn't the inventor of red candy apples. 

The Buffalo Evening News, July 19, 1904, provided a recipe for a "candy apple" that stated "place apples pierce with bits of wood (like skewers) where the stems had been. These are placed in a pan and covered with a common brown taffy." This isn't a red candy apple but seems more similar to the caramel apple, as it was covered with a softer coating. 

There was another reference to a red candy apple prior to 1908, in The Times Herald (MI), December 9, 1905, which published an article about the holiday season and mentioned "Red candy apples for the holiday time may be easily made at home by dipping small perfect apples in a bath of hot candy colored a brilliant red." 

Candy apples, with their distinctive red candy shell, are usually made with a flavored boiled sugar recipe, while Caramel apples are covered with melted caramel. There is a huge textural difference between the two, one with a hard outer shell and the other with a gooey exterior. The popularity of each varies across the country, though I've been noticing over the last several years, to my dismay, an increase in the ubiquity of caramel apples locally. 

I love red candy apples, especially covered with coconut. It's often a challenge to take that first crunchy bite into the hard shell, but it's rewarding. With a fresh, crisp apple, the candy, coconut and fruit make for a very appealing treat. For me, the caramel apple fails. I love caramel, from a nice sweet sauce atop ice cream to a salted, gooey center of a dark chocolate. But I don't like its soft gooey texture on a caramel apple. It's too soft, and just doesn't seem complementary to the crisp, juicy apple. Plus, maybe it's also a bit sentimental, as growing up I most often had and enjoyed red candy apples. 

Why has the popularity of red candy apples waned? What is behind the rise of caramel apples? I don't have answers to these questions but I want to be able to more readily find red candy apples.

Do you prefer red candy apples or caramel apples? And why?

(Reprinted, with minor changes, from an older post)

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely and tips well.
1) Starting yesterday, and continuing every Wednesday night, Chef Michael Serpa is excited to launch "Date Night at Grand Tour" every Wednesday evening. Featuring a shareable, prix fixe menu of delicious, French classics for only $45 per person, guests will be transported to the city of love by way of Newbury street at Serpa's Parisian-inspired bistro. Grand Tour is great for a romantic date night out on the town.

With a la carte wines and dessert available for additional purchase, the rotating, five-course menu will initially feature:
--Pâté de Campagne: classic pork & bacon terrine, mustard, frisée
--Bok Choy with whipped avocado, kimchi vinaigrette, cilantro, sesame
--Cauliflower with harissa labne, golden raisins, toasted almonds
--Mussels with leeks, fennel, créme fraiche, grain mustard, country toast
--Steak Frites: Savenor’s prime bavette, frites, maitre d’hôtel butter, watercress salad

To make reservations, please vcall (857) 277-0800.

2) The Croatian Wine Alliance, a group of global teams promoting Croatian wines led by the US-based duo, Aroma Wine Co., and Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc., has announced that September 21st will now be known as International Plavac Mali Day. This collaboration is a public and private partnership among organizations from the US, Canada, Australia, Europe and Croatia – all dedicated to telling the many stories of this indigenous and predominant Croatian red variety. To learn about all celebrations worldwide and the participating organizations, follow there Facebook page and the #internationalplavacmaliday hashtag.

Plavac Mali is a predominant red wine variety growing in Dalmatia which is very recognizable for its distinct aroma and tannins, and deserves a celebration around the time it is typically harvested,” said Mirena Bagur, co-founder of Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc., an importer, online retailer, and advocate for wines of Croatia. “This day will be recognized annually in the week surrounding September 21st, with various events, educational and promotional content in local geographies where Plavac Mali is presented. For example, in Boston we are organizing a wine pairing dinner featuring various Plavac Mali wines and a few tastings in boutique wine stores.”

The UC Davis and University of Zagreb conducted a DNA study of the variety only to discover that Plavac Mali is a descendant of Zinfandel (aka Tribidrag or Crljenak kaštelanski) creating a natural hybrid with another indigenous variety, Dobričić. Plavac Mali produces several styles of wines, from medium-bodied and easy-drinking, to elegant and robust wines. The aromas in Plavac mali are predominantly dark berries and Mediterranean herbs with expressive tannins, and mineral on the palate. Plavac Mali means ‘little blue’, referring to its appearance, small and dark blue berries.

The annual production of Plavac Mali is over five million bottles annualy, which is 7.5% of the total Croatian wine production, and due to its distinct taste and a capacity to age well is the most likely red wine purchased and exported by both the wine industry and the consumers.

Leo Gracin, Doc. Dr. Sc. of Oenology, president of Vino Dalmacije Association and assistant professor at the University of Split, Studies of Mediterranean Agriculture, stated. “Plavac Mali achieves a distinctive quality on the steep, southern slopes of the islands and coast of Dalmatia. The wines from Plavac mali are full-bodied, strong with ripe tannins and pronounced aromas of dark-berry fruit. In addition, by maturing in wooden barrels, this varietal acquires an additional structure and, with its delicate oak aromas, achieves its full potential that only the world's best wines from warm areas can be proud of.”

I've tasted numerous Plavac Mali wines, and have been impressed with its myriad of styles, complexity and taste, In my numerous Croatian articles, you'll find plenty of information and reviews of Plavac Mali wines. However, many people still know little about Plavac Mali so it's a worthy candidate for its own wine day, to promote this compelling grape and bring it much greater recognition.

How can you celebrate International Plavac Mali Day? There's plenty of ways, including: 
• Follow Plavac Mali’s adventures on its Facebook page. And you can Tag that page if you post your own content and use hashtag #plavacmali
• Create your own tastings, wine pairings, giveaways or educational events – in person or virtually, and tag the social media handles
• Write articles about #plavacmali
• If you are part of the media, you can register for a free virtual event on September 20, at Noon (EST). To register, go to this link, here:

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Cavendish Game Birds: From Quail to Balut

During the pandemic, there have been some success stories, of businesses and restaurants which pivoted to new endeavors, allowing them to survive and even thrive. In southern Vermont, I was captivated by the tale of Cavendish Game Birds, which, pre-Covid, primarily sold boneless quail breasts to the restaurant industry. When the restaurants closed during the pandemic, Cavendish lost their main market. How would they survive?

Who would have imagined that Balut would be the salvation to their predicament?

Last month, I traveled to southern Vermont, visiting a few different farms with a couple friends, including Cavendish as I desired to learn more about their quail farm and pivot to the production of Balut. It was a fascinating tour, and we spent about three hours talking with Rick Thompson, one of the owners, touring the farm, seeing the quail, chicken, and ducks, and finally, getting to sample some Balut. 

Cavendish Game Birds was established in 1988 by Bill Thompson, a chef, who initially started raising pheasants, selling them to local restaurants. At that time, his brother, Rick, was working in food service, for a subsidiary of Heinz. Rick was convinced to join his brother's endeavor, and in 1998, they purchased a 75-acre farm in Springfield, Vermont. They started selling other game birds as well, from quail to ducks, as well as their eggs.

Over the years, they eventually chose to specialize in raising quail and their eggs, although they still raise chickens and ducks. They purchase other game birds, like pheasant, which they process at their on-site facilities and then sell. They are planning to phase out their chickens though, and then increase duck production. 

When Rick spoke to chefs, their local customers, many asked him for larger quails, so the brothers carefully sourced quail eggs which ultimately produced a quail that was 25-30% larger than usual. The eggs they produce are also “jumbo,” larger than the usual quail eggs. In addition, they allow the quail to grow for a longer period, so the birds develop more of a fat layer, which helps the meat remain more moist and tender during cooking. These are high quality quail, and plenty were sold to Boston restaurants over the years. 

They are probably the biggest quail producer in Vermont, however they are still relatively small compared to some of the largest commercial quail farms in the country. For example, the two largest farms might be Manchester Farms in South Carolina and the Georgia Quail Farm, also known as Plantation Farms. Some of these larger farms though produce mainly lower quality quail, intended for inexpensive markets catering to Asians. Cavendish has chosen to produce only top quality quail, to protect their reputation for selling only the best. 

Prior to the pandemic, Cavendish faced another serious problem which they were able to overcome. Back in March 2013, there was a fire that destroyed their main building. They had to shut down their business for about 8 months, while they constructed a new building, pictured above. This building is where the breeders are kept, as well as those quail raised for their meat. It's the center of their business, with thousands of bird kept within it. 

Pre-Covid, about 90-95% of their business was with restaurants, and as Vermont is very seasonal, Rick also spent a lot of time developing markets in other states so that they could operate year round. About 85-90% of their quail meat was, and still is, boneless, as that is what the restaurants most wanted. Restaurants knew that most of their customers wouldn't want to extract small bones from their quail dinners.

Obviously, once the pandemic struck, restaurants temporarily closed, some for over a year and others permanently shut down. That devastated Cavendish as nearly all of their business was with restaurants. They began to pivot to retail, which took time to grow and certainly didn't provide the regularity of the former restaurant business. They sold quail and their eggs at local farmers markers and online, through Facebook Marketplace. 

These were difficult times and the survival of their business was in question. Fortunately, they were approached by someone who desired a new product that they were uniquely able to provide. 

In one of their Facebook Marketplace ads, they offered a variety package of duck and quail eggs for $25. One of the responses to their ad became a turning point. Rick was contacted by Thang Nyguyen, of Williston, Vermont, who owned a nail salon, and initially wanted quail eggs for his family and friends. In fact, he bought $300 of eggs in his first order! Quite a large order and then Thang made a few more orders. 

Obviously pleased with his purchases, Thang then approached Rick with a special request. Could he provide quail Balut? 

As I mentioned yesterday, Balut is basically an unhatched egg, which contains an embryo, and is most often a duck egg. The egg is hard boiled and then consumed out of the shell. In the Philippines, it acquired its name, Balut, and primary fame, although it's also found in a number of other Asian nations, from Cambodia to Vietnam. Quail Balut is much less common, and seems more of a Vietnamese delicacy. 

At first, Rick was leery of the idea, although he knew little about Balut, and declined Thang's request. It was an unusual request and Rick certainly never considered something like this. However, over time, Rick reconsidered the idea, especially as the business needed more revenue streams. So, he contacted Thang and stated he was willing to produce some Balut, an experiment for all involved. 

Rick needed to quickly learn more about Balut, and when he made his first delivery, Thang was very pleased with it, desirous of even more. Thang was essentially a wholesaler, selling the Balut to others across the country. 

Rick started shipping Balut around the country, and because it was so perishable, he needed to ship it by air, which also was less costly than other shipment methods. One day, while waiting in line at the airport to ship his next supply of Balut, he noticed that the Vietnamese man in front of him in line was also shipping Balut, chicken and duck. They got to talking and the man was very interested in quail Balut, soon after becoming another major customer for Cavendish. What were the odds of standing in line at the airport behind another Balut seller? 

Rick received great praise for his quail Balut, and this new business helped the Cavendish business survive and thrive. Combined with their new retail business, Cavendish did well, despite the pandemic. They now produce about 15,000 Balut eggs each week, and that will increase to 18,000-22,000 in the fall and winter. That's an astonishing amount of Balut! In addition, they sell about 1400-1700 duck Balut eggs each week. Nearly all of their Balut is consumed by various Vietnamese communities across the country. 

I didn't know that currently there was a quail shortage around the country, and Cavendish has even had to turn away some orders because they didn't have the capacity to fill the demand. At this time, they produce about 150,000-175,000 birds a year, and there's definitely room for growth. What is their farm like? What is the process of raising quails and their eggs?

Rick stated, “It all starts with the eggs.” They house about 6,000 hens in their main building, with about 14 quails per cage, meaning there are around 430 cages full of quail. As you can see, there is a very long line of cages down the building. Quails as far as your eye can see. Each cage has a section of feed, which a commercial feed that is an all-natural, high-protein blend of whole grains, and has no antibiotics or hormones. 

There is also a conveyor belt where the quail eggs end up before they are gathered, and the operation yields around 73% of usable eggs. There are employees who gather and examine the eggs each day, ensuring the eggs aren't cracked or deformed in any way. In addition, each egg is candled, which basically entails using a light to examine the egg, to guarantee it contains an embryo. 

They considered raising their quail free range but they are not really conducive to such, especially on a larger scale. Rick stated that quail generally don't make nests, so their eggs would be scattered around, and as those eggs are small and fragile, collection would be quite difficult. They also don't do well with extreme temperatures. Plus, the quail, especially the chicks, would be vulnerable to predators, and have little means to protect themselves. 

It generally takes about three months for a quail to become a good breeder, and then they will breed for about eight more months. Once they are done breeding, as their meat is tough they wouldn't be good to sell to consumers or restaurants. So, Cavendish generally sells the breeders to local raptor centers as food. Their quails, which are raised for meat, are kept separately from the breeders, but in the same main building. They have their own processing facility, making it easier to monitor the quality of their product from start to finish. They care about their reputation, knowing it's protected by selling quality products. 

The newly hatched and youngest quail are kept in a separate building, pictured above, with the brand new chicks separated from the other young quails.

For the day-old chicks, there are heated, circular enclosures, where they can be carefully watched and protected. There weren't any chicks there on the day of our tour. 

The two youngest flocks of quail are kept in a special section and although they seem jammed together, they have more space to spread out but seem to choose to crowd together. It resemble a thick carpet of quail. The mortality rate of the quail is very low, and those that die are usually only 1-2 weeks old. The quail are hand-picked, to ensure their quality. A flock of quail will generally be slaughtered for meat when they are about six weeks old, but it can take two to three weeks to process an entire flock.

What does quail taste like?  It has a more delicate and slightly sweet taste, but is more flavorful than chicken, and there is a touch of a wild gaminess. It's a versatile poultry and can be prepared in a myriad of methods and recipes. It could be prepared any way you prepare chicken. Quail is delicious and you should add it to your menu. 

Each morning, they collect hundreds of the speckled quail eggs, some which will be sold as is to the retail or restaurant market. Other eggs will be placed into incubators, pictured above, either to produce chicks or to make Balut. 

The incubators can hold about 30,000 quail eggs, and the egg trays are in constant movement, turning the eggs each hour. For quail balut, they incubate the eggs for about 12 days, and for duck Balut, they incubate the eggs for about 18 days.  

Cavendish also raises chickens, although they are going to exit that market and raise more ducks. 

They raise about 1500 ducks, including two breeds, Golden 300 and White Layers, which are almost the same except for their color. 

These breeds were developed for egg production and they sell plenty of duck eggs, as well as making a small amount of duck Balut. 

Rick stated they want to grow their farm, especially to construct a new building so they can raise more quail. However, he doesn't want to increase the size of farm to something that is bigger than he can control. As he said, farming is more about the lifestyle and not the money. Before Covid, they weren't considering growth, but that has now changed. Rick also stated, “Your worst performance is when you are slow; when you are busy, you work at your peak." During the pandemic, despite business being slow, they had to work hard to save the farm, helping to make it even better. 

At the end of our tour, we stopped at Rick's house to sample some Balut. Interestingly, Rick previously had quail Balut only once, and never duck Balut. So this visit was an experience for him as well, as he would eat several Balut eggs. Rick stated that making Balut is simple as you just hard boil the eggs, and then can add whatever topping you want. As I mentioned yesterday, the Vietnamese commonly eat it with salt, pepper, and a side of rau răm, a Vietnamese green that resembles cilantro in some ways. 

We had a bowl full of quail Balut to sample, and though there were five of us, there was plenty to go around. Rick hardboiled the eggs and brought out a few condiments, including salt and pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and hot sauce.

For my first taste of Balut, I tried it as is, without any condiments. First, a tiny hole was broken at the top of the egg and then I drank the "soup", which was very pleasing, almost like a savory chicken broth. Obviously, you only get a tiny portion although I wished I could have enjoyed even more of the soup.

Then, I took off more of the shell until I could remove the embryo and egg, and popped it into my mouth. It was tender and savory, with almost a consistency of liver. There was nothing off-putting about its taste at all, and there wasn't really a crunchy texture. Maybe if it were a larger duck egg, you might encounter a crunchier element, but not in the tiny quail eggs. 

I ate a few more eggs, trying a little salt and pepper, and once with some soy sauce, and those elements helped to elevate its taste. After I ate the Balut, my friends decided to try it as well, and no one found it off-putting. It wasn't like what they expected. 

Next, Rick fried up some of the Balut with oyster sauce, and it too was tasty, and might be an easier way for some people to try Balut. With the dark sauce on them, they don't look as much like a quail embryo. Balut are definitely an item where pre-conceptions prevent many people from sampling it, yet if they only tasted it, they might realize it isn't like what they think it is. It might not become one of your favorite dishes, but it also wouldn't be something you would refuse if offered.

If you're not up for Balut, then you could buy some of the quail meat sold by Cavendish, such as Whole Quail, Butterfly Quail, Semi-Boneless Quail, Boneless Quail, and Quail Legs. I got a package of Boneless Quail Breasts and some Quail Legs, hoping to prepare them soon for a dinner some night.

Rick also gave us a Duck to sample, and my friend Scott roasted it a few nights after we returned from Vermont. The skin was rubbed with a blend of fennel seed, black peppercorns, caraway seed, cinnamon, ginger, clove and honey. It was also stuffed with an orange, onion, basil and parsley. As you can see, it looks wonderful, with such a great color to the skin. 

There was plenty of meat, including some wings, and the duck was absolutely delicious, cooked just right, and the meat was tender and flavorful, with nicely crispy skin. Roasting a duck is relatively easy though it might seem daunting if you've never done it before. 

Cavendish Game Birds is a pandemic success story, pivoting from its primary business to something uniquely related, but which they never would have planned to do on their own. No one could have predicted that a Vermont farm would become well known for quail Balut. Besides the Balut, Rick and Bill produce high quality quail meat, and if you're in southern Vermont, you should stop by the farm to get some. They have a small farm stand outside the farm, where you can get quail eggs, quail meat, and some produce. 

Rick was a personable and interesting person, and the time just flew as we chatted. It's clear he's very passionate about his farm, and that quality is his ultimate objective, to produce exceptional quail and other game birds. I greatly appreciate the time he took to show us his farm, and for the chance to experience quail Balut. 

Readers, do you enjoy quail?

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Some Balut History: Duck Eggs to Quail Eggs

Balut! For many non-Asian Americans, your sole experience with Balut might have been seeing it eaten on such reality shows as Fear Factor and Survivor.  If so, you probably have a negative view of this delicacy, as it was generally presented as something gross or disgusting to eat. Its cultural significance wasn't sufficiently discussed and although it might seem unusual, many Asians thoroughly enjoy this dish. 

On my recent journey to southern Vermont, I, and a few of my friends, had the opportunity to try Quail Balut, and we all did so. It actually was tasty and I suspect many more people would enjoy it, if they pushed aside their pre-conceptions and tried it. 

I'll discuss my own Balut experience further in another article tomorrow, but now, I want to discuss the idea of Balut and then provide a history of Balut mentions in U.S. newspapers, to learn how Americans have viewed it over the years. 

Balut is basically an unhatched egg, which contains an embryo, and is most often a duck egg. It's thought that it might have originated in China, where it traveled to the Philippines around the later part of the 19th century. In the Philippines, it acquired its name, Balut, and primary fame, although it's also found in a number of other Asian nations, from Cambodia to Vietnam. It's name, balut, .roughly translates as “wrapped”, referring to how the embryo is commonly wrapped in a whitish covering. 

Duck eggs are preferred for Balut as they have a stronger shell and shell membrane, much better than chicken eggs. The eggs are typically incubated for about 16-18 days, when the embryo is not yet fully developed. The longer the incubation period, the more developed the embryo so the bones and beak in older eggs might be crunchier. 

In the Philippines,  it's traditionally a street food, sold by vendors mainly during the evening, until dawn, and they often shout out an exaggerated "Balut" to draw in customers. The eggs are boiled and you're supposed to eat it out of the shell. First, you break open a small opening at the top of the egg and then drink the "broth" or "soup." Then, you crack the rest of the shell open and eat the embryo and yolk, often putting maybe a little salt or vinegar atop it. There is also a tiny part called the bato, or rock, attached to the embryo and yolk, which most people don't consume as it can be tough and difficult to eat. 

In Vietnam, they enjoy Balut as well and refer to is as trứng vịt lộn or hột vịt lộn, which roughly translate as “duck egg” or “duck flavor,” They commonly eat it with salt, pepper, and a side of rau răm, a Vietnamese green that resembles cilantro in some ways. The Vietnamese also enjoy Balut made from quail eggs, although duck eggs receive the vast majority of attention. 

Let's explore how the U.S. has perceived Balut over the years in the newspapers.

One of the first American newspaper references to Balut was in the Sioux City Journal (IA), June 6, 1910, in an article about Manila, Philippines. It stated, “As we passed out we noticed the refreshment vendors that lined the path to the street car, and especially the women by the score, who were selling eggs. We supposed they were ordinary boiled eggs, but we rode back to town by choice in a second class car with the natives and discovered our mistake. It seems the Filpinos take the eggs from under a hen or duck just before they are ready to hatch and boil them. They are called ‘balut,’ and form the great Filipino delicacy, the man on the seat next to me, who was contentedly eating one, informing me that six or eight would be a fair allowance for a man.” 

This is generally how many early newspaper references to Balut were presented, in travel accounts by those visiting the Philippines. It was seen as something exotic, a strange delicacy loved by Filipinos. And as we see, Balut has been known to Americans for over a hundred years. 

In the Lexington Herald (KY), February 24, 1919, there was a brief item about Balut, noting, “Over in the Philippine Islands the refreshment and lunch stands sell baluts as a great delicacy. Of course, the American reader never heard of a balut which looks like a hard boiled duck egg. However, these eggs have been boiled after the eggs have been incubated for 19 days. These cooked, unhatched, young ducks have a very agreeable flavor and are eagerly bought by the Filipinos.” 

This article was repeated in numerous other newspapers across the country, presenting one of the first Balut references that many Americans might have experienced. Although the idea of Balut might not have sounded palatable to Americans, it was presented in a positive manner so it might have intrigued some. 

The New Castle News (PA), April 24, 1924, presented an article titled, Half-Hatched Egg Filipino Delicacy. The article stated, “Baluts are half-hatched ducks’ eggs. They are sold by itinerant venders and are considered a great delicacy. The town of Pateros, near Manila, is engaged exclusively in the ‘balut’ industry.” Again, the article wasn't negative, although many Americans might have been squeamish about a half-hatched egg. 

The article then continued, quoting President Camilo Osias, of the National University, “Some foreigners laugh at baluts. Ignorant folks! They don’t know what they’re talking about. We, whose tastes have been educated, know better. Hermetically sealed, it is hygenic. The most perfect, and most complete, food packed in a small space—that is balut. It has soup, it has egg, it has meat, and it has bread. The balut makes a complete meal." More positivity.

There are two types of Balut, which were described in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), June 11, 1931, reprinting a clipping from a Manila newspaper. “There are two kinds of balut—The hairy one—And the juicy, cheesy brand. There are persons who are not particular as to what kind of balut they get, so long as they do not miss the chick either full-grown or half-grown. But the great majority of customers demand the cheesy brand, with the chick just about taking form, and well covered with a whitish substance that hides the feathers.” The cheesy type would likely be more amenable to non-Asians, who have never tried Balut. 

There was a brief mention in the Tucson Citizen (AZ), July 14, 1934, which printed, “...balut, a favored tid-bit of the Filipino which is a cross between a ten-year-old egg and a duckling. Duck eggs incubated for the hatching point are boiled and then laid away to age until mature enough for sale. They do not have an offensive odor, but most of us prefer younger eggs or older ducks.”

There was another brief mention in the Rayne-Acadian Tribune (LA), November 8, 1935. Unhatched ducklings, called baluts, are said to be a Philippine delicacy. They are eaten about ten days before their time to hatch if nature had been left to take its time-honored course. Eggs are hatched in sacks in the sun.”

How much for Balut? The Daily News (CA), July 2, 1949, mentioned, “A balut, it turns out, is a chicken or duck egg that has had the undivided attention of its mother for 14 days, or time for it to reach the embryo stage. Then it’s ready to eat. You can buy three for one peso or 50 cents American.” That would be nearly $6 in today's dollars. 

Balut and hot dogs? The Courier-Journal (KY), January 14, 1950, reported, “Balut is in brief an unhatched duckling relished by the people in and around Manila. These hard-boiled, about-to-hatch duck eggs are sold by peddlers along the streets, kept warm in well-covered baskets. When the Tagalogs eat Balut, ‘They crack the egg at one end, drink the juice, and then pick out the contents with their fingers.’ This dish is as popular as hot dogs here and is responsible for a flourishing duck-egg industry.”  Each culture has their own popular dishes. 

Balut and s spy scandal? In a lengthy article in the Daily World (LA), April 26, 1950, there was an intriguing article about how Balut vendors might be spies! The article began, “This may go on record as the year of the big ‘balut’ spy scare in Manila.” It then continued, describing Balut as “… an almost fully incubated but unhatched duck egg. Its contents are considered a delicacy by Filipinos and some foreigners but not by all foreigners. It goes well with beer, they say. Beer-and-egg, you understand, not egg-in-your-beer.” I wonder what other beverages might pair well with Balut.

Balut is commonly sold by street vendors and the article continued, “One of the familiar sounds in this capital of more than 1,000,000 potential egg eaters is the cry of the balut vendor making his rounds with a basket, in which the duck eggs are kept warm under a jute sack covering. Nobody knows how many balut vendors there are but they certainly number in the hundreds.” The vendors though were recently angry with the government. “These days the balut vendors are plenty annoyed. The police have been pulling them in by the dozens as spy suspects. The vendors even sent a delegation to detective headquarters to protest.”

Why were Balut vendors though to be spies? “The police can not be criticized for their security measures. Communist-inspired Huk outlaws have been battling government forces almost to the city limits and there have been strong indications of Huk infiltration into the capital.” The article also noted, “Somebody started a rumor that the Reds had sent their agents into Manila in the guise of balut salesmen. Not a bad idea, either, if true. The balut men are among the few who can roam the streets day and night without ordinarily arousing suspicion. They could give the town a good ‘casing.”; “Police suspicion was based partly on the fact that most balue venodrs work at night. The balut men explained that duck egg sales are better after dark.”

However, it was thought that the police should be more easily able to differentiate spies from authentic vendors. “To an impartial observer, it appears that the police could pick out the spies by their inexperienced balut calling. As in hog-calling, there is a big difference between a veteran balut-caller and a novice.” The article continued, “…the phony balut salesmen would have a tough tome imitating the lusty-lunged ‘baloooot’ or “bwoooot’ of the Tagalog tradesmen...If the caller hasn’t just the right baritone pitch, or if he pronounces the ‘oo’ like the ‘oo’ in toot rather than the ‘oo’ in foot, then there may be something more than just a red herring…” 

This is another article that was repeated in numerous other American newspapers, bringing attention to Balut to people all across the country.  

A Balut shortage? In a Balut article, the Spokane Chronicle (WA), May 31, 1951, first described it as, “Balut is made of duck eggs, ripened almost to hatching stage. These are cooked and pickled. Vendors have hawked them daily, shouting ‘B-A-A-A-L-U-U-U-T’ in every block.” However, it also noted, "Balut has an aroma stronger than limburger cheese.” There was a problem as the duck’s “favorite snail tidbits” were disappearing, and it was said, “No snails, no eggs.” The issue here was water pollution which was killing off some of the snails. 

An article in the Rocky Mount Telegram (ND), December 28, 1953, provided more details on the Balut industry.  In the Philippines, the Balut provided a livelihood for about 30,000 people, with an annual worth of about 6 ¾ million dollars. “Balut is eaten the year round by rich and poor, young and old, who consider it an appetizing, nutritious food. It has become an important item in the Filipino’s diet and is recommended, even by professional medical men, as an excellent bodybuilder.” 

How was Balut produced? “No costly modern machinery—only simple crude native bric-a-brac—is needed to produce balut.” The article continued, “A duck farm on a river or lake shoreline, bamboo enclosures for the birds, and a hut to house the balut ‘laboratory’ are all one needs to become a balut magnate.” And more, “Rows of big bamboo baskets and clay pots make up the lab. The baskets, where the eggs are placed for 15-18-day incubation, are submerged in rice husks which create and hold heat necessary for incubation. When the eggs have turned into two-thirds developed embryos, they are hard boiled.

An inexpensive activity. “Raising the ducks isn’t expensive either. They are penned in shallow parts of the river or lake close to the source of their food supply—small, fresh-water clams and snails.” And that is why a dearth of snails hurt the industry as it was one of the main foods of the ducks. 

The article concluded with information on enjoying Balut. “The egg is eaten warm. Its color is the same as any other duck egg, slightly gray-green. The Filipino gourmet cracks the shell at one end and sips out the juice. He then breaks away the rest, revealing a mixture of yolk and white, webbed with dark-red colored embryo.

Catnip? The Lincoln Star (NE), June 2, 1961, briefly stated, “It has medicinal properties—for a gentleman, balut is like catnip to a cat.” An intriguing analogy.

A religious controversy. The Charlotte News (NC), March 16, 1966, reported that the Vatican had recently ordered Philippine Catholics to stop eating meat on Fridays; “Under an old special church ruling, Filipino Catholics had been able to eat meat on Fridays if they wanted to.” The big question for Filipinos was then, is Balut meat or an egg? The Vatican was considering the issue but Rev. Bruno Arcenas, a young doctor of canon law at Bacolod Cathedral, stated that he believed it should be treated as an egg, and thus permissible to be eaten on Fridays. 

The Fort Lauderdale News (FL), March 14, 1971, reported that the duck egg industry in the Philippines was worth $10 million a year, with over 4.6 million ducks in the country. Prices for balut had been increasing, due to multiple reasons, including polluted rivers driving away snails and vendors being robbed. Over the years, Balut consumption has also been decreasing. Balut used to cost 20 centavos, but now they are 60 centavos, equivalent to a U.S. dime. The Balut industry was in danger, but would eventually rebound. 

During the 1990s, commercial duck feeds were introduced which helped solve the feed issue, where snails were dying off. This commercial feed also allowed duck farms to grow in size, to become larger-scale operations. No longer did duck farms need to be located next to a water source. They could be located almost anywhere, spreading the industry across the Philippines. 

Balut is currently available in the U.S. although it might take a little work to seek it out. 

Have you tasted Balut before? If so, what are your thoughts on it?