Part 2 of the Eat Alberta food conference - This time round its all about honey and wine. Really, how can you resist?
Its all about the honey, honey!
I'll start off with the honey tasting. We had a session with Lola Canola Honey founder Patty Milligan. Patty is a warm and enthusiastic person, who can enthuse anyone about honey. Not that I needed much convincing, mind. I have always been a honey person, ever since my grandfather (bless his soul) fed me a piece of real honeycomb. We didn't actually have honeycombs, but every so often, we would have a wild honeycomb in one of the jackfruit trees in my grandparents' farm. My grandpa (Aba) would smoke the bees out of the comb, then climb the tree and get the comb off. We would then carefully strain the honey from the comb and bottle it, sharing generously with our neighbours. This was before the days of protective clothing, so of course Aba got stung on ocasions... we laughed at him with his puffy face, and he would threaten not to give us any honey. I miss my grandfather!
Coming back to the session, though. I have always been interested in honey and where it comes from, and the differences in tastes. So this session was a no-brainer in terms of attendance for me. I have attended a previous honey tasting session when I was in Liverpool in Ness Gardens, but I was quite interested as Patty had a lot of Canadian honeys in her collection. I was also lucky enough that my dear father-in-law had just got me a bottle of fresh fireweed honey from Terrace, so I was keen to see how it compared with the honeys we would be tasting.
Well, it certainly was a revelation. We started off with a delicious dark mango blossom honey from South East Asia. It was so different from the honeys we're used to here, exotic and almost molasses like. My verdict? Hmm... I think I prefer my honeys lighter.
Through the rest of the session, we tasted Acacia Honey from Eastern Europe (lighter, clean and floral), Blackberry from California (again, lighter, but almost granular in texture), Raspberry from B.C (creamy, delicate, almost tangy), Fireweed from B.C again (very light, really sweet, so soft), Buckwheat from Saskatchewan (woody, earthy, almost smoky), Sweet Clover from B.C (fresh, easy tasting, heavily floral, unthreatening) and Dandelion from Alberta (again, floral, slightly stronger, creamy lingering taste)
It was so difficult to figure out which honey I liked the best, but in the end I settled for Raspberry and Fireweed. It does look like I like my honeys light gold, sweet and unthreatening (much like my poor husband, even ;-)) but I still quite enjoyed the earthiness of the Buckwheat and exoticness of the Mango Blossom.
I adored this session, and was quite disappointed when I didn't win the personal honey tasting with Patty, but hey, I am sure I'll be hanging around Lola Canola often!
Me Whining for Wine!
This was the last session I attended. Since there was quite a lot of overlap between this one and the cheeses, I am going to stick with describing this session, with a quick description of the cheeses as we go along.
Now, I wasn't brought up with wine. Beer, maybe, with a healthy dash of Indian Made Foreign Whisky (please, don't ask!) but not wine.
So obviously, I don't really know very much about them. Some of that was, thankfully, about to change. We had our session with an amazing woman called Mary Bailey, owner and editor of the popular food and drink paper, here in Edmonton called The Tomato.
Mary started us off with a collection of cheeses, and an even more impressive collection of wineglasses. And one of the first things she said was that we weren't going to swirl and spit out the wine. It was going to be all drunk. Oh, she is so my kind of woman.
We started off with the Smoky Valley St Maure. I had already tried this mild creamy cheese at Holly Gale's Smoky Valley Goat's Cheese Tasting. But this time Mary paired it with a dry 2009 Prospect Census Count Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley. The wine was a bit dry for my taste, as I kind of prefer slightly sweeter wines, which the next wine was.
This time we tasted the same wine, but from two different vintages. The 2009 Mission Hill Pinot Gris, and the 2006 vintage of the same wine. Even to my untutored palate I could taste the differences between the same wines. The 2009 version was light, sweeter with a mild floral note, while the 2006 vintage was more intense, almost darker. Weirdly for me, I quite liked the darker taste of the 2006 wine. We had these with the Smoky Valley Farmer's Cheese and the Pyrenees. I had really liked the Farmer's Cheese in my earlier tasting, and relished the chance to have another eat of it.
The next wine we tasted was a 2007 Summerhill Merlot, again from the Okanagan Valley. Oh, that colour! The deepest ruby red, with shots of burgundy through it. It had a significant tannin taste to it, and I could feel like staining my teeth as I drank it. I am not much of a red drinker, so this one was not for me, but I sure wouldn't turn it down if someone offered it to me.
At this point, I was brave enough to ask Mary a few questions. I asked her if there was any difference between a corked wine, and a screw top one. She said, not very much, and it certainly didn't matter as much nowadays. Which was a relief to me, as I am certainly not one to finish a bottle in one drinking (yeah, yeah I am common as muck!)
The other question I asked her, was what kind of wines I would pair with Indian food, of course, with my blog having a predominantly Indian flavour. She talked about wine not clashing with food, but at the same time, we could be more adventurous with our pairing, and did not necessarily have to stick with the usual light, floral versions. I will certainly be taking her advice, and experimenting with my wine pairings now. I usually tend to stick to light Gewürztraminers with Indian food, but last week experimented with a Riesling, OK, it was still German, but I am trying.
I only wish Canadian wines were cheaper - yes, I know you have to pay for quality, but how on earth is it possible that wines from Australia like Jacob's Creek, are easily $10 odd dollars cheaper? Somewhere, something needs changing.
Ice Wine Mania!
For me, the highlight of the tasting came when Mary opened up a bottle of the 2006 Tinhorn Creek Kerner Icewine from the Okanagan Valley. This is an intensely flavoured, super sweet dessert wine, that completely knocked me off my feet. I love icewines, but do not get to indulge as often thanks to their prohibitive costs... I cannot afford $50 + for a bottle of dessert wine. But, simply put, my note on this wine was - OMG!!
Icewines are notoriously difficult to make, hence the price tag. But I could easily glug down a bottle of this by myself (you didn't think I would share this one, did you?)
At this point, I also found my star of the cheese show. Sylvan Star's Old Grizzly. I loved this cheese, in fact, compared its strong flavour to chocolate. And its a local cheese to, comes from right outside Red Deer. So popular that the Italian Centre has sold out of it (dagnabit!!) I bought a milder Gouda from the same maker, but the old Grizzly was really the highlight of my cheese tasting.
By now, I was beginning to get a bit light headed! But still had enough in me to ask about pairing wine with chocolate. Mary, ever patient, said that red wine and chocolate make an excellent pairing, as something about the tannins, go well with each other.
We then had a Barr Estate, The Other Red, a local fruit wine from our own Strathcona County. It was raspberry, with a sharp tangy flavour. I quite liked it, and can see myself sipping it during our long summer evenings, especially now that its gorgeous and sunny out.
We finished with Alley Kat Loaded Goat Maibock beer. I am not much of a beer drinker myself, so this was one for Kay, I think. We also tasted the beer with crisps, and crackers, to see how the various textures and tastes interacted with each other.
This finished our 'Eating and Drinking with Mary Bailey' session. We hopped back to Enterprise Square, or, in my case, floated back for the evening keynote session with Kevin Kossowan, who talked about his 'From Local Farms' series. It was an awesome way to end what turned out to be an amazing day full of food, fun, laughter and more food.
How wonderful is it to celebrate local food heroes with a day like this one? I only hope that I won't have to wait too long for the next one. Are you listening, Valerie?
Here's a quick link to my honey, lemon and ginger ice cream, if you're feeling a bit peckish after all that :-)