My, I?ve been a bad blogger lately?this story is all the way from the beginning of July. But fear not–it is still entertaining and delicious. I?d bet my lemon pound cake on it. My latest class, gastronomic tourism, took us on another field trip to the McLaren Vale Wine and Cheese Trail. My good friend Nick (hi Nick!) complained to me the other day that I don?t put enough details about this crazy ass degree I am earning, so here?s the 4-11 on my sitch (and kindly excuse the wretched 90s slang I just attempted to bring back): I am getting a Masters of Arts in Gastronomy, which contrary to popular belief is NOT a degree for gastrointestinal medicine, but rather the study of food and culture. This entails more than just writing restaurants reviews, but also looking at the history of food as well as modern topics about food from an analytical stand point. It also touches on how food and people interact (why people eat out, what socially dictates acceptable and unacceptable food, etc.). It is one of three Masters programs in the world right now that focuses on food writing (NYU and Boston U. have the other ones). It snows in New York and Boston, but not in South Australia AND they have beaches and fun accents. And pies. Lots and lots of pies. Can you blame me? The program is set up with classes and a dissertation. Four classes that are six weeks long each: Principle of Gastronomy (history of food writing), Food and Drink in Contemporary Western Society (modern food topics like GM foods and obesity), an elective course of either Gastronomic Tourism or Food and Technology, and then Food and Communications, which I hear involves understanding how food communicates within literature. SO?my Gastronomic Tourism class looks at principles of food and wine centered tourism and occasionally we go out into the real world and test these principles. The McLaren Vale Cheese and Wine Trail was created by Mark Potter, a former researcher in biochemistry and current cheese maker and owner of the Blessed Cheese.
It?s a caf? in McLaren Vale that focuses on good cheese and wine, and is the starting point for the trail. The trail is basically a progressive picnic through the local wine region. Depending on which package and trail you pick, you get a cooler filled with cheese, fruit, meats and other gourmet products and a map with four wineries on it. You have a cheese that pairs with a certain wine from each place, and you travel along, eating and tasting the whole way. I?m not a fan of the whole driving to each winery thing, but thankfully, someone else drove and allowed me to FULLY enjoy this trip (which basically means I ate too much cheese). We also had the honor of having the lovely Marion Nestle on our trip. For those of you not in the know, Ms. Nestle is a contemporary food political writer who also helps out at the NYU Gastronomy program. She was in town for the Festival of Ideas, a gathering of the world?s greatest thinkers from all areas of study that meet to have discussion about, well, the world. So hooray for that.
First up was Hoffman?s, and the grounds were beautiful. They have a tiny tasting room, so the group settled outside.
The outdoor area was a really pretty court yard , but it was a bit nippy that day. We tried their Chardonnay with Udder Delights Chevre, a goats milk cheese from the Adelaide Hills, dried fruits and crackers.
Now, please do not count on me for great wine descriptions. I drink them. But I?m lucky if I remember what color they are. I do remember the Chardonnay was okay, but nothing that really grabbed my attention. I did not like how it tasted with the Chevre, but I was happy to be eating cheese nonetheless. I was even happier when we didn?t finish the cheese and I got to take it home and turn it into some amazing scrambled eggs. But I digress. We went to try some of the other wines, and the gentleman running the tasting room ignored us for a while. He made it feel like he didn?t want us to be there. I talked to my teacher about this, and he said its not surprising because not all wineries are stoked about becoming tourist destinations. There are so many wineries in South Australia, it?s crazy to think some of them don?t understand how much money they could make if they just catered to tourists a little more by advertising or joining a trail like this. Especially when you consider how many people take vacations based on food and wine now. It?s a lot. Trust me. I read a book.
The next winery on the list was Shottesbrook. We tried a Merlette Rose with Udder Delights Brie from the Adelaide Hills. I liked the Rose–it was light and fruity. Here is the other food we tasted with it?smoked salmon and caper berries, marinated veggies, a sweet beetroot dip and a pumpkin dip (I think. Sorry. That was many, many dips ago!).
I heard a few complaints about the taste of the marinated veggies (some tasted ?off?), and some of the oily dishes were packed poorly and leaked everywhere. But something I really like about this concept of a wine and food trail is how communal it makes the event. Everyone sits together, eats and drinks together, and you are forced to interact. Its fun AND there is food. That?s a score in my book.
I don?t really think the rest of the food paired very well with the wine?a lot of it muted the flavors of it for me. But I really liked the beetroot dip and the brie. This winery also had the best customer service out of the four we visited. The kind lady running the tasting room was really friendly, hooked us up with extra napkins and crackers when we ran out, and even suggested another wine she felt would compliment the brie. And?another bonus?they had a few local food products to sell?a giant chocolate macadamia nut nougat bar, and a pannaforte bar(a cross between fruit cake and toffee). I bought the nougat, and it tasted like a giant candy bar minus the chocolate coating. It was soft and fluffy, and locally made. I felt all cool, supporting my South Aussie peeps. Way to go, Leena. You eat that nougat!
Pirramimma was the next stop on our winery tour. The fields next to it looked like they went on forever. The actual tasting room was a little more rustic than the others we?d seen. Concrete floor, antique winery decorations. It was a little cold, but I liked it.
We tasted a Petit Verdot with an Alexandrina Cheese Company vintage cheddar. The cheddar was aged for 12 months and that?s how I like it. The wine was okay, but again, I was not sure if I liked it with the Petit Verdot. The other food was equally as tasty; prosciutto with cornichons, chicken liver pate and kalamata olives, but I didn?t like them with wine either. Then again, I used to drink Boone?s Farm wine. What the hell do I know?
The good part about tasting wine is that it?s a win-win situation. If you like the wine, you buy it. If not, you still got to drink some wine. Here I am with Kristen, enjoying the win-win part of this scenario.
The last winery we went to was called Wirrawirra. We tried their Church Block wine and a La Vera Adel Blue cheese. By this time, I was too focused on the mini chocolate cookies that came along with the cheese to care if it matched the wine. I went to town on those poor cookies. They never even knew what hit ‘em. We also had some quince paste, pecans, and dried figs.
Then we packed up the crew, drove the coolers back to the Blessed Cheese, and were on our way. The trip had its ups and downs. I really like the idea of a wine and cheese trail, but I felt like this particular one wasn?t coordinated as well as it could be. A really detailed map would be handy, since no roads in Australia seem to have street signs, and better pairings with the wine and cheese would have helped. Also, a bit more description as to why the cheese was paired with the wine would have been nice, or a longer presentation by the winery people. We only had a short written description of what we were trying, not really an explanation. This brings up an important part of gastronomic tourism we learned about in class: in order to make something sell in tourism, it has to have a good story behind it. The cheese and wine trail was good, but there was no story along the way. We needed something else to keep us interested in what we were doing. If I were to do it again, I would probably buy the food myself and pick the wineries, so I could better suit them to my own tastes. Still, I got to eat and drink while being in class. A definite score. ~LTG