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It’s Tequila Day! A Cheat Sheet for Armchair Drinkers

Soaked in Mexican history and lore, tequila is a subject matter than can be deliberated by spirit geeks until the bartender shouts, “Last call!” But not everyone needs to nerd out about agave. Sometimes one is interested in acquiring just enough intel to get them through the dinner party. For that, may we present our Tacolicious Tequila CliffsNotes excerpted from our cookbook Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails and More (Ten Speed Press). Come into any Tacolicious or our tequila bar Mosto to soak up a little spirit. As always, we’ll be pouring flights, serving up excellent tequila- and-mezcal cocktails, and great street food to boot (including, yes, fish crudo: see number 7).

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1. Tequila isn’t made from a cactus. In fact, it’s made from blue agave, a beautiful, pale dusty blue-green succulent that resembles a giant aloe plant. In the tequila regions of Mexico, you’ll see spiky rows of agave grown everywhere, just like you see grapes being grown in wine regions of the world.

2. The piña is at the heart of it all. The source of tequila is the pineapple-looking heart of the agave plant that grows underground and takes six to 12 years to come to maturity. The piña can weigh up to 200 pounds, which is why a jimador—the agave farmer who harvests the agave using a lethally sharp tool called a coa—is such a stud. To make the tequila, traditionally the piña is cooked in an oven, at which point its flesh almost tastes like a sweet potato (take a whiff of tequila and sometimes you still detect this yammy aroma). Then it’s normally crushed or milled in a roller mill. The juices are fermented, distilled, and sometimes barrel aged.

3. The mixto is worth nixing. The stuff you’re going to want to avoid as you develop into a tequila snob is mixto tequila, often labeled as “gold.” Mexican law requires that a true tequila is made with at least 51 percent agave. Anything else is called a mixto which often has corn liquor, sugar liquor, sugar, and caramel coloring added to it. And yes, this includes the Jose Cuervo Especial you did body shots with in college.

4. The top shelf stuff is all agave. The best tequila will always be labeled “100% Blue Agave.” One reason to search this out is to be a true connoisseur. Another reason is because it gives you less of a hangover. Within this category you’ll find four choices:

Blanco (aka Silver, White)
Easy to detect because it’s almost always clear, this tequila can only be stored up to 60 days in stainless tanks. Blanco tequila provides a great chance to truly taste the origin of the tequila, and the style of the producer.

Reposado
This translates to “rested” tequila—or kicked back, as we like to think of it. This tequila is aged for 2 months to a year in virgin oak, giving it a mellower vibe but not as distinctly oak-flavored as the anejo. Providing a happy medium, it tends to be our most common go-to (though we like it all).

Anejo
Aged a minimum of 1 year. It’s smooth and its complex, rich, and often pricey. For this we definitely don’t recommend it for cocktails. This is what you drink when you truly just want to sip. It’s great to drink the winter, preferably fireside.

Extra Anejo
This is the newest category of the four and it applies to tequilas that are aged in a barrel for a minimum of three years. If you’re a bourbon drinker, this one’s for you.

5. Yes, there is tequila terroir. Almost all tequila is produced in Jalisco, Mexico, which is near the beautiful city of Guadalajara. Within this area there are two regions. The lowlands (aka The Valley of Tequila) and the highlands (aka Los Altos region). The lowlands produces a deep, rich, and herbaceous tequila while the highlands tend to produce something much fruitier and spicier.

6. Sipping is better than shooting. In Mexico, and amongst tequila cognescenti all over, good tequila is enjoyed neat and generally sipped, just as you would any quality spirit. The whole lick of salt and big suck of lime thing should be left to spring breakers. Tequila is also traditionally served with a small glass of sangrita (which we serve with our tequila at Mosto).

7. Raw fish is its friend. Though we’re not proponents of specific pairings of any cocktails or spirits with particular dishes, but we do think tequila goes incredibly well with raw fish dishes, especially ones with a hint of chili. Think ceviches and aguachiles, of course, but we love a glass of tequila with preparations as simple as a few slices of good-quality raw fish served with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil, a sliver of a jalapeno or two, a shake of sea salt, and a squeeze of lime.

Support CUESA! Come Out for the 2015 Tacolicious Guest Chef Series

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Today is week two of our annual Tacolicious Guest Chef Series, which wraps up on August 27. If you missed out on Brenda Buenviaje from Brenda’s Meat & Three last week, today you’ll get the chance to taste a beef redang taco whipped up by Azalina Eusope of Azalina’s.

Every Thursday, from 10 am to 2 pm, a different celeb chef will be slinging tacos for a good cause. Proceeds, to the tune of $5,000 per series, go directly to CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture), the folks behind the amazing Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and the birthplace of Tacolicious. Come out and support!

 

 

12 Taquerias, 25 Tacos, 2 Boxes of Kleenex: The Story Behind the Saveur Story

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The fantastic tacos at Chando’s in Sacramento.

Much of modern-day food media revels in exalted tales of gluttony—entertaining stories in the vein of “Eight hours in Tokyo: 12 bowls of ramen, 20 shots of whiskey, and one drunk-ass encounter with Anthony Bourdain.” Though it’s often a guy behind this kind of story, regardless of gender, there’s an element of caveman preening attached to one’s ability to consume, in less than a savory period of time, obscene amounts of pork belly, or foie gras, or burgers.

This isn’t to say that a woman doesn’t want to test her mettle from time to time. We can’t all sit around writing about bone broth like Gwyneth or go Giada and bend over steaming pots of pasta in a tight scoopneck. We don’t always want to be Alice Waters (sustainability—so limiting) or Gabrielle Hamilton (memoirs—so emotionally draining). Sometimes a woman just wants (or thinks she wants) to spend 48-hours eating copious amounts of commodity meat tacos and raise her hands in victory.

Of course, I’m speaking about myself. I’m the one who pitched a story on a taco trail through the Central Valley of California. This whole idea came to pass on an icy winter morning in New York over coffee with Yaran Noti, the friendly, easy-going deputy editor of Saveur. Yaran asked me if I had any ideas for their May road trip issue, maybe something to do with Mexican food. In the competitive world of food writing, you always say yes.

Joe, who grew up in Modesto, suggested we head down Highway 99—forgoing the well-reported taco path of the less gritty Highway 1. So a month later, I found myself Google-mapping a group of recommended taco joints (narrowed down after hours of research) and coordinating with our accompanying photographers Dylan and Jeni before embarking on a 276-mile, two-day journey from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Despite some trepidation, I figured I could swing this—I had extra mouths after all, including Joe who drove while I scribbled notes. I gave ourselves an hour per place.

The big day arrived and the last bit of a vicious flu that I’d contracted the week prior was still haunting me. I had Kleenex shoved in every pocket and a full box in the car. My upper lip was chafed from incessant nose blowing. I had circles under my eyes from nights of mouth-breathing sleep. Unfortunately Saveur shoots do not come with makeup artists and wind machines.

However, you know you’re in love with tacos when you can fall for them again and again, against the odds … [continue to the whole blog at saradeseran.com].

Read the “On the California Taco Trail” Saveur story here or buy the May issue for glossy photos!