Monday, September 1, 2008

Slow Food Nation '08

When I started this blog my goal was to simply document my trials and tribulations in the kitchen, learn some stuff along the way, and hopefully meet some really cool people interested in the same things I am – food! I had no idea there would be some choice perks along the way…

The awesome folks over at FoodBuzz were kind enough to send me to Slow Food Nation ’08 in San Francisco over the weekend. Since first hearing about SFN a few months ago I’d been dying to go. At the time it seemed like it would just be a teensy bit out of our budget, what with it coinciding with the beginning of Fall semester. When the opportunity arose to attend the festival on FoodBuzz‘s behalf I simply could not pass it up. San Francisco’s only a couple hours away, a very small price to pay (and distance to drive) to attend one of the nation’s greatest food festivals.

The main event of SFN was the Taste Pavilion,a collection of over a dozen different artisanal foods in an enormous enclosed pier within eyeshot of Alcatraz.

Inside the Pavilion each different food was in it's own little area, pickles and chutney, olive oil, fish, beer, cheese, etc.

It was really quite overwhelming to be presented with so many choices and only a few hours to explore everything. I never did end up getting to everything because I had a workshop to attend in the evening - more on that later.

My first stop was at the wine section all the way in the back. Of course there was a crush of people waiting to be served. It's 5:30 on a Saturday night and they're giving you wine - heck yes there were a lot of people clamoring for some grape booziness. I ended up selecting a Woodward Reserve Cabernet from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington state. The list of choices was enormous and people were pushing in on me from all directions so I chose something I knew I liked. Plus it was like a little taste of home, goodness do I miss Washington.

My next stop was the cheeses.

I was very thankful I chose the wine first because it enabled me to sip on something while standing in the ridiculously long line. I did happen to meet a nice couple and their two children while waiting, very nice people. The husband was quite the character and kept me laughing nearly the whole time - there was even some chat about gangster seagulls. Don't ask.

The three selections proffered from the cheese maids were a washed rind of some kind from New York, a bleu from Minnesota, and a goat something or other from Wisconsin.

Generally speaking I'm not a fan of washed rind cheese. I just can't get past the smell. I don't ever want to put someone's dirty ripe feet in my mouth so it goes the same for cheeses that smell like dirty ripe feet. I don't want to put it in my mouth. Right after I tried it I knew I'd made the mistake in thinking that I'd feel differently about this one. Blech. Glad I had the wine close at hand. The goat cheese wasn't outstanding in my opinion, pretty standard. I'd prefer to get something much better, and local, from The Elk Creamery or Cowgirl Creamery.

The bleu, on the other hand, was pretty delicious. I like all kinds of bleu cheese but I'm pretty picky, too. This one had the right balance of creaminess and tang. Altogether a pretty great cheese - especially on these great little organic crackers they were serving it with.

My next stop after the cheese was ice cream. Usually I avoid ice creams and other frozen treats, the coldness really bothers my teeth, but I was feeling adventurous and took the plunge anyway. Plus, it was a really short line. Game on.

I forgot to take a picture because my first bite was like heaven. I tried a flight that included a Kiwi, Lemon Chiffon, and a Triple Cream something or other. The Lemon Chiffon was pretty meh, but the Kiwi and Triple Cream could have me eating ice cream at every meal for the rest of life. My only disappointment was I didn't get any information on who produced these wonderful creations. Bummer.

After Ice Cream I headed on over to the Tea pavilion and met these two lovely ladies.

Inside the tea section there were several rooms sectioned into intimate tasting areas with diaphanous white cloth. The two ladies were quite knowledgeable about their teas and for the first time in the day I felt like I was really learning something. They served a small group of us two different teas, a Keemun Reserve and a Pu'erh. I drink Keemun regularly at home, though this was of a higher quality, but the Pu'erh - what an experience!

So earthy and sweet with just a hint of smokiness. It's easy to see the niche this tea fits into.

The ladies performed a truncated version of a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. They extolled the benefits of washing tea and the preparation of the teaware before brewing.

I was very impressed with their demonstration - and boy did they make some delicious tea!

I popped over to Honeys and Preserves and Spirits after this, but the ladies at honey were kind of rude to me and there were so many people at the Spirits pavilion I got out of there as quickly as I could. I'm very claustrophobic and being surrounded with that many people is extremely uncomfortable.

My next, and final, stop was at Coffee. My husband and I enjoy coffee quite a bit, though he much more than I. He is what I would describe as a connoisseur of coffee. Though he would've hated all the people around he most definitely would've enjoyed the coffee pavilion.

I met Edwin Martinez, proprietor of Finca Vista Hermosa in Guatemala.

When arriving at the coffee pavilion there was next to no line so it gave me the opportunity to speak to one of the volunteers about the two sections in the pavilion, brewed coffee and espresso. No sooner had the volunteer started speaking than two, seemingly intoxicated (and strung out on something very illegal), people walked straight into me with nary a glance in my direction, barreling straight for the rear of exhibition. The volunteer's attention now focused on directing the very scary junkie couple in Courtney love-Macabre chic I was left standing alone and slightly confused as to where I should be going or what I should be doing. At that moment Edwin noticed my consternation and convinced me to try out the brewed coffees first. He was a very nice gentleman, greeting me with kind eyes and a firm handshake. Upon arriving at the counter for brewed coffee tasting he left me in the knowing care of Andy, of Barefoot Coffee Roasters.

Andy served up some outstanding tastes of three very different coffees. An El Salvadoran bean sundried in the heat of the equatorial sun inside the cherry, producing a cloying sweetness that's quite provocative on the bitter parts of the tongue. He also served up an Ethiopian bean, Washed Ethiopian Sedoma, that was quite nutty and square. A great coffee for sipping. My favorite, by far, was the Guatemalan coffee from Finca Vista Hermosa. It was quite a surprise discovering that the man I thought was just a nice volunteer was actually from Guatemala and grew the coffee I was drinking. The el Eden was a fantastic coffee, and no I'm not advertising for them, but I can't wait to order a pound or two for my husband and I. Edwin also runs a blog detailing the coffee grower's life and the happenings at Finca Vista Hermosa in Guatemala. This post in particular had me laughing.

After trying out the brewed coffees Edwin took me over to the other side of the pavilion to meet Bobby, the best espresso slinger in the joint.

Bobby's from Portland, and on top of being a pretty cool guy, he makes a mean espresso. Like some of the best espresso I've ever had.

I mean, look at that. It's so sexy with it dark, bittersweet tones. The oils of the coffee just laying right on top of the liquid, presenting themselves to your tongue in all their sultry glory. Snap. It was delicious.

It was sadly, at this time, that I had to depart the Taste Pavilion to head on over to a workshop with only half of my "Slough Dough" (the form of 'currency' used at the event) used up. I did find a nice couple outside to bestow it upon, much to their delight.

Much more to follow with a couple workshops I attended, so stay tuned.


Husband and I just received our package of el Eden from Barefoot Coffee Roasters.

After brewing a pot last night we were delighted to discover the same amazing nuances I loved so much at Slow Food. This truly is an outstanding coffee.


Kristin said...

Wow. You're like famous and sponsored and stuff. Cool. You think I could get a sponsor? Maybe I could go to the next Stihl small engine show.

Seriously though, except for the crowds, that sounds like an awesome event. And I like how you went straight for the wine. My kinda girl. Not that I'll be drinking again for the next decade or so . . .

Katie said...

That cheese looks wonderful! I'm so jealous!

inland empire restaurant and food reviews said...

Sounds like it was a great trip!!

Krysta said...

i went to! there was so much to do, see, and taste. i felt like i needed an extra set of hands. i can't wait to see what workshops you attended, i was only to attend one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind comments. It is an amazing and rare experience to have a true seed to cup experience where people in every link in the coffee chain are in one place. I hope you are able to duplicate the taste in brewing this coffee at home for you and your husband. Maybe some day you can both come and visit us in Guatemala.


Sweet Bird said...

Kristin - Famous? I wish. And hey, maybe you should talk to Stihl...

Katie - If you think that cheese looks good you should check out the goat Camembert style at the Coro workshop I attended. WOW!

Inland Empire - It was!

Krysta - It was definitely overwhelming. 4 hours was not enough!

Edwin - I'm so glad you stopped by! I just received some of your coffee last night. It's almost as outstanding as what I had at SFN. (I really need to get my husband a new coffee pot!) I'd die to visit you in Guatemala, I traveled across Costa Rica a few years ago and sampled micro-lot coffees the whole way - it was an unparalleled experience. If only I could convince my husband to travel to Central America with me...

Chef E said...

I keep reading blogs about how wonderful this event was, and we missed it by days on our trip to the PNW. We are Slow Food'ie members too. Nice reporting and glad you enjoyed! -E