The SFPFS Blog

Tasting Coffees from the Best New Devices

With at least six machines, our Members and guest had plenty of coffee to taste on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at Williams Sonoma – Union Square. We quickly realized that the technology of great tasting coffee has dramatically changed.
Our host, Glen MacDonald, Manager for this store recruited Emily Wann from Breville and several store coffee associates, Monica and Carlos for the tasting. In addition, they provided plenty of fresh sparkling water, mini plain butter scones and palate refreshing Citrus quick bread.

New Coffee Devices - August 2014

Penni Wisner with Glen MacDonald, Williams-Sonoma Carlos and Jeff Clinton

Representing perfection in conventional drip technology, Technivorm Moccamaster Grand Coffee (and its cousin, single-serve version) are handmade brewers with unique copper core water heating elements for highly precise and ideal 200F temperature. While producing a delightful cup, the Technivorm revealed the nature of the Illy medium roast beans chosen as our standard for this comparison. Many tasters found this coffee a bit bitter to their palates: a faithful expression by the machine of the bitter flavor favored by Italian-targeting Illy.

Next we had two super automated espresso machines, the Oracle from Breville, an impressive stainless device looking right at home in a café; and the Miele CM500, a powerful espresso processor and milk steamer in a large but sleekly designed black cabinet. Both have automated and adjustable grinding, brewing and steaming. Glen MacDonald explained that these brew utilizing steam at about 12-15 bars of pressure – considered ideal for a slow steady and creamy extraction. With the Illy coffee, many tasters found these brews more bitter than they typically drink. So, while not perfect for all palates, these high end machines – faithfully capture the essence of those beans as intended by the roaster.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Joan Cavanaugh and Alison McQuade Greg & Sophia Markoulakis and Gypsy Achong

The balance of the brewers, Nespresso Vertuo, Nespresso-Delonghi Latissima Pro and Starbucks Verismo 600 utilize the same core Nespresso technology. It’s based on using coffee pods, containing real coffee, not concentrate, and expressing the coffee out of the pods with high 19 bar pressure. That results in fast and efficient brewing. For this tasting, these machines did not use the Illy coffee, but coffee from Nespresso – with anywhere from a dozen to 20 varieties and from Starbucks with at least a half a dozen roasts. So, if you choose this Nespresso technology, you will need to appreciate the European or Starbucks roast agenda. If you like a Peet’s, Blue Bottle or something else, you’re out of luck.

But with these pods, smaller espresso ‘shots’ and larger American cups, you get coffee quickly – in only a minute or two from a dead-cold start to repeat brews in seconds…and merely pop in the next pod as the other gets dropped into a recycling bin. Yes, recycling. While there is some concern about creating more landfill, in fact, the pods can be returned by mail, to the store or via other coffee services. Pretty darn easy. For any of you considering a machine for an office staffed with colleagues who are not frequently fastidious, this is a slick “no muss” solution.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Sleek new Vertuo

New Coffee Devices - August 2014

Emily Wann with Breville Oracle at Williams-Sonoma

Looking at each model, the Vertuo is the lastest, a most curvaceous addition to your “counter candy”. It also features a separate matching milk warmer-frother. The Latissima Pro is a cute cube-like structure with a detachable milk bottle with steamer top. This is an ingenious way for you to make a single fresh latte, with real milk, and return the bottle to your refrigerator – saving milk, storing it safely and keeping your counter clean. The Latissima also has a hot water spout attachment, neatly stored, for tea or Americano drinkers.

Finally, the Starbucks Verismo is a straight up sleek espresso and coffee brewer. To make a latte or hot milk, you need to use their own pre-portioned pods. Unlike the other Nespresso machines, here you get to use Starbucks more American roast style.

So, how did our Members score the machines?

Taste & Convenience Ruled – Our top selection (6 “favorites”) is the Nespresso DeLonghi Latissima Pro ($599). It does it all and with a minimum of cleanup and with many flavor options.

Close Second (5 votes) – The luxury automated espresso machine, Oracle from Breville ($1,999), grinds fresh beans for each cup. It’s fully adjustable with moderate pressure for that thick super flavor-saturated crema.

Tied at Third (2 and 2) – If you like drip, the Technivorm ($279) is your choice. If you want that fresh espresso, a modern design and full roast perfection, Miele CM5000 ($1,299) is a good call.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Taste Still Rules Ratings…with convenience a requirement

On a further note, at the end of the tasting, our host replaced the Illy beans in the Oracle and Miele machines. As a regular Peet’s drinker, I was so happy to get that familiar roast with every bit of flavor from each bean – and creamy. So, I believe that there might be some alternative results if all the machines had been brewing one set of (Peet’s) beans. And that too is one of the important decisions you must make if you elect the new super convenient Nespresso systems. You have to love their European-roast beans.

– John Wiest

June Cooking SIG: “Smoke it, Grill it & BBQ it”

by Gayle Massey

The art of the grill at June 2014 Cooking SIG

The art of the grill at June 2014 Cooking SIG

I attended my first Cooking SIG on June 12th. I walked into Carl Drosky’s home to a lively and already buzzing group enjoying an array of delectable appetizers. My Cowboy Caviar paled next to the fabulous stuffed olives, Pimento dip and fresh guacamole. Note to self; raise the bar.

The theme of this particular meeting was “Smoke it, Grill it & BBQ it” and that is exactly what we experienced. Carl’s day had started well before we arrived. After hearing about what everyone prepared and some good socializing time, we headed out to the backyard where Carl had a large BBQ with a chicken beautifully roasting on a rotisserie, a smaller BBQ awaiting the veggies still to be cut and a large smoker that was holding a large rack of ribs. He shared how he had prepared the chicken and ribs that wil l have me heading out to purchase a rotisserie attachment to my own bbq and added a smoker to my wish list.

To add to the delicious roasted and smoked meat, we all headed back into the house to make three sauces: BBQ, Classic Chimichurri and a Soprano Sauce (with anchovies, capers, garlic and olive oil). With Carl doing the heavy lifting of preparing our main courses, we enjoyed a fun prep time and very interactive class.

To add to the delicious roasted and smoked meat, we all headed back into the house to make three sauces: BBQ, Classic Chimichurri and a Soprano Sauce (with anchovies, capers, garlic and olive oil). With Carl doing the heavy lifting of preparing our main courses, we enjoyed a fun prep time and very interactive class.

And then, the best part ~ feasting on the main courses of rotisserie chicken, smoked ribs, grilled veggies along with the trio of sauces. And to further compliment the meal, the most creative salads and side dishes; Potato Lemon Salad and Watermelon Salad and Sauerkraut to name a few. And the cornbread ~ fabulous!

My plate overflowed and most of us needed a second trip to taste everything. The extra special ingredient that made everything even better; catching up with a wonderful group of people.

We ended with dessert, a Raspberry and Almond Frangipane Tart enjoyed around Carl’s fire pit in the backyard; a wonderful way to end the perfect evening.

June 2014 Cooking SIG led by Carl Drosky

June Tasting SIG: Mango Chutney Madness

by John Wiest

Always, the hardest part is getting started. Tasting SIG leaders Micki Weinberg and Sophia Markoulakis had done all the legwork in pre-shopping and selecting the most interesting Mango Chutneys in the Bay Area for this Tuesday evening June 10 event . Their criteria for inclusion were twofold: the chutneys had to be primarily comprised of Mango and that they must be available in retail stores.

Tasting SIG event June 2014

Mango Chutney savory and sweet

Thanks to host, Micki Weinberg

Delicious dining following Mango Chutney tasting SIG June 2014

With nine chutneys chosen, the SFPFS Tasting SIG set about with its usual relish, or I mean chutney. In fact, we were delighted to have a special guest and new Member, Lawrence Dass, Founder of Akka’s Handcrafted Foods. His mango chutney, one of nearly a dozen of his firm’s relishes, sauces and chutneys, earned a high ranking among the range tasted anonymously. He explained that chutney comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to lick’ and ultimately from Hindi to connote ‘seasoning’ or a condiment.

There are a huge variety of chutneys, with their common denominator that they are typically made of fruit or vegetable with vinegar, citrus, tamarind, or lemon juice added as natural preservatives, or possibly fermented in the presence of salt to create acid. Thus, we discovered that while most of us know chutneys as sweet, authentic chutneys have quite a range of sweet, salty, a bit sour (acid) and even musty-smoky.

All tasters completed the tasting in one fixed sequence, yet, what we found was that no two tasters had the same preference, no matter the order. However two of the favored products were tasted first: one that was very mango-y and balanced salty-sweet, based on a mango paste with a ginger finish; the other a bit non-traditional chutney with sweet peppers, raisins, hot chile (chili) and good bits of fruit.

Tying at the next level were two quite different products: Akka’s quite yellow, lots of mango pieces with a real cumin seed kick; and Deep (of India) Mango & Green Chili a soft almost eggplant textured, curry influenced pickle.

The evening’s top pick might surprise: a market leader, Major Greys (Cross & Blackwell, produced by Smuckers). This almost mango jam had complex layers of mango intensity with lemon-lime high notes and, as later revealed, aromatically pumped with plump cardamom pods.

Tasters envisioned using Mango Chutneys on many foods: often with a cream cheese or sour cream to spread on breads (we enjoyed Indian naans), topped on meats at table service or in a savory fashion to enhance vegetables. Each chutney evoked different accents, and not so much pairings.

Finally, as pictured in our Facebook page, after the formal tasting Members rewarded each other with a variety salad, fermented delights, chilled Mango soup and finished with several sweets.

Mango Chutney Tasting Results (click on table for clearer image)


Sassy Salsa SIG recap by Rodger Helwig



1093797_599659063390763_184341601_oLast eve at Micki Weinberg’s we tasted nine fresh tomato salsas from stores around the Bay Area, followed by a prodigious potluck.

The winners:
Coming in at #1 and a real bargain, Trader Joe’s Fresh-Packed Mild Salsa, 24 oz. for $2.99

#2 Whole Foods “Made Right Here” Mild Salsa, 16 oz. at $4.99

#3 Casa Sanchez Mild Salsa Roja, 15 oz., $4.99, at Safeway and other area stores.


Not Just a Bitter Face -SFPFS Wine SIG Tastes Bitters and Vermouths (and more)


by Rita Held

When the information given at a tasting results in action (rather than the good intentions being pushed to the back of the mental kitchen cabinet), you know you’ve been to a good tasting. And so it was on a Monday night at Rosemary Mark’s house in Walnut Creek when Pam Elder led the group of 10 though a tasting of 12 different bitters, 9 different vermouths, plus assorted aperitifs such as Lillet and digestifs including Cynar.

Several attendees had previously tasted Cynar and had-to be nice about it-not liked it at all. Imagine the chagrin and surprise when Cynar turns out to be not bad at all. In fact, it tastes sort of good! Bitter sure, but if consumed in the proper context, say after a heavy dinner, it would do a good job of perking up the palate and settling the tummy.

But that is jumping to the end of the story. First came the tasting of those 12 “cocktail” bitters, those that are meant to be used a few drops at a time in cocktails. All are unique infusions of aromatic ingredients including roots, barks, seeds, spices, herbs, and flowers. We experienced how the resurgent interest in cocktails has created a renewed interest in bitters, too, including new blends as well as recreations of older brands and styles.

To taste bitters, we first sniffed each sample to determine the predominant flavor: clove, cardamom, citrus peel, or anise. Then we added a small splash of sparkling water to open up the aroma and allow actual tasting of the samples. No surprise-all were bitter. But surprise-some were without alcohol and all were very interesting.

Then followed a discussion of how to use them, for instance in cocktails such as the Fee Brothers Orange in a champagne cocktail or the Bitter Truth celery bitters with its notes of lovage in a gimlet as well as in a Bloody Mary.

But those aforementioned “actions”? Attendee Rita Heald, who develops recipes for Angostura, told us that she mixes bitters into ketchup and keeps a supply in the ‘fridge. When tested at home later, some of us immediately did the same. And are now thinking about the upcoming crab season and bitters in the cocktail sauce, and bitters in tomato soup, tomato sauce. Not to mention (but we will because they were all great ideas) bitters in a honey-mint vinaigrette, an Indian-inspired chicken dish, a fabulous rice, and a dark chocolate sauce that on it’s own revealed it’s hint of bitters but once on the ice cream brought the sweet vanilla and the rich sauce into one heady combination.

And the good intentions? Invest in better quality vermouths (wines infused with botanicals), keep them in the refrigerator, and drink them as aperitifs, not just as workhorse cooking ingredients (at which, truth be told, they excel.) We tasted four “dry” or “white” vermouths including Martini and Noilly Pratt, and 5 “sweet” or “red” vermouths including the above brands, Punt é Mes, Antica Carpano (already a favorite among many in the group), and Quady’s Vya based on black muscat grapes. Plus we all, after tasting Underberg bitters ourselves, to adopt Frankie Whitman’s advice and include individual bottles of Underberg bitters to our Thanksgiving menus to prevent any potential digestive upsets and subsequent self-recriminations. Kudos to Pam Elder for leading such a stimulating, fun, and educational seminar.

Book club report: Yes, Chef

by Kathy Lassen-Hahne

On November 14, at the lovely home of Barbara Shenson in Foster City, the San Francisco Professional Food Society Book Club embarked on a worldwide voyage of far-reaching destinations, social introspection and amazing tastes — inspired by Marcus Samuelsson’s Memoir Yes, Chef.

The discussion opened with Kara Nielsen’s canvassing those members who were originally reticent to read the selected title due to an overload of Marcus Samuelsson in the media and his well-known personal history. Were their minds changed? The answer was a resounding “yes,” with unanimous agreement from all present that this is a very compelling memoir (as opposed to the other suggested mystery story, Nightwatch; all thumbs down). Some noted that the skillful editing/co-writing by Veronica Chambers really contributed to making Yes, Chef so engrossing.

The story begins in Ethiopia where the author was born into poverty, afflicted with tuberculosis and then adopted, along with his older sister, by a Swedish family from Goteborg, Sweden, following the death of his mother. With his innate culinary talent and teachings by his Swedish grandmother, Marcus studied culinary arts at a vocational high school and climbed the professional chef ladder by cooking at restaurants and hotels in Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. He made several journeys as culinary staff on cruise ships that opened his eyes and palates to the flavors of the world.

He eventually landed in Manhattan at Aquavit, owned by a fellow Swede. His hard work, passion, experimentation to create signature dishes and continuous search for excellence were rewarded when he became the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times at Aquavit.

His success continued as he went on to open other restaurants, compete on Top Chef Masters and even prepare President Obama’s first state dinner for the prime minister of India. After a harrowing episode where he had to “buy back” his name from the owner of Aquavit, he now owns and runs the Red Rooster in Harlem, where he celebrates the roots of American cuisine and diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood.

Not until arriving in New York did he confront true racial discrimination. Like Barak Obama, Marcus Samuelsson was too black for some, too white for others. “A hundred years ago black men and women had to fight to get out of the kitchen. These days, we have to fight to get in.”

Besides Samuelsson’s professional story, equally fascinating is his personal story, which includes his lifelong issues with race, including being taunted as a school child in Sweden, being refused work in kitchens in Europe and integrating as a black, but not African-American, chef in New York City. There is also the story of his relationship with Ethiopia and Africa, and his reunion with his birth father and siblings there. Samuelsson also fathered a daughter with a young woman in Austria at 20 and then waited years to meet her. The interesting social note here: his Swedish mother immediately embraced and supported his daughter Zoe, even though Marcus did not meet her until she was a teenager. We also learned about his glamorous Ethiopian-born, European-raised wife Maya Haile and their nuptials in their native country.

A recent Wall Street Journal article featured a story on Marcus Samuelsson and potluck dinners.

Our discussion was of course accompanied by an array of delicious dishes, including Scandi breads, Smorrebrod, Gravlaks with sweet Mustard Sauce, Parsley Root Soup with apples and walnuts, Lentil Stew with Berbere spices, Red Lentil Hummus with Berbere spices, Swedish Meatballs, Lingonberry Sauce, Roasted Vegetables, a Swedish Aunt’s Dream Cookies and the classic Swedish Princess Cake from San Francisco’s Schubert’s Bakery. (N.B. Berbere is a key ingredient in the cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, dried basil, korarima, rue, white and black pepper and fenugreek.) It was a perfect feast over which to discuss a fascinating, human and compelling memoir.

For the Love of Chocolate: SFPFS Chocolate-Tasting SIG

text by Laura Martin Bacon
photos by John Wiest

Photo by John Wiest

“Chocolate-tasting is hard work.” That’s what Guittard’s Micki Weinberg tells us when we arrive at Sophia Markoulakis’ beautiful Burlingame home on October 16 for the SFPFS official chocoholics’ tasting SIG meeting.

As we look around, we notice that the scene is set rather like a business meeting. Or at least, the table setting indicates that this is serious business.

Micki and Sophia have equipped all tasters with freshly sharpened pencils, professional-looking tasting sheets and flavor descriptor wheels, along with palate-cleansing water crackers and carafes of water. For those of us whose stress level may need reduction, there’s also plenty of wine and port.

The evening’s blind tasting will include 13 commercially available chocolates. Some are single-origin chocolates and others are blends, but they’re all within a 70-75% cacao range. Micki assures us that she worked hard to narrow down the assortment -– we could easily have tasted at least twice as many noteworthy chocolates within that range.

Wondering exactly what the term “70-75% cacao range” means? Micki informs us that the number refers to the percentage of dark chocolate that comes from the cacao bean, which will be a combination of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. The rest of the chocolate is typically composed of sugar, plus tiny amounts of lecithin (an emulsifier) and vanilla (which highlights the flavors of chocolate).

Chocolate liquor, Micki says, is the essence of the cacao bean -– it’s what you get when you grind the nibs (similar to grinding peanuts for peanut butter). And, contrary to its name, chocolate liquor does not contain alcohol. Cocoa butter is the fatty part of the cacao bean that results from the process of pressing the chocolate liquor, which separates into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Milk, semisweet and bittersweet chocolates contain varying amounts of cocoa butter -– and white chocolate is pure cocoa butter, plus sugar. According to FDA standards, anything with over 35% chocolate liquor qualifies as “sweet dark chocolate.” As for terms like semisweet, bittersweet and dark, there are no standardized definitions, so one chocolate maker’s bittersweet offering could have exactly the same amount of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter as another company’s semisweet.

Even though the chocolates we’re tasting fall into the same cacao range, Micki tells us that they’ll likely taste very different, have a distinctive mouthfeel and will function differently in recipes. These factors will depend on things like ratios of chocolate liquor to cocoa butter. And, just as it does with wine, coffee and olive oil, terroir affects the attributes of chocolate.

You have to learn how to really taste the chocolate, Micki notes, as she tells us about the professional taster’s approach to this challenging task. Let it melt in your mouth to get a nice flavor release and to really gauge the mouthfeel, she advises. Be sure to note textural factors like smoothness, graininess and whether the cocoa butter comes through.

Micki and Sophia have set out tonight’s chocolates on each taster’s plate. They’re numbered, but we can taste them in any order we want. Tasting sheets request that we rate each chocolate, as well as provide comments about its distinctive attributes. For inspiration, we have a flavor wheel that provides descriptors ranging from floral, citrusy, coffee, caramel and tropical fruit to burlap, mothballs, barnyard and hammy (I swear I am not making this up).

“Please take this seriously,” Micki requests. “Have fun with it, but realize it’s a special opportunity. After all, how often do you spend $50 on great chocolates –- just for tasting? Also, try not to have conversations, so everyone can concentrate.”

Really? We can’t talk? Well then, it’s work, a few folks grumble good-naturedly. But as I begin to taste the selection on my plate, I realize that it really is better not to talk –- I don’t want to miss an instant of the extraordinary show each chocolate seems to be performing.

One of the things I learn is: wait for it. Like a great wine, chocolate reveals its distinctive flavors in layers -– it’s a full sensory experience that evolves as the chocolate dissolves on the palate.

As if that’s not enough, SFPFS President-Elect John Wiest reveals a delectable tidbit that he’s gleaned from the AP newswire: the more chocolate a country eats, the more Nobel prize winners per capita. Also: the antioxidants in chocolate can help slow the aging process.

The bottom line: eat lots of chocolate. It tastes wonderful, feels great and it just might make you smarter -– and younger.

For details on the SIG, please check out these tasting stats from Micki:

Dark Chocolate, 70% – 75% cocoa solids
October 16, 2012

Sorted by # Who Would Buy

Shopper’s List:

1. Callebaut-Belgium 70% $8.50 lb Pasta Shop, Oakland

2. Cost Plus World Market Private Label 70% $1.99 3 oz bar

3. Ghirardelli Intense Dark Twilight Delight-USA 72% $3.29 3.25 oz bar

4. Trader Joe’s Pound Plus-Belgium 72% Dark Chocolate $4.99 17.6 oz bar

5. Lindt Excellence-USA 70% Cocoa Lunardi’s $3.59 3.5 oz bar

6. Green & Blacks Organic Dark Baking Chocolate-Italy 72% Lunardi’s $5.99 5.3 oz

7. E. Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate-USA 72% Cacao Draeger’s $17.49 16 oz

8. Scharffen Berger Bittersweet Baking Chunks-USA 70% Cacao Lunardi’s $5.69 6 oz

9. Dandelion Small Batch Chocolate, San Francisco Single Origin Sambirano, Madagascar 70% $8 2 oz bar, Serendipity Chocolate, San Carlos

10. Tcho, San Francisco Single Origin Ghana 70% $7 2 oz bar, Serendipity Chocolate, San Carlos

11. Rogue Chocolates, Massachusetts Single Origin Rio Caribe 70%
$8 2 oz bar, Serendipity Chocolate, San Carlos

12. E. Guittard Quetzacoatl Bittersweet-USA 72% Cacao Mass
Mollie Stone’s $2.99 2 oz bar
Same as Onyx 72% $10.95 16 oz

13. Waialua Estate Extra Dark Chocolate, Hawaii
Single Origin North Shore Oahu $6.95 2 oz bar

Tasting SIG report: Goat Cheeses

by Sophia Markoulakis

Chevre Tasting Plate

SFPFS members convened at Dianne Jacob’s home on August 20 to sample and compare a variety of goat cheeses from nearby farms and around the globe. Laura Chenel’s director of culinary development–and fellow SFPFS member–Jacquelyn Buchanan graciously attended and provided not only her award-winning cheese, but also other brands to taste and discuss.

Before the tasting commenced, Jacquelyn informed us on the two main factors that contribute to flavor variations: milk and culture quality. In addition, feed also plays an important role, which is why LC works closely with the 16 farms from which they source. Slight variations in butterfat, which affects flavor, also occur seasonally when goats are producing milk for offspring. Producers, including LC, spend a lot of time and money on educating distributors since the handling of this time-sensitive product can also affect flavor once it leaves for distribution. It’s customary for most goat cheese manufactures to use frozen curds, since freezing at optimal flavor ensures consistency.

Of the five fresh goat cheeses that we tasted, a private label from Petaluma Market came in first. Second was Sebastopol’s Redwood Hill Farms, and third was France’s Couturier. Finishing out the last two were Cypress Grove and Laura Chenel. All were pleasantly clean-tasting and tart with only slight variations in flavor. The top two choices garnered 8 and 7 votes out of 10. Still, everyone agreed that any of the five brands would be desirable for purchase and all showed appealing levels of freshness, tartness, and creaminess. Comments for usage included incorporating the buttery Laura Chenel into a dessert.

Fresh walnuts and figs, and balsamic vinegar and honey were passed, in addition to bread, making this a tasting fit for a gourmand.

Book Club Report

by Rodger Helwig

The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan

From field to plate is the subject of The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan, a groundbreaking book enthusiastically endorsed by all who attended the SFPFS book club meeting on August 2.

During a lively and passionate discussion, we all agreed that McMillan did an amazing job of documenting the human cost of America’s cheap food, while painting an unflinching portrait of the nation’s food workers.

In 2009, award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan set out on an undercover journey to see what it takes for Americans to eat well. For almost a year she worked at below- to minimum-wage jobs, picking grapes and garlic in the fields of California, stocking produce at Walmart and working the line at Applebee’s.

In this well-written, intelligent book she documents the lives and foodways of the people she worked with along the way, as well as detailing how she personally attempted to get by on meager wages.

Her mission was to answer two questions: Why do we eat the way we do? How can we change it?

As she said in a Huffington Post interview, “Most writing about food in the U.S. has come from a gourmet tradition. Very few people dedicate serious reporting to how the food system works.”

Some of her observations:

• Food workers are, in terms of money and time, among the least able to eat well in America. Most are too exhausted to cook wholesome meals and instead eat junk food that makes them hungrier.

• Increasing farm wages by 40 percent would only increase the average family’s produce bill by about $16 a year.

• While 84 percent of produce in America is purchased at supermarkets, many large metropolitan cities have a paucity of these stores. Detroit, a city of 700,000, is without a single store from a national grocery chain

• “Walmart’s produce section is nothing less than an expansive life-support system,” said McMillan. “Most days, when it comes to vegetables, it was like putting lipstick on corpses.”

What does McMillan offer in the way of solutions to these problems?

She argues for small changes, like cooking classes to demystify eating well, and coupons for saving on fresh foods, which is better and cheaper than eating processed food or eating out.

She believes that cooking is a big part of self-sufficiency, and we need to be teaching it to kids. That it’s not only good to know how to feed your self, but it’s also a practical way to learn math and science.

McMillan also feels that “Changing what’s on our plate simply isn’t feasible without changing far more. Wages, health care, work hours and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop.”

July Wine SIG – Adventure in Napa Valley

By Sharon Goldman

Photo by Pam Elder

Once a year, the Wine SIG adventures up to Napa Valley to enjoy the flavors of wine country. This year, on July 22, the SIG started at St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery with a wine and cheese pairing. Our wine educator Scott Tracy was a knowledge and delightful host as he took us through, as he put it, “aroma therapy with a corkscrew!”

Our first pairing was St. Supéry Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, paired with Laura Chenel’s “Cabecou” Goat Cheese on sliced Model Bakery baguette. Our first lesson was that food changes the flavors of wine—not vice versa. That’s why you taste the wine first to understand what the winemaker intended and then taste it alongside the food. When we tasted the Sauvignon Blanc with the cheese, the wine became more muted. When paired with the sliced crisp apple that Scott also provided, the wine became much more vibrant.

Next came the St. Supéry Napa Valley Malbec 2007 paired with Beemster X O, 26-month aged Gouda cow’s milk from Holland on Crocatini Crackers. This was a match made in heaven, with both the wine and cheese showing their full potential. The wine paired equally well with roasted almonds.

Our third pairing was the delicious St. Supéry Napa Valley Elu 2008 with Explorateur Triple Cream cow’s milk cheese from France, topped with a touch of Spanish quince paste and spread on Carr’s Rosemary Crackers. The rosemary particularly complemented the herb notes of this 93 points, Wine Enthusiast winner–a red blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. We all found it interesting that Scott specifically choose this softer red wine instead of St. Supéry’s famous Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon. He believes that more tannic wines are not a good pairing with cheese.

The sweet and crisp limited production St. Supéry Napa Valley Moscato 2011 concluded our tasting with two pairings: St. Agur Blue Double cream cow’s milk cheese aged 60 days from France on Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers provided a sweet/savory pairing. The “sweet with sweet” pairing with sliced white peach made a perfect finale.

For our potluck, the group traveled just up the road to Dan Mills Productions. What a perfect place for our lunch! His studio lived up to its billing as a “relaxing yet energized space.” The organic gardens were filled with myriad produce that made us all envious of the fruits and vegetables he will be enjoying all season long!

The Wine SiG meets every other month and tastes wines from around the world. Since each meeting fill up very quickly, they are rarely posted on Facebook. If you would like to put on the group’s mailing list for first notice of their schedule, please contact Sharon Goldman,