A few years ago I attended the Masters of Food and Wine in Mendoza, Argentina and ate and drank my way through a week of decadent wine and amazing food created by an outstanding group of very funny chefs, including our buddy Chef Andrew Ormsby. This years festival is underway and words can not describe the wonderful adventure this week in the mystical land of Mendoza.
There is a certain magical, romantic feeling in the air of Mendoza, and every person you meet is your friend. The hospitality is endless, as is the ever flowing wine and hearty food. Though many moments of this trip were memorable, there were a few that stand out as my favorites.
One was watching my dear friend Chef Andrew talk about his appreciation of great ingredients and passion for cooking with my friend, the amazing Walter Bressia, owner and winemaker for what I think is the best winery in Argentina, Bodega Bressia. In 2003, after making wine for other wineries in the area for 30 years, he and his family started Bodega Bressia with the goal to make “Vinos de Autor” (Author Wine) with a hands off approach in the winery, allowing the grapes to shine, and often blending varietals to create the best wine they can. Walters story was similar to Andrews in that his wine is an example of his passion and comes from his heart, thus creating award winning wine that will knock your socks off. The love, sincerity and joy that both of these men feel for their craft is contagious, making everyone around them also want to be as creative and daring as they are.
Argentina is known for their lavish, hearty Asado afternoon barbecues where slabs of beef are roasted and grilled to be served with spicy chimichuri and bold Malbec, but it was their olive oil and avocado oil that really impressed. Intensely flavorful, fresh and green. I am not the type of girl who dips their bread in olive oil, or drowns their veggies in oil….but the robust, green flavor of this oil made me a fan. The avocado oil from Argentina is exceptional as well. Containing all the good elements of an avocado, with an extremely high heat point avocado oil is perfect for use in anything from dressing a salad, as the flavor is light and aromatic, to frying squash blossoms, tortillas or chicken.
Another element of my personal food celebration in Argentina was the cheese. Prior to visiting I would not have thought about Argentina being a great producer of cheese, which of course made complete sense after my arrival as this is the land of great beef, and of course similarly great cows milk cheese like the delightful taste of sharp Argentine Sardo, similar to a Sardinian sheeps milk cheese, San Ignacio Blue made from cows milk with the mold spores used to give this crumbly blue its flavor imported from France, and my favorite Argentine Reggianito, little Reggiano made originally in Argentina by former Italian farmers who move to Argentina but missed the silky, superb flavor of their Parmigiano Reggiano and began making it using traditional methods with Argentine cows milk. The cheese is aged longer than any other cheese in Argentina, creating crystals throughout the cheese giving it extra flavor and texture, much like Parmigiano but at about half the cost. When I was in Buenos Aires the Park Hyatt Hotel had many beautiful elements to it, a great bar, beautiful dining room, fantastic patio overlooking the Recoleta district….my favorite, an entire room of cheese.
At the end of the festival the guest chefs were invited to an Asado celebration at the Zuccardi Winery that I was thrilled to be able to attend. Under the canopy of the vineyard, vines often grow quite high, we sipped Chardonnay and picked grapes while Zuccardi roasted meats for the afternoon barbecue. Over empanadas filled with beef, pork and vegetables the friendship and mutual respect of the chefs was apparent as they shared stories of their cooking adventures, and continued through tasting hearty Malbec and bold Cabernet Sauvignon with roasted beef, sausages and lamb with spicy chimichuri sauce.