Mezcal — More Wild Yeast at Work

Hola y Feliz Año Nuevo from Oaxaca, Mexico, where we’re enjoying a few days of warm winter sun and New Year’s festivity. There is so much wonderful food and drink here!

A specialty of the state of Oaxaca is mezcal, a spirit made from the native agave plant and a cousin to tequila.  In Santiago Matatlán, a few miles east of Oaxaca City, artisanal family mezcal distilleries are everywhere, and we enjoyed the opportunity to see how mezcal is made.

The spiky leaves of the agave plant are chopped off, leaving the heart, or piña (“pineapple”):

The piñas are roasted in a fire pit (this one is not currently firing), covered with earth, for several days, yielding smoky, caramelized agave:

After sitting for several more days, the agave is mashed into fibers with a burro-drawn stone wheel:

The mashed fibers are placed into a large open wooden vat and left to be fermented by wild yeast and bacteria for several days-to-weeks longer. This is what it looks like in early and late stages of fermentation:

The mash is distilled in a wood-fired still:

The clear mezcal (mezcal blanca) can be consumed right away or aged in wooden barrels for 6–12 months for mezcal reposada, or more than a year for mezcal añejo. This golden mezcal has been aged for four years:

While I have to say that distilled spirits are not usually my thing, this went down pretty smoothly. The traditional way to take mezcal is with lime or orange slices and sal de gusano, made from dried crushed agave worms:

Happy New Year!

Post a comment » 12 Comments

  1. Very cool. Thank you for a peek into your amazing new years locale.

    PS – The Weight? Rad. I’m listening to it right now compliments of you. Cooking though, not baking.

  2. Travel . . . love what we can find, that is really a fascinating process.

  3. Hi Susan,
    Just a quick note to wish you a happy new year. I wish you and your love one always in a good health, lot’s of luck and all beautiful things come in year 2009.

    Enjoy the rest of your vacation.
    Best wishes,

  4. Susan,

    May you and yours have a wonderful New Year. Here’s to lots of wild yeast in both of our futures for 2009

  5. Have a drink for me! I wish you a very happy, healthy and successfull new year!!

  6. Your pictures bring back some great memories of Oaxaca. I know you like many kinds of food, have you visited The Seasons of My Heart cooking school?
    Susan runs a great school.

  7. A lesson for me! Thanks! Wish you a very happy new year:)

  8. I always wondered how they turned an agave into a drink! Very cool, thank you! Although, not the best thing to read while nursing last night’s hangover!

  9. Happy New Year!

  10. Where’s the recipe? :)
    Thanks for the peek into a different kind of fermentation. Sounds like you’re having a fun 2009 so far.

  11. A Happy and Healthy New Year to you Susan!

  12. Happy New Year, Susan! Thanks again for such a wonderful website; I always find the most interesting tidbits here. :) …oh, and the yummiest bites.

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