Want to know the newest and hottest places to eat in Belgium?
Want to know the newest and hottest places to eat in Belgium?
Whew, the C2CT2 was last night. I’ve scarcely a spare moment to gather my thoughts, let alone luggage before heading to beloved Belgium tomorrow. I’m off to meet Janet Forman, who is a friend and beautiful writer. We’re going on a contemplative travel adventure – on retreat at Westmalle, and to visit the beguinages of Flanders. These are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, places where since the Middle Ages up to the 21st century women have taken refuge. The beguines are also known as the first feminists of Europe. A couple of them were even brewers. By the time I return, I expect to know a good deal about the subject. The exploratory is to be the topic of a story by Janet for National Geographic Traveller. The beguinage movement is of special interest to me because for a time I ran a women’s retreat (founded in the Progressive Era for textile workers), and because the little house that we recently bought in Ghent backs up to one of these beguinages.
In the second half of my trip I’ll reunite with Don. We’ll visit with our brewer friends, get acquainted with our new house, and finalize shipments of a couple of new beers.
We wish you all a peaceful Thanksgiving in the company of loved ones. A special thanks to our Coast to Coast Toast hosts and members of the distributor community for making this year’s Toast utterly stupendous. I’ll be back in action in Chicago in the 2nd week of December. Drop me a line if you have a question, or if you want to share an observation
Kobe Desramaults is the head chef at In De Wulf (what a great name!), located in Danrouter, Belgium. Lambickx pairs perfectly with his dish of lightly cured sea bass, radish, shellfish broth, and sloeberry vinegar. But until Wendy returns to the US with Kobe’s cookbook in hand, we are recipe-less.
But in place of a recipe, I thought I’d share a few facts about Kobe’s culinary genius. In De Wulf sits in the place of Kobe’s childhood home, which evolved from a cottage, to a brasserie, to an inn. Kobe studied under some of the world’s best contemporary chefs - Sergio Herman and Carles Abellán – then returned home to transform his mother’s restaurant into a Michelin-star winning establishment. In De Wulf received its first Michelin star in 2005, making Kobe the youngest Michelin starred chef in Belgium; to date, In De Wulf now boasts two Michelin stars. Recently, Kobe has been named one of the top 100 chefs in the world, and at 31, he is among the youngest.
Kobe’s cooking focuses on bringing out the best in local ingredients, no matter the season. In his own words:
“Every day there’s something changing. It’s to be found in some little things like the scent of the first elders bringing me directly back to my childhood, the wild dock leaves in the talus, the glance of the first blackberries…
It’s the same feeling a want to reflect in my kitchen. The menu doesn’t change every season but when the time is right. I call it ‘organic kitchen’ because I have to adjust it to the things happening around us. The menu never changes from dish to dish… I see it as a never ending project. Every day there is worked and puzzled on. Adapted but never feigned. It especially has to be ‘real’, sometimes brutal, soft, just natural. Being honest of who we are and where we are as the biggest challenge.”
In Kobe’s spirit, why not improvise a dish out of local ingredients? Let us know what
amazing dish you have created, and since Lambickx dazzles with most food pairings, try it with your creation and let us know what you think!
Follow Kobe on Twitter (@kobewulf) and prepare to be tantalized, scintillated, and culinarily inspired by both his tweets and this beautiful video of In De Wulf’s offerings:
I am posting this little travel update from Livorno. Our room at the NH Grand Hotel Palazzo overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea.
We lunched at Ristorante Miramare in Marina di Castagneto Carducci, not far from Bolgheri (about 50 km from Livorno). Incredibly beautiful day and magnificent lunch of pasta with shellfish and salad. It is warm enough that people are swimming in the sea. We had to have a glass of Bolgheri, the famous local white wine so we could better appreciate the splendor and particularity of Doppia Vecchia Bastarda, Birra Amiata‘s vintage heirloom chestnut beer aged in Bolgheri barrels. We learned that the chef has consulted with Lidia Bastianich about Liguria’s cuisine, a cuisine we will come to know better when we have dinner with our friends Claudio Cerullo (one half of Amiata’s brewing brother duo) and his wife Patricia. They have promised us a Livornese fish feast!
Working backwards, we reached Italy and the village of Arcidosso on Monday. We have been spending time in the company of the very loving, talented, hardworking and thoughtful Claudio and Gennaro Cerullo and their families, eating together, visiting the brewery, touring the little hill towns on foot, and of course drinking the local wines and beers! It poured rain when we lunched at the Cerullo house on European Labor Day (May 1) but that did not put the slightest damper on a great meal prepared by Carla and Sophia.
We stayed at a sweet little inn: Locanda del Prete which the owner (Carlo Innocenti) renovated himself.
He is a former adman, cameraman, and he even ran a discoteque. Now, in addition to the inn, he operates a cooking school in his 25 room house near the castello of Arcidosso. His wife Pascale is an architectural designer from Paris – a former model for Armani and Versace. That is a picture of our lunch below – not Pascale!
Carlo gave us a little recipe book from the cooking school. The recipe and sentiment come from him, the beer pairing from us. Because the Crocus beer from Amiata contains saffron, we thought it would be delightful paired with risotto. Crocus will be coming in later in the year. In the meantime, substitute a glass of Contessa or a Montepulciano wine.
During the spring and fall in Tuscany and Arcidosso, people venture out into the woods of Monte Amiata in search of the rare to find and prestigious porcini. In order to preserve the mushroom for the rest of the year, many dry them, then use them to prepare pasta sauces and risotto.
17 ounces of Arborio rice
2 handfuls of dried procini mushrooms
1 chopped onion
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Place the dry porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with warm water. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes. Using a strainer, get rid of all the sediment in the water. Do not throw away the water since you’ll use it in the risotto. Using your hands, squeeze the mushrooms to get rid of the excess water. Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and place in the medium sized pot with some olive oil. Add the mushrooms with a little water. Cook at low to medium heat stirring continuously. Add the rice and then some more water. Keep stirring the rice and adding warm water to the pot. Add salt and pepper. Once the rice is al dente, the risotto is ready. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.
The French Craft Brewers alliance is engaging a rep, Alexis Maquin, to work in the Chicago Market. He’ll be arriving in June. We got together with him, Loic Falce, a key operative with FCB and the export manager at Castelain on the occasion of a visit to the Nord Pas de Calais region and most especially the Castelain Brewery, with Lauren and Sean our North East reps. We wanted to give them a sense of the profound Flemish influence in this part of France – as background to understanding and appreciating the beers. Cassel is the perfect place to prove the point. It is after all home to the one and only Museum of Flanders (in France…not Belgium!). It is also one of our favorite towns in the region from which – on a clear day you can see five countries. Loic and Alexis engineered a superb day and we had a grand time. Alexis created this handy dandy Cassel walking tour for the us. Also available as a pdf. Enjoy! Count on about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive from Gent to Cassel and a little under 2 hours if coming from Brussels. Pair a 1/2 day excursion to Cassel with a tour and tasting of the beers at Castelain and a leisurely and filling lunch at wayside tavern in a converted farmette: La Gringette – photo below (12-14, rue de l’Epinette – 59181 Steenwerck 03-28-49-90-96.) You will find the Castelain beers on offer.
Cassel is a small town of 2, 300 inhabitants in the Nord department, situated at the top of Mont Cassel (Dutch: Kasselberg), a prominent hill located in the local Houtland region about 19 miles (30 km) from the sea. The hill rises to a height of 577 ft (176 m) above sea level. Its geological composition comprises limestone capped with a very hard ferruginous layer of rock.
A bit of history :
Cassel (Kassel in Flemish)
Built on a prominent hill overlooking French Flanders, the town has existed since Roman times. It was developed by the Romans into an important urban centre and was the focus of a network of roads, which are still in use today, that converge on the hill. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Cassel became an important fortified stronghold for the rulers of Flanders which was repeatedly fought over before finally being annexed to France in the 17th century. It was the headquarters of Marshal Ferdinand Foch during part of the First World War. In 1940, during the German invasion of France, Cassel was the scene of a fierce three-day battle between British and German forces which resulted in much of the town being destroyed.
Today the town, which was rebuilt following the war, is a popular destination for visitors to French Flanders. It is renowned for its extensive views from the summit of Mont Cassel and is the location of the Nord department’s principal museum of local art, history and folklore. It is also the home of the legendary giants Reuze-Papa and Reuze-Maman, which are paraded in effigy each Easter during the town’s annual carnival.
To get to know the city, what is better than a walking tour ?
Length : 1.86 miles / 3 kilometers
Time : 1 hour
Starting point : Cassel Grand-Place
Four beautiful Castelain beers glowing in French Flanders sunlight.
Stop. Hush. Wonder:
The tall, slim beauty second from the left is Jade, this week’s featured beer and the first French beer to obtain organic certification. Castelain is, unquestionably, the pioneer of organic brewing in France. Their Castelain Bière de Garde is brewed without any additives or chemicals of any kind, and is so pure that when it first came out – in 1979 – it was sold by health food stores. Health food stores so loved Castelain’s beer that they asked the brewery for a wholly organic beer… and so, Jade was born.
An artisanal independent brewer of the Pas de Calais region, Castelain is run by Annick Castelain, the granddaughter of the founder of the brewery and a rare woman executive in the French brewing community. There’s a lot brewing at Castelain, including a collaboration beer with Two Brothers Brewing Company (more details forthcoming!) and plenty of new formats and new beers.
Wendy and Don visited visited the brewery last week with a crew of some of our favorite people: Lauren (our wonderful NY rep), Sean (our fabulous Boston rep), Alexis (our new Chicago sales rep – welcome, Alexis!), and Loic (our superb export manager). As the picture above can attest, the brewery tasting – with Annick and her nephew and head brewer, Nicholas – was nothing short of delectable.
But being a Belgian Expert (and beyond) means more than tasting beers – it also means understanding where the beer comes from.
When we visit a city with no particular optic, we find we soon forget the details. But when we explore with the urban landscape with a specific theme in mind, the high spots long remain in our memories. Ghent has a reputation for fierce independence and left leaning sentiments. Our understanding of how this reputation came about was much enriched by the recent reading of a booklet we picked up at the Tourist Office called The Red Walk by Martijn Vandenbroucke prepared for the Amsab Institute for Social History. It forms the basis for a walking tour of the city organized around and explaining monuments of 19th century textile industry and the social movements that came about to advocate for worker rights.
This had particular resonance for us because we lived for a time in Troy, NY. Troy was the center of the shirt collar industry in America and the town where the first organized strikes for improved working conditions for women workers in textiles took place. A hero of the labor movement is Troy’s own Kate Mullaney. Similarly miserable conditions existed in Troy and Ghent for much of the 19th century. The Red Walk explains that given the harsh working and living conditions it is no surprise that “the organized labor movement in Belgium had its roots in this city full of factories and proletarians. Socialist, Christian-democratic and liberal unions originated in Ghent.” The itinerary of the Red Walk takes in 9 landmarks of the movement and starts at MIAT the textile museum on Minnemeers.We commend the handy booklet to you if when you go to Gent you want to better appreciate some of the intellectual underpinnings that make the city distinct among Belgian towns. So you see, beer is not the only way thing on our minds. Want to know more about proud, beautiful, principled Gent? Read on
And to end where we began – Manchester was the center for organized labor in the UK, like Ghent a textile town, and perhaps pertinent to beer lovers, the city nearist Wetherby, West Yorkshire, the birthplace of Michael Jackson.
Last week we ate and drank our way around Wallonia with old friends, John Auerbach and Corby Kummer. The excursion culminated in a mammoth beer tasting at Moeder Lambic in Brussels on Tuesday. Though the majority of the beers we tasted were, naturally Belgian, a highlight of the occasion was Vecchia Bastarda, a wonderful beer we recently began importing (an Honorary Belgian Beer) from the Amiata Brewery in Tuscany. It's made with chestnut flour and is aged in Bolgheri wine barrels. The next day, John flew to Boston, Don drove to Ghent, while Corby and I explored more of Brussels. At day's end, we parted company at Gare Centrale – he bound for Bra, Italy. Kummer is is the senior editor at The Atlantic, the author of The Pleasures of Slow Food, a member of the organization's Advisory Board, and a professor at Slow Food's University of Gastronomic Sciences. He was headed to Bra to teach a workshop on food writing. Imagine our amazement when a few days later we got this email from Corby:
“In a what-are-the odds coincidence, the most talented writer in my class, Danish not Dutch but tall tall tall, wrote a paper today about… Amiata, with special focus on the chestnut. Nice piece, nice guy. I told I had to have it to send to you, and he gives you free rein to put it on your site.”
A Dane studying in Bra writes on craft beer in Tuscany under the tutelage of an American journalist from Boston who is friends with two Chicagoans in Belgium who import beer!
Johan does a wonderful job of painting a picture of the pair of brothers who run the brewery and describing the beers. We are so glad to have it! The second shipment of Amiata's beers just arrived in the States and speedily sold out at the distributor level. We hope you will go out and try to find some. The main shipment was their Contessa Italian Pale Ale, but as a special treat they included sixteen barrels of Vecchia Bastarda. We fully expect to hear from at least sixteen people to get their feedback on the beer. Enjoy!
Chestnut Bastards by Johan Dal
“We make this chestnut polenta dish, would you like to try it?” A restaurant owner has to know his clientele, but asking to bring out a savory dish of roasted chestnut polenta with ricotta and fried animelle after a rustic four course dinner and dessert seems a bit odd. But the brothers from the Tuscan based Amiata brewery do not hesitate. Minutes later we’re diving into the best dish of the night, the sweetness of the chestnuts balanced by the bitter grill char, the salty pieces of the meat and the creaminess of fresh ricotta.
As the bus pulls up in front of a warehouse in an industrial quarter of the tiny town of Arcidossi, in the Tuscan region of Maremma, we have no idea that this will happen just a few hours later. Welcomed by two almost identical brothers, the owners and brewers of Amiata brewery, named after the nearby Amiata mountain, at this grey and dull structure, expectations are low. The brewery might not look it, but we soon to find out that the dullness of the outside converts into liveliness and excitement once we pass the doorstep.
Looking at the brothers is like seeing an older and a newer version of the same person. Or a mini me, since the younger one has just a little less of everything – except hair maybe. Both of them extremely tall, overweight, bald and sinister looking, they do not seem like worthwhile company, but their Tuscan warmth, their deep toned chuckle and their love for beer make them adorable. They are into beer. They are geeks. The beauty of it is that they know it. And love it.
They do not talk much; we almost have to pull information out of them. But they start getting excited as they understand that we are interested and want to taste whatever they will put before us. They pull out one beer after another, all named after mythical figures of the region. One of the beers is supposed to taste like sea breeze, another one is saffron infused, there is a barley wine, a pumpkin beer, coriander-orange peel ale and the list just keeps on going. Their production line reads like one long experiment. Using strange ingredients, fermenting this, adding that, bottle aging, you name it, they have tried it. Maybe successfully, maybe not. They say themselves that they are not there yet, that they are new to brewing, only having done it for about three years; and yes, after trying a certain amount of them some of the beers are certainly more weird and funky than refined and enjoyable. But their passion holds our attention.
The region is famous and holds an IGP for their chestnuts. Everywhere we have been, we have been served products containing these local wonders: castagniaccio, bread with chestnuts, roasted chestnuts. So why not a chestnut beer? Of course they make that. Three different ones. They call it “Bastarda Rossa”, red bastard, made with 20% chestnuts, double bastard, “Bastarda Doppia” made with twice the amount and “Vecchia Bastarda”, old bastard, which is the double bastard kept in wine barrels for nine month before bottling. We try one after another, spitting throughout the tasting, slowly but surely feeling the influence of the alcohol or maybe just dizzy and delirious from the many, countless impressions thrown at us. Nevertheless, the chestnut beer is interesting and saying no is would not be very polite. The beer has a red shimmer to it, hence the name. It foams heavily in the glass and easily gives away the sweet nutty aroma from the chestnuts. Tasting it reveals that it is no joke. It tastes like chestnuts, pretty unforgivingly. Like it or not, the taste is there, in your face. It is a very sweet beer, not very refreshing and the bubbles seem to disappear to make it even heavier, but it is unlike anything else. As we compliment the brothers, they already pour the double.
When asked if they want to join us for dinner, the younger brother pulls out his cellphone and we understand he has prior engagements he has to settle first if possible. “Mamma?” we hear him say before he is out of hearing distance. After a few minutes he returns and announces that dinner was not on the stove yet, so they would be happy to join us.
All right, we know it is self-serving, but this week’s Blogger of the Week is Ray Henry of The Barley Blog. Check out the very sympathetic write up of Posca Rustica. Thanks Ray, and greetings from Belgium. This week we visited both Dupont and the Archeosite d’Aubechies, an open air museum near the brewery. It reinterprets life from the Iron Age through the Roman Era in Wallonia. Posca Rustica (aka Cervesia) is made specially for the Archeosite and is a gruut made with many herbs and spices and very little hops. Think bay leaves, green peppercorn, ginger, and that heavenly Dupont yeast. Mmmmmm.
Here to give you a feeling for the atmosphere at the Archeosite is a passage from A Tall Man in a Low Land: “We circled the settlement, popping into a house every once in a while and being regaled with details of Celtic building, bread-making and bee-keeping skills by men and women in muted plaids to whom the Celts represented a bygone Golden Age, when there was still a spirit of community, everyone knew his or her place and you could leave your back door open when you nipped round to your neighbors to borrow a cup of woad. The Belgians were keen on their Iron Age roots. Their hairy Celtic forbears, the Belgae, had ruled a kingdom that stretched from the North Sea over to Switzerland.” A very fun outing after a visit to Dupont and a beer perfectly suited to the setting. We toured on Monday with old friends Corby Kummer and John Auerbach.
The Barley Blog » Brasserie Dupot Posca Rustica
Posca Rustica has quite the floral nose with herbal notes, spices, honey, lemon zest, a light funk and a hint of grassy hops. It’s got an aroma similar to a saison.
The first of many blog posts from Belgium this winter
We are lodging in Gent for the 4th straight year. I always dread getting ready to go, am reluctant to leave Chicago, then as soon as I arrive remember what a wonderful town Gent is.
There will be non-stop action all this week. But first, Don and I “hit the ground running” once we got to town by going for personalized fittings for Tempur pedic pillows. Hard to be beer experts without a good night’s sleep.
I reread “A Tall Man in a Low Land” on the night flight from Chicago to Brussels, an Englishman’s take on Belgium, by Harry Pearson. This in preparation for a 4 day excursion with dear friends – will give a copy of the book as a keepsake of the trip and try as much as possible to share Harry’s optic on the Belgians with our pals. Book handles such topics as pigeon racing (invented here), candidates for prize as the worst name for a Belgian beer (a contest idea in there), oddest town traditions (pea soup fest is high on list), musings on Belgian contempt of government, love of dogs, rules of the road that terrify non-natives to reveal the Belgian character with humor and affection. It and busts the myth that Belgium is boring. Pearson sure appreciates the food and the beer – especially Dupont’s – which of course endears him to us even more. *****recommendation.
Speaking of Dupont – we will be there on Tuesday for the collaboration brew for Philly Beer Week and will be taking pictures during the day. Probably really dumb, but I will be test driving my new camera on Tuesday. I liked the Philly Beer Week page and hope you will too. We need to get cracking on making sure that crowd knows the beer is heading their way.
Monday, we have a visit to Dendermonde to catch up with our friends at Dilewyns, Belgium’s newest brewery. Our first visit since their grand opening. When we were there last spring the place was still under construction. Do you know about their sensational
Vicaris beers. More news soon.
Took hundreds of pictures today but must learn how to handle pixelmator to shrink em for the blog. One fun thing about Gent is the awesome graffiti.