After a process that included some sole-searching (Me: ‘What was that I just stepped on?’ Charlotte: ‘Was it an insect? Is it edible? Let me see! LET ME SEE!!!’), wine being drunk in the name of research, and the pondering of the calendrical cycle (‘Crap, it is late November already?! How did that happen?’), we have come to a conclusion. That is, it will be best to run our event with the Cambridge Science Centre in January, rather than early December, as previously envisioned.
In addition, we’ve also decided that the best way forward at this stage is to commit to running the event as a virtual tasting. This means you’ll be able to join Charlotte and me from the (dis)comfort of your own home or other exotic location.
We haven’t been able to set an exact date yet as to when the event will take place, but expect it to be in the second half of the month. We will keep you updated with dates, meeting platform and other information you’ll need to know – such as cost, how to obtain your Virtual Insects & Wine tasting kit, recommendations for appropriate festive outfits, and so forth.
We have news. Whether it is good news or bad depends on your view on edible insects and sustainability. We like to think it is good news, but that really depends on who is reading this. I’d presume you are a fan of edible insects, but these are strange times, and perhaps it is best not to assume too much.
At any rate, as the headline says, we are back. Almost. Sort of. More exactly, there are plans afoot to do an Insects & Wine evening with the Cambridge Science Centre. These were the folk who were going to host our tasting back in March, as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.
As of now, the date has been tentatively set for 11 December. That’s not written in stone, but seems most likely.
What, you may be thinking, if the lockdown is extended? How will we get our tasty insects and delicious wine? No worries. The team is working tirelessly to make sure a virtual event can be held if that’s the best option.
Recipes are being tested and wines are being drunk all in the name of bringing you the best possible experience.
Yeah, well, so much for all our plans for the first part of 2020. Best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. One event had to be cancelled, as they didn’t drum up enough interest. (It was a closed event, which is why we didn’t advertise it.) And then we were all set to do an event at the Cambridge Science Centre as part of the Cambridge Science Festival on 13 March.
By this time, the coronavirus was affecting things in the UK. Earlier that week, some events at the Science Festival were cancelled, but many were still going ahead. Lockdown was still in the future.
Charlotte (the Younger) came over late morning on the 13th, so we could start prepping for the evening. But then an e-mail came in. I only noticed it because I went to print a recipe out. The Science Festival had cancelled the rest of the events. Since we were holding ours away from the main sites, we could continue, if we wanted. But we thought it wiser to cancel, given there was food and drink involved, and everyone would be in close proximity.
Yes, that all happened two and a half months ago. I came down with Covid-19 (or so the NHS strongly suspects, there not being tests available for regular folk) in early April. I had one of those cases that although I didn’t end up in hospital or anything, the symptoms lasted for over a month. I’m finally back to feel up to blogging, and doing similar things.
This was all by way of saying that we haven’t gone away, or forgotten about Insects & Wine. Quite when we’ll be, who knows. But we will be back, oh yes, we will.
And in the meantime, as you can see from the photo at the top, I’m well-prepared with insects. (Charlotte took the mealworms.) Luckily we were able to cancel the wine order, although, being who I am, I’m still relatively well-stocked with wine.
Yes, we are still here. It’s been a long silence on our part, but hopefully you’ll excuse and understand that once you continue reading.
Since our last event, at Darwin College in the spring, the team has been busy. The majority of the team earned degrees of some sort or another. A majority (the same majority, as it happens) have then started new jobs or new degrees. Half the team moved, and had various other life events that are usually considered significant.
In other words, we’ve been busy. And behind the scenes, Insects & Wine has also been busy, trying out new recipes, visiting an insect farm over the summer, and, well, dealing with life. However, there are multiple things on the horizon for the first few months of the coming year. Here’s some of them, in no particular order:
On Monday 20th May, we were warmly invited by Darwin College kitchens to host our sixth Insects & Wine to date. We received glowing feedback from the winers-and-diners in attendance, and the College chefs were very amused at the gastronomic delights we were offering!
Darwin College have been very active in promoting more sustainable ways of eating amongst its student body – including offering insect-based snacks in their canteen, and listing the vegetarian and vegan options ahead of meat on their daily menus. The setting was beautifully laid out, and we were spoilt with the kitchen facilities we had on hand (including the loan of some rather flattering aprons!)
We repeated the selection of insect-based canapés that had been so well-received at the Cambridge Science Festival back in March. This included grasshopper ‘sushi’ from Tsukahara Chinmi in Japan, ‘critter pittas’ using Eat Grub’s peri-peri crickets, and nachos loaded with Mexican grasshoppers (or ‘chapulines’) from Merci Mercado in Mexico. We also offered a bonus ‘dessert’ course of insect macarons, from the French supplier Minus Farm. Both Merci Mercado and Minus Farm are certified by EntoTrust, which assesses product quality, food safety, environmental sustainability and ethical employment practices. The Eat Grub crickets came from Entomo Farms which is in the process of becoming an EntoTrust certified producer. These dishes were designed to emulate the flavours popular in the insects’ respective countries of origin.
We switched up the wines we served this time: our guests loved the two Austrian wines (Eschenhof Holzer Invader and Eschenhof Holzer Wagram Grüner Veltliner) served with the first course; the red (Franz Weninger “vom Kalk”) served with the second course was a little divisive; and the Portuguese red (Opta Dão Red) served with the final course went down a treat. Our guests loved learning from Chris about the intricacies of the different (low-intervention) wine-making methods, including what distinguishes orange wine from its red and white counterparts, and even how phases of the moon influence the production of some biodynamic wines.
The event saw first-time insectivores, well-seasoned wine-tasters, and professional chefs come together, united by their interest to learn about and taste the diversity of insects and wines on offer. Our guests were open-minded and engaged, asking pertinent questions, and providing valuable feedback that we will use to make future events even more enjoyable.
We extend our thanks to our guests, and our generous hosts at Darwin, and hope you all had a wonderful evening!
In support of our upcoming event as part of the Cambridge Science Festival we recently did a spot on a local radio station, Cambridge 105. It’s now available as a podcast on the web, and you can listen (mostly to Charlotte) here. Stay tuned for more!
We’ve been busy behind the scenes of late. One of the things we’ve been busy with has been talking to various people from the media. In doing so, it occurred to me (Chris) that we never explicitly explained the origin of this site and project, or its goals. So, here they are:
Insects and Wine is a collaboration between Charlotte Payne (Insects, Dept. of Zoology, University of Cambridge) and Chris Kaplonski (wine, Anthroenology). Charlotte and Chris met at a conference on sustainability and food, and realised that what the world was missing was a chance to bring two of its greatest luxuries, insects and wine, together for people. They promptly stepped up to fill the void.
Apart from a love of delicious
insects and good wine, both Charlotte and Chris have a keen interest in issues
of sustainability in the realm of food and drink. Ultimately, that’s the point
of Insects & Wine, and the tastings they run: not only to get people to try
and hopefully enjoy a new food, but to think about issues of sustainability.
What do we mean when we say a food is ‘sustainable’? What do we need to do to
encourage people to eat and drink more sustainably?
I&W aims where possible
not just to introduce people to insects as food, but also to
sustainably-produced wines. This can often include exposing people to types of
wines (low-intervention, orange) that they may not have tried before. These may
well taste unlike the wines they are used to. And that’s another goal of the
collaboration: not only to introduce people to new ways of eating and drinking,
but to think about how sustainability is linked to the sensory aspects of food
and drink. Sustainable wines can taste ‘funky’ (and yes, that’s the word used)
and insects can have a ‘yuck’ factor for many people. So, how do we address and
overcome these stumbling points on the way to eating and drinking more
Our approach is to guide
people through the stories behind the food and drink. Many sustainable wines
are produced using traditional, artisanal methods, and the production of new
wine is a celebrated event. Similarly, many insects are collected and prepared
by people who look forward to the harvest season and are proud of the
deliciousness of their traditional cuisine. Understanding these stories can
help us to challenge and break down our own prejudices, and in doing so,
appreciate the flavours of both insects and wine.
At our events, we hope to
get you to think more broadly about what you eat and drink, and to have a good
time while doing so.
If you are interested in
having us holding a tasting for you, contact us at info [at] insectsandwine.com
We a proud to offer the following guest post, by Sioned Cox, on the November insect and wine pairing at Trinity College, Cambridge. Photos are also by Sioned.
On a wintery Monday evening in November, I attended one of the most fun events of my Cambridge experience so far. It was a wine tasting evening with a twist: edible insects! This time last year, I’m not sure I’d ever intentionally eaten an insect before. These days, it’s becoming quite routine!
It all started when I applied to be a research assistant for my now supervisor and insect supplier to the event. We travelled together to Burkina Faso to study the highly popular caterpillar consumption in the region. It’s been birthday termites and insect pizza nights ever since! This event, with its opportunity to watch fifty eager students share in my newfound entomophagy, was therefore quite a treat!
The evening consisted of three rounds of insect appetisers, each paired with two different wines. The first round was wasp larvae blinis paired with the dry white ‘Aphros Vinho Verde Branco Loureiro 2016’ and the crisp ‘Arndorfer Grüner Veltiner Die Leidenschaft 2014’. This course seemed to be a gentle start for the majority, although I got into some trouble with my peers for the comment that the wasp blinis, with their larvae from different stages of the life cycle, was like ‘eating a family’.
Next was the most popular round: grasshopper tsukudani skewers paired with ‘Clos Lapeyre Jurançon Sec 2016’ and ‘Weingut Karl Schnabel Morillon 2014’. Originally immaculately presented, the aftermath of pulling the legs from the grasshoppers left a somewhat grim sight but most people agreed that these were the tastiest insects of the evening. The second wine was chosen as their best accompaniment.
The final round was the most entertaining by far. Silkworm, it seems, are the most divisive of insects. For a handful of people in the room, the silkworm paired with the reds ‘Chateau du Cedre, ‘Camille’ Malbec 2016’ and ‘Strohmeier Trauben, Liebe & Zeit (TLZ) Rot No. 6’ was divine. For the rest of us, silkworm was the most unbearable experience! The overpowering, pungent taste lead someone to comment that it reminded them of mould in their grandmother’s house! A comment I was surprised to find myself having no trouble empathising with! Despite the somatic displeasure, it was exciting to be experiencing such an unfamiliar taste!
Overall, it was an exceptional evening, full of contrasts! Sophisticated and whimsical, elegant and messy! For me, the highlight was sampling ‘natural wine’ for the first time. (See: http://www.anthroenology.org/natural-wine/ for an explanation of natural wine). All the wine served was produced organically and by environmentally friendly methods. My favourite, the Franz Strohmeier’s Rot No. 6, had a dreamy, cloudy appearance and notes of red berries. It was a wonderful night of entertainment and intrigue! I thoroughly enjoyed my exposure to such novel tastes and learning more about sustainability.
“What do they taste like?” That’s the first question I get asked. After I explain that I can’t tell crickets apart from rice cakes, they want to try them.
But a better question is “what to eat them with?” My friend Austin knows. He runs a cricket farm. He and his family have turned crickets into all sorts of delightful dishes. Recently he invited me over for a holiday party and I got to try some crickets.
I was told only bring a gift to exchange and beverages to share with others. When I walked into their home I smelled the baking of something sweet. People were preparing a potato dish for the oven. Crickets, cheese, crackers, and chips were on the table to enjoy.
After meeting everyone we started the gift exchange. I gave the board game Life, and I got shower hangers. Both useful and not typical gifts. The potato dish came out of the oven. It was layers of cheese and potatoes. On the table a bowl of crickets for people to take. The last time I had crickets was at an entrepreneurship event I helped organize and Austin had brought them. I learned then that if you eat the crickets with something you don’t know you’re eating crickets. At that event, I had the crickets with a salad and they gave a great crunch to the salad.
At this holiday party, I mixed the crickets with crackers and cheese. If you want to pair crickets with wine, I think you should choose the food you are going to eat the crickets with and pair the wine to that food. In this case, the soft creamy cheese was the food to eat with crickets. Soft cheese with crunchy crickets. It was mostly local Oregon wine from Sweet Creek that we consumed at the party; however, another choice would have been Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc.
We snacked on the hors d’oeuvres and then joked about our new gifts and cupcakes came out. The cupcakes were made with cricket flour. For me, a perfect cupcake doesn’t have too much icing and is soft and squishy inside. These cupcakes were the best cupcakes I have had in a long time. Originally I wasn’t going to have one because I have been trying to avoid sweets. Austin and company peer-pressured me into having them and I’m glad they did.
The evening was amazing, filled with interesting people, tasty food, and unusual gifts. I had a great time and I am still thinking about that cupcake.
Maybe the best way to enjoy crickets is with good friends and great food.
With additional thanks to Simbi, for linking us up with Elliot!