An origin story…

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 sustainably?

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

Insects and Wine at Cambridge Wine Merchants

Charlotte and I are excited to announce that we’ll be running an Insects & Wine tasting in conjunction with Cambridge Wine Merchants on 11 October!

You’ll need to book in advance, so get your tickets here on Eventbrite.

We are going to leave the wines a surprise for now, but the planned menu includes:

– Wasp larvae blinis
– Grasshopper ‘tsukudani’
– Silkworm sourdough toasts

The menu is subject to change – although we hope not! – since sourcing sustainable insects can be a bit of a challenge at times.

For one attendee’s reaction to a similar event last year, you can read this blog entry.

Sophisticated and whimsical, elegant and messy

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.

Wasp larvae blinis platter

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!

Grasshopper skewers platter

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!

Silkworm sourdoughs platter

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’.

A ‘family’ of wasp larvae

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.

A grasshopper skewer

A grasshopper skewer with the winning wine

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!

The ‘divisive’ insects up close

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.

Grasshopper skewer ‘aftermath’

Guest post: Insects and wine at Craft Crickets, Oregon

By Elliot Killian

“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!

I&W – You won’t believe what we did next…

It’s been too long since Insects & Wine has posted. You can blame me for the silence. Hopefully this post will get me back into the swing of things. This one’s just a very brief update, to account for the silence.

What’s been happening? In May and June (ie, the time since our last blog post) I (the Wine half) was studying for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma exams on still (aka table) wines. It’s a five-hour beast of an exam, with 12 wines to be tasted blind anda analysed, and five written exam questions. You can read about it here. The exam was in mid-June, and I’m finally ready to start thinking about wine as something other than something to drink. For those interested, you can read more about the exam on Anthroenology’s blog here.

Charlotte, the Insect half of our team, is doing fieldwork in Burkina Faso. She’s been there since late May. You can – and should – follow her goings-on on her personal blog and / or on Twitter.

That’s it for now. We have some things going on in the background, so stay tuned. Up next here, however, is a guest blog on eating insects for the first time.

Insects and wine around the world: Our top 10 traditional pairings, part 2/2

It’s been a while since we posted the first half of this list, but we hope these next pairings are worth the wait! Here are five more traditional pairings of insects and wines from around the world:

 

6. Silkworms and Makkori* (Korea) 

 Traditional Korean rice wine is sweet and viscous, and about 6 to 7 % alcohol. The silkworms have a distinct umami flavour. Similarly to No.5, this match is perfect for those who like their food and drink with a lot of flavour! Read a review here.

*Also ‘Makkoli’, ‘Makgeoli’, etc. 

 

7. Mopane caterpillars and millet beer (Southern Africa)

Mopane caterpillars are wild-harvested twice a year throughout southern Africa, and many of the villagers who collect them also brew a traditional beer from millet. The caterpillars are stewed with onions and tomatoes, giving them a richness that works well with the slightly sour beer.

 

8. Hornets and hornet liquor (Japan)

Giant Japanese hornets are edible insect royalty, so if you’re lucky enough to try some, what better to pair them with than a drink made with their own venom? The base for this drink is “white liquor”, which is 20-30% alcohol, but the flavor comes from the hornets themselves, which are drowned alive in the alcohol and left to steep for at least two years before the drink is ready. Read more about this here.

 

9. Casu marzu and strong Sardinian red wine (Italy)

Casu marzu, a cheese fermented with fly maggots, is a Sardinian delicacy, and best enjoyed with a strong red wine also from Sardinia – the most common grape variety is Cannonau, which is the local name for Grenache.

 

10. Black soldier fly larvae and craft beer (North America)

I was once lucky enough to visit a black soldier fly factory in North America. The flies were fed on waste from a neighbouring brewery and being bred for animal feed, but my host confided in me that on some days after work, the staff would head next door to the brewery and enjoy a craft beer with a snack of fly larvae! I tasted the larvae myself, and they were surprisingly good – the brewery waste gave them a sweet, yeasty flavour.

 

So that’s the end of our top ten traditional insects and wine pairings from around the world! What do you think? Which one sounds best to you? And have we missed any out? Comment below and let us know!

 

With thanks to: Kenichi Nonaka for introducing me to pairing number 7, Tetsuo Nakagaki for introducing me to the joys of pairing number 8, Roberto Flore for telling me about pairing number 9, Glen Courtright for letting me taste the insect part of pairing number 10, and Catherine and Lori from Simbi for pairings 4 and 6, as well as everyone else who’s given me delicious insects and wine over the past few years!

How we cooked our caterpillars

I’ve posted a couple of recipes for cooking caterpillars before, both of which followed the exact quantities and steps used by women in Burkina Faso; you can find them here and here.

But although I realise recipes are pretty important, I dont like to use them, because smelling, tasting and adjusting accordingly are all a lot more fun than checking your screen/recipe book every few minutes.

For the I&W launch party,  these are the steps we took to cook our caterpillars:

Ingredients

  • 3 handfuls of dried caterpillars
  • Tsp salt
  • 2 small onions
  • Oil (enough to saute the ingredients; sunflower oil works well)
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Spice
  1. I threw the dried caterpillars in a pan of boiling water with a  pinch of salt, and boiled them for at least a couple of hours, to soften them. It seems to take longer to soften caterpillars in the UK, compared to Burkina, and I’m not sure why, but I always soak/boil them for as long as I can. After boiling they’ll keep in the fridge for a day or so before you cook them.
  2. I chopped the heads off the caterpillars and sliced each caterpillar in half. This is pretty time consuming, and only really necessary if you reckon the people you’re serving are either a) squeamish about eating caterpillars or b) very particular about how they like thier caterpillars!
  3. I chopped the onion and sauteed it in the oil on a low heat.
  4. I chopped the tomato and garlic too, and added these shortly after. As the onions started to turn translucent, I added the softened and chopped caterpillars.
  5. I sauteed them for at least 10 minutes. A couple of minutes before taking them off the heat, I added a few spices that I found in Chris’ kitchen. I think I used some paprika (smoked paprika would be great here), a bit of cayenne pepper, and some black pepper.
  6. Then, we served them! And in case you haven’t already read it, here‘s a description of how they tasted and the wines they paired best with.

Caterpillars sauteed with onions and tomatoes

 

Caterpillars! (I&W launch party – part 4 of 7)

Gosh, we do have a lot of insects to write about!

This is part 4 of 7, so we’re halfway through. We’re very lucky with this one: Caterpillars collected in June by a woman in Burkina Faso (west Africa) who decided to sun-dry some of her harvest.

When I spoke to her in March, she decided to give me some of her dried caterpillars as a gift to take back to the UK.

So, after cooking them following the traditional method, we served them up with a selection of wines…

#4 Caterpillars!  By Clara

The freshly cooked caterpillars disappeared pretty quickly at our tasting evening!

The caterpillars came after locusts and grasshoppers, which had been prepared with chili and soy sauce respectively. I was already familiar with a similar type of caterpillars from DR Congo rather than Burkina Faso, but having them with wine rather than beer was a first, and I found that red wine in particular worked very well.

The locusts and grasshoppers had been delicious as bar snacks – crunchy intense bursts of sweet or spicy flavour – but the caterpillars were destined to be a hearty main course, perhaps comparable to a ragout or ratatouille to have with rice. Charlotte had prepared them according to the recipe from the Burkinabé village where she worked – with onion, tomato and red pepper, and you could imagine them also going well with other Mediterranean vegetables like courgette or yellow peppers, perhaps with some red chilis.

I first tried the caterpillars with the light white wine that had combined well with my last taste of chilli grasshoppers, but the bold and savoury flavour of the caterpillars called for a complementary red. I found the caterpillars rather different from the other insects in this respect – most were crunchy and light, paired well with a white wine, but the meaty and firm texture and flavour of the caterpillars came into their own with a rounded and spicy red wine. The caterpillars were remarkable for their strong scent and taste, perhaps one of the insects that seems most unusual to western palates. Where the locusts and grasshoppers absorbed the qualities of their seasoning, the caterpillars had a bold character that deserves to be balanced with similarly strident tones – and an intense, peppery red wine might work best of all.

So now you know! Unfortunately, the caterpillars proved so popular that I’ve none left for a retrospective pairing photo, but here’s a handy diagram to help you remember:

Chris adds: Looking at the reds we had on offer for the tasting, I’d say the wine Clara has in mind is the Cedre Heritage Malbec 2014 . It’s a Malbec, but more importantly, it’s from Cahors, in France. This is Malbec’s home, and the wines made here are much more bold and assertive than the ones you may have had from Argentina. They’re traditionally big, powerful wines – the sort you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. The Cedre Heritage is toned done, but still full-bodied. The other red that might fit the bill was the Cannonau di Sardegna ‘Mumuthone’ 2014, from Sardinia. Cannonau is the local name for Grenache, so another relatively powerful, full-bodied red, but not quite so much as the Cahors.

Would you like to know a bit more about what caterpillars taste like? Read some descriptions here!

Would you like to try buying and coking some caterpillars of your own to go with an intense, peppery red? There are a few places that sell caterpillars online – and also, check out your local African foodstore!

If you do manage to get hold of some, here’s a recipe. We used a bit of a modified version for our launch event, so I’ll post that one soon on this blog.

And finally, if you’d like to contribute something to our knowledge of edible caterpillars and to the livelihoods of the people who collect them, please consider backing this crowdfunding campaign for a research project on experiment.com.