Insects & Wine News – looking forward to 2020

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:

We expect to be hosting I&W events at both Thirsty and Cambridge Wine Merchants in the not too distant future.

We are also taking part once again, in the Cambridge Science Festival. There’s nothing up on their website now, but we are tentatively scheduled to hold an evening at the Cambridge Science Centre on 13 March.

That’s it for now.

Insects & Wine Visits Darwin College, 20th May 2019

Inago (Japanese Grasshopper) on skewers with cucumber and nori.
Inago in Blankets

by Charlotte the Younger

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!)

Charlotte the Younger pouring wine before the event.
Charlotte the Younger at work

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!

Here’s our team (left to right): Charlotte Milbank (‘the Younger’), Charlotte Payne (‘the Elder), Chris Kaplonski and Danielle Bradford-Howe. All photos by Vinay Malhotra, Darwin College.  

Sources and links to further information:

(links will open in new tabs)

Insects:

Tsukahara-chinmi.com (Japanese grasshoppers)

Eatgrub.co.uk (Peri-peri crickets)

Mercimercado.com (Mexican chapulines)

Minusfarm.fr (macarons)

Entotrust (Certification)

Wines:

Thirsty (our supplier for the event)

Eschenhof Holzer (Invader & Grüner Veltliner)

Red Squirrel Wines (Etre à l’Ouest )

Franz Weninger (vom Kalk)

Badenhorst Family Wines (Secateurs Red)

Opta (Dão Red)

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’

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.

Match making, part 2/2: Five delicious pairings to try now

In this post, I want to follow up from my previous one, on the general principles I use to match wine and fine. I‘m going to go through a few examples of pairings to illustrate how I approach them. Do keep in mind, that although I – and I think most others – would argue there are good and bad pairings, there’s a very wide range of what works. How that is defined is also subject to disagreement.

I’m going to focus mostly on non-insect examples here, since they will doubtless be more familiar to most people. Charlotte has kindly made it more insect-relevant with some additional comments for each pairing. They are also easier to experiment with, and the only way to really understand wine and food pairing is precisely that: experiment. You will also notice that I have a tendency to think in terms of what are called ‘Old World’ (ie, European) wines. That’s not to rule others out, by any means. You could find similar matches with wines from the US, but here in the UK, they are rather expensive.

Mashed potatoes. Yes, it’s an odd thing to pair wine with. I don’t think I ever actually have. But it is a good thought experiment. For me, the main thing here is the creaminess, with body being secondary. I think a wide range of wines could work with mash. Some white wines, and many reds, would probably go ok. But I’d lean towards medium to light-bodied reds. I’m somewhat considering the ‘body’ of the potatoes, but also the taste, or relative lack of it.

I think a full-bodied red (think big Australian shiraz) would be sort of pointless. The potatoes would stand up to it on mouthfeel, but not on flavour. A lighter red could handle it, if you want to match lightness of body and tannins with the relative blandness of the potato. Something like a village level Beaujolais, perhaps. With slightly more body, perhaps a Grenache-based wine – something from Southern Rhone, or even a something a bit heavier, like an Argentinian Malbec. For me, the potatoes would act as something of a blank slate, and it would really come down to what you wanted to drink.

Charlotte adds: Based on the description Chris uses here – creamy, a relative lack of taste – my initial thought was that many larger-bodied larvae could fit, such as palm weevil larvae or giant hornet larvae. But, their flavours are a lot more delicate than your average mash, and some of the heavier wines suggested here would probably overpower them. In fact, larvae might fit better with one of the next two examples…

Burrata. This is a pairing I was asked about recently. If you aren’t familiar with burrata, it is basically mozzarella wrapped around cream. Soft, creamy, and very yummy. Here again I went for a lighter red. Valpolicella, from northeastern Italy, to be precise. Why? In this case, I wanted to accent the creaminess, not cut through it with a zesty white. In many reds, I was afraid that the tannins would overpower the cheese. So, something soft and subtle to go with a soft and subtle cheese. The main flavour I associate with Valpolicella is sour cherries, perhaps with some plum, which I thought would be a nice accent for the cheese. I think this worked very well.

Charlotte adds: This might be a better fit for the larvae described above! Hornet larvae in particular are very creamy, particularly when eaten raw, straight from the nest. Sort of like little feral miniature burratas. They certainly go well with a soft red.

Baked gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce with a dry (trocken) German Riesling

Gnocchi in blue cheese sauce. This (specifically, baked gnocchi in blue cheese sauce) has become something of a go-to comfort food for me of late. Here it is really the blue cheese that needs to be taken into consideration. The gnocchi are basically just a carrier for the sauce. What I like to drink with this is clear: a zesty white, either a German Riesling, or the classic Austrian Grüner Veltliner. I’d personally give the Austrian a slight nod. Nothing fancy in either case. Both are noted for having high acidity that is well integrated. The zestiness cuts through the fat and creaminess of the sauce, and the green apple and citrus flavours just give the whole thing a refreshing lift. Pretty much any red in this case would be overkill for me. This is a case where heavy on top of heavy would just be too much. If you are going to insist on a red, go for something lighter.

Charlotte writes: I think that the combination of the strong taste of the blue cheese with the creaminess of the gnocchi can be best likened to the taste of the contents of a freshly collected wasp nest, sautéed with a tiny bit of oil and seasoned with salt – the creamy larvae and pupae are joined by the stronger-tasting adults. A zesty white works well with these, too.

Venison. Or wild boar. Here – especially with the wild boar – bigger is pretty much better. Venison steak with a red currant or lingonberry sauce, home-made chips and something green to pretend to be healthy. Northern Rhone is where I’d like – fairly big, but elegant Syrah (Shiraz outside of Europe) wines. Crozes-Hermitage would go well here. Slightly rustic, and a good deal more affordable than many of the other northern Rhône wines. (Although if you can afford them, go for something like a Côte Rôtie here.)  For venison, I also like to go with a souther Rhône, and in particular, Vacqueryras, a favourite of mine. This is Grenache based (regulations require at least 50%), rather than Syrah, although that is present too.

Charlotte comments:  Wild meat? Fresh caterpillars spring to mind! Boiled, and then steamed, or lightly fried, many species of wild-caught caterpillar are enjoyed throughout Africa, and like many wild meats they are high in protein and iron, and relatively low in fat. The taste varies between species, but all are fairly meaty and I’m sure they’d pair very well with a rustic red – we’ll have to try this sometime soon.

Venison steak with shallot and lingonberry sauce, snap peas, sauteed mushrooms and chips, paired beautifully with a 2004 Vacqueyras.

Silkworms. I put this one in the list for two reasons. First, this is a site about wine and insects, so why not at least one insect? And second, it illustrates the fact that people can disagree about pairings. Charlotte is convinced the only wine to pair with silkworms is Malbec. I’m not so sure. I can see her point. Silkworms are quite savoury, and require something with body and strength. For this, Malbec is a very good choice. However, for me, it comes down to the quantity. If you had enough silkworms and wanted to make sort of hamburger patties with them, or meatballs, or basically anything where you’d be having more than two or three silkworms, then I’d agree. But for me, as we were tasting the silkworms – in relatively modest quantities – Malbec was overpowering. I wanted (once again) a relatively light red, with fruitiness, but some seriousness to it. I opted for a Fleurie, a fairly ‘high-level’ Beaujolais. The red fruit and berry flavours come through, but lighter body and softer tannins keep it from overpowering the silkworms. Charlotte continues to disagree. That’s fine. At the end of the day, it largely comes down to personal preferences. As I said earlier, I (and most wine and food people) would say there are better and worse matches. But in between those boundaries, there’s a whole world to explore. Ultimately, that’s the best way to learn about food and wine pairing: experience. Eat and drink, with friends if you have them, and decide what works and doesn’t. In time, you’ll have to think it through when someone asks for an explanation, but the pairing itself becomes almost second nature.

Charlotte says: I just love Malbec. But I think we’ll have to do a few more tastings, with a few other discerning tasters as well, to resolve this one!

Updated 26 Feb, 2017, to include comments by Charlotte making the post more insect-relevant.

Match making, part 1/2: 5 expert tips for pairing wine with insects – or anything else

You’ve gotten yourself some edible insects. Now, how do you decide what wine will go best with them? There’s good and bad news. The bad news is: there are very few, if any, hard and fast rules. The good news is: that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to keep in mind. They may seem at first to be a lot to juggle mentally, and more complicated than ‘white wine with fish.’ With practice, they’ll become second nature, and you won’t really have to think much about them. It becomes a semi-automatic process.

Ultimately, wine and food pairing is about balancing aspects of both. You might want to look for things that complement each other, or that contrast. I’ll give examples of what I mean, to illustrate how it all comes together.

The things to keep in mind related to the characteristics of wine (and food). Let me briefly outline these in relation to wine, and food and wine pairing. I’m going to cover five different aspects of wine. Ultimately, they all work together, but it is easier to approach them at first at separate elements. I think of them as sort of a grammar of wine and food pairing. And, like grammar, it’s good to know the rules not only to construct pairings that work, but also to know when and how to break the rules.

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