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!
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.
One of our guests at the Insects&Wine launch party last month was Anton Wright, a professional adventurer best known for holding the Guinness World Record for rowing the length of the Amazon river, and for appearing on the Channel 4 reality show Eden.
Anton brought his handheld camera along to document the party – here’s a short video summary that he put together from his footage:
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:
3 handfuls of dried caterpillars
2 small onions
Oil (enough to saute the ingredients; sunflower oil works well)
2 large tomatoes
1 clove garlic
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.
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!
I chopped the onion and sauteed it in the oil on a low heat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To follow up on Liana’s post describing the Japanese grasshoppers we had at our launch party, and the wines they paired with, I thought I’d take this opportunity to post a recipe passed down to me by a woman in rural Japan. This method is known as ‘tsukudani’ and is also used to cook silkworm (as well as many wild plants and seafoods), and I think it would work well with many other insects, especially Orthopterans (grasshoppers, locusts, katydids and crickets).
How to cook grasshoppers, Japanese-style
Soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Mirin 2 tablespoons
Sugar 2 teaspoons
Sake/dry sherry 2 tablespoons
Sugar 2 tablespoons
1. If the grasshoppers are alive, first throw them into boiling water (ideally boiled with a pinch of salt, raising the boiling temperature, to minimise grasshopper suffering) and simmer for a few minutes. Freshly caught grasshoppers should be kept alive for one day before doing this, to ensure their stomachs are emptied.
2. Drain the grasshoppers (which should now have turned pinkish) and wash in cold water. At this point some people remove the legs, though this is optional.
3. Return the grasshoppers to a saucepan with fresh water that just covers them, and bring to the boil once again. Simmer until the water is nearly completely reduced.
4. Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar (or sake and sugar), Simmer for a further ~20minutes until the liquid is reduced. By now, the grasshoppers should be brown-black in colour and covered in a shiny film. Leave to cool. The soy and sugar will preserve them, and they can be kept for several weeks in the fridge.
These make great party food. Serve on a small plate as a snack, or on skewers (cocktail sticks work well), as they were once sold from street vendors in Tokyo.
Our third post from the Insects & Wine launch party is about Japanese grasshoppers, which are sold in many parts of Japan, not only in rural areas but also in Tokyo and in some major supermarkets. In case you’re reading this and might be in a Japanese supermarket sometime soon, here’s the label to look for:
Locust heads are good, but – as I (re)discovered during last week’s tasting – Japanese grasshoppers cooked in soy sauce and mirin are wonderful. They’ve got an unctuous, caramelly sweetness that’s punctuated by explosions of umami – a bit like posh childhood candies with a grown-up edge. The first wine I tried – Fuchs and Hase Pet Nat Volume 4* – worked OK with them. It smacked of damp earth and soggy leaves and helped to ground the sweetness of the grasshoppers, but didn’t really draw anything out of them. I thought insect and wine were best consumed one after the other rather than together.
The La Raia Gavi 2015, on the other hand, went very well with the grasshoppers (as it did many other critters). Its flintiness and acidity cut through the grasshoppers’ syrupiness and left a lingering nutty taste in the mouth. The third wine I picked up – Arndofer Grüner Veltiner Die Liedenschaft – also got a big fat ‘YES’ on my sheet. (I think this was the point at which scrupulous note-taking dissolved into general dopey pleasure.) This one was gentler than the Gavi – think nicely behaved young fruits (or whatever the technical term for that is) – and worked to enhance the treacliness of the grasshoppers.
Although the grasshoppers we used for this tasting were purchased by a friend in Japan, I’ve been taught how to cook grasshoppers before using a similar recipe – so, as with the crickets, I’ll share that in an upcoming post!
* For an introduction to Pet Nat, read this post from Anthroenology. Fuchs and Hase doesn’t have its own page that I can find, so we linked to one of the two wineries involved in making it. The other is Arndorfer, who is linked to later in this post.
For our Insects & Wine launch party, we wanted to have some fresh insects. That’s not so easy in the UK in March but fortunately it’s not impossible.
Since it’s pretty hard to find any wild edible insects at this time of year, we bought some live crickets from Northampton Reptile Centre!
(Important note/disclaimer: These crickets are farmed as animal feed, not human food. This means they are subject to different health and safety regulations. We’re not advocating anything here – just documenting what we did, because people asked us.)
We checked with the company where they farm their crickets, what species they use, and what they feed them on. The answers? They farm them in Essex, they’re Gryllus assimilis* and they feed them on vegetable scraps**.
To kill the crickets, we use a two-step process in the hope of minimising suffering, inspired by Kevin Bachuber, who used a very similar method when he started Big Cricket Farms in Ohio. Then, we cook them. Here’s the process and recipe**.
How we cooked our crickets:
Live crickets, ideally from a local farm and fed on a diet you think sounds tasty enough.. (the food they eat can really affect their flavour)
Oil, ideally a good quality one – Walnut oil works well
Salt, if you like salt
Put the crickets (still in their box/container) in a cold fridge for a few hours, so that their body temperature drops low enough that they go into a state resembling hibernation.
Transfer the crickets to a freezer overnight, which is so cold that they die.
Take them out of the freezer and wash them thoroughly.
Blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes.
Drain the crickets and heat some oil in a frying pan.
Saute the crickets in the oil for 5-8 minutes. (If you like, add a pinch of salt after about 3 minutes.)
Serve hot! These work well as a snack, or as a salad topping, or as a pizza topping, or as a taco filling, or in fried rice, or in sushi rolls, or…anything you’d like to give a bit of a savoury hit!
*This species is originally from Jamaica
**Important note, again: These crickets are farmed for reptile feed, not human food. We’re just documenting what we did – not advocating it nor taking any responsibility for others trying it out.