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’

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.

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