Gjelina Group Goes to the Market: Citrus Part 2
Plus, Henry's Favorite Wine (This Week)
This Week at the Market
Written by Sam Rogers, Gjelina Group’s Farm Liaison
Kumquat, also known as “snack-happy inside out fruits.” Unlike most other citrus, kumquats have their sugars in the skin, with tart acidic flesh. Thank goodness most have seeds, which act like little speed bumps. If they didn’t have the seeds, you’d get the characteristic “too much citrus” burn on the tip of your tongue, and those bizarre kumquat burps all day (or so I’ve heard).
Kumquats are native to China; their name means “little orange” in Cantonese. The trees are little too, compared to those of their full size citrus relatives. Nagami kumquats are the most widespread by far, accounting for more than 90% of those grown in the US. If you buy kumquats at the grocery store, most likely they are nagami. But they aren’t the sweetest kumquat you can find, being beat by at least two others at farmers markets.
The Meiwa are round, landing on the larger side for kumquats. The skin is thick yet smooth, and contains more sugar than its close relatives. The flesh inside is juicy, and though it contains some seeds, it’s just enough to slow you down without being a nuisance.
The Nordmann Seedless variety was actually a natural mutation that occurred on a Nagami tree in Florida. When George Nordmann found that one of his baby trees was producing exclusively seedless fruit, he knew he’d struck gold. The Nordmann has a beautiful teardrop shape with minimal pulp, so with less balancing acidity, it tastes sweeter and softer than it is. Being famously seedless, it lends itself to candying and other culinary uses.
Blood oranges and Cara Caras may be the prettiest, and the bergamot may be the most perfumed, but the sweet layered mandarinquat has my heart. It is, as you may have guessed, a hybrid of successful cross-pollination of a mandarin and a kumquat. So go on, live your life to the fullest and eat the fruit whole. Skin and all, just pop the whole thing in your mouth. Be bold. The fruit has all the juiciness and flavor of a peak season mandarin, with the tartness of a kumquat, and the sweetness concentrated in the skin. Interesting!
Tasting notes: terrible. But it’s not about that! Some things, like potatoes, are just better cooked. The beautiful Seville orange, also known more generally as a bitter orange or sour orange, is prized for the marmalade it creates. The fruit is higher in pectin than the sweet orange, much more sour, as the name indicates, and therefore creates a naturally well-set gel. Move quickly though, this fruit has a very short season running from December to mid-February. Luckily Chef Nicky at Gjusta is the jam queen, the princess of pectin, the magistrate of marmalade, so you can enjoy it all year.
This one’s got a topknot. The citrus with a man bun. Sometimes called a honeybell because of its shape, this fruit is a cross between a pomelo (grapefruit’s older cousin) and tangerine. And why the “minneola” part? Beats me! But if I were to guess, I’d wager that that’s the east coast town it’s from. Tangelos peel easily, are seedless, contrast intense sweetness with an equal measure of acidity, and have a dash of bitters from the pomelo heritage. It’s a handfruit (think halos and cuties) but with enough sophistication to be an adult’s cocktail. Let just say I'm a BIG FAN.
The Bergamot orange is an extremely fragrant citrus the size of a valencia orange, usually with a yellow or greenish hue depending on ripeness and cold weather exposure. It’s one of a few citrus that’s commercially grown, albeit on a small scale, not for eating or juicing, but for the essential oils contained in the peel. Bergamot zest is what gives Earl Grey its mysterious, abstruse flavor. I can’t describe the aroma; you’ll just have to scratch and sniff and discover. I dare you.
Henry’s Favorite Wine of the Week: Balog Arpag Kovidinka
Written by Henry Beylin, Gjelina Group’s Wine + Beverage Director
The wine I want to talk about this week is Balog Arpag Kovidinka. It hails from southern Hungary, an area called Csongrad that's part of a great flat plain. It strikes me as a complete wine in a few respects. Not only is there the sensorial aspect, this wine, like a good story, has a beginning, middle and end with real character and unknowable charm and, like a true classic, it seems relevant for almost any occasion or food. In Hungary it is often paired with roast goose as well as fish soup. Mic drop.
Hungarian fish soup has 5 ingredients: lake fish (Hungary is a landlocked country but has Europe's largest lake), water, paprika, onion and pasta.
Balog Arpag Kovidinka is made on the skins as it's a late ripening variety by which time the grape acidity diminishes making a direct press white wine dull and characterless. At their best skin contact, or orange, wines have a unique ability to complement a meal as they can pair with almost any food while not asking for attention. And that's the point, isn't it? The flavors here are almost unending, and irrelevant, as intellectually deconstructing a wine based on flavors is a form of arm waving. The point is, it's all there. You like fruit? It's in there. You like some savory notes? There too. Acid? Correct for the wine. Earth notes? Yep. Umami? Nuttiness? Spices both warming and cooling? You get the idea. The wine is there for you. No matter what you may be eating, these types of wines will make it taste better, or at least, more complete without asking anything in return.
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I feel I should say something about Hungary. It has the most underappreciated wine culture of any country, in my opinion. With a complex geology and topography, it has the conditions to make almost any style of wine. And it does. Much of it to great ends. It has the first classified vineyards - those of Tokaji. It has wines that are both historic and important and wines that are new and of today. But much like German wines there seems to be a language barrier where looking at the bottle, it's almost impossible to decipher what's actually inside.
What it does have going for it is sharing a border with 7 countries. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the interesting and unique Hungarian wines are from border regions. Tokaji is right next to Slovakia. Somlo is not far from Austria. The wine we speak of here is made right next to Serbia. I also notice this aspect in neighboring countries. The greatest Slovenian wines are next to Italy. The most interesting Serbian wines I've had are made right across from Hungary. The best Romanian wines I've had to date come from the border region next to Hungary and Ukraine and everyone knows that the best Bulgarian wines come from right next to Romania. The exchange of ideas and cross-cultural influence is important on many levels including making better and more interesting wines, and Hungary, being a central ingredient in the central European gumbo is well positioned to be influenced by ideas from its surrounding cultures. We should all be so lucky.
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