12 November 2009

¿Ok maguey?

When my brother Dan and I visited the Corralejo Tequila factory near Pénjamo we went on a weekday when they were in the middle of a production run. We were cordially received and given a nice tour of the plant. When we got to the point where they were taking the "piñas" of the agave plant out of the steam cookers we were offered a bit of the pulp to chew on. It was a bit "woody" and very sweet and it tasted like tequila although at that point the juice did not have any alcoholic content. It was surprisingly very good and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As you probable already know, Tequila is made from a species of the plant kingdom in the order Asparagales, family Agavaceae, and genus Agave named "Agave tequilana Weber var. azul" which is also called the "blue agave". The blue agave was first classified by German botanist F. Weber in 1905. Technically, this is the only species that can be used to make 100% Tequila under the Mexican NOM , Norma Oficial Mexicana, the system for Mexican government standards in agreement with the European AOC (Appellation de Origin Controllee).

There are about three hundred species of Agave and you can make alcohol out of just about all of them. They all fall under the collective Spanish name "Maguey" which in English we often call the "Century Plant". There is another popular alcoholic beverage in Mexico called "mezcal". The difference between tequila and mezcal is that mezcal is made from one of the other 299 varieties of agave and not the Weber blue agave. In addition, the tequila piñas are most often cooked in a large steam pressure cooker and tequila is produced in larger volumes than mezcal. The production of mezcal utilizes wood burning ovens to bake the piñas and so mexcal has a smoky flavor that is distinct from tequila. No matter what type of agave is used it takes anywhere from seven to twelve years or more for the agave plant to mature. As it begins to mature it sends up a tall central stalk called a "quiote" (key-OH-teh) which is a flower which sometimes rises twenty feet into the air and on this tall flower the plant and produces seeds and then it dies. If just when the quiote stalk starts to grow it is removed, the plant becomes saturated with the sugars that it was saving to send up the flower stalk. This is when it is harvested.

The other day my wife Gina and I were at a market and we found a man selling pieces of the mezcal agave piña after it had been baked. He cut off the outer shell and then cut the piña into various shapes and sizes. He told me that the pieces were called "quiote" just like the flower stalk and that they were good to eat. I bought a couple of pie shaped pieces and we tried them. They were even better that the tequila pulp that my brother and I had tried when we visited the tequila factory. In fact, these mezcal pieces were soft and easy to chew and and swallow. They had a taste and consistency something like candied sweet potato but with a definite smoky mezcal flavor. You can see how they look in the photos below. If you ever see something like this go ahead and try it. It is a unique experience. At first glance it looked like the guy was selling rocks but even though they look like rocks they are about as soft as a chocolate brownie.

¿Ok maguey? (oh-KAY muh-GAY). You might hear this phrase being used now and then. It just means "Okay?" in English as in "Alright?". It is a play on words because the "Ok" rhymes with "guey" (not "güey" which is something else). Go ahead and try it on your friends or neighbors. Just say something like "Nos vemos esta tarde. ¿OK maguey?". I guarantee that you will make them smile.


YayaOrchid said...

Hmmm...I love candied sweet potatoes, so I'm sure I'd love those 'rocks'! Again, I LOVE your blog because you bring all the splendor and beauty and simplicity of Mexico right into our laps er computer screens.

glorv1 said...

Bob, I have two agave plants in my back yard. I didn't know they made tequilla out of them until one day I had some friends in the back yard and one of them said, "Oooooh tequila." I didn't know what they meant until they explained to me. Do you mean I can eat parts of that cactus? I won't poison myself? The pieces look really good in those pictures. Thx for this post, I appreciate it. Let me know about my plants please. Take care and have a good Friday.

Calypso said...

Being a tequila fan - thanks for the info and the heads up on mezcal agave piña. I will look for it. In the mean time enjoying Jarana tequila at 78 p for 1.2 liters - you gotta love that!

Noble said...

Down in Santa Catalina de las Minas in Oaxaca, they make a lot of mezcal casera. One time I got to watch the guys pull the piñas out from the pit that they had been buried in to "cook" and "smoke". They hacked off pieces for us to eat right there--sweet and juicy just as you describe. Thanks for the great reminder, Maguey.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the difference between tequila and mescal about the different cooking process not the type of agave.

Legally, Tequila can be made with any type of agave and still be tequila as long as it's made in Jalisco, correct?

So yes, blue agave is the type of agave promoted. But what makes the real flavor difference to me is how it's cooked.

Mescal Piñas are roasted in pits and come out smoky.

Tequila Piñas are steamed and have no smoke flavor.

Imagine the difference between steamed chicken and BBQ chicken. Or steamed and BBQ vegetables?

This, and not the type of agave is what distinguishes the two liquors.

I've certainly had some fantastic mescals that were not made of blue agave...

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.