It is absolutely true – a team of Mexican scientists experimented with various organic solutions and after numerous alchemical experiments found out that tequila with an alcohol content of 40% has the best ratio of ethanol to water for the production of synthetic diamonds. After heating up the liquid and evaporating it, they heated up what had remained at a temperature of above 800 degrees and placed it on a base made of silicone or stainless steel. The diamonds that were obtained were with sizes between 100 and 400 nm, which are way too small to be used in jewelry but have industrial applications such as computer chips and cutting tools.
After the cacao article, seems like I am staying in Mexico with the Aztecs. When the Spanish came in the early 16th century, the indigenous people of the Yucatan had been making already for centuries the so called pulque – a cloudy white liquid of fermented agave juice containing 5-7% alcohol. It is believed that they discovered the agave plant by accident; when, once, a thunder struck and cut open one of the plants. The liquid that flowed from it had a sugary taste and smell, and when left to ferment for a day it turned into a low-alcohol beverage. The Aztecs believed that alcohol was a sacred liquid and was intended solely for the rulers and priests to consume. In the diverse Aztec pantheon of gods, the goddess of fertility Mayahuel and her husband, the God of healing Patecatl stand out. Mayahuel was depicted with 400 breasts, which she used to nurse with pulque their children – 400 bunnies. The 400 bunnies were also called gods of intoxication.
This traditional alcoholism attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors, especially when their own brandy reserves ran out. They showed the indigenous people the distillation process in simple clay distilling pots, creating the drink known today as mezcal. One century later, the Marquis of Altamira built the first big distillery in the village of (nowadays) Tequila, Jalisco. The Cuervo family initiated the commercial distillation of tequila in 1758, followed by the Sauza family in 1873.
While mezcal is made from all kinds of agave, to make tequila only one kind of agave is used – Agave tequilana Weber, or blue agave.
Although it looks like a cactus and its leaves can cut your hands like a knife, truth is that the plant belongs to the family of Lilies. The agave needs 8 to 12 years to fully mature, which explains to a great extent the high price of the tequila. The people who cultivate it and harvest it are called jimadores, who have serious knowledge of the matter, which is transmitted from generation to generation. Using special knives called coa, they cut away the leaves of the agave, when it is ripe enough, and leave the core of the plant, called piña, which weighs about 70 kg and looks like a giant pineapple. It is what tequila is made from. The jimadores only cut away the leaves; others load and transport the piñas to a special place where they are slowly baked, and then are mashed under a large stone wheel, pulled by oxen or mules. The extracted agave juice is then placed in wooden barrels to ferment. Depending on the distillation and aging time, the tequila is divided into three main types – Blanco (also called Silver) – bottled up to two months of distillation, Reposado – aged from 2 to 12 months, and Añejo – aged for at least 12 months. In general, in order to be true, the tequila must contain 100% blue agave, although there is another type called mixto, with a minimum content of 51% of blue agave.
Until the Revolution in Mexico in 1910, tequila was considered more of an illegal drink, prepared at home, but soon after the Revolution, it became a matter of national pride. Hence, the government’s decision to announce in 1974 the term “Tequila” as a Mexican intellectual property should come as no surprise. No other country has the right to produce its own tequila, and even in Mexico itself, the areas in which this right is established are only a few central states – besides Jalisco, the rest are Michoacan, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Guanajuato.
While the rest of the world drinks tequila in small shots with salt and lime, in its homeland they prefer to sip it slowly from glasses with broad base and narrowed throat, so that they can enjoy better the aroma. Or they mix it with sangrita – made of orange and tomato juices and chili. Perhaps not consuming it in the correct way outside of Mexico has earned tequila the undeserved glory of the drink that causes the worst hangover the next day. After all, who is forcing you to drink other alcohol first and then “get hammered” with a few quick tequila shots?
When speaking of tequila, I can’t help but think of an artist, whom I respect immensely, who lived her life in constant pain – Frida Kahlo. When she was 18 years old, Frida got into a horrible traffic accident, from which she barely escaped with her life and with numerous injuries to her pelvis, spine and legs. And, although the pain was her constant companion, I can hardly think of anyone more in love with life than her. In order to get through a day, Frida Kahlo was drinking a bottle of tequila a day. Besides painting, Frida put in a small black notepad, which she called “The Book of the Sacred Herb”, cooking recipes for culinary gifts for the Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos). Tradition states that on November 2, the dead receive God’s permission to visit Earth, and they should be welcomed with their favorite dishes. Today’s recipe, which I want to introduce to you, I borrowed from Frida’s Book. And, yes, it is made with tequila.
PORK TENDERLOIN WITH TEQUILA
– 1 kg pork tenderloin
– 15 pitted olives
– cut to slices chili pepper
– cut to slices red pepper
– 4 cloves minced garlic
– 1 glass aged tequila
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp flour
– Salt and pepper
The tenderloin is cut and stuffed with the olives, the chili and the red pepper slices. Afterwards, it is covered in the garlic, salt and black pepper. Put it in a tray with a glass of water, cover and bake at 180 degrees for about an hour and a half. Just before it is removed, pour over it the tequila and return to the oven until it is ready. The juices from the roast are mixed with the butter and flour and are served with the tenderloin.
I do not know if it is for the love for Frida or imagining the divine aroma of the dish, but I can’t wait to try it.