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Notes from Florida’s First Coast on #TheConnectedTableROADTRIP

A year ago, we arrived on Florida’s Forgotten Coast in the Eastern Panhandle with a plan to experience Old Florida. Until then, most of our time had been spent in glitzier Palm Beach and Miami. The Forgotten Coast lies south of Tallahassee and runs from Panama City on its west end through Apalachicola to Alligator Harbor at the east end of Franklin County. It’s a land of soulful beauty laced with fragility. We saw remnants from Hurricane Michael, a category 5 that hit the coast in 2018, as we drove toward the western panhandle.

smoked fish dip
Smoked fish dip at Palms Fish Camp, Jacksonville, Florida

While there, we discovered Florida’s Shellfish Trail which runs the western coast roughly from Apalachicola to Yankeetown, both historically known for their oysters, though oyster farming in Apalachicola is on lawful hiatus for a number of years to allow for ecological regeneration of the region’s oyster fisheries. Along the way, we also discovered Steinhatchie scallops and Cedar Key clams. We learned Cedar Key is also a major supplier of stone crabs to places like Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami.

Fast forward a year and we’re back in Florida chasing fish. For the past three weeks we’ve spent time in the Jacksonville area exploring Florida’s “First Coast,” also home to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country and the place where Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, arrived in the 1500s. Here you can find Spanish influences in dishes like Minorcan conch chowder, which uses the spicy Datil pepper (much like a habañero). The one we tasted and liked best was at the Conch House Restaurant.

This casual, dockside restaurant has been owned by the Ponce family for more than 70 years. We learned from the restaurant website that the Ponce family is one of the oldest families in the U.S.A., dating back 400 years! www.conch-house.com

Minorcan Conch Chowder tasted at The Conch House Restaurant, St. Augustine
Minorcan Conch Chowder tasted at The Conch House Restaurant, St. Augustine

We also discovered sweet, plump Mayport shrimp. Named after the settlement at the mouth of the St. John’s River, these shrimp are a northeast Florida favorite, and we could not eat enough of them! Fun fact, Visit Jacksonville has a “Mayport Shrimp Passport” with a list of restaurants and their shrimp specialties.

Mayport Shrimp (Visit Jacksonville)
Mayport Shrimp (Visit Jacksonville)

Jacksonville is a dynamic city with stunning beaches, recreational areas, and an interesting music heritage- both the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd bands originated there. It is home to many fun restaurants and cultural attractions. St. Augustine, Amelia Island, and Fernandina beach are a short drive away, and we explored them all.

In last week’s episode of The Connected Table Live! we discussed Florida’s diverse culinary heritage with Chef Norman Van Aken, who introduced New Florida cuisine to the American food lexicon. Based in Miami, Van Aken spent time working in Key West and is in the process of opening a new Norman’s restaurant in Orlando.

Norman Van Aken
Norman Van Aken

Van Aken is author of cookbooks: Feast of Sunlight, The Exotic Fruit Book, Norman’s New World Cuisine, New World Kitchen, My Key West Kitchen and Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen. He also wrote a memoir called, “No Experience Necessary,” proving his talent as a writer is on par with his skills as a chef.

We love this quote that sums up Norman Van Aken:
“Before the celebrity chef craze… before the start of Food Network, Norman Van Aken was starting a revolution. He was doing something unheard of at the time, taking local ethnic flavors, merging them together at restaurants where he worked.” – — The Smithsonian

If you missed last week’s edition of The Connected Table Live with Norman Van Aken, is the link:

Florida Cuisines Coast to Coast with Chef Norman Van Aken

 

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Exploring Terroir in Spirits with Mark Reynier, Waterford Whisky

The term “terroir is used to describe how climate, soil, topography, elevation and other environmental factors help create the unique expression in a bottle of wine. But “terroir’ is also applied to other products, including wine and coffee.

Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO of Waterford Whisky, is addressing “terroir” head-on in his new Irish single malt whiskies with a focus on single farm origin barley. After 20 years working in wine and another 20 in spirits, Reynier has a nose for what we likes and the knowledge to make it happen.

Mark Reynier
Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO, Waterford Whisky

The Entrepreneur Spirit

Reynier was raised in the wine industry. His grandfather started a wine importing company and owned retail shops in London; his father began selling wine wholesale after World War II. Reynier launched one of London’s premier wine and spirits shops, La Reserve. His love affair with whisky started after he won a ₤1,000 bottle of whisky at a London Wine Fair. In 2000, Mark resurrected the defunct Bruichladdich distillery in Islay, Scotland and later sold it to Remy Martin. He then launched a new venture, purchasing the former Guinness brewery in Waterford, Ireland, in 2014, and turned it into a state-of-the-art distillery with the mission to make a terroir-driven whisky.

In Burgundy, they talk about terroir all the time in relation to their wines,” say Reynier, “I was convinced that the same could be done for whisky, and Waterford is the result of that effort.”

Coolander Farm
Coolander Farm, one of the 97 farms where Waterford Whisky sources its barley

Follow the Barley

Reynier  chose Ireland to make whisky so he could “follow the barley” as he feels Irish barley is among the best in the world. To make Waterford, he’s sourcing from 97 farmers across the country, all of whom work to meet his exacting standards. Once harvested, Waterford stores, malts and distills each farm’s grain separately to capture the distinctive character of each site. Each bottle of Waterford Whisky identifies the farm and shares a numbered terroir code so the curious can learn more about the source on the Waterford website www.waterfordwhisky.com. “We’re offering full transparency,” says Reynier.

Currently, three Waterford Irish Whiskies are available in the U.S. market. Coincidentally, each is named after a different fort in Ireland – Dunmore (“big fort”) Dunbell (“hillside fort”) and Rathclogh (“stone fort”). Each presents a single farm origin for its barley, differentiated by the unique soils, climate conditions, topography and elevation – EG: terroir – specific to that farm. “

waterford whisky bottles
Waterford Whisky currently has three selections available in the USA (more coming!). Each has a suggested retail price of $90 (750 ml.)

Here is a brief description of each:

Waterford Single Farm Origin Dunbell sources its barley from farmer, Ned Murphy, east of the River Nore.  The whisky was aged just under four years in four different cask types. It is a light The palate is bright with lemon zest, dried orange peel, and ginger.

Waterford Single Farm Origin Dunmore sources its barley from John Tynan in County Laois .was aged just under four years in four different cask types. It has notes of graham cracker, granola, and ginger. There was a delicate and pleasing creaminess on the palate with spiced pear and apple.

Waterford Single Farm Origin Rathclogh  sources its barley from Richard Raftice in Kilkenny, whose farm has  glacier meltwater gravel soils in Kilkenny. Also aged in four different casks, this whisky has earthier notes with a touch of toffee brittle, but not cloying. It delivers a pleasant richness.

www.waterfordwhisky.com

Listen to our conversation with Waterford Whisky Founder and CEO Mark Reynier on The Connected Table SIPS