It takes a California state of mind to come up with a mash-up word for an activity that our species has been doing since we have been a species.
The term “locavore” is meant to connote someone who is sustained with foods that comes from within the immediate area. Locavore is sort of a pat on the back to folks who seek pleasure and nourishment from farms, gardens and corrals, and from life that resides in the waters around where you live or in the place where you are doing the consuming.
The irony of the term is that it describes what humans have done for eons. During most of our time on this planet we have actually been forced to consume foods that came from the ‘hood. The simple truth was that food could not travel very far without spoilage, so we would harvest crops and slaughter animals that were mainly from our zip code. Okay, so the concept of zip code is also relatively new, but you get the idea.
Besides, it made no difference to anyone whether other people in other places ever enjoyed our local luscious vegetables and fruits. That stuff was meant for us, wherever “us” was, and we had no desire to share with people we did not know or were not from around here. So if a tribe in northern Italy even thought they could be famous for magical preparations with white asparagus from the Burgundy region of France, no one was going to give them a chance to show their prowess.
And so it went. Those goats were ours. The chickens belonged right here. Our strawberries were the best. Don’t think of dipping your pole in our waters.
Even the wines of each region stayed in those regions. When someone thought to put wine on ships and send it to people who did not have as good wine as we did, the fragility of the liquid and the length and hardships of an ocean voyage precluded sending it. The only way it was really going to work was to buck it up, to stabilize it with spirits. And so fortification was born to the everlasting benefit of a grateful world.
Then along comes the progressive concepts of ice making and refrigeration, and it was not long until all manner of fragile material could be shipped over a long distance.
And now, in the interest of coming full circle, we have returned once again to emphasizing eating and drinking comestibles and beverages from our immediate area. We are an odd group of animals. Where we once were, we have come back; we call it “progress.”
For us in southern Louisiana, we are among the very luckiest people on earth. While we can’t grow everything (wine grapes spring to mind), what we have, we do it very well. Strawberries from Ponchatoula are among the best. Peaches from Ruston are so … peachy. Watermelon, tomatoes, lemons, satsumas, mirlitons and much more. Let’s not even get started on gifts from the Gulf and our lakes. And in addition, there are excellent beef and grains.
Lately our region has been enjoying the beginnings of a spirits industry. Rums from our sugarcane, vodka and whiskey from our rice and craft beers from our grains, some even flavored with the essence of our local fruits, have all come about just in the last few years.
Importantly, talented and passionate people are making these adult beverages that offer flavor, balance, nuance and quality on a world scale.
Donner-Peltier Distilling in Thibodaux is doing marvelous work with Oryza Vodka, Rougaroux Rum, and LA 1 Whiskey. Louisiana Spirits in Lacassine has hit a fine stride with Bayou Rums. Right here within the city limits of New Orleans, two distilleries are turning out excellent products. Old New Orleans Rum produces a whole line-up of rums, all top quality, as well as a fun and imaginative stand-alone, meaningful ingredient for a cocktail, Gingeroo. And then we have Atelier Vie, located under the Broad Street overpass, where they are making both red and green Absinthe, Euphrosine Gin and Buck 25 vodka.
So not only do you have the advantage of being a locavore when it comes to spirits, you sacrifice nothing in terms of quality.
While Louisiana was a bit tardy to the craft beer popularity wave, we are fully on board now. Our mentor, Abita Beer, is distributed in more than half the U.S. NOLA Brewing has just opened a large tasting room at its facility on Tchoupitoulas. Then there are many other smaller brewers who are making quality and refreshment statements, such as the brand-new Courtyard Brewery and Tasting Room in the Lower Garden District; Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge and Bayou Teche Brewing, makers of LA 31 beer among others, in Arnaudville. We also should note Lazy Magnolia Brewing in Kiln, Mississippi whose Southern Pecan ale is a sensation
Then we have brewers whose products don’t leave their walls, such as Gordon Biersch on Fulton Street; Crescent City Brewhouse in the French Quarter; and Zea’s Grill and Rotisserie which contracts for their own beer using their own recipes, with Covington Brewhouse, formerly Heiner Brau.
New Orleans does not even overlook the smallest item in a cocktail: the bitters. We’ve been in the bitters business for a very long time, with Antoine Peychaud using his pharmacy as a research and manufacturing facility in the late 1700s. Today, New Orleans is home to El Guapo, Bitterman’s and Cocktail & Sons, all quality products that add much to any cocktail or cooking recipe.
Can’t go away from this topic without mentioning two more items. First, we have people in town who are causing adult beverage products to be made in other markets and then selling those items only in New Orleans. James Moises, Moises Wines from Willamette, Oregon, only retails his pinot noir in our city. And Julio Gonzalez, proprietor of Don Saul Tequila, offers his Reposado and Plata creations just in our city and state. You will find both of these beverages nowhere else in the world except New Orleans.
Lastly, there is someone who has been fighting the wars for a long time, and is finally winning. Lincoln Case, the gentleman behind Pontchartrain Vineyards, is turning out quality wines, including Blanc du Bois white wines, grown and vinified on the Northshore. And the Port of New Orleans Port-style fortified wine is now something of which we can be justly proud. If you think your job is hard, you should appreciate what this guy has to go through making wine in this part of the world and with this climate.
We live in the midst of a lush, fertile area and can grow just about anything. Wine grapes, not so much.
There it is. The case for buying local, eating local and drinking local. Most other cities cannot make that broad of a statement. Not even close. Be proud and support these efforts. You can not only talk the talk, but you can honestly walk the walk.