Julia & Jamón
My wife and I took the kids to Washington, DC, last weekend to do some sightseeing. One of our stops was the National Museum of American History. If you haven’t been, go: it is very special. Among other things, it is home to a Julia Child exhibit that includes her actual kitchen. I had the pleasure of meeting Child once, at a culinary event in California in 2001, three years before her death, and it is a cherished memory that came rushing back to me as we looked at the artifacts of her remarkable life. To anyone with an interest in food, the Child exhibit is a must-see—worth a special journey, to use the Michelin Guide catchphrase—and the fact that it is even part of the Smithsonian is testament, I think, to how far we have come at the table. (Switching momentarily from wine critic to film critic, I will also say that I am still ticked off that Meryl Streep didn’t win an Oscar for her uncanny portrayal of Child in Julie & Julia)
Along with the kitchen, one wall of the exhibit is devoted to Child’s passion for wine. As forward-thinking as she was when it came to food, she was doubly so with regard to wine. I loved the following quote, which is prominently displayed in the wine section: “Wine is part of the food chain in France and Italy. People don’t drink wine to get drunk, they drink wine as part of a meal, it makes it more pleasant…there’s not anything evil about it, it’s part of the food.” Beneath the quote is a board that Child and her husband Paul used to keep track of their wine collection (if only they’d had CellarTracker!), and this also made for some delicious reading. The inventory seemed to be divided fairly evenly between Bordeaux and Burgundy. What I found especially interesting was that while the Bordeaux were all listed by chateau—Batailley, Lynch-Bages, Conseillante, Gruaud Larose—most of the Burgundies were listed by appellation only, with no producer names. I saw de Vogüé and Drouhin (spelled “Drohin”), but that was pretty much it; the rest of the Burgundies were by identified by appellation only—Griotte-Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Montrachet, etc. (the Childs evidently liked their grands crus).
The youngest wines were from the early 1970s, and I assume the board was last updated around that time. Back then, most Burgundies were still negociant-bottled, and only a few growers enjoyed any renown—it was the appellation that mattered in the eyes of consumers. Obviously, things have changed dramatically in the last few decades: the top growers in Burgundy are now rock stars, and wine enthusiasts have come to recognize that the appellation itself, no matter how prestigious, is hardly a guarantee of quality. Still, I think the Childs’ wine board illustrates a fundamental point: with Bordeaux, the emphasis has long been on the brand, whereas in Burgundy, the focus has traditionally been on the land, and while producers such as Jeremy Seysses and Christophe Roumier enjoy international reputations, terroir is still the coin of the realm in Burgundy in a way that I don’t believe can be said of Bordeaux.
Naturally, the Child exhibit left us hungry, and after leaving the museum, we met up with an old friend and her kids at Jaleo, the wildly popular tapas joint owned by José Andrés. Its popularity is justified: the food is sensational. We gorged ourselves on jamón ibérico de bellota, the famous cured ham made from acorn-fed black Iberian pigs. We also had secreto Ibérico, pork filet from the same hogs; grilled and served with a pinch of coarse salt, it was ethereal. It’s going to be a while before I can eat a supermarket pork chop again. Here are some scenes from our pig out:
I think Julia would have been proud.