la grandeur de la pauvre

Having tea (Glenelly unwooded Chardonnay 2012) with May-Eliane de Lencquesaing is like an adventure from Proust.  Genteel good manners to cleave a pink diamond; conversation about famous dead people (Winston Churchill, defeated by the British electorate in 1945 and painting his blues away at Ch. Lascombes by chatting up May); very long sentences about things you’d never thought of before.

Like the idea of la grandeur de la pauvre, how truly grand things come from humble ingredients.  Great wine from poor soil.  Great cheese from fermented sheeps’ milk.  The idea of gravity knocked into your head by a falling apple as opposed to a billion dollar large hadron collider.  Although how ironic to talk about poverty in Ida’s Valley, one of the luckiest spots in the Cape.  Heck Andre van Rensburg, the most talented winemaker in SA, admitted if he ever lost Vergelegen, May’s neighbour Rustenberg would do.

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May’s remarks on grandeur de la pauvre rang a bell as that is exactly what I was trying to do with Vygie du Cap, the current exhibition at the brave Pendock Wine Gallery @ Taj. Impressed with the unfiltered wines from Fleur du Cap, rather than feature them with grand flowers like King Proteas and Nasturtiums as WOSA infamously did on the London underground some years ago (leading to hilarious confusion about what SA wine was actually made from) I featured some of the humblest plants from the Klein Karoo – vygies.  Chosen by botanist Jan Vlok and matched to Fleur du Cap wines.

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Salt is another humble ingredient that can lend grandeur to a dish and there’s a Salt dinner at the Taj on Thursday evening with saltmeister Craig Cormack. I went to a Craig salt dinner a couple of years ago and this was my reaction:

Unable to change the big things in life (like daily global financial meltdowns, climate change and SA’s rackety race-based politics) smart people are turning increasingly to minutia. Which salt to sprinkle on your polenta is the latest challenge to exercise SA’s disempowered and discombobulated elites.

Charismatic chef Craig from Sophia’s at Morgenster (Sophia as in Loren and not The Golden Girls, as perennial joker gorgeous Greg Landmann reminded us), is certainly worth his salt – he cooks with a couple of dozen selected from a larder of 150 possibilities.

Asked for his favourite at the minute, he admitted to a penchant for Fleur du Sel. Quite appropriate really, as we were at a lunch hosted by Fleur du Cap. Craig is obviously into flowers, as his second choice was Khoisan salt from Velddrif, next door to the Cerebos factory which celebrates its 40th birthday next year. Made by the same process as the stuff from Brittany, it’s just that pesky EU legislation that prevents it being marketed as Fleur du Khoi. (Disclaimer: Craig is a consultant to the Khoi and is paid 12Kg of salt a month). Khoi retails at R24/Kg as opposed to R7 for Cerebos, but then it lacks the chemicals that make Cerebos sparkly white and slippery. As they say in the ads “see how it runs.”

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Lunch was in the Bergkelder nuclear bunker beneath the Pappagaaiberg in Stellenbosch and Craig was pairing salt-infused dishes with FdC’s award winning whites. So it was a long lunch indeed. Craig did the cooking and a bunch of bloggers and journos did the eating.

On the palate of six salts presented in a wooden yahrtzeit candlestick holder (Greg admits to 25% Jewish blood), my favourite was the first: a pink volcanic salt from Pakistan, called “poep” salt by Craig on account of the pronounced sulphur odor and taste. Distell head of winemaking, Kallie van Niekerk, said it reminded him of blue egg sandwiches on a road trip through the Karoo.

My top wine was a Fleur du Cap unfiltered Chardonnay 2010, a cunning blend of fruit from Robertson, Stellenbosch and Elgin, made by willowy Andrea Freeborough. This is a terroir taste trip for troglodytes with Andrea pointing out the citrus freshness from Elgin, the overripe oranges from Robertson and that Stellenbosch X-factor that ties it all together. Another terroir tour was provided by a 2010 blend of Sauvignon Blanc from Darling, Chardonnay from Robertson plus Semillon and Viognier from Stellenbosch. An elegant two step on the grave of the concept of wine estate.

Craig’s recipes go back over 2000 years, as salt has been used for millennia as a preservative. Which is just as well, as the modern guru of salt, Mark Kurlansky who wrote the best selling History of Salt, turned out to be a bit of a Lot’s wife when approached for advice. Roman sources were of much more use, but then they did consume more than three times the 7 Kgs the average person consumes in a year.