Thinking about Napa. It’s so much more than just a place to drink wine.
One of the best things I learned over 20 years ago when I opened my first restaurant was that Napa is not just a place to drink wine. It’s much, much, more.
With my first restaurant I had to learn about wine lists and how to build them with my customer in mind – not just what I liked to drink. I’ve been drinking wine since college (not always the best wines – trust me!!). In the beginning there was a budget to pay attention to. Building the wine list had me looking at wines in a whole new way and I realized that I didn’t know much about them other than what I liked: a dry white, a dry ‘big’ red, and I hated jam. I still always say that you should never chew your wine!
The need to create a successful wine list started me on an educational journey that I absolutely love to this day. I was semi-familiar with the Napa area. I went to high school in the South Bay near San Francisco and my first year of college was at UC Davis where they have a world-renowned Viticulture and Enology Department (grape growing and wine making) – all within an hour or two of the Napa Valley. My focus turned to Napa – and I’ve been going there to taste new wines ever since. I was one of the first group of visitors when the wineries reopened after the devastating fires last year.
I’m there, at a minimum, twice a year and more often it’s four times each year. I never miss Spring – at ‘bud’ – or when the vines start to have buds on them. Everything is just starting to grow and the anticipation for the new crop is palpable. There are festivals all year long – most centered around food and wine – and wonderful concerts in the summer. Harvest in the Fall is really fun to see – a literal bee hive of activity all over the valley to get all of the grapes in at just the moment the winemakers are looking for to create their wines.
For me visits to Napa have become fabulous learning opportunities, much needed times to ‘zone out’ and just breathe and relax, times to reconnect with friends, eat great food, taste new wines and of course – to let loose. Over the years I have tasted some of the most amazing wines and joined the wine clubs of a few of my favorite wineries – one of which I’m a member of their Founder’s Club (capped at 150 members) which gives me access to wines that are not sold outside the club. Many of the better wineries clubs either only sell to their club members or have specific wines that are only sold to members because the production of those wines is so small.
So, if you already enjoy wine or are just beginning to discover all the beauty and nuances of flavor to be found in your favorite glass of red (or white or bubbles!) and you want to learn the why and how then a visit to Napa should be in your future.
Above left: Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, and bottles of “Phase V” Cabernet Sauvignon.
A quick recipe for Parmesan Crisps that will also introduce you to the Silpat non-stick baking mat.
Here’s a recipe that you can literally use for anything – add to a salad, as a topping for a dish, or just for snacking. One very nice benefit of this recipe, if you haven’t been already introduced to the “Silpat,” here’s your opportunity because they will make your cooking/baking life so much easier.
Silpats are made from fiberglass and food-grade silicone. Use them with a high-quality baking sheet, and NOTHING will stick to them. They can be washed and reused thousands of times. They’re approved by every international agency that watches out for food safety, and they’re Kosher certified. Every professional kitchen has been using these products for years. In fact, they’re so commonplace among chefs and bakers that saying the name ‘Silpat’ is like saying “Kleenex” or “Xerox”. There’s nothing else like it.
One more thing about Silpats – they do save lots of time, but they can also make a whole world of difference on the final taste of your dish. Just think: no more after-taste from whatever greasy non-stick oil or spray you usually use on your baking sheet. You can learn more about them from the Silpat company website. And, the best thing is you can buy them just about anywhere. I got mine from Sur La Table – you can see it in my recent video.
Aside from the Silpat, you’ll need finely grated Parmesan cheese. For the best flavor, I highly recommend cheese from Parmigiano-Reggiano. This cheese comes directly from the Parma region of Emilia Romagna in Tuscany, Italy. It’s the original, it’s the best, and you’ll love the nutty taste. Unfortunately, if you try this with a standard parmesan cheese you may end up with a ‘bitter’ tasting crisp!
- Before you do anything, preheat your oven to 400F degrees. I can’t stress this enough. You want to put your baking sheet into a hot oven or the cheese won’t melt well.
- Place a Silpat baking pan liner directly on your cookie sheet.
- Spoon out piles of the grated cheese directly on the Silpat. Your piles can be as big or small as you like. Then gently press the cheese piles into a round shape – they don’t have to be perfectly flat. When the grated cheese melts, the rounds will end up whatever size you flatten them to. They won’t spread, but don’t crowd them on the Silpat – leave a bit of space in between.
- Bake for about 4-5 minutes until they are golden and crisp. Be sure to watch them because they can turn too crispy quickly.
- Allow the rounds to cool for a couple of minutes and then gently transfer to parchment paper to hold for your party. Serve them at room temperature.
They can be stored in an airtight container for no more than 3 days. Be sure to place parchment paper between the layers of the crisps, so they don’t stick to each other.
You could ‘float’ small crisps in tomato soup or sprinkle them on top of a Caesar salad or even break up larger ones as a quick appetizer with wine. Serve them with just about any light crisp white wine or even a light red like a Syrah.
Have fun and enjoy!