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Tastemakers: Mission Table Pork Belly/ Knappogue Castle twin Wood 16 year old Irish Single Malt

Rick Coates - February 28th, 2011
Mission Table Pork Belly
(This is Traverse City Restaurant Week, with 18 restaurants in the area offering special three-course menus for $25. To learn more check out www.downtowntc.com, Mission Table on the Old Mission Peninsula is one of the participating restaurants)

If you follow the financial markets closely you will hear “pork belly futures” mentioned whenever the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is discussed. Pork Bellies have been traded on the Exchange for the past 40 years and, loosely defined, they are a boneless cut of fatty meat from the belly of a hog. In America, bacon is the best known of the “pork belly” meats.
For the past few years pork belly has gained favor on menus of fine dining establishments throughout the country. At Mission Table (formerly Bowers Harbor Inn) it is one of the small plate options for Traverse City Restaurant Week promotion. Chef Paul Olson and his team have mastered this delicacy. The Kurobuta Pork Belly (considered to be the Kobe Beef of the pork world) at Mission Table offers the perfect texture with a thin, crunchy layer followed by a layer of meat, then a layer of fat and then another layer of meat and topped with a poached Halpin Farms egg and a caramelized red onion jam.
The combination of the of fat and juicy meat give pork bellies the ability to be braised for extended periods of time resulting in a tender flavorful masterpiece.
Now, before you rule out this pork belly dish because of the fat you might want to read chef and food stylist Jennifer McLagan’s book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, named Cookbook of the Year at the 2009 James Beard Awards. McLagan, who released her book in Traverse CIty three years ago at the Epicurean Classic writes: “Fat is a crucial part of our diets, it not only provides health benefits but pure pleasure: few ingredients can carry flavor the way fat does.”
While the Pork Belly was supurb, so was every other aspect of the evening. Equally impressive is the fact that Mission Table only serves local wines -- a big and bold statement on their part. Additionally, the beers they offer are only the ones they brew, as is the case with the spirits they offer.
Finally, hats off to Heidi our server for the evening, the place was packed yet she took time explaining several menu items plus got to know our tastes and made suggestions accordingly. A server can make or break a night out, the food won us over, Heidi won our guaranteed return visit. For a look at their menus or to make a reservation (recommended) go to www.missiontable.net or call 231-223-4222. --Rick Coates

Knappogue Castle
Twin Wood 16-Year Old Irish Single Malt

For some, Irish whiskies and beers are a seasonal thing, sort of like champagne is to New Year’s Eve. But for the true connoisseur of drink enjoying Guinness or Irish whiskies is not a St. Patrick’s Day novelty. While Jameson and Bushmills are among the most known of the Irish whiskies here in the U.S., there are many others of note.
At the top of my list is the recently released Knappouge (pronounced nah-POGUE) Castle 16-Year Old Irish Single Malt “Twin Wood.” Now the “Twin Wood” comes from aging process as this whiskey spent 15 years and three months in bourbon casks and then its final nine months in sherry casks. This particular release pays tribute to the legendary Knappouge Castle 1951. Aged for 36 years in sherry casks and bottled in 1987, this is the oldest and rarest Irish whiskey in the world and bottles may still be found for around $1,700 a fifth. Since that works out to $140 a glass (based on a two ounce pour) this particular whiskey is out of reach for most of us. But at $100 a bottle ($8.50 a glass) the “Twin Wood” is attainable.
“We wanted to introduce Twin Wood in 2011 because it is the 60th anniversary of Knappogue Castle 1951,” said Mark Andrews III (son of the founder). “The link between the two products is the sherry finish. I consider this new offering homage to this brand’s unique history and heritage of innovation.”
The Twin Wood with its sherry-cask finish has added complexity and notes of nutty, sherry maltiness to the traditional Knappogue Castle’s characteristic, smooth, mellow taste of their 1995 Single Malt that sells for about $45. Triple distilled with Irish spring water in onion shape pot stills Twin Wood is limited in production: only 1,900 bottles, each numbered and signed by the master distiller.
This is sipping whiskey, best enjoyed with a couple of ice cubes or neat in a rocks glass. It was distributed nationwide last week and is available in Northern Michigan. For details check out www.castlebrandsinc.com --Rick Coates
 
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