There’s nothing more magical than biting into something made with fresh heirloom corn. It transports you to frolicking through a field in Oaxaca, the rush of your first kiss, a dance of your taste buds, and of course, something that you’ll dream about for at least the next week. Maybe this isn’t everyone, but it’s definitely me. I’m here to tell you how two of the greatest things in life belong together, like a Mariah Carey song and karaoke with your best gal pals: heirloom corn and natural wine.
Heirloom corn has always been there, but only now is it starting to pop up on menus and become a leading topic of conversation.
“Heirloom corn comes from farmer-preserved seeds that have been hand-selected for the best flavor and maintained for hundreds (even thousands) of years. Each generation does its own part to further perfect the corn’s flavor and quality before it’s passed on to the next generation. Heirloom corn is totally different than the hybrid corn that makes up 99.9% of what is grown in the US (including virtually all organic corn); it is 100% farmer-owned and exists outside of the large-scale value chains that we associate with genetically-modified corn, cattle feed and ethanol. Think of it as expressly culinary, not commodity.” -Masienda
The best part of heirloom corn, for me, is that it’s something that you can find across all echelons of the culinary world–from the streets of Tijuana to the restaurants of Michelin-rated restaurants in New York. I think about this a lot because when anything that has the word “heirloom” or “natural” in it, it is easy to associate it with a higher cost or something you’d see referenced to on the TV show “Portlandia.” But that’s where this crop defies all odds. People have been planting and harvesting corn like this since the beginning of time, and now we’re all getting to enjoy it around the world.
This mighty golden crop that’s a staple in Mexican cuisine and culture finally has the moment it deserves, thanks to companies like Masienda, who are championing heirloom corn and sustainable practices. Masienda is providing some of the best corn to restaurants worldwide, tortillas to Whole Foods across the country, and educating people along the way about the origin and culture that heirloom corn represents. A few places in San Diego and Tijuana that are doing the heirloom thing right are Galaxy Tacos in La Jolla, Maiz Restaurante in Tijuana, El Jardin in Pt. Loma and La Justina in Tijuana.
Heirloom corn is the natural wine of crops right now. It’s having its renaissance moment, and the two pair perfectly together. I teamed up with Heidi from CampestreMag to pair both heirloom corn and natural wine together for you. We focused on four food items rich in corn and paired them with some wines you can find in your local bottle shop. I love what El Jardin is doing with maize and with natural wines. Here are some of my favorite pairings:
Maiz and trio of house salsas with the Casa De Piedra “Espuma de Piedra” sparkling
Taco de Fideo Chino with the Matthiasson “Linda Vista” Chardonnay
Lamb Barbacoa Shank with the Bichi “Flama Roja” red
No matter how you eat your corn or drink your wine, remember to do it with people you love. After all, what greater way is there to celebrate the culture and journey of both wine and corn than with the people around us?