Maguey, also known as century plant and agave americana is a plant that has been used by the native peoples of Mexico for thousands of years. Lately, this plant has gained popularity because one of it’s varieties, agave azul, is used to elaborate tequila. As many native Mexican ingredients, maguey is fascinating. However, today I’m not going to write about the plant, but rather about a mezcaleria I visited a few weeks ago, Corazon de Maguey.
What’s a mezcaleria? A place where mezcal is sold. And what is mezcal? That’s a great question! Mezcal (also spelled mescal) is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant. The word itself comes from the Nahuatl Meltixcalli, which means oven-cooked agave. Nick Casey, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Ruth Alegria, my cousin Zureima and I sat down with Gustavo Muñoz Castillo, owner of groupo Los Danzantes and Edoardo Luzero, manager of Corazon de Maguey, who explained to us the mezcal making process and how Los Danzantes group (the restaurant group Corazon de Maguey belongs to) is involved in the preservation and production of this Mexican product.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the native peoples of what it’s now known as Mexico prepared a milk-colored, viscous drink from the fermented sap of the maguey plant known as pulque or octli. The drink history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred and its use was limited to certain classes of people, like aristocracy, priests and victorious warriors.
The Spanish had known distillation processes for several centuries and were used to drinking hard liquor. They brought a supply with them from Europe, but when this ran out, they began to look for a substitute. They had been introduced to pulque and other drinks based on the maguey plant, so they began experimenting to find a way to make a product with a higher alcohol content. The result was mezcal.
Mezcal has been a very popular drink in Mexico for hundreds of years. Today Mexico has about 330,000 hectares cultivating agave for mezcal, owned by 9,000 producers. Over six million liters are produced in Mexico annually, with more than 150 brand names. The industry generates about 29,000 jobs directly and indirectly. Certified production amounts to more than 2 million liters; 434,000 liters are exported, generating 21 million dollars in income. To truly be called mezcal, the liquor must come from certain areas. States that have certified mezcal agave growing areas with production facilities are Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.
Los Danzantes group has been producing its own mezcal for their restaurants since 1999 when they bought a palenque (mezcal distillery) in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. One of the most important projects of Los Danzantes group is the Alipus Mezcal (in the U.S. it will be branded as Los Nahuales). This project involves four producers. In Oaxaca, mezcal producers are families that have kept the mezcal making traditions for generations. This project is now part of Slow Food because it supports local producers and it tries to preserve a tradition that it’s being lost in Oaxaca. “The new generations”, Gustavo tells us, “are no longer interested in working in los palenques.” A very sad reality of the Mexican countryside is that producers don’t get enough support from the government and society. Their wages are so low that many of them prefer migrating to the U.S. to work as undocumented immigrants.
Learning about Mexican products is exciting, but the best part is always the actual tasting. The drinks and food we tasted that day were just amazing. We started with a mezcal tasting. Just like the tequila tasting we had with Sandra Chollet, Gustavo explained to us what to look for in a good mezcal, texture, color, thickness, aroma and taste. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a tequila guy. Mezcal is a little too strong for me, but I really enjoyed this tasting. In a future post I’ll write more about different kinds of mezcales. I’m still learning about them.
And then, the food came. Our appetizers were spectacular:
Pescadillas, fried quesadillas stuffed with baby shark.
Beef tongue in red pipian (simply amazing)
Every month Corazon the Maguey will be featuring an special menu of Mexican food. This time the featured dishes were enchiladas. And if you think you know enchiladas but have never seen or heard of these, then you really need to come to Mexico. I humbly say that my enchiladas knowledge was next to non-existent. Just take a look of these amazing dishes:
Enchiladas de bautizo from Oaxaca
Enchiladas de mascota from Zacatecas
Enchiladas de cecina from Hidalgo
And what is a great meal without a great dessert? In Corazon de Maguey we had some great sweet treats accompanied with an excellent cup of coffee. I have to mention here that all the ingredients used for the food in the restaurant is bought using the Slow Food philosophy, clean, just, sustainable and local.
Chocolate volcano 80/20 80% Criollo cocoa, 20% almonds served with cotija cheese ice cream
Lemon pie with meringue baked in clay pots and served with lime ice cream
Corazon de maguey is located in one of my favorite parts of the city, the heart of Coyoacan. The ambiance of the place is very relaxing, especially if you sit in the patio that faces Jardin Centenario, one of the most bohemian spots of the city. Prices might seem steep, but considering that Los Danzantes group supports local economies and families that otherwise wouldn’t get paid fairly for their products, and that the food is simply amazing, every penny paid for it is worth it. If you are in Mexico City, Coyoacan is a must-see spot and Corazon de Maguey is a restaurant you can’t miss visiting.
Kudos to chef Alejandro!
Plaza Jardin Centenario 9-A,
Col. Villa Coyoacan