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Drinkable Wednesday: The catch with cachaca

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By guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Does it matter whether you call cachaça rum? It does to Brazil.

There, cachaça has a lineage that can be traced back four centuries. In 2001, Brazilian president Fernando Enrique Cardoso signed a degree stamping the country's cane alcohol with one name: cachaça.

That's all well and good in Brazil, but it doesn't have much of an effect in other countries.
Is there a difference between rum and cachaça? Rum's usually made from a sugarcane byproduct, molasses. Cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice. chili-mama.jpg

One of the greatest cachaça activists is Steve Luttmann, founder of Leblon cachaça. How did an American man get involved with cachaça? "I fell in love with a Brazilian," Luttman said. Leblon's a family-owned business. Arguably, then, Luttman has more than one reason to defend the liquor's honor. (If you want to support cachaça's right to claim its name, then you can sign a petition online.)

Aged cachaças, like aged whiskies, command a high price (say, $400 a bottle). Barrel-aged cachaças, which have spicy, woody notes, can be enjoyed simply, on the rocks or neat.

Most people associate cachaças with caipirinhas, Brazil's traditional drink made with cachaça, sugar and lime. Cachaça's an adaptable spirit. It plays well with many flavors. Take advantage of summer, and mix it with watermelon and lime, spice it up with fresh chili, and add a savory touch with cilantro.

The Chili Mamma (at right) complements salads as readily as it does steaks and sandwiches. The Basiado, which has cucumber and lemongrass, is a breeze in a glass, and light enough to enjoy with dessert.

Don't think cachaça pairs only with Brazilian food. Dan Tucker, chef de cuisine of Sushishamba rio, 504 N. Wells, says that caiparinhas favor sushi and sashimi - especially the spicy rolls.

And don't be afraid to try using cachaça in food, instead of with it. Chef and cooking teacher Leticia Moreino Schwartz, author of The Brazilian Kitchen, encourages people "to use this Brazilian spirit in cooking, not only to make caipirinhas."

In Schwartz's hands, caipirinhas become a sorbet. While it's elegant as a dessert, garnished with a spiral of lime rind, Schwartz says it makes a gorgeous inter-mezzo between dishes in a meal. This recipe isn't in the cookbook, but Schwartz sent it from Brazil to Chicago. That's a present any drinker can enjoy.

Recipes after the jump.

Chili Mamma Caipirinha
MAKES 1 DRINK
½ small chili
1 stem of cilantro
½ cup chopped watermelon
Dash simple syrup (see Note)
2 ounces Leblon Cachaça
½ ounce lime juice

Muddle chili, cilantro, watermelon and simple syrup. Shake hard with cachaca and lime juice. Strain over ice into a highball glass. Garnish with a stem of cilantro and 2 watermelon balls.

Note: To make simple syrup, mix equal parts of sugar and water and heat over a low flame until sugar melts. Cool and store in a bottle or jar. If you prefer, replace the sugar with honey or agave nectar.

basiado.jpg
Basiado Caipirinha
MAKES 1 DRINK
3 to 4 lemongrass pieces
2 cucumber wheels
2 lime wheels
Large pinch fresh cilantro
3 bar spoons (teaspoons) cane sugar
2 ounces Leblon Cachaça
Coconut cream

Muddle Lemongrass, cucumber, lime, cilantro and cane sugar. Add cachaça and ice. Shake well and double strain over rocks. Drizzle with coconut cream or top with espuma.


Caipirinha Sorbet (Sorbet de Caipirinha)
MAKES 1 QUART

2¼ cups water, divided
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Zest of 2 limes
¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
5 to 6 tablespoons cachaça

Pour 1 cup of water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add sugar, corn syrup and lime zest, and bring to a boil. Strain mixture into a bowl and place over an ice bath. Discard solids.

Pour remaining 1¼ cups of water, lime juice and cachaça into the syrup and whisk well. Chill in the refrigerator for 5 hours or preferably overnight, for the flavors to mature.

Run the mixture through an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions until it becomes creamy. Scrape sorbet into a plastic container, cover with a tight-fitting lid and reserve in the freezer.

Leticia Moreinos Schwartz

photos courtesy Leblon

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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