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.
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.