Sunday is Cinco de Mayo, and somehow our mind keeps finding its way back to that epitome of Mexican spirit…Tequila.
As the salt, lime and shot glasses prepare to take center stage, we thought it would be the perfect time to learn a bit more about this agave-based beverage, and who better to go to for the lowdown than Executive Chef and owner of Fonda (434 7th Ave) Roberto Santibañez.
SSN: What is Tequila made from?
RS: Tequila is made from blue agave. Many people call the agave a cactus, but it’s not a cactus, it’s a succulent.
Where is Tequila produced?
Tequila, just like Congac or Champaigne, is the name of a town. Tequila is a little town right outside of Guadalajara. They developed a certain cultivation system for the blue agave, and only the spirit produced in Tequila can be called Tequila.
Does a good Tequila always mean an expensive Tequila?
It takes 7 to 8 years to mature a blue agave plant, and there is not enough room in the world for us to grow enough agaves to produce the amount of Tequila that the world is demanding now. It’s not a cheap drink. I don’t think an acceptable bottle in the United States can cost you less than $30 or $35.
As one who has had a “bad Tequila experience,” I completely understand when people say that they’re not a fan. Is there such a thing as good Tequila vs. bad Tequila?
There are definitely bad Tequilas and good Tequilas. There are some Tequilas that are made with artificial flavoring, and other alcohols that are not from Tequila. Those are not good tequilas.
How do you know if your bottle of Tequila is the real deal?
A 100% agave tequila from Mexico has stamps from the government on the bottle.
What is the difference between Tequila and Mezcal?
All Tequilas are a Mezcal. Mezcal is a spirit produced from the agave plant, but only those produced from the blue agave in Tequila can be called Tequila.
Are lime and salt really necessary for a tequila shot, or is it best enjoyed on its own?
You serve Tequila or Mezcal with a little bit of salt on the side, and a lime or orange because it’s a tradition of ours. You don’t need it, but it’s just a little bit of added flavoring that we love.
We know that different wines compliment different foods. What food pairings are not to be missed with tequila?
Anything fresh goes well with Tequila, like a freshly tossed salad that is very lightly olive oiled. We don’t generally have food with Tequila, though, just like you don’t have food with a Cognac. We usually take it at the beginning of the meal or at the end of the meal.
Are the Tequilas served at the beginning and end of the meal different?
Very old, oaky, buttery Tequilas can be served as a digestif, and younger, sharper Tequilas are generally served as an aperitif.
Do you have any advice for someone ordering a shot of Tequila in a restaurant?
If somebody is offering you a $5 shot in a restaurant, don’t take it. It’s not poison, but it’s just not great.
Photo by Jeff Bush