If you love a good food and wine event but hate dealing with crowds, then I would suggest Yountville Live next year. There are many events that have food and wine and some are now adding music. Think about Bottlerock in Napa or Outside Lands in San Francisco. Both have huge crowds. Not so for Yountville Live. At least, not yet.

This event was a more intimate event where I never felt like I was battling crowds. While part of this could be price point, I believe it's more a case of it is still a bit of a secret. I've been at food tents where there are lines to get the bite. Not here. I've been to places where it's impossible to find parking. Not here. (If you didn't find street parking there were convenient, luxury shuttle buses available to parking and the other venues.)

Even though I could go for only one day and for the tasting tent and none of the dinner events or classes, I was impressed and look forward to returning next year. 

Chocolatier Chris Kollar

cooking demos with samples!

I've never been a hot drink person. Meaning, coffee or tea. I think it comes from the fact that it wasn't something my parents did. While my mom did drink coffee, my dad did not. He attributes it to his childhood when hot tea was spilled on him and he was burned. So I just never developed a liking for tea or coffee. Coffee is too bitter and tea was too boring. Hot chocolate, on the other hand, is wonderful, but also fattening! Especially since I like it made with real milk and good quality chocolate. No Swiss Miss packet for me!

That's why I became really interested in a new product I stumbled across at the Fancy Food Show in January. Crio Bru is ground cacao beans that you brew like coffee. Thankfully, they sent me a few bags to try and I am happy to recommend them.

Cacao has been a part of the human diet for those in Central and South America and Mexico for 5,000 years. Ancient cultures used to ferment the fruit of the cacao pod to make an alcoholic beverage. The cacao beans were considered valuable and were used for currency. A Spanish soldier who was part of the conquest of Mexico tells that Moctezuma II drank a chocolate drink mixed with spices. If so, I would imagine that the beans would have crushed and boiled, therefore creating a brew similar to what you would get from this Crio Bru product.

Much like coffee, Crio Bru roasts different varieties of cacao beans, crushes them up, and then bags them. The varieties are distinguished by their country of origin and roasting methods, just like coffee or fine quality chocolate. For instance, currently I'm drinking cacao from Ghana that is French (dark) Roasted. 

I've been adding stevia and coconut creamer to my brew, much like a coffee drinker would add cream and sugar. This makes a beverage akin to a very thin hot chocolate - without the calories. According to the bag, an 8 oz cup of it only has 10 calories and no sugars. My coconut creamer is 35 calories. 45 calories versus 194 or more? I'll take that!

Crio Bru is touting health benefits as well, especially versus caffeine in coffee. Let's start with some information about caffeine.

The half-life of caffeine (time taken for the body to eliminate one-half of the caffeine) varies widely between people, depending on factors such as age and body weight. The half-life for caffeine in an adult can range from about 3-7 hours. That means if you drink a cup of coffee with, say, 300 mg of caffeine at noon, by 6 p.m. you will still have 150 mg in your system, then at midnight 75 mg, and 6 a.m. 32.5 mg. That's why it takes a good 24 hours for caffeine to completely leave your system.

Some people, myself included, are extremely sensitive to caffeine and can suffer caffeine withdrawals. If I go without caffeine for over 24 hours since my last dose, I get a massive headache. I've actually had caffeine headaches rival and sometimes surpass my migraine headaches. 

Cacao has minimal caffeine in comparison to coffee. Compare 5-10 mg a cup to 300 mg in coffee. Instead, cacao has theobromine.

Theobromine is a chemical compound also found in tea and the kola nut. Theobromine has similar compounds as caffeine, with one less methyl group. While humans can digest theobromine quickly, pets can't metabolize it fast enough, thus the warning that chocolate can make your pets really sick or even kill them. That's not to say that adults can't also suffer from theobromine poisoning if the dosing was severe. 

Theobromine is a myocardial stimulant as well as a vasodilator, increasing heartbeat, and also dilating blood vessels, causing reduced blood pressure. As with caffeine, theobromine can cause sleeplessness, tremors, restlessness, and anxiety at high doses. So it is a stimulant, but without the withdrawal problems of caffeine.

Cacao also has a lot of other antioxidants akin to those found in berries, pomegranates, and a├žai. It's high in minerals like magnesium and zinc. It is abundant in chemicals produced by the body but rarely found in most foods: anadamide, an endorphin or “bliss chemical” produced after exercise; phenylethylamine for increased focus and alertness; serotonin, a primary neurotransmitter that helps build a “stress defense shield”; and tryptophan, an amino acid that enhances relaxation and promotes better sleep.

I've enjoyed Crio Bru so much that not only did I buy a French press, but I also bought a high quality thermos to cart around with me. You can buy it directly from CrioBru.com

There are still many unfamiliar with the euphemism "Rocky Mountain Oyster". It has nothing to do with seafood, for sure. After all, the Rocky Mountains are far from the ocean. No, what became cowboy slang, I guess, is a kinder way to talk about eating testicles. While they can mean sheep, in this case we are talking about bull balls.

I had the "privilege" of judging the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry in Virginia City, Nevada on Saturday. This event has been going on for 26 years. How did I warrant such a coveted position? It really has to do with not only this blog, but because I did create Have an Offal Day. Although we've had all sorts of offal before, the only balls we had were Patrick Mulvaney's "Balls to the Wall" deep fried duck testicles in year one. That means that I was going to the event a virgin to this particular offal dish.

I had been asked to judge in 2016, but a blizzard prevented me from going up the mountain. Lucky for me, it seems, as the other judges told me last year's entries were bad. Nobody wants to eat a simple deep fried testicle. It's not that tasty and the texture is chewy and nasty. This year, apparently, the contestants had upped their game considerably and so I got to judge ten much-improved entries.  

I started by going around to visit the entrant booths as they prepared their dishes. Each team had a name and there was a even a trophy for best name - The Ballsy Vaqueros. Team Cajones Calientes consists of a bunch of friends that have competed for several years, while other teams came from local restaurants and bars, such as The Bucket of Blood Saloon and The Mustang Ranch.

At 10 a.m. the teams started plating their presentation plates. Normally "Best Presentation" in the cheffing world has to do with making the food look as appetizing as possible, which is how I judged. Here they take things further. These teams were all about the decoration as well. Some teams obviously tried to score for this prize versus actual taste. The tacos were presented nicely, but both sets were bland. I enjoyed the fritters (bottom right) for focusing on the main ingredient.

winning eggrolls
Eventually I went in to the judging tent to try the entries. The seasoned judges had learned from prior years that it was best to eat balls while they are hot. They aren't so good cold. Of the ten we had two taco entries, a taquito, an egg roll, two fritter-like entries, a jalapeno popper, a rumaki, a chili, and a dessert. 

Yep, the Most Creative prize went to dessert. Someone actually took the cooked, ground meat and mixed it with walnuts, whiskey cocoa powder and some other ingredients to make a sort of chocolate truffle. It was surprisingly good and not too sweet!

I personally favored the jalapeno popper over the eggroll, but they averaged the scoring of about seven judges and the results are below. I've been to a few competitions and the trophies for this one were very nice. They had different sized etched flasks for 3rd, 2nd, and 1st places of all the categories. The only different one was the giant pot for Best Overall Taste. There were cash prizes as well. Not too shabby after slinging balls for about six hours.

I figured I'd leave the sensitive tasting details for last. What do balls taste like? Well, I'd say it's not really so much taste as it is texture. I do count myself lucky to be served up prepared, chopped balls and didn't have to suffer the prospect of downing a whole ball. 

The balls that were served had all been cut up in some way. Here you can see a picture of what constitutes a testicle. The outer sac is a totally different thing than the innards. The sac I would liken to eating clams, a chewy texture. The innards were cooked up to be like ground beef, thus making them well suited for a filling for the eggroll and popper entries. 

became the popper stuffing - innards, bacon, butter, garlic, seasoning
At noon was the St. Patrick's Day parade. 

Then the winners were announced late in the afternoon.

costume winner

the dessert ball winners
The big winner walked away with the pot and 2 flasks!

Best Overall TasteWINNER = Nut Up or Shut Up (eggroll)
2nd Place = Mel John & Jon’s
3rd Place = Cajones Caliente (jalapeno popper)
Most Creative DishWINNER = The Sack Shack (dessert ball)
2nd Place = Cajones Caliente
3rd Place = Nut Up or Shut Up
Best Plated PresentationWINNER = Cajones Caliente
2nd Place = Nut Up or Shut Up
3rd Place = The Sack Shack
Best Team Name = The Ballsy Vaqueros
The Brandi Lee’s People’s ChoiceWINNER = Nut Up or Shut Up
2nd Place = Cajones Caliente
3rd Place = Mel John & Jon’s
For those not familiar with Napa Valley and Northern California, the name Yountville might not mean much. For those who are wine and food lovers, it means the very best of both. After all, Yountville sits smack dab in the middle of the valley and is home to The French Laundry and other fine dining establishments. It's no wonder that an event including food, wine, and music would catch the attention of those who love some or all three.

Yountville Live will be taking place from March 16th through March 19th and includes a number of events to suit anyone's choice.

I'll be there for the food, since I don't drink.  The chefs of interest to me are, of course, the famous ones: Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello, Chris Cosentino, and more. The music is sure to be great when you consider that Five for Fighting is the headliner.

People who have long wanted to attend the “Live In The Vineyard” festival can now purchase tickets to this publicly ticketed festival that has an even larger focus on culinary events but still highlights and celebrates music and wine. World renowned and celebrated chefs set to take part in Yountville Live are Graham Elliot, Gale Gand, Victor Scargle, Thomas Keller Group - Team USA, Michael Chiarello, Art Cohtino, Bob Hurley, Carey Delbridge, Nate Lindsay, Chris Cosentino, Chris Kollar, Chris Patrick, Claudia Sansone, David Roberts, Dean James Max, Ernesto Martinez and more. There will be pourings by some of the most revered vintners including Aaron Pott, Benoit Touquette, and Julien Fayard and high end wineries including Jessup Cellars, Trinchero, Robert Mondavi Winery, Franciscan Estate Winery, Stewart Cellars, Campana Ranch Winery, Azur, Miner Family Winery, Far Niente Winery, Nickel & Nickel Winery, Silver Trident Winery, Handwritten, Priest Ranch Winery and more. Considered the culinary heart of Napa Valley, Yountville is the ultimate luxury get-away. With its world-class restaurants and accommodations, and many of the Valley's most celebrated wineries, Yountville marries a breath-taking setting and small-town ambiance with a sophisticated Wine Country lifestyle. 

Tickets are now available for Yountville Live by going to https://yountvillelive.com/tickets.
Just wanted to drop a note on why there's been few blog posts lately. Not only do I have a new day job, but I've been doing a lot of freelance writing lately. You can catch my writing in Edible Sacramento, Eater.com, and occasionally Sacramento Magazine.

In March read about calving, as in cow births, in Edible Sacramento. Then in the May issue I will have two articles. I also write for Eater.com on a quarterly basis about the hottest new restaurants in town.

I've got some posts for this blog coming up, but just less frequently. Thank you for your support!