Growing up, our house had a small A-frame shed in one corner of the yard. My parents used it to store old ceramic pots, tarps, rakes, etc. When I was eleven I asked my mom if I could take over the shed for a summer. "Sure, if you clean it out you can use it as a playhouse." I wanted to correct my mom that it wasn't a playhouse, but it would become my secret laboratory, a fortress for my summertime experiments, but decided to keep my real motive secret. Actually, I was such a talkative little kid I probably told her anyway, then again in greater detail at dinner.
Looking back, my "experiments" were pretty close to the chores of a colonial housewife. I hung up plants to dry, sprouted potatoes in mason jars of water, and packed herbs into old wine bottles filled with canola oil and spirit vinegar. Then I forgot about it for the summer. When I came back to the shed in the fall, the experiments had taken on a life of their own. The oil had become cloudy and opaque, while the vinegar had developed a mother, a wild cumulonimbus cloud of bacterial spores that looks like a vinegar-born kelp plant. I threw it all away, but I wondered how it might have tasted? Today, I'm sure the oil was ripe with botulism, but perhaps the vinegar had become herbal and sublime.
Eleanora Cuancia was brave enough to try her summertime experiments. She's the one behind this Wild Mugolio Pine Syrup from Italy. When the mugo pine trees bud in early summer, she collects them and packs them in glass jars. Stored in the sun, they "sweat" out their essential oils and other goopy, syrups goos. In the fall she carefully scrapes all the gunk out of the jars and boils with sugar it in a big cauldron over a wooden fire, a la the Witches of Macbeth. Eleanora continues to cook it down until it becomes a chestnut-colored syrup.
This unusual, labor-intensive process creates the incredibly unique product found in this bottle. Tasted right off the spoon, it slowly unfolds with a resinous sweetness redolent of juniper and rosemary. Then a slight bitterness, like chestnut or buckwheat honey. Then it has the most strange, sweet finish that just lasts and lasts and makes you feel like you're in a deep dark pine forest out of a German folktale.Most of the serving recommendations involve thinning the syrup with some sort of cream, weather it be ice cream, ricotta, or goat cheese. Luckily I had two of the three. Mugolio splashed over vanilla ice cream was Carla's favorite, but I felt like the coldness dulled the intensity of the flavor. I really liked it with a fresh chevre, as the goaty tang of the cheese added a nice snap of bright flavor to the deep, mysterious sweetness of the pine syrup. Next I'd like to try it as a glaze for pork or game.