A Wine and Cheese Weekend

Wine and cheese in Mexico – who knew?! We are cheeseheads, after all, and were thrilled to find there is a wine and cheese route just a few hours away from Mexico City. We checked it out with our friends Josette and Scott during Tequisquiapan’s wine and cheese festival.

Matt was the tour director and Scott was our accommodating designated driver (he’s a beer guy) for the weekend. We started out at a reasonable hour on Saturday with our only goal to arrive at the Freixinet winery by 2 pm because we had tickets for its paella festival and we were told the paella could run out. First stop was the Neole cheese shop for a tour and tasting. We were joined by a tour group and headed behind the cheese shop for the simple tour that doubled as our daily Spanish lesson. We checked out the cheese making area, had the process described to us and then enjoyed our first cheese tasting of the trip. We would learn at our second cheese tasting that orange slices are to cleanse the palate, sweet is to temper the taste of the cheese and salty is to intensify the cheese’s taste. I used this guide as my excuse to eat the sweet pieces of “ate de membrillo” or quince jelly every time I tried a bit of blu or smoked cheese.

Even though we were full from breakfast and our subsequent cheese tasting, next stop was another cheese shop. Except we couldn’t find it and even Matt had to concede that despite its presence on his GPS, it didn’t really exist. No worries, it was time for some wine instead and we stopped at Viñedos Los Rosales. The grounds were beautiful, the servers were friendly and patiently described the wines we could taste and… the wines were terrible. So terrible that while we only had tiny 1-ounce pours, we still furtively dumped them out on the ground instead of finishing them. Driver Scott could rest easy that he hadn’t missed anything as he had taken a pass on the tasting, and we could all be confident that our $2 wine tasting fee was worth knowing never to drink Los Rosales wine again.

To get the bad taste out of our mouths, we quickly turned into Viñedos La Redonda for our second tasting. We opted to skip the tour (as we had done at Los Rosales) and headed to the tasting room at the front of the property. While the attendants couldn’t have been less interested in explaining the wine to us, the view was great and the wines were good.

La Redonda

After enjoying our wine and the view, it was off to the paella festival at Finca Sale Vivé by Freixenet. What a great time! After the usual ex-pat confusion (we had advanced tickets but had to stand in a ticket line anyhow), we got our glasses and our complimentary wine and were off to enjoy the fest. We started with a review of the entries into the paella competition. The entrants were gastronomy schools and the offerings looked amazing so we purchased from the friendliest group who told us their special ingredient was mezcal. Next up was a tour of the winery including the underground wine cave, which the winery claims is the only one in Latin America. It was a refreshing break from the sun and nice because we could wander about at our own pace.

Fun in the Cave

Back outside we checked out the hot air ballon, refilled our glasses and continue our wandering. The entrepreneurs who were supposed to be signing people up for rides the next morning were running a little side business taking pictures of people inside the balloon. We admired the effort and stepped inside. The festival crowd was laid back and family-friendly (despite the occasional passed out over indulger) and there were several seating areas with music. We headed through the vineyards, found a seat at the outdoor tent and enjoyed a mariachi band and then a band playing tunes like Stand by Me. I don’t think I have ever been in a vineyard surround by cacti before.

We left the festival and headed back to enjoy the pool at our lovely hotel. Afterwards, we returned to the main square of Tequisquiapan and went to La Vaca Feliz (The Happy Cow) cheese shop. It was crowded and we were a bit overwhelmed when the gentleman behind the counter took an interest in us and began describing all of the cheeses and giving us samples. We must have tasted 15 kinds of cheese! The man (if we got his name, I forgot it) was actually an optometrist who loved cheese and was eager to practice his English with us. We bought  couple of kinds but assured him we would be back on Monday before we left town. We did, in fact, return, and while we were disappointed that many of the cheeses we intended to buy had sold out over the weekend, we found plenty of other kinds to buy instead. And while our new friend wasn’t working, the woman who assisted us also generously gave us about another dozen samples.

Day 2 was as exciting and wine-filled as Day 1 and once again began with cheese. We went to Bocanegra – the companion cheese shop to Neole where they have a cheese cave. It looks like a winery – a gorgeous building with cool art in a beautiful setting. Wisconsin cheesemakers should take note.

It wasn’t all wine and cheese (and the occasional beer) – we were headed to the Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) of Bernal to see the Rock of Bernal. Mexico designates certain towns as “Magical Towns” to promote tourism, protect traditions, provide jobs and highlight the towns’ cultural or natural significance. 83 towns or villages throughout Mexico have the designation, and Tequisquiapan is also one. I was game to explore another Pueblo Mágico, but I was confused by Bernal – a big rock was all it took? My first glimpse of the rock did not impress me.

Rock of Bernal

I did some quick internet research and learned it was the 3rd highest monolith on the planet. What the heck is a monolith? The Merriam-Webster definition, “a single great stone often in the form of an obelisk or column” didn’t do much to enlighten me.

We got to Bernal, parked the car and wandered around the cute town. The rock grew on me – the town was in its shadow and it was cool to see it looming above. We wandered in and out of shops on our way to the main square. We were admiring the church when we noticed a bunch of kids hurrying to stand before the door. They were eagerly awaiting something, which I didn’t think it was for mass to start, when the door opened and a guy started throwing coins to the kids. They scrambled for their share and then resumed the wait. What the heck? We saw a family come out with a newly baptized baby and Scott surmised that the tradition must be to throw coins to kids after your child is baptized. Sure enough, we entered the church and saw the set up for another baptism. Later research confirmed that this practice is called a “bolo” and the baby’s godfather throws the coins to ensure a prosperous life for his godchild.

Pueblo Mágico

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We went to a restaurant called El Negrito, which is a little disconcerting to an American as it translates to pickaninny. (Peru had a restaurant in the airport called La Negrita.) The terrace view was lovely and we enjoyed our lunch before heading back to Tequis for a cool down in the pool before going to the Wine and Cheese Festival.

Terrace View

While I think Matt, Josette and Scott would have been happy to stay at the pool and skip the wine and cheese festival, they humored me and we headed to the park, paid our entry fees, bought our glasses and started tasting. There was a pavilion set up with several rows of wine and cheese stands and a stage in the front of the grounds with several benches. I think there also was a food area, but we never made it there as we arrived with only two hours left of the festival and were focused on the tastings. While it was the last day of the festival and you could tell some of the vendors were ready to pack up, most were very friendly and happy to explain their wares to us. Like the paella fest, the vibe was relaxed. We left with several bottles of wine and cheese, so it was a worthwhile addition to our busy day.

The next morning after our final stop for cheese at La Vaca Feliz, we left Tequis with 9 bottles of wine and about the same number of cheeses. My only disappointment – no cheddar!

* In addition to Matt, as usual, photo credit for this post goes to Josette and Scott. Thanks, friends!

And Now for Something Completely Different

We left the Galapagos Islands for the opposite end of the spectrum: Mexico City! A city* of 9 million people, with a metropolitan population of around 22 million, Mexico City is a booming metropolis filled with parks, plazas, museums, shopping malls, world class entertainment and fantastic restaurants. The Mexica people (Aztecs to us) built their capital city of Tenochtitlán in 1325. The city is over 7,000 feet above sea level but was originally built on an island. As a result, it continues to sink at a rate of up to 4 inches per year. Conquered by the Spanish in the 1500s, and renamed Mexico City, it is the oldest capital city in the western hemisphere. After the cultural desert of the Galapagos, we are thrilled to be back in an environment where traditions abound, the climate is temperate and there is  more to do than go to the beach.

México!

We live in Cuajimalpa, the most western “delegation” or borough of Mexico City. Cuajimalpa is situated in the Sierra de las Cruces mountains at an elevation of 8,900 feet. It was a separate rural town until being engulfed by Mexico City’s urban sprawl. As a result, it has a local feel, similar to our home in Cajamarca, Peru, but minus the farm animals. We are not in a fashionable ex-pat district of the city, although there are both McDonalds and Starbucks within a couple of blocks of our house (not that those make it fashionable, just typical). While it takes us about 45 minutes to get into the city, Matt has 3-minute, door-to-door walking commute that can’t be beat in a place where 1 1/2 to 2 hour commutes are not uncommon. A large, Walmart-owned supermarket is around the corner, but the neighborhood also has a Saturday open air market, which are called tianguis here, and there is a permanent market about a mile from our house. There are countless shopping malls throughout the area, with a few nice ones 15-20 minute car rides from our house. With some very minor exceptions (decaf black tea, parchment paper, Shout colorfast sheets), we can find pretty much everything we want or need in the city. What a difference that has been compared to our last two moves!

We learned from our other moves that it is best to get settled in quickly by buying what we need to make our home comfortable. We spent our first two weeks here going to the mall or some big box store almost every day. It wasn’t that we had more than a car-load of things to purchase, but when you don’t own a car, you can only buy what you can carry. One day, in a Home Depot, Matt looked at me and said, “Are we in Wauwatosa or Mexico City?” Apart from the language, it is hard to tell when you are in American stores that look exactly the same. We were lucky to have our shipment from the U.S delivered 2 1/2 weeks after we arrived – it felt like Christmas! We didn’t waste any time and had a chair reupholstered, paintings framed, our apartment painted and our artwork hung. We are having a media console and end table built and have a few more odds and ends on the wish list, but it feels like home.

It hasn’t been all work since we arrived. I joined a book club and knew it would be a good fit when 50% of their titles matched the titles my Milwaukee book club has read. I’ve met nice people through the club and the International Women’s Club. While the drive time from the city makes it rare that we go there on a week night, we head to the city most weekends. Depending on who is counting, Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world, so we have plenty to choose from. In addition to visiting several permanent collections, we have seen a Pablo Picasso – Diego Rivera exhibit and an Andy Warhol one, complete with a reproduction of the Factory’s balloon room. Mexico City is famous for a movement to bring art to the people via enormous murals so those pop up in plenty of places too. But my best museum visit thus far was when our friends, Beth and Chris, were visiting last week because we were going to the U2 show and we ran into Bono at the Soumaya Museum! He was incredibly gracious with his fans and I even shook his hand. What a great brush with fame!

Cosmopolitan Panoramic

While I know that we are in the honeymoon phase with Mexico City, so far all signs point to it being a lasting love affair!

*   Mexico can refer to three political units. First, the country, officially the United States of Mexico. Next, the State of Mexico, which is one of 31 states in the union. Finally, Mexico City, or the District Federal (D.F.), which is separate from the State of Mexico and its own federal political unit, like Washington, D.C. in the U.S. While in 2016 the city’s name was changed from Mexico Distrito Federal of Mexico to Cuidad de Mexico (Mexico City, CDMX), many people still refer to the city as D.F.