Archive for June, 2012

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The Cider ‘Crush’ at Copa de Oro in Cholula

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Sampling cider from an oak barrel at Copa de Oro in Cholula.The Spanish influence in San Pedro Cholula isn’t always quite as evident as it is in the nearby Colonial city of Puebla. Despite an abundance of Catholic churches, including one that crowns the world’s largest pre-Hispanic pyramid, the town maintains its older, distinctly indigenous vibe. However, just a few blocks from the archaeological site, inside a nondescript industrial building, the Castillo-Blanca family is working to preserve a centuries-old tradition from Asturias, Spain, and make it a bona fide Mexican one.

For three generations, its Copa de Oro distillery has produced sidra, or hard cider, from apples cultivated in the state of Puebla. The business began in 1936, when Ramón Blanca Amador started fermenting the regional red fruit into an aguardiente de manzana. He called the drink sidra actiopa, a nod to the Nahautl words atl (water) and teopa (temple) and a suggestion that his liquor was nothing short of divine. Today Copa de Oro produces several varieties of sidra gasificada, or carbonated hard cider, plus non-alcoholic sparkling cider, cider “coolers,” vinegar, applesauce, and more. The company turns out three grades of cider—Palencia, Copa de Oro, and Renetta—which are differentiated by their labels and the amount of time each cider is aged in an oak barrel (up to one, two, or three years, respectively).

Unlike many wines, hard cider doesn’t improve with age: After about two years, it’s properties change and it evolves into vinegar.

“The national palate is sweet,” sales director Mario García Roche explains to me after a tour of the factory. To cater to that taste, most of Copa de Oro’s ciders are on the sugary side, with one important exception: Renetta Reserva Especial, which the company produced for its 75th anniversary last year. “It’s the only cider made in Mexico that’s semi-dry,” García Roche boasts.

Copa de Oro Renetta is “the best cider” my Poblano hubby has ever had.His bragging is justified. The Renetta is, in a word, exquisite. “Wow! It’s the best cider I’ve ever had,” my husband declares after taking a sip of the ice-cold bubbly. Like many Poblanos, he’s accustomed to drinking the sweeter stuff, and mostly at family dinners around Christmastime or New Year’s. It’s said that hard cider became popular in Mexico as a festive yet less expensive alternative to Champagne and sparkling wines like Cava. And, comparatively, it’s a bargain. At 101 pesos (about US $7) per bottle, the Renetta semi-seco is Copa de Oro’s priciest product.

Copa de Oro expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider in 2012.Copa de Oro is looking for ways to broaden cider’s national appeal by developing new products, such as cider “coolers” in single-serving bottles that come in different flavors and include rum, García Roche says. But its core product remains its amber and rosé ciders (the latter of which is 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile). In 2012, the company expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider, he notes, all of which is made from 100 percent fruit that’s cultivated in Puebla. Most of that will be consumed nationally, but Copa de Oro is working to export more products to the U.S., Colombia, Cuba, and Spain.

The “crush” typically begins in July and lasts for about six months, as tons of apples — of the winter banana, perón, ripio, or panochera variety — arrive from orchards, most of which are located on the skirts of the Popocatépetl volcano or near the Puebla-Veracruz state line in Santa María Coatepec and San Salvador El Seco, García Roche explains. After the apples arrive, they are washed and pressed into juice, which is then fermented, filtered, pasteurized, carbonated, and bottled. Copa de Oro can process up to 30,000 bottles per day (5,000 cases) when operating at full capacity, García Roche says.

Copa de Oro plans to kick off the 2012 season with a “blessing of the apples” and a parade on Saturday, July 21, from 10 to 11 a.m., García Roche says. The route starts and ends at the distillery (3 Sur #904, Col. Centro), passing through downtown San Pedro Cholula. A tasting and cider pairing will follow at Copa de Oro, which also operates a tasting room and “living museum” called La Barrica. The public is invited; expect to pay about 120 pesos per person for the food and drink.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Free tours of the distillery (in Spanish only) are offered year-round, by reservation only, to groups of 10 people or more. Call +52 (222) 247-1989 for more information.

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7 Free Things to See and Do in Puebla

Monday, June 18th, 2012

As the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, Puebla isn’t exactly the cheapest place to pass time in Mexico. However, visitors and locals can experience much of what the city has to offer on an extremely modest budget. In fact, you don’t need to spend a single peso (bus or cab fare notwithstanding) to enjoy various sights, sounds, and activities around town. Here are seven free things to see and do in Puebla, year-round.

1. Visit a museum. Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos is open for free on Sundays.As in most major cities, Puebla’s art galleries and history museums tend to charge general admission, but at least one day a week and one night per month, you can get in free. Most sites here are closed on Mondays and waive ticket requirements on either Sundays or Tuesdays; one important exception is Museo Amparo, which is free on Mondays and closed on Tuesdays. Free on Sundays: Casa del Deán, Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica, and Museo de Antropología e Historia, among others. Free on Tuesdays: Museo de la Revolución Mexicana, Biblioteca Palafoxiana, and San Pedro Museo de Arte Virreynal, among others. (Note: Sometimes the INAH-run museums will require you to show proof of Mexico residency to waive the ticket price, but they usually don’t.) Meanwhile, the city’s tourism office organizes Noches de Museos (Museum Nights), during which anyone can visit participating sites between 5 and 9 p.m. without paying. The remaining dates in 2012 are July 21, Aug. 10, Sept. 14, Oct. 12, Nov. 1-2, Nov. 17-18, and Dec. 28; participating sites include Museo Amparo, Casa de Alfeñique, Museo Taller Erasto Cortés Juárez, Museo José Luis Bello y González, Museo del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Galería del Palacio, and Museo Viviente, among others.

The murals in Barrio Xanenetla depict the neighborhood’s cultural identity. 2. Check out the murals in Barrio Xanenetla. Colectivo Tomate—a group of creatives working to beautify the city through a project called Puebla Ciudad Mural—spent more than a year collaborating with residents and volunteers to revitalize Xanenetla, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The result of their efforts: 55 thought-provoking murals that depict the barrio’s cultural identity. The paintings celebrate its history, its traditions, its storied former residents, and its current inhabitants’ hopes and fears. Start your walking tour at the corner of Boulevard Heroés del 5 de Mayo and 4 Norte and then follow 4 Norte until you reach Plaza Santa Inés. (Click here to download a map of the murals’ locations.)

Couples turn a covered walkway in the zócalo into a dancefloor.3. People-watch in Paseo Bravo or the zócalo. Whether it’s a trova concert, a Mexican wrestling match, a clown performance, a kid chasing pigeons, a flash mob, or a bunch of guys breakdancing, there’s almost always something happening in these two popular city squares. Paseo Bravo (13 Sur between Avenida Reforma and 11 Poniente) has undergone many transformations through the years, serving as the site of a gallows to a military practice field. The public park that exists today took root sometime after 1850, when a statute of its namesake soldier and statesman Nicolás Bravo was erected. The zócalo, or main square (3 Oriente at 2 Sur), was the first city block built by the city’s Spanish settlers and remains the heart of the historic center. It’s a place where people gather for social outings, political protests, and cultural events; you’ll frequently encounter a stage or vendor stalls set up on the Cathedral side of the square. Looking for a quieter experience? Head for the beautifully landscaped park in Paseo San Francisco (10 Norte, next to the Purificadora hotel), which features art sculptures and the archaeological ruins of mills and tanneries that once operated there. The people-watching opportunities abound: The site, which once served as a set for Mexico’s Next Top Model, is so lovely that brides and quinceañeras like to have formal photos taken there.

Part of a Day of the Dead altar at the Casa de Cultura.4. See what’s on at the Casa de Cultura. Puebla’s cultural center (5 Oriente #5) houses several small art galleries, the Palafox library and museum (see above), and the Cinemateca Luis Buñuel, which regularly shows art films. It also frequently hosts musical performances on its central patio and, in late October, a Day of the Dead altar-building competition. Admission to nearly everything is free, and the current schedule of events is posted at the security/reception desk near the front door. Tip: Las Noches Poblanas, the folkloric dance presentations that used to happen here every Saturday at 7 p.m., now take place at the Instituto Cultural Poblano, Sala Francisco Xavier Clavijero (Avenida Reforma #1305) near Paseo Bravo.

On weekends, Los Sapos hosts an antiques bazaar and flea market.5. Browse the open-air markets. Every weekend, you’ll find tianguis, or street vendors, set up outdoors in Los Sapos plaza and in the Analco neighborhood a few blocks away. Start your browsing at the corner of 3 Oriente and 4 Sur, making sure to pass through the pedestrian area between Edificio Carolino and the BUAP’s psychology building, where artists often display hand-crafted jewelry. When you reach Callejon de los Sapos, turn right. Wander a block down the street to Plazuela de los Sapos, where on Saturdays and Sundays, you’ll find an antiques bazaar and flea market. When you’ve finished checking out the woodwork, coins, books, and other curiosities, head west on 5 Oriente, crossing Héroes del 5 de Mayo, to Analco. At the Analco Market (8 Sur at 5 Oriente), you’ll find vendors of artisanal goods, street food, plants, household wares, and a host of other items. Want to see more? El Parian (6 Norte between 2 and 4 Oriente), houses scores of vendors who stock every kind of souvenir imaginable, from traditional candies and (mostly imitation) talavera pottery to post cards, T-shirts, and refrigerator magnets.

TThe 10 a.m. mass on Sundays gives you a glimpse of the Cathedral in its full splendor.6. Celebrate the archbishop’s mass at the Cathedral. Even if you’re not Catholic (and don’t speak Spanish or Latin), attending mass inside this majestic church—built between 1536 and 1768—is worth an hour of your life. The 10 a.m. service on Sundays, usually presided over by Monsignor Víctor Sánchez Espinosa, gives you a glimpse of the Cathedral in its full splendor, with a procession, lighted candles, and music from the monumental pipe organ. The experience is almost like being transported back in time—and, given that 83 percent of Mexico’s population is Catholic, may shed some light on local customs and belief systems. Note that tourism is prohibited during services; if you want to wander around (versus attend mass), you’ll need to visit during the designated hours, which are Mondays through Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 4:45 p.m., unless otherwise posted. All visits, of course, are free.

7. Run, walk, or bike the streets downtown. Most Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon, city officials close certain avenues to vehicle traffic and welcome residents and visitors to enjoy the streets of the historic center on foot or on human-powered wheels. This Gran Vía ReCorre Puebla leads participants from the Fuente de los Frailes (Avenida Juárez at Blvd. Atlixco) to the Teatro Principal (6 Norte at 8 Oriente). See link for complete 2012 schedule and route map. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a place to exercise outdoors the rest of the week, here are a few options.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

What’s your favorite free activity in Puebla? Share your suggestions and recommendations with us by replying below.

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