Champagne is a lie! Your sparkling wine doesn’t have to come from France to be authentic. Here are six products that can really only be produced in one place on the globe.
1. Cowichan Sweaters
Long before it accompanied him on his many misadventures, Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski’s bulky, brown sweater was a sartorial staple of he Pacific Northwest. Known as a Cowichan, the outerwear has been hand-knit by indigenous people in British Columbia since the 1800s, when Scottish settlers and missionaries first introduced the Indians to knitting. (They’d been weaving their garments from goat hair in previous centuries.) The distinctive sweater made waves at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair; since then, the shops in Vancouver have been brimming with Cowichans, all showcasing similarly beautiful tribal patterns. So how can you spot a fake in a crowd? Throw some water on it. Real Cowichans aren’t just warm- they’re waterproof! Because they’re made with untreated wool, the garments contain enough lanolin (a waxy substance produced by wooly animals) to keep sweaters dry.
2. Vidalia Onions
(Image credit: Yumion)
Snickers bards and Tootsie Roll Pops weren’t the only sweet things to come out of the Great Depression- onions belong on the list, too! In 1931, Georgia farmer Mose Coleman planted a batch of the pungent bulbs but was shocked when the onions turned out so mild that they could be eaten like apples. It turns out, the low sulphur content in East Georgia’s sandy soil was perfect for turning plain old onions into dirt candy. Over the next 50 years, the grocery chain Piggly Wiggly made Vidalia onions a produce aisle superstar by distributing the veggies across the South. Meanwhile, local farmers won protection for their distinctive crop in the 1980s; as a result, only 13 counties and portions of seven others can legally call their onions Vidalias. Today, the state pays tribute to its favorite veggie with an onion museum, where visitors can learn about Vidalias while hanging out with Yumion, Georgia’s official onion mascot.
3. Cuban Cigars
(Image source: JFK Library)
Even John F. Kennedy understood the value of a Cuban. When the sitting president realized that the U.S. would need to levy an embargo on the island nation, he ordered his press secretary to round up as many of his beloved Petit Upmanns as possible before the ban took effect. His secretary came back with 1,200 stogies. So what makes the Cuban so special? The mineral rich soil, the tropical climate, and its contraband status all contribute to the cigar’s allure. But ask any aficionado and he’s likely to tell you that it’s not so much the material but the women who roll them. Torcedoras churn out the world’s best cigars using nothing more than tobacco leaves, their hands, and a few dabs of flavorless vegetable gum. Though the smokes are still illegal in the U.S., Cuba’s cigar trade is doing just fine. In 2011, it sold $401 million worth of authentic puros around the world.
4. Roquefort Cheese
(Image credit: Christophe.Finot)
Nibbled by the Romans and a favorite at Charlemagne’s dinner table, the cheese known as Roquefort has plenty to hang its hat on. Even its origin is steeped in romance. According to legend, the moldy blue cheese was first discovered when a shepherd left his lunch in a cave to chase a beautiful woman. Months later, the hungry fellow returned to find that a mold, Penicillium roquefort, had infected his grub. Nonetheless, he ate it -and declared it delicious. The cheese is still made in those caves today, but the manufacturing is far more intentional. France maintains strict regulations on the temperature of milk, the grazing habits of sheep, and, of course, the specific place of production, which must be the caves under Mount Combalou in Southern France’s tiny Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. In fact, cheese-making is the town’s only industry, meaning that if your cheese bears Roquefort’s traditional red sheep wrapping, you’re biting into the real thing.
5. Newcastle Brown Ale
(Image credit: Flickr user Michael Fajardo)
In the mid-20th century, you could be sure that every bottle of England’s beloved Newcastle Brown Ale came from the same place: Newcastle. To safeguard that tradition, the beer's manufacturers fought for and won protected status for their brew in 2000. But in 2005, when they wanted to consolidate brewing operations by moving the factory across the River Tyne and effectively out of Newcastle, they first had to get that protected status revoked. Several years later, they moved even farther. Now all Newcastle Brown Ale comes from Tadcaster, nearly 100 miles outside the city for which the beverage was named.
6. Kobe Beef
(Image credit: Paul Nash)
Every piece of Kobe beef takes an identical odyssey to the dinner plate. The trip begins in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture with Tajima cattle, a burly breed with bodybuilder forequarters developed from hundreds of years of pulling carts. Raised on local grasses and waters, the cows live a charmed life that often includes massages and classical music at dinnertime- at least until their third birthday, when the party comes to an abrupt end. To gain the Kobe seal, the cows must be processed in a Hyogo slaughterhouse, where the beef faces strict marbling standards, ensuring a high fat content. The process is extremely selective; only about half the cattle make the cut. As for the so-called Kobe beef you can buy in the U.S., the majority of it isn’t really Kobe- it comes from a crossbreed of the Japanese cattle that’s raised on grains, delivering a very different taste. So how can you spot a faux-be from a Kobe? Check the label. According to Forbes, every slice of Kobe beef sold “must carry the 10-digit identification number so customers know what particular Tajima-gyu cow it came from.”
So what about champagne?
The new year brings all sorts of treats, from college football’s biggest games to thrilling new page-a-day calendars. But New Years Eve also comes pre-loaded with an excellent excuse to sample champagne- a beverage so divine that when 17th-century monk Dom Pérignon brewed his first batch, he yelled, “Come quickly! I am tasting the stars!”
No wonder the French have moved to protect the drink. You’ve likely heard that real champagne comes only from the cool, chalky Champagne region of France. It’s true- when World War I was wrapping up, France slipped a provision into the Treaty of Versailles stating that anything labelled “champagne” had to come from the region. Unfortunately, the clever plan ran aground when the U.S. senate refused to ratify the treaty. That’s why the three-dollar bottle of California brut you buy at your neighborhood’s finest gas station can still be called champagne. Of course, if you want to crack open a bottle of the good stuff, you don’t have to wait to pair it with wedding cake or oysters- Marilyn Monroe sipped hers with potato chips (also available at gas stations).
This article by Adam K. Raymond is reprinted with permission from the January-February 2013 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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