Last week we held a dinner at the Restaurant Arguibel in Las Cañitas, a section of Buenos Aires’ Palermo neighborhood, to present the Baluarte Maíces andinos the Slow Food International Presidium dedicated to Andean corn. Over 130 people attended, among whom journalists and members of the Argentine food and wine world.
Santiago Abarca, leader of the Buenos Aires Norte Convivium, opened the evening by explaining all about Slow Food’s Presidia project (Baluartes for us Argentines) and recounting his experience presenting our Andean corn at the Salone del Gusto in Turin last month. He was followed by other colleagues who outlined the Presidium’s activities to date. They were: Juan Cáseres, the coordinator of the corn growers, Luis Diaz, a grower, Maju Bacigalupo, a cook who has created a number of recipes to enhance the characteristics of the different varieties of corn embraced by the Presidium, Inés Urruspuru, who has helped coordinate the project, and, last but not least, Julián Cámara Hernández, who has worked for over 40 years to revive the biodiversity of corn in the north of Argentina, a subject about which he also presented a fascinating video entitled Corn and Biodiversity.
Corn, one of the commonest cereals in the world, is a species autocthonous to the Americas. Many old varieties survive in the northern Argentine province of Catamarca: capia (white, red or pink round kernels); pisincho (small, pointed kernels); socorro (large yellow kernels); morocho (round kernels); amarillo de ocho (round yellow kernels); chullpi (broad, flat kernels). In this area, corn is grown, together with peppers, chilis, potatoes and herbs, on small plots of land, largely for family domestic consumption. Here many peasant farmers still use old agricultural tools such as arados de palos, mule- or horse-drawn ploughs.
The corn is sowed by hand at the start of October and ripens in April. After resting in granaries to dry completely, it is used to make both soups and tamales (cornmeal wrapped in corn leaves and steamed) and drinks (some alcoholic such as chica de maíz, which is drunk at special occasions such as Carnival).
Another specialty, harina cocida, is a meal made from raw corn, or from grains cooked with an infusion of suico, a local herb. It is used to prepare a number of typical local soups and stews, frangollo, a sort of polenta served with meat or a variety of sauces, and even, with the addition of sugar and water, a thirst-quenching, vitamin-packed drink.
The corn has to be husked but not all the old varieties can stand up to the use of machinery (the tender kernels of the capia variety, for example, would just crumble apart). The operation thus has to be carried out manually, the kernels being first cooked in water and lime, then husked and dried in the sun.
Returning to our celebration dinner, Diego, head chef at the Arguibel, came up with a menu consisting entirely of corn-based dishes, including tostadas de pan de maíz y queso de cabra, polenta de maíz frita, ensalada de maíz capia, and crocante de maíz con espuma de dulce de leche.
That little lot was accompanied by four wines—Malbec rosé, Torrontés white and two reds, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon—from the Bodega Santa Rosa, an up and coming winery in the province of Mendoza.
The meeting came to an end in the early hours with a draw in which 30 bottles of wine and 20 packs of Andean corn were offered as prizes. In this way even the people of Buenos Aires are getting familiar with this outstanding native product.
Hugo Cetrangolo is the director of the agroindustrial program at the School of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires and an active member of the local Slow Food convivium
Adapted by John Irving
This Presidium will work to recuperate and promote native corn varieties. The neglect of the countryside, the lack of ready access to water, and the appeal of hybrid varieties have put this corn in real danger – and the province of Catamarca risks losing millennia of its genetic heritage. Currently, 20 corn farmers from the town of San José have become involved in this project with the coordination of agricultural researcher Juan Antonio Caseres. With the assistance of the University of Buenos Aires, a cooperative dedicated to the processing and direct commercialization of Andean corn is currently being set up. Approximately 30 acres of land have been planted with native corn types. To increase the sales of these unusual varieties, restaurants in the region are sponsoring special menus with traditional dishes.
Argentina, San José, (Santa Maria, Catamarca)
Twenty farmers from San José
Juan Antonio Caseres:
Engineer and agronomist
Tel. +54 3838 600409
Director of the Programa de Agronegocios y Alimentos
Faculty of Agronomy
University of Buenos Aires
Tel. +54 11 4524.8041 +54 11 4523.9600