Austrian Zierfandler with cured lard - grease it up, porky!

Crab season continues on the Pacific coast. So the morning of Christmas Eve, friends and I headed over to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay to pick 22 lbs. of live dungeness crabs for an all-day feast. For those interested, my infinitely satisfying, Chinese-inspired simple technique of steaming and devouring crab has been well documented here.

To go with those babies, I brought a random bag of white wines from Austria, Germany, Portugal, and France. Of course, trying to feed Russians with just plain crab is barking up the wrong tree. While the monsters are steaming (I am talking about the crabs), appetizers are demanded, which brings me to the point of this post...

Salo - salt-cured pork fatback (unrendered lard) - with garlic and Russian mustard on Russian rye bread, paired with pungent, strong tasting white wine made from Zierfandler grape cultivated in a small area in Austria. I tell you - I haven't had cured pork lard (pronounced "sahlo" in Russian) for over 20 years, but this darn thing melts in your mouth, even though it has firmer, chunkier texture than butter. It's quite common in Eastern Europe. While vodka is typical with this, for a wine lover you gotta have a strong and fruity wine with good acidity to stand up to the gaminess and thick, buttery texture of the pork lard. In general, anything pork goes well with fruitier wines (Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, etc...) Tasted by itself this unapologetically inelegant, full-bodied Zierfandler bullied my palate with initially slightly barnyardy, strong sense of quince compote and stewed pear. But when paired with salo sandwich, Zierfandler was just the ticket. Just think - "pig and quince" - doesn't that make sense?! Thus re-affirming my age-old point - don't write a wine off without food. Think of wine as an ingredient. The right pairing makes all the difference!

Note: a few places online sell Stadlmann's Zierfandler (exported in tiny quantities), but if you want to get your hands on salo, head over to a Russian / Eastern European deli, and upon mentioning it, you will be received with respectful nods of approval like a real insider.

Ah, what a way to start a crab fest, the Russian-Austrian way!


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