Silver & Tequila in the Sierra Madres: The Tale of San Sebastian de Oeste
High in the Sierra Madres, we follow the twisting road from Puerto Vallarta and the seaside on our way to San Sebastian de Oeste. Crossing the long spanned bridge over Rio Ameca, the road curves around a ridge and into the tiny village of La Estancia and Hacienda San Sebastián, a family owned raicilla and tequila distillery (for raicilla think tequila only much stronger and likely of inducing hallucinations in anyone who drinks too much).
Founded in the 1930s and still family owned, their vast agave fields – called green plantations — can be seen on the surrounding hillsides. Besides making organic and flavored tequilas such as Licore de Café with its hints of coffee, chocolate and vanilla as well as almond tequila made from nuts grown in Durango and roasted here, the family also makes agave sugar and syrup, all without electricity. The peñas or agave hearts roast over an open fire as they were centuries ago and what power there is comes from solar panels.
Sampling and then stocking up on organic tequila we continue on, taking a turn on a dirt road where cows, unconfined by fencing, have to be shooed out of the way, to San Sebastian. Here we stop at La Quinta Café de Altura, an organic coffee farm owned by Rafael Sanchez, his wife Rosa and Lola, Rafael’s sister. Five generations of the family have grown coffee here.
The family, in a building dating back more than 120 years, tend 11 acres of coffee trees, some as old as the house, handpick 30 tons of beans each year, dry, roast and grind them, making blends such as a mixture of ground beans with cinnamon and sugar for the traditional, and now often hard to find, Mexican coffee. Tastings are available and so are Rosa’s homemade candies such as guava rolls and sweets made from sweet goat’s milk. In an interesting aside, we learn that the Sanchez’s parents married early (the Don was 15), a 68-year union that produced 21 children. Their grandfather did even better, having 28 children, though that took both a wife and several mistresses.
Settled in 1605, San Sebastian was nominated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Lovely in its vintage charm, the surrounding pine covered mountains were bonanzas of silver and gold. Aristocratic families from Spain made the perilous travel across the sea and then land to oversee the mining of these treasures. Once here, deigning not to marry locals, they married each other. It made for interesting relationships, uncles were also cousins, sisters also grandchildren or whatever.
We hear the tales when we stop at the museum, housed in the 200-year-old Hotel Jalisco. It’s a very crowded museum–more like a fascinating attic full of family heirloom items and the curator is a direct descendent of the founding families.In the museum, we see trunks inlaid with silver, 19th century lace gowns and jewelry boxes, china and silver that came from Spain.
It’s a story of glory and loss–at one time San Sebastian des Oeste had a population of 40,000; now there are about 600 and the occasional tourists. Silver was transported by horses and mules through treacherous mountain passes, robbers waited in wait. Pancho Villa and his men showed up regularly stripping away the wealth.
There were interesting family traditions. When a family member died, before they were buried (and remember it’s very hot here), a photographer had to be sent for from Puerto Vallarta to take a photo of the deceased. It could take days, but that’s how it was done.
Walking along the cobblestone road, past a massive 300 year plus ash tree and cascading white frizzes of el manto de la virgin, we enter Comedor Lupita. Here terra cotta platters loaded with chicken mole, fresh handmade tortillas (in America they’d be called artisan tortillas), refried beans and something I’ve never tasted before – machaca, a dish of dried beef mixed with spices and eggs, are heaped in front of us. As we eat, we watch the family busy behind the tiled counter, making even more food.
Through the windows we see splashes of bright purple from the masses of bougainvillea that drape the stone exterior walls and here the sounds of caballeros, their horses’ hooves striking the centuries old street. We sip our sweet agua de Jamaica water and feel time passing in reverse.
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1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 4 limes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
2 lbs. skirt steak, cut into strips
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1/2 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco or a Mexican brand, such a Valencia)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
Whisk all the marinade ingredients together, and then add the skirt steak. Marinate at least 6 hours or overnight tablespoon Remove meat from marinade, drain, and pat dry. Bring to room temperature. Discard marinade.
In a large heavy pot, heat oil. Sear the meat well on both sides, in batches so as not to crowd them. Remove the meat as it is browned and set aside.
Drain fat. Add in the onion, peppers, and garlic, cook until tender, then add tomatoes, broth, pepper sauce and spices. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. Return beef and simmer, covered, for two hours, stirring from time to time until tender. Cool and shred.
Lay meat on a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 250º for 20 minutes or until meat is dry.
Machaca con Huevos
2 chopped scallions (white part only)
1 hot green chili
1 cup dried machaca
Sauté scallions and peppers in oil until tender, add tomatoes and beef until heated. Remove from pan, add eggs and cumin. Scramble, then stir machata mixture. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot tortillas.
Search: San Sebastian de Oeste, Hacienda San Sebastián, agave fields
Keywords: San Sebastian de Oeste, Hacienda San Sebastian, agave fields, organic and flavored tequilas
Description: In San Sebastian de Oeste, near Puerto Vallarta is Hacienda San Sebastian where you can taste the organic and flavored tequilas such as Licore de Café with its hints of coffee, chocolate and vanilla as well as almond tequila.