The NapaShakes Burns Night Supper at Brasswood on Friday, January 24, 2020, celebrating Robert Burns’ birthday, features a three-course meal including hors d’oeuvres, starter, a main course and traditional neeps and tatties, but it’s the side-dish that takes center stage: the Haggis. The evening’s director James Forbes, who was born in Scotland and lives in St. Helena, explains a bit about the history and significance of the much-maligned Scottish Haggis:
Haggis is perhaps the most culturally divisive food there is: In Scotland every supermarket has a wide range of styles of the original dish (fresh, frozen or canned, formed into sausages or patties as well as the plump round original) supplemented by Frozen Haggis Pizza, Haggis flavoured potato chips and Haggis Scotch Egg. But in California the mere mention of it is known to induce temporary Sudden Onset Vegetarianism amongst otherwise confirmed carnivores. Apparently the Scots never got the memo about not talking about how a sausage is made- for Haggis is really just a glorified sausage whose glorification reaches fever pitch later this month with the celebration of Scotland’s poet Robert Burns. His ‘Address to a Haggis’ was written as an impromptu thank you to his host and the popularity of the poem has ensured the survival of the dish to this day.
Finding Haggis in California is a challenge as well. Napa Valley Scots report having them shipped like organ transplants in smoking dry ice filled boxes from Oregon, or buying them in dodgy cash only transactions in obscure deserted parking lots off i-80. For an USDA approved version they can be ordered on-line from South Carolina. The inaugural NapaShakes Burns Supper in 2019 took the latter route, but this year they are launching true Napa Valley Haggi- made by St Helena’s own David Katz of Panevino and SubRosa Salumi, who can be relied upon to use only the finest ingredients.
Haggis is traditionally served with “neeps & tatties”- turnips and potatoes to you- but these are allowed to stray far from their peasant origins at the NapaShakes dinner which goes full Napa Valley gourmet. The star attraction, presented by Brasswood Chef David Nuno amidst much pageantry and bagpiping, will be accompanied by Duck with Huckleberry Sauce, after Scottish themed hors d’oeuvres and a smoked salmon starter.
Bona Fide vegetarians can enjoy a delicious meatless version, but the rich true haggis is a magnificent mildly spicy dish that anyone who cares about food needs to try. It is a perfect accompaniment to Single Malt Scotch Whisky, but is quite at home with a full bodied Napa Cab as well. Both will be available at the NapaShakes Burns Night Supper on January 24.
– James Forbes