Olive Puentespina: Changing Our Tastes & Enriching Our Lives

I can still remember the first time I tasted the fabulous Malagos Bignay wine.  It was at the Holiday Gym at F. Torres Street.  Yes, I am a regular at Holiday Gym. Not to “work out,” but to “eat out” at their coffee shop, where Chef Paddy Lascano introduced me to a whole new level of eating.  I may not be among the most physically fit Holiday regulars, but I am definitely one of the well-nourished ones.
Olive Puentespina made Patmei's life taste better than ever

Olive Puentespina made Patmei’s life taste better than ever

While Chef Paddy and I were talking about the South Beach diet after lunch one day in 2006, Olive Puentespina dropped by with this huge jug of red stuff. Chef Paddy insisted I take a sip as he gushed about how good it was and how everyone who drinks it gets transformed. Curious to find out about how it could possibly change me, I excitedly took a sip. And I have never been the same again.

Malagos Bignay Wine, proudly made in Davao

Malagos Bignay Wine, proudly made in Davao

I have lost track of how many boxes –yes, boxes of 12 and 24 bottles — of Malagos Bignay wine I have ordered from Olive in the last four years.  They are my favorite gifts to give and I have converted a lot of avid fans.  Well, I am not exactly what you’d consider a wine connoisseur (I am not even sure how to spell the word), but I was fortunate enough to have lived in Northern California where my cousins and I often spent our weekends wine tasting in Napa Valley. So when we came home and found out that Pinoys have already started drinking red wine, we were impressed. But when we realized that red wine for most Pinoys meant Carlo Rossi and Novellino, we had to chuckle like people who know they have tasted better.  But Malagos Bignay wine is on a league of its own. I even gave some to our wine drinking friends from California and France and they all loved it. So you know it’s definitely world-class!
Then I tasted Olive’s yummy tablea cake in one of the food fairs at NCCC Mall. Again, I was hooked and recruited other foodies to my new discovery. I ordered hundreds to give away as Christmas gifts that year. For the really special ones, I gave tablea cake with bignay wine and it was such a huge hit that my family and friends would request this gift package for every special occasion.  When I got all excited seeing them serving tablea cake for dessert at the Malagos Farm Fair last weekend, Neil said, “Haven’t you had enough of that already?”  Apparently not.
World-class Malagos cheeses are in demand nationally and internationally

World-class Malagos cheeses are in demand nationally and internationally

When Olive introduced me to her special cheeses, I started ordering cheese plates (they come on a special stoneware plate) and hosting wine and cheese parties. I still couldn’t believe my good fortune of knowing Olive, who is, according to Chef Gene Gonzalez,  probably “the first Philippine cheese master” for having created a variety of cheeses that are unique in themselves and world-class.
That is why when Olive emailed me that she’s having a wine and cheese appreciation event during the Malagos Farm Fair (held last weekend), Neil and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  For an incredibly cheap ticket price of Php 250 per person, we got treated to a wine and cheese seminar; drink-all-you-can wines from Italy, Australia, and Chile; and eat-all-you-can Swiss Deli cold cuts, 12 varieties of Olive’s cheeses, unlimited pieces of french bread, and super delicious roasted goat marinated in garlic, rosemary and olive oil (another Olive concoction).
This wine from Chile is so good with aged goat cheese with wild honey

This wine from Chile is so good with aged goat cheese with wild honey

Being a bignay fan, my favorite cheese from the selection was naturally the Fromage Frais with bignay jam and Blush which is marinated in bignay wine. I still need to acquire the taste for aged cheeses, but I am getting there.  Olive is such a genius cheesemaker that her creations are easy to love whether you’re a sophisticated gourmet or a mere pedestrian.  Neil agrees with me that the Malagos Bignay wine tastes better than some of the imported wines we tasted, although he enjoyed the Carmen Rapel Valley Carmenere 2007 from Chile enough to buy a bottle to take home. It turned out that it was the international wine of the month for January 2010 under the premier series (we Googled it when we got home). It has an intense bouquet of red and black fruits, roses and chocolates, roasted coffee and spices.
Our very own kesong puti with tomatoes

Our very own kesong puti with tomatoes

In “The Science of Wine and Cheese,”  Hank Campbell wrote that our sense of taste is, contrary to popular wisdom, partially inherited but factors like culture and exposure make a difference, which is why the phrase “it’s an acquired taste” came into being.  He explained that we have four major taste groups sensed by specialized receptor cells of the human tongue — sweet, sour, salty, bitter — and the Japanese add a fifth one called “Umami” (meaning “meaty” and “savory” or the detection of glutamates like cheese and other protein-heavy foods).
The delicious roasted young goat (cabrito) marinated in garlic, rosemary and olive oil

The delicious roasted young goat (cabrito) marinated in garlic, rosemary and olive oil

“Taste” happens because specific proteins in food bind to receptors on the taste buds which sends messages to the brain’s cerebral cortex and we interpret the flavor.  Some people are reportedly genetically programmed to have more taste buds.  An average human can have 11 to 1,100 taste buds per square inch according to Campbell.  And women, like in most things, tend to have more taste (buds) than men. Campbell found out that people with fewer taste buds like cheese more often than people with exceptional taste buds because people with exceptional taste say they get a more bitter flavor, perhaps due to the calcium and milk protein.
Avic Alcantara of Cainta, Rizal is Olive Puentespina's big fan

Avic Alcantara of Cainta, Rizal is Olive Puentespina’s big fan

Smell and texture are also important (durian is definitely an acquired taste for most people). But Campbell said that tastes are not solely a matter of biology.  Culture and familiarity matter, too, that is why Davaoenos love durian and most Pinoys drink Carlo Rossi because it is readily available in all supermarkets and convenience stores.  If it were up to me, every store in the city should have Malagos Garden products so that every Davaoeno gets a taste of what real Davao produce is and realize just how blessed we are to live here.
Experts say cheese and wine made in one region tend to work well together.  It must be why we like Malagos bignay wine and cheese together best. It must be because it comes from one of the top most livable cities in the world.  It must be the best water and the fertile land. And, most of all, it must be because the woman who makes Malagos wine and cheese does so with lots of love and passion.
Olive, the amazing cheesemaker and french bread slicer

Olive, the amazing cheesemaker and french bread slicer

Olive Puentespina should be among Davao’s treasures, along with the Waling-Waling and the Philippine Eagle.
First appeared on Mindanao Times, August 10, 2010