When I rolled up at a stately purple Victorian whose address I’d only received hours before, Jamie Evans—better known as “the Herb Somm”—was waiting to greet me with warmth and charm. A vivacious oenophile and expert in Old World vintages, Evans is actively translating the language of tastings and terroir from the established wine field into the more freewheeling world of cannabis.

“You have one season, one seed, one plant to express itself, creating a vintage that will never exist again.”

Chef Holden Jagger, Altered Plates

Through her acclaimed “Thursday Infused” dinner series, she introduces well-to-do San Franciscans to cannabis cuisine and connoisseurship in an intimate setting, recruiting a rotating cast of chefs and purveyors to demonstrate their crafts.

“Cannabis is very complex,” she says, “just like wines, certain strains will make you feel uplifted or sleepy, so you can create moods.”

Evans needs to attend to some last-minute tasks (I’ve arrived early by invitation), so I settle into a plush sofa in the backyard to share a joint with Chef Holden Jagger, who’s driven up from Los Angeles to cook for tonight’s guests. A fixture on the So-Cal cannabis cuisine scene through his Altered Plates supper club, Jagger is one of the few chefs working with weed who actually grows his own. He’s also distinguished himself with innovative techniques such as pickling and salt-curing parts of the male plants or using their pollen as a seasoning, Holden came out of skateboarding culture enamored with the idea of “never been done,” slang for nailing challenging tricks in novel spots, and now applies this spirit of bold experimentation to cannabis cookery.

With unruly red hair and a hint of mischievousness about him, Holden says he’s been giving grow tips to other dads in Topanga Canyon, a bohemian enclave north of Santa Monica where he lives with his family. As we passed a jay of his tasty homegrown Royal Sour back and forth, Holden explains that this herb originated with a dearly departed grower named Ras Truth, formerly an influential seed breeder at Emerald Mountain who wrote extensively about the importance of nurturing living soil, and why sungrown cannabis compares favorably to indoor hydro grown under energy-intensive lamps.

Understanding Terroir in the Context of Cannabis

“Why do we celebrate a good bottle of wine?” Holden asks and answers, “Because it’s humanity and nature coming together to produce something special that’s a once-in-a-season opportunity.”

The concept of terroir—literally “of the land”—encompasses every environmental factor affecting the expression of a plant’s genetics, from farming practices and fertilizer regimens to the specific microclimate of the place where it’s grown. How terroir applies to cannabis is an ongoing debate between connoisseurs like Evans and Jagger, especially complex because weed is an annual plant, versus grape vines that live for decades or even centuries.

Chef Holden Jagger plates super-low-dose THC paired cuisine at Altered Plates. (Courtesy Altered Plates)
Chef Holden Jagger plates super-low-dose THC paired cuisine at Altered Plates. (Courtesy Altered Plates)

“With wine, you have a ‘good year,’ but with cannabis you can have a ‘hypervintage’ that is so exclusive…” Holden pauses before articulating this expansive idea. “You have one season, one seed, one plant to express itself, creating a vintage that will never exist again.” Coming from this perspective, a ‘good season’ for cannabis results in flowers that truly represent the weather and soil within the unique environment of a certain farm at a moment in time that can never be repeated, embodying these influences in a particular expression of cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Such specificity makes fine cannabis vintages even more precious and fleeting than any bottle of wine on earth.

Understanding the complexity of different cannabis cultivars, let alone the influence of terroir, requires years of devotion to the plant and its methods of production. Before a wine snob can assume the title of sommelier, they must pass a certifying test administered by The Court of Master Sommeliers, a process that requires years of study. While there’s no comparable program for “cannaphiles,” correctly guessing cannabis cultivars by taste and high alone necessitates a mastery of the plant gained only by the experience of growing it, or at the very least traveling to the regions where cannabis thrives to taste every varietal possible, talking to farmers and witnessing cultivation methods.

Yes, nice work if you can get it.

Need to Balance That Zin? Find Fresh Local Cannabis With Leafly Finder

Taking a break from party preparations, Evans joins us, explaining how for the average person who just appreciates good food, wine and weed, beginning to experiment with pairing all three sensual delights can be made simple and fun. For newbies to cannabis, Jamie recommends developing connoisseurship by tasting the same cannabis cultivar grown by various farmers and training your senses to recognize the nuances that differentiate them.

How to Pair Cannabis with Wine and Food

When working with chefs, Evans starts her process by first reviewing the menu, looking for standout ingredients to base her pairings on. From there, she employs her “B.I.T.E. philosophy,” an acronym that stands for Balance, Intention, Taste and Enjoy.

Balance

Consider the weight of the wine and the intensity of the flavors in the dish as well as the textures of the food. Evans matches light wines with cannabis cultivars containing citrusy limonene, while pairing more sedating strains with darker, richer wines. If the food is rich, creamy or boldly flavored, she looks for more acidic, bright wines to balance the dish.

Intention

Set the mood for your event by matching the food, wine and weed to the desired atmosphere. Evans starts with pairings to energize her guests, followed by later combinations of wine, weed and food that will soothe them.

Taste

Based on the science of terpenes, Evans looks for common flavors shared by the ingredients in the food as well as the cannabis by smelling and tasting both items side by side.

Enjoy

“Pairing should be fun, so don’t let it stress you out,” says Evans. “There’s really no wrong answers!” Experiment with different wines and weeds until you find matches that resonate on your palate.

Beyond this basic framework, you can also pair flavors based on locality, matching wines with weed from the same region, along with food made from fresh ingredients harvested from nearby farms. Seasonality plays a role too, with delicate, brighter flavors appropriate for summer and more concentrated, intense flavors better suited to winter.

“Take a bite of the food, sip the wine, smell the flower and taste the vape, all those flavors should work together harmoniously,” Evans says, recalling a pairing of Candyland and Rosé that became her summertime favorite. “There was a bright beautiful candied citrus nose to it” that worked well with sunny warm days and light, refreshing cuisine.

Turning to winter flavors, Holden waxes poetic about a phenotype of In the Pines stuck in his memory due to its incredible piney-ness, remarking that he “paired it with venison and mussels in a coconut broth, and that was one of my favorites.”

Need to Balance That Zin? Find Fresh Local Cannabis With Leafly Finder

Perched at the end of the long marble counter that serves as a chef’s table, Holden begins to assemble dishes, adding precise doses of THC with a tincture dropper. The entire meal contains 5 milligrams of THC, a microdose that’s barely perceptible to most cannabis users. Before each course, we’re also treated to passed vape pens and sniffs of Utopia Farms cannabis as Evans explains the wines and Holden talks up the food.

Dinner opens with a first course of Celeriac with purple potato, maitake mushroom, miso and honey, the celery root flavor complimenting Evans’ choice of a Balletto Pinot Gris 2017 to sip alongside. With notes of candied tangerine and citrus, the Pinot Gris matches the aromas and flavors from Utopia Farms’ Clementine cannabis flowers, as well as the deeper savory notes of the Master OG vape cart from Kurvana.

(Courtesy Altered Plates)
(Courtesy Altered Plates)

Capturing the feeling of summer fading into fall, the unctuous Roasted Duck Tostada that follows incorporates butternut squash, savory peanut sauce, salty cotija cheese and spicy salsa verde to create a rich dish with a slight sourness. Selecting for a wine that would stand up to the bold flavors of the roasted duck, Evans decided to go with a Buttonwood Rose 2017 because of its soft red berry notes, bright citrus, and cleansing acidity. Made from bolder Syrah grapes, this versatile rosé brings great depth to flavor, balancing the spicy richness of the duck while its citrus notes compliment Utopia’s Golden Lemons and Kurvana’s Citron OG.

Dessert brings Malt Semifreddo with roasted banana and chocolate, complimenting Utopia’s C. Banana cannabis flowers and a Banana Smoothie vape from Kurvana. With a burst of tropical fruit notes, the paired Rancho Sisquoc Sylvaner 2016 brings acidity and brightness, a great match for a rich dessert. Not overly sweet, this final wine cleanses our palates, bringing another soigné evening to its conclusion.

Being fortunate enough to enjoy gourmet food, wine ,and weed should (and does) inspire gratitude for the time and place where you find yourself, as well as the labor that went into producing your artisanal fare. Just like the practice of cooking or winemaking, growing and consuming cannabis ties us to the earth and the cosmos, bringing art and intention into our lives. Celebrating cannabis, educating yourself about it, and caring about how it’s grown introduces enthusiasts to true connoisseurship, deepening the relationship to the plant and the people who grow it, cook with it and love it.

Cannabis Pairing Shopping List

Replicate this experience at home (if you live in California) by finding the products featured at Thursday Infused at a dispensary near you.

Kurvana Vape Cartridges

Places to Find It:

Utopia Farms Flowers

Places to Find It:

(Elise McDonough/Leafly)
(Elise McDonough/Leafly)