The day broke windy, warm and humid in Valetta. By 8:15 Louie and I were off to Malta’s interior near the famed “Silent City” of Mdina, the old walled capital city of Malta. Based on my request we were on our way to set up a visit with any serious grower of prickly pears whose fruit had found its way into my bottles. But, Louie took the request a step further.
He had pre-arranged for me to also meet one of the foremost scientific authorities in Malta whose expertise was in the science of the chemistry of, wait for it….prickly pears. So we raced around the curves of Malta to meet these gentlemen near the side of the road, next to nothing. It was here that I met with Charles and Joe the Farmer.
Charles was amazing. He is a noted chemist who has conducted clinical research in conjunction with Tulane University on the health benefits and unique compounds found in this needle crusted treasure. I learned from Charles that this is an insane fruit. Unlike the logical and nurturing grape vine, the prickly pear mother is tough as nails on her young fruit. The grape vine shields the berries to keep them ideally balanced under a canopy of dense cooling leaves. The Prickly Pear cactus says to its offspring: You got needles, you got a thick skin, you don’t need much water shut up and stand up. The fruit rises from the ends of the cactus paddles and is fully exposed to the hot sun. They have documented that these fruit still taste good and remain heathy at internal temperatures of over 150 degrees. Try that you punk Chardonnay!
The sugars in the prickly pear are more complex than those found in almost every other kind of fruit. I won’t bore you with the name. You can’t probably pronounce it anyway…Because of the unique sugars and metabolism of this fruit there are some pretty interesting compounds that can be isolated and derived from the skin and pulp by a form of distillation. So, Charles takes Louie’s fruit after he makes PRIQLY, and carts it away to a nutraceutical lab where they use the entirety of the spent fruit to create additives for skin care products, hang-over reduction pills and pet and live-stock stress reducing pills. Really. There is a protein that is derived from the fruit that helps reduce animal stress. The US is using some of these compounds as feed for hatchling salmon to better deal with the stresses of migrating from fresh to salt water as they grow. Food regulation is more severe in Europe when it comes to poultry. No antibiotics are allowed in poultry in Europe. Guess what many chickies are eating in their grain feed? Yep, a dollop of 100% natural, essentially organic, Prickly Pear powder. Prickly Chicks I guess.
Think of it, every time you empty a bottle of PRIQLY, some Columbia River Salmon, or a Euro-Chick is probably happier and more stress-free. And you did not know that you were a humanitarian!
Even Joe the farmer was impressed. We were talking in front of his 100 yard fence of Prickly Pear. He has been watching it grow for 50 years. Joe explained that his little wall of fruit, about 10’ tall (a midget by Maltese standards) and 12’ wide produces tons and tons of fruit each Summer. I learned that the best fruit is Summer fruit. There is a second crop, but, that fruit is basically sugar and not really very flavorful. I also learned that you pick these guys when they are just turning from green to yellow or red. If they have too much color, then the flavor is weak. There are 6 species on Malta. And, they assert that the intensity of flavor found in Malta is such that the Sicilian fruit from just 60 miles away can’t compare for flavor intensity. They think it’s the soil because the weather is very similar.
Charles promised to send me some literature on the amazing Cactus fruit later on. As we drove away to Mdina to see a 20” tall stand of ancient Prickly pears I was taken by the fact that indeed, these cactus grow everywhere in Malta. They define its landscape and its farms as a fence and wind-break. Trees do not get real tall in this environment so many are plated, many just appear. All you do is break a paddle off. Dry it in the sun for 1 month, cut it in half length-wise and stand it in the dirt. That is it. No feeding, no watering, no nothing. These are wild beasts. It crossed my mind that my 19 year-old son would say they are “savage”, my 16 year-old would say “that’s crazy”, and I say yeah to both descriptions!
I was grinning as we drove off from our close encounter with monster cacti in central nowhere to Marsalokk for a real fish lunch in a fish town with nothing but fish restaurants and fishermen eating and catching fish.
The visit really did remind me that PRIQLY really is exotic, seductive and unique. It’s hard to picture until you go there, but, you really are tasting the mystery of Malta and the Mediterranean when you drink it. Malta’s cool, and, I guess it might not be that way so much if everybody knew about it.
Charles and monster 22’ prickly pears