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The disappearing

art of Maguey

- central mexico -

Maguey is the Nahuatl name for the sacred agave plant. The ritual of harvesting the sap or “aguamiel” from the plant is an ancient and intricate art form that is at the risk of extinction. In this film, we travel to Central Mexico with Slow Food Mexico where we shadow and interview a group of agave producers that have banded together creating a Slow Food Presidia to protect the biodiversity of the agave and the traditional practices surrounding its agriculture, cultivation, and processing. Our hope is to raise awareness, reverence, and support, around the plant and its keepers.

The cultivation process:
The Cultivation of Aguamiel: After waiting 10-12 years for the plant to mature, the heart of the Maguey plant is carved out using a machete, a knife, and a traditional barretta (a long iron rod with a spade at the end). After about 6 months, the cavity of the Maguey which has begun to heal will be reopened. One week later, the hollow cavity of the plant is scratched. The next day, the tlachiquero (a Maguey laborer who specializes in the extraction of Aguamiel) is greeted by a pool of cloudy, sweet, and viscous Aguamiel - rich in essential amino acids, sugars, vitamins, mineral salts, and natural gums. Now, how does the tlachiquero harvest the liquid from the plant? Using his lungs as a vacuum, the tlachiquero siphons the Aguamiel into an Acocote, or hollowed out gourd, and then deposits the sap into a container. The tlachiquero siphons the Aguamiel from the same plant every dawn and dusk for 3-6 months. After every siphoning, the Maguey cavity is scratched to stimulate the secretion of more sap. This scratching and siphoning occurs until the plant dries up and dies. Each plant can produce around 1,000 liters of sap within it’s lifetime. Upon being exposed to oxygen, Aguamiel immediately and spontaneously begins to ferment into a probiotic, and slightly alcoholic liquid with a viscous consistency. Once Aguamiel has been fermented to a certain degree (between 4 and 7° GL) it is called Pulque. The fermentation process begins inside of the plant and continues in a Tinacal, or fermentation room, where the sap is deposited into fermentation tanks. Here the fermentation is kickstarted with a stronger "seed" or "mother starter" which is taken from specially chosen Maguey plants. Pulque is usually consumed after 7-14 days. The longer the Pulque ferments, the more alcoholic the drink is. Pulque can further be distilled into a liquor called Pulcatta. To prevent the Aguamiel from fermenting, the Aguamiel can be reduced over heat into a sweet concentrated syrup (commonly known as agave syrup). For more info visit Slow Food Mexico or read this informative article.
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