The word ‘feni’ is synonymous with Goa for many of us. Feni is an alcoholic drink which is indigenous to Goa. It can be made from cashew apples or coconuts. Cashew apple trees are the ubiquitous presence in Goa, and so, cashew feni is also quite popular here. Although I am not much of a booze lover, I was curious to know about the process of feni making. After many vlogging tours to Goa, when I finally got a chance to watch the process of traditional feni making in Goa, it turned out to be totally fulfilling.
Fazenda Cazulo for Traditional Feni Making in Goa
During my search for offbeat experiences in Goa, I chanced upon the traditional feni making and feni tasting experiences at Fazenda Cazulo. This is a family owned feni brand, and they follow the age-old techniques of feni making even today. I was excited and immediately booked a tour to visit them. The tour to this 150 year old cashew apple farm enlightened me in many ways. It was here that I became familiar with the journey of cashew from a simple fruit to an intoxicating feni. I learned that every process from the picking of cashew apples to the distillation of the apple juice requires meticulous work and supervision. Here they make coconut feni as well. Karl, Aaron, Kshitij, and the entire team at Fazenda Cazulo were friendly, and gave us a wonderful tour of the place.
Pick Up Cashew Apples
When the day of the feni making tour finally arrived, I reached there pretty early with my friends, Martin and Abhilash. Karl gave us an idea about the place, its history, and the methods they follow to make the finest feni. The process of feni making starts with the picking of ripe cashew apple fruits. When I say picking, it means picking up from the ground, and not plucking from trees! The cashew pickers go around the farm with a long rod which has a pointed hook attached to an end. Using this hook and rod, they pick up the cashew apples which have fallen on the ground.
We joined the pickers with small baskets and took a tour of the farm. There were plenty of ripe fruits in the trees. I was tempted to pluck them, but Karl said no! We take the fruits only when they are so ripe that they fall down. Some fruits may be mashed and battered. It doesn’t matter. They all go through a single or double distillation process. So it all turns out well in the end. After gathering the cashew apples, the next step is to deseed them. As we all know, cashew is a fruit which has seeds or the cashew nut growing outside the fruit. It is easy to deseed the fruit. Just pluck out the top portion. The deseeded fruits are collected in a basin. The next step is the extraction of juice from the fruits.
Cashew Apple Stomping
This was the part that I was most excited and skeptical about. In the traditional feni making in Goa, stomping is the method by which they extract cashew apple juice. Crush the apples with your feet and take the juice out of them, how does that sound? There is no need to crease your eyebrows. The owners make sure that the stompers wash their feet in a chemical solution before getting into the stomping basin. This ensures that no dust or dirt mixes with cashew juice. So the cashew apple juice is totally uncontaminated. The method of stomping is not unique to cashew. Grape treading or grape stomping is a method that people all around the world use for traditional wine making.
As I wanted to personally experience every bit of traditional feni making in Goa, I decided to lend a hand (or foot) in stomping. Martin and I cleaned our feet and got into the battleground with cashew apples at the other end. The process is not as easy as it looks. After an initial crushing, our feet become slippery. There are ropes to hold on to, so that we can balance ourselves and continue crushing our opponents. The juice flows through a pipe at the end of the basin into a bucket. Karl told us that these days they use a machine rather than feet for crushing the cashew apples. With mechanisation, the process of fruit crushing becomes easier. After a few minutes of stomping, I could agree with him that machines are better off than humans.
Pots Dug in the Ground
Fazenda Cazulo is one of the popular names for the traditional feni making in Goa. As a visitor, I witnessed every part of the traditional feni making process. In the traditional method, cashew juice has to remain in earthen pots for 3 days before it goes for distillation. This ensures that the liquid is fermented well. There are special huge earthen pots for this purpose. They are half buried in the ground. Karl explained to us that these pots are 60 years old. Nowadays, feni makers have turned to plastic drums for the sake of convenience. Earthen pots are difficult to manage. Only tall and slender people can handle the huge pots with small round mouths!
Karl opened one of the pots which had a day-old juice in it. Give a light stir with your hands, and you see bubbles forming up. These bubbles are a sign that the liquid is not yet ready for distillation. After 3 days of fermentation, the bubbles die down and the liquid becomes calm. This is when they take it for the final step which is distillation.
Distillation in Firewood Kiln
Cashew juice fermented for three days is ready for distillation. I got to see the traditions kept alive here at the distillation area as well. There was a shack under which the distillation process happened. 80 year old Anton was in charge of this traditional process. From the way he was handling things, I could see that he was a pro in this. He lit a firewood kiln in order to boil the fermented cashew juice. The vaporised juice passed through a series of pipes inside a red laterite vat, finally condensed back into its liquid form, and came out through a pipe at the bottom of the vat.
The drink that we get after single distillation is urrak. Feni is what we get after double distillation. Both are alcoholic drinks, but feni is stronger than urrak. At Fazenda Cazulo, they have modern distillation facilities as well. What makes them different is that they have managed to keep their heritage and traditions alive. A visit to the place teaches us a lot about traditional feni making in Goa.
Alley of Feni Bottles
During the course of our visit to Fazenda Cazulo, we witnessed a piece of beauty in the form of a feni cellar! The cellar was eye-catching even from outside, with bright green colored doors and yellow colored walls. When they opened the door to the cellar, I felt like I was being transported to a movie scene. Soft lighting, tiled roof, and an array of glass and earthen bottles lined up on shelves on both sides! In the centre, there were many tables with chairs around them. It was like walking into an alley with beautiful bottles on both sides.
Karl explained to us that these bottles were traditionally used for storing feni. Currently, they do not use them to store feni. They did initially try storing feni in these bottles, but there was a great loss due to evaporation. At present, they are just fancy bottles which are neatly arranged in the cellar so as to give an ethereal experience to the guests. I would have loved a feni tasting session inside the cellar.
Feni Tasting – The Real Experience
The best of all is always for the last. At Fazenda Cazulo, they arrange feni tasting sessions beside a pool. There is a 150 year old manmade pond inside the premises of the farm. For the feni tasting session, they arrange a table and chairs beside the pool, in the most natural setting. There is something very unique about this arrangement. Water from the pond overflows into the sitting area, so we feel like sitting in an extension of the pool. With my feet immersed in water and fish nibbling at them, it was an entirely new dining experience. A fish pedicure along with feni tasting!
It was not just feni that we got for the feni tasting session. There was a lavish spread consisting of fruits, dry fruits, local sweets, chocolates and confectionaries. Karl led the session, and instructed us to taste feni with different fruits and chilies. The experience was different every time. The strong taste of feni made some flavors subtle, and some other flavors stronger. When I tasted pepper with a sip of feni, I could feel the burning on my entire face! There were three different types of feni to taste, cashew feni, coconut feni and dukshiri. But my favorite drink was none of these. It was Peru Meru, a drink which had a mix of guava, feni, chili and salt.
A visit to Fazenda Cazulo will be an unforgettable experience. For a feni tasting experience, you can call Fazenda Cazulo. (Hansel +91 8605008185; Karl +91 84548 75561; or Ahmed +91 8329719687) Watch the video of my experience at Fazenda Cazulo.
About the author: Ebbin Jose is a food vlogger from Kerala, India. He is passionate about travel and food, and shares his unique experiences with his viewers in a simple and compelling manner.