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Chef Holden Jagger Discusses Being A Ganjier — A Cannabis Sommelier

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You’ve probably heard of a sommelier — those wine experts that can tell you about a wine’s heritage, tasting notes and other aspects that make it more or less valuable than other bottles. But have you ever heard of ganjiers? They’re basically the same thing except these experts specialize in marijuana instead of wine. 

And ganjier/​chef Holden Jagger is making it his mission to cultivate cannabis connoisseurship by offering dinners with a side of marijuana appreciation. Jagger teaches his guests about the characteristics of the strains they’re smoking as well as offering tips on how to taste the terpenes and other flavor notes in joints.

To find out more about one of the cannabis industry’s newest professions, we reached out to Jagger and chatted about what being a ganjier is all about.

Chef Holden Jagger

(This is the second part in a three-part series with Holden Jagger. To read the first part, click here.)

Is there anything you’d like people to know about life as a ganjier since it’s such a new profession?

It’s a very new profession. Having a grasp on cannabis and food and flavor is part of it.

But if you look at some of the larger things that sommeliers talk about — concepts of terroir [geographical characteristics that make vineyards unique]. And concepts of vintages and how certain years produce different flavors in grapes, and how those different grapes produce flavors in wine — there’s similarities to cannabis. There’s parallels to cannabis that we’re just beginning to understand.

I know a group of research scientists in Georgia who are looking into how terpenes produced by cannabis are effected by the environmental aspects of terroir. So it would be more of a seasonal sort of representation of how cannabis is impacted by the seasonal effects that are related to terroir. And how the mineral contents of native soil and the microbial contents of native soil could alter the flavor and taste and effect of cannabis. 

Not only is what I’m doing very new, but it’s also spurring interests in fields of science that are going to really dictate where we go from here. What I’m doing right now is participating in a conversation that just hasn’t had a chance to shine yet. 

Yeah, especially since some people in legal states are still getting used to learning the THC content of their cannabis. And other people have no idea what’s in their dimebags, or where it came from.

Absolutely, knowing the heritage of your cannabis and its background is still very new.

So what can a ganjier’ add to a dinner experience?

It’s about sharing your knowledge of cannabis and discussing the process of pairing food with something that doesn’t necessarily go with it.

Wine has been on people’s tables for a long time. But there hasn’t been a level of sophistication to wine in this country until relatively recently — with the fine wine movement, where bottles are worth thousands and thousands of dollars to investors all over the world.

There’s something to the mystique of what makes a bottle of wine worth that much money when really all you’re after is the inebriation. Let’s say you go to a wine dinner, and the sommelier pours you a glass of wine, and you’re like, What can you tell me about this wine?’ If they say, It’s 14 percent alcohol’ and that’s where the story stopped, the dinner would be not worth the up-charge to say the least. 

With cannabis, you can talk about rare heirloom genetics all up and down different states. You can pull from concepts of terroir and talk about where terpenes come from across the world. On a more local level, you can talk about how different regions of cannabis production — outdoor, in native soil — change strains, making them take on different characteristics in terms of how they look and taste and behave. And you can talk about how those differences affects the consumer. Just like you would with wine.

Being a ganjier is about bringing cannabis to that level of sophistication.

What do you want guests to take away from your dinners?

I want people to walk away having learned something about cannabis that they didn’t necessarily know — not necessarily about how it interacts physiologically with the body. But why the plant is so variant. Why these cultivators are so different. And what that might say about heritage and lineage.

How do you teach all that?

I try to start meals with an examination of cannabis as a vegetable as well and the different roles that the plant itself can serve in a culinary aspect. As a cultivator, I have a decent amount of access to different products and different varieties. 

What kind of pairing would you recommend as a starter for someone who is new to cannabis?

I would take tips from sommeliers on how to teach people to taste for certain notes. I wouldn’t put on the full dinner format because you don’t do that with introductions to wine tastings. It’s hard to be like Here’s a dish and here’s cannabis. Let’s talk about it.’ That’s a personal thing. 

You start wine education by trying to taste the notes. Let’s taste for strawberries in this wine.’ Out in front of the sommelier, there will be a bowl of strawberries, a bowl of blackberries, a bowl of almonds. There will be all these notes that you can taste for in wine.

For cannabis, I would start with a wonderful sativa variety called In the Pines by Aficionado Seeds. It has two strong phenotypes [traits influenced by the environment in which a strain is grown rather than its genetics]. One pheno is very, very much pineapple. And the other is very, very much pine needles. These are sister plants from the same mother, but they have vastly different characteristics and flavor. So we can discuss the similarities between them and how to taste the two separate flavor notes. 


Is In the Pines’ your go-to strain for pairings?

It depends. I’ve tended to lean towards OG Kush for savory items. Or any strain that kinda has that fuelly aspect. This last season, I grew a really wonderful representation of Cali Connection’s CBD OG, which is Taho OG Kush crossed with a high-CBD strain called Lions Tabernacle. It has the most fantastic burnt orange sorta flavor hidden amongst all those fuel notes. It’s been just such a great dish accompaniment for the whole winter.

Must be great for the terpene pull.’ Where did you get the idea of puffing on an unlit joint to taste the strain’s terpenes?

When I started rolling joints, I didn’t use a grinder. So my first experience of that cannabis would be the scent of it breaking up. That, as a cannabis user, has been what the experience is about — the touch and the smell of breaking up cannabis. I love the flavors of cannabis and the variety. It’s why I’m involved in food. Flavors and scents are what I enjoy most about the culinary aspects of my life. 

Do you use special rolling papers for joints for dinner pairings? Or will Zig-Zags do?

No, we do RAW. We put about 0.8 grams in a joint. And we do an extra-long, double filter when we roll them. It’s very elegant looking. The long filter will keep the smoke off of their hands while they’re eating. And it also gives the joint a nice volume of air for doing the terpene pull.

When you swirl a glass of wine, you’re not breaking up the scents that are in the wine itself. What you’re really doing is agitating the air, which is where the smell molecules are inhabiting. And that’s where you get the scent. So the wine is already releasing the scent molecules — they’re leeching off as the wine airs out.

Cannabis does a very similar thing by slowly releasing terpenes. If you grind up weed and let it sit out for a while, it’s going to lose a bit of it’s scent. So we use that extra space for air in the filter so that when the guest pulls through, they get a good representation of what the terpene profile is. 

How do you respond to claims that you can’t really taste the cannabis in joints because the fire and the burnt paper destroys the taste?

I smoke joints. That’s how I taste cannabis. It’s my personal preference. I’ve smoked plenty of joints and I’ve never felt impeded from tasting the cannabis. And the terpene pull is part of the tasting as well. I’m not opposed to any infusion, but my method is my own. And I stand by it. 

To learn more about culinary cannabis, check back tomorrow for the third and final part of our interview with Holden Jagger.

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