Emilio Rojo – one of Spain’s most sought after white wines.

Emilio Rojo in his vineyard.  Adapted from an article by Xurxo Lobato/Omayra Lista published by El País on July 1st 2013. I have taken a few liberties with the translation.     

“La crisis no da en el blanco” – this headline, and quite a cryptic one for El País, a Spanish newspaper, can mean two things – that the economic crisis is not hitting the target, whatever the target is, or that the economic hecatomb gripping the country for the last four years or so is not really affecting the sales of white wine, at least not the one that Emilio Rojo makes.
Emilio Rojo’s D.O. Ribeiro wine is extremely sought after around the world. Around 5,000-6,000 bottles are sold long before they’re ready to be launched onto the market. The key to this enviable success is a ‘policy of cutbacks’ wisely applied to his vines: reducing production in order to obtain an optimum quality wine. The scarcity of the wine stimulates the obsession of the high end consumer intent on getting his or her hands on a bottle or two. Loyal customers have included the arch-famous El Bulli, Arzak and the King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Emilio Rojo diehards won’t even be able to taste it this year as the 2012 vintage won’t be available for purchase till next year. Not content with making just a great, great wine, he wants it to ‘grow up’, to ‘purge itself of the sins of youth’ during its time in the cellar.
Freeing oneself from the ‘dictatorship of time’, i.e. the local consumer preference for drinking white wines young, is a serious challenge for Galician winemakers. Casting aside oak barrel ageing, ‘sur lies’ fermentation and ‘bâtonnage’ seems to be the direction Galician white wine making will take in the future. In fact, notable D.O. Rías Baixas wineries such as Pazo de Señoráns, Pazo de Fefiñanes and Martín Codax already apply this process to their wines.
‘Lies’, or lees in English, are the yeasts responsible for alcoholic fermentation. They undergo a decomposition process in the bottom of the fermentation vats. In layman’s terms, these yeast deposits have to be stirred (bâtonnage) from time to time so they release a series of compounds which will improve the characteristics of the wine. According Galician wine guru Luís Paadín, “The yeasts reduce the oxygen level, thereby preventing oxidation so the wine keeps much longer”. The goal is that the wine holds up well in the bottle and can be consumed beyond three years, at the same time improving the bouquet and achieving a wine with more body. Every ten days, Emilio stirs the lees with a chestnut wood stick so that they settle evenly and create an infusion, conveying their rich properties to the wine. “A period of sixteen months sur lies enhances the wine giving it the character of a Vino de Pago or single estate/cru wine”, Emilio Rojo explains.
It’s the finishing touch inside the winery of a ribeiro that has been pampered right from its time on the vine. On an Atlantic climate, east facing slope, Emilio Rojo’s vines are almost as scarcely populated as the nearby deserted village of Ibedo, which is just the way he likes it, low on fruit but high on flavour. With his worn, calloused hands, this former telecommunications engineer, a combination of farmer and delicate wine whisperer, thins out branches, snipping away at bunches to obtain better grapes. He could easily make 10.000 litres of standard quality wine but prefers to sacrifice quantity for quality. “I’m a perfectionist, not an elitist”, he states. The rest is an alchemic blend of native grape varietals: treixadura – around 65% – with loureiro, lado and albariño. It’s a success formula that has this ribeiro rubbing shoulders with the most famous white wines in the world. A wine that’s served not only in the best restaurants in Spain (and that’s saying a hell of a lot), but also in the finest eateries of the USA, Japan, the UK and Denmark.
Paradoxically, the combination of shrewd ‘cutbacks’ in the vineyard and a captive export market have enabled this ingenious winemaker to ride out the storm currently battering many of his compatriots.

Xurxo Lobato from Galicia is one of Spain’s premier photo-journalists. You can view his work here: http://www.xurxolobato.es
                                                                                                                                

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Restaurante Acio – Santiago de Compostela.

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Meet Iago Castrillón and Eva Pizarro, joint owners of Restaurante Acio in Santiago de Compostela, winners of the 1st prize in the “Revelation Restaurant” category at the prestigious gastro show Madrid Fusion 2013. The jury, made up of more than forty representatives from the Spanish gastronomic press, placed their votes in absolute secrecy. This year, for the first time, 2nd and 3rd prizes were awarded to Abadía Retuerta of Valladolid and Apicius of Valencia respectively. Congratulations are order.

Adrian: How did it all begin for you at Restaurante Acio?

Eva: We’ve always worked at high-end restaurants. While on holiday in Italy once, a dining experience we had one evening had a huge impact on us. The cook was working alone in the kitchen, calmly preparing dishes. Lamb was roasting slowly in the fireplace. Dinner that night was fabulous, most of all because the cook himself came out of the kitchen to serve us a few of the dishes he’d prepared.

Iago: It changed our perspective a little and we started thinking about having our own restaurant, for the both of us where we’d cook the food ourselves, provide a calm, unhurried service and actually enjoy doing something we like… away from haute cuisine where you have predetermined roles and a brutal pace of work. So this idea gradually began to take form till it became Acio, our restaurant, where little by little we’ve built a reputation for our cooking, unhurriedly, at our own pace, maintaining our philosophy.  The awards and recognition came later, which came as a real boost enabling us to keep doing what we were already doing, without going crazy in the process. 

Iago, tell us something about your experiences as a chef in Madrid and London and why they were so important to you in terms of your current success.

My time at these restaurants provided me with the basis of the cooking I’m developing today at Acio.  At each restaurant, in each city, in each place I’ve spent time in, I’ve tried to absorb trends, ways of doing things, and of course, learn from the great chefs I’ve had the privilege of being trained by.

Adrian: A lot has been said in recent years about the concept of time and space, championed by people like René Redzepi, owner of NOMA in Copenhagen, until very recently the Nº1 restaurant in the world. What’s your opinion on these particular trends?

Iago: In the last few years it seems as if every restaurant has had to identify itself with one particular trend, or alternatively differentiate itself from that trend in order to have some kind of identity. I think that as chefs each of us has his or her own vision of cooking and he or she translates that vision into a set of ideas or trends that people will either identify themselves with or not. 

Adrian: How do you select the ingredients you use in your cooking?

Eva: The essence of our cooking is based on Galician produce. Galicia is a magnificent, natural pantry of high quality food products.  Iago goes to the Plaza de Abastos every day, the great market in Santiago de Compostela, and selects the ingredients he’ll use in his kitchen, placing great emphasis on seasonal items.  

Iago: Having said that, we don’t rule out the idea of fusion so you’ll find Japanese products, for example, adapted to our dishes, rice dishes…

Adrian: How important are the local farmers when supplying your restaurant?

Iago: They’re the ones who guarantee the supply of seasonal products, the freshest ones, the ones that are in their prime.  In order to achieve that, it has to be a two-way thing. You have to tell the producer what type of product you’re looking for and get him involved in your ‘cause’ so he comes up with the goods.

Adrian: Eva, what’s your opinion on natural wines?

Eva: Natural wine is wine made from the natural grape, neither adding nor removing anything from that grape. The net result will be a true reflection of the land the wine was ‘born in’. Using that definition of natural wine as a starting point and the commitment to environmentally sound growing methods, respect for the environment itself, the grower as the ‘author’, authenticity and singularity… I believe it’s the future of wine if we want unique wines that represent the terroir that produces them. In short, if we want wines to inspire and excite us.

Adrian: Do you have any one day of the week reserved for ‘special sessions’ as in other vanguard restaurants?

Eva: We don’t set aside a specific day of the week, but we do organize wine tastings, winery presentations and wine pairing dinners. It’s something extra that our customers enjoy and appreciate.  

Adrian: Since the closure of El Bulli, the world of what some people call ‘molecular cooking’ has evolved substantially. Where does Acio situate itself amid all this change, new trends etc?

Iago:  We do what we do, our cooking, the way we like it, the one we believe in. We don’t follow any kind of trend, we simply do what we think is best in any given moment. This means that at times you do traditional recipes that happen to sit comfortably on the menu with the very latest gastronomic techniques.

Adrian: On one occasion, Ferrán Adrià was asked if he ever ate ‘normally’.  What are your favorite ‘everyday’ dishes?

Iago: I love my mother’s cooking, traditional Galician cooking, with its slowly cooked stews: el cocido gallego, with ‘all the splendor of the pig’, los callos… Traditional, home cooked food, made with all the love and affection of our mothers.  

Adrian: Do you ever get customers that simply don’t ‘get’ your cooking, however much you try to explain it to them?

Eva: Normally the people that come to Acio already know something about us and our cooking. They know it’s a safe bet, a sure thing, though a very personal one. They tend to go with the flow and allow us to show them what we can do.

Adrian: Do you see yourselves opening a restaurant outside Galicia or Spain?

Iago: You never know. Right now, it’s ‘poco a poco’, the way we always wanted it to be. Taking short steps, but positive ones.

Of Sea Lamprey, risk premiums and toxic banking…

With the opening of the Galician Sea-Lamprey Season 2013 just around the corner on January 15th, I thought it only right and fitting that I talked to Nito Calviño of Casa Calviño in As Neves (Pontevedra), one of the ‘consecrated temples’ of Sea-Lamprey cuisine on Galicia’s River Miño. I have to admit that the first time I went to Casa Calviño I wasn’t exactly sure what I was letting myself in for. I was doing some research for a gastronomic piece which was later published in Living Spain Magazine, at the time the definitive journal on Spain and all things Spanish.

The very idea of tucking into what is essentially a parasitical fish with a hideous blood-sucking mouth, cooked Bordelaise style, i.e. in its own blood, albeit with the addition of red wine and some distinctly medieval spicing, seemed a little daunting. Little did I know at the time I would be transformed overnight into a total Sea-Lamprey nut, compelled to seek her out (she’s grammatically feminine in Spanish) at least three times a season, which runs from the beginning of January to the end of April.

As Neves is a pretty little village nestling in the hills that overlook the majestic River Miño and Portugal, it was in this idyllic setting that Casa Calviño’s host Nito Calviño spared me a few minutes to talk about his passion for Petromyzon Marinus or Sea Lamprey.

Adrian McManus: What are your expectations for the coming season, taking into the critically low water levels of last season and the bleak economic situation right now in Spain?

Nito Calviño: In spite of last year’s poor catches, the prospects for the coming 2013 season are looking very good, due mainly to all the rainfall we’ve had so far this month. The ban on the extraction of sand from the river bottom, introduced in 1999, has also gone a long way in improving annual catches. Given the fact that lamprey and other species lay their eggs in the sand, dredging and extraction had a catastrophic effect on their reproduction cycles. Regarding the grim economic situation the country finds itself in, we sincerely hope our clients will grasp the opportunity to come and enjoy a dish that can only be eaten for the first four months of the year. As front of house manager of the restaurant, I can assure you we’ll rise to the occasion and strive to ensure our prices are competitive.

AM: Casa Calviño has a long history. Where did it all begin for you?

NC: Casa Calviño was founded in 1935. I actually belong to the third generation of this family business. In 1935 it was a ‘tasca’ or simple village bar where my grandfather sold the typical tapas of the day and the local Rubiós wine, which of course is very well known today and absolutely perfect for pairing with lamprey. The second generation began to specialise more exclusively in the lamprey area and during the 1980s the business really took off with the house undergoing considerable structural change, but also introducing the necessary culinary developments along the way.

AM: Apart from the classic Bordelaise style, featuring freshly caught Sea-Lamprey, how else do you serve it?

NC: Basically, we prepare lamprey in three different ways: Firstly, in the classic Bordelaise style i.e.  braising it in its own blood in an earthenware dish, served with boiled rice and crutons. Secondly, we offer stuffed and rolled lamprey, which contains good cured ham, hard-boiled egg and ‘piquillo’ peppers. Finally, there’s smoked lamprey which we grill ‘a la brasa’ or over charcoal and wood.

AM: What wines pair well with Sea-Lamprey?

NC: As I mentioned previously, the local Rubiós wine, a young, fruity red and made from a local grape variety is highly recommended as is the excellent Mencía red from the Ribeira Sacra appellation located upstream from us.

AM: Are there any other house specialities you serve if fear and loathing of ‘the beast’ gets the better of your customers?

NC: One of the most popular dishes is our ‘cabrito lechal’ or roast suckling goat which we serve either roasted or in the form of fried ribs that we call ‘costilletas’. You can also order our other house special ‘callos’, a classic, spicy stew made with tripe, chickpeas, shin of beef and homemade chorizoFor fish lovers our menu also features locally caught produce from the Galician rías or estuaries and some of the best veal and beef in Spain.  

AM: Well it goes without saying that you’ll be seeing me quite soon, so I’d just like to wish you all, and especially Doña Maruxa, the ‘jefa’ and heart and soul of the operation, a very happy Christmas and New Year. Is there anything you’d like to add?

NC: Only that the lamprey season will begin on January 1st and run through to the 30th of April and that we look forward to seeing our friends, old and new. Have a very happy Christmas and a better 2013.

 

LITTLE GEM OF A HOTEL IN CAMBADOS


A stroll around the ancient empty streets (at least in February) of Cambados is always a joy, but when one stumbles upon this absolute pearler of a boutique hotel just a few yards from the grandeur of the Praza de Fefiñans, it’s a challenge not to wander in and have a nose around. Not intending to stay the night, I meekly asked the receptionist if we could just sneak a peek. The man couldn’t do enough for us. After introducing us to the charming owner of the establishment, we were given an exhaustive tour of the hotel where we saw a succession of tastefully decorated rooms with the decor accent firmly on the classic with a dash of Laura Ashley thrown in for good measure. Each room was slightly different to the previous one, with georgeously appointed, spacious bathrooms. Just before we left, the owner confided that times were extremely tough for the service sector, though luckily his establishment was already fully booked for the big summer party, the Fiesta de Albariño in August. Hardly surprising, looking at the place. I’m in absolutely no doubt that this will be the place I’ll be recommending to friends in the future. Hotel Real Ribadomar also offers its customers a unique dining experience in the Restaurante Ribadomar, one of the finest seafood eateries in town, offering the best of the bountiful Ría de Arousa, but that will be the subject of another post.
http://www.ribadomar.es

Not just any old tart.


Tarta de Santiago, Galicia’s most famed dessert, was not long ago declared, in gastronomic terms, a protected species. The designation itself, known as an IGP which stands for Indicativo Geográfico Protegido, is basically a tool which affords this most Compostelan of desserts a means of protecting its image and reputation in the modern world. The declaration was greeted with satisfaction by the those in the industry, who pointed out that it was only the beginning, but that together with the authorities, real steps could now be taken to control what is sold in many establishments as Tarta de Santiago. Several months on, it’s still possible to encounter tartas labelled de Santiago but whose ingredients are not strictly in compliance with those approved under the new regulations, but cases brought before the Tart Inquisition are now thankfully few are far between. In accordance with the declaration, the authentic Tarta de Santiago must be made exclusively of almonds, sugar and eggs in exact proportions: 33% Mediterranean almonds, 33% sugar and 25% egg. Other ingredients such as grated lemon rind, sweet wine, brandy or aguardiente de orujo may be added, as long as the proportions of the basic ingredients remain unaltered. The Cruz del Apóstol Santiago or St.James’s cross that adorns the tart and makes it easily distinguishable from others is ‘drawn’ with icing sugar as the final touch. Any other added ingredients, however cool or trendy, will surely detract from the true essence of this Galician dessert par excellence and, therefore, damage an image wrought over decades of toil in the pastelería. So the next time you’re looking for Tarta de Santiago, be sure to check the list of ingredients and the all-important IGP label. It’s not just any old tart, you know.

CARNIVAL CAPER IN PONTEVEDRA


The provincial capital of Pontevedra is very special indeed. Apart from boasting one of the most beautifully preserved mediaeval quarters in Galicia, its Carnival traditions are a law unto themselves. While most places end their festivities on the night before Ash Wednesday, with the cremation of a sardine, Pontevedra goes one better and holds its final bash three nights later on the Friday. Not content with mourning the demise of an oily fish, this noble town decided back in 1983 to honour a parrot by the name of Ravachol. When Carnival was re-established after the dictatorship, a lot of head scratching took place regarding the choice of mascot for such a posh town. It was finally decided to honour one of its beloved former citizens, a garrulous macaw from the turn of the century. Around 1900, the wonderfully named Don Perfecto Feijoo owned a botica, or chemist, very close to the lovely Capilla de la Virgen Peregrina. This place was a daily hive of activity and gossip, attracting the hoi-polloi and intellectuals of the day. Legend has it that Don Perfecto’s parrot was a very special one in the fact that it was trained to weigh up customers and then inform him if it was worth his while climbing down the ladder. The parrot would also let fly with ribald comments from time to time and not surprisingly, he swiftly became the talk of town. Ravachol’s untimely death was met with great consternation and much public grief. A funeral cortege with full civic honours was laid on and the whole town turned out for it. Over a hundred years later, thousands of pontevedreses, dressed strictly in mourning attire, period or modern, follow the cortege down ancient streets once again, cramming into the main square for the cremation, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth. A special mention needs to be made of traditional Entroido tucker in Galicia. Boiled Cacheira, or cured pig’s head, served with grelos or turnip greens, Cachelos, the excellent Galician potato, and blood red chorizos. This huge mound of meat and veg is usually served with the local gum-staining Pais Tinto red wine, with Gaseosa or soda/lemonade, and poured into small white porcelain bowls called Cuncas. For desert, order Filloas, delicious cinnamon flavoured pancakes, and a shot of the tar-like Licor Café, local coffee based livener made from Augardente or fire water.

LAMPREY PIE – A DISH TO SET BEFORE THE KING

In accordance with a centuries old English court tradition, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was presented with one on her coronation day in 1952. In the small Galician town of Pontecesures, on the River Ulla, lamprey pies are still very much a part of local tradtion. Every year, coinciding with the lamprey’s long journey from the ocean to its freshwater spawning grounds, usually from early January to the end of April, thousands of these prehistoric creatures are caught in special traps called ‘butrones’. Pontecesures, along with the villages of Arbo and As Neves on the River Miño, holds an annual lamprey festival in April where you can sample the beast in its many guises: smoked, stuffed, fried or braised, bordelaise style. The pies themselves are a work of art and coveted prizes are awarded at the festival for the most beautiful examples, taking into account tradition, presentation, creativity and, most importantly, texture and flavour. Many thanks to my good friend Carlos Cadilla for his excellent photo.

DEATH IS NOT THE END…..

A trip to Fisterra, or Finisterre to BBC Radio Shipping Broadcast enthusiasts, on Galicia’s treacherous Costa da Morte or Death Coast would never be complete without experiencing what is, without any shadow of a doubt, one of the finest fish and seafood restaurants in all Spain, A Tira do Cordel. This restaurant’s excellent reputation is known far and wide and Julio Iglesias has been known to land his helicopter on the langosteira beach in front of the restaurant for a quick seafood fix. The speciality of the hotel is pescados a la brasa, or grilled whole fish. Whilst Lubina or Sea Bass is the star dish, there are other excellent species on offer such as Escarapota, a local variety of Scorpion-fish, similar to the French Rascasse.

The live stuff is kept in large oxygenated tanks out back called pozos, though these are not visible to customers, unlike the grill area, which you pass on the way to the dining room at the back. Whilst there I tried the excellent value menú de degustación or sampling menu at 35E, and was served percebes, or goose barnacles, almejas a la brasa, or grilled clams, longueiróns or local razor clams, a half kilo Sea Bass, croca con patatas, a very succulent rare fillet of beef with chips, flan casera or home made crème caramel, coffee and licor café casero, the very potent home brewed coffee liqueur. I ordered a bottle of the excellent Albariño Don Pedro de Soutomaior, which wasn’t included in the price of the menu.

The restaurant owner Pepe is a real character and regaled me with lots of stories about the Death Coast. One of the things that amazed me most about the place was the fact that Pepe’s son and some of the other cooks go out at night in small boats with rods and actually catch Sea Bass from secret locations along the nearby coast, proudly showing me the equipment they used. The fish they catch is served up along with the rest of the stuff that Pepe gets from a select group of trusted suppliers. He assured me that the fish still have to be practically ‘breathing’ when they arrive in his cold storage area, where everything is then packed on ice to keep it in tip- top condition. I loved the place so much that I broke my golden rule of never going back to the same place twice during the same visit, but who could blame me? A life changing experience.

Short Finned Mako Shark a la plancha…

There are lots of good reasons to visit the lovely fishing village of Cedeira in Galicia’s Rías Altas, but the humungous portions (the photo shows a tapa!) served up in the Kilowatio are what draw me back time after time. Marraxo (Isaurus Oxyrinchus) or Short Finned Mako Shark is cooked simply though triumphantly on a ‘plancha’ or griddle with a little olive oil, parsley, sea salt. The Kilowatio’s reputation is known far and wide with people driving up from Madrid on a weekend for their fix of Marraxo. The flavour and texture is quite delicate and not in the least bit fishy, so perfect for the adventurous fishphobe. The Kilowatio, unsurprisingly, is always packed in summer and getting elbow room at the bar can be challenging, but the service is fast and friendly. Counting the days to my next incursion. Deputisima madre!

VAI DE MORTO QUEN NON FOI DE VIVO

There’s nothing like a ghoulish threat to kindle your imagination, and San Andrés de Teixido, Galicia’s most important religious pilgrimage after Santiago de Compostela still manages to prick the conscience of thousands of devout romeros or pilgrims year after year. The Galician take on Christianity has always set it apart from the rest of the peninsula. Many of the romerias or pilgrimages have their roots in the early Church’s rather unsubtle attempts to suppress paganism in the area and it’s not unreasonable to assume that places like Finisterre and Muxía on the Costa da Morte and San Andrés de Teixido, all precariously perched on the edge of the then known world and facing west, would have been, in their day, highly revered sanctuaries of Celtic sun worship.

The legend of San Andrés de Teixido tells us of an unconvinced hard travelin’ Apostle that whinges about being sent to such an inhospitable, uncivilised and far flung outpost. Finally breaking down in tears, he agrees to go, but warns Jesus that nobody in their right mind would travel to such a God-forsaken place to pay homage to him. Jesus tells him not to fret, that he would make sure that thousands of people down the ages would travel from far and wide to visit his sanctuary, but San Andrés remained unconvinced. Jesus then proceeded to utter the dreaded words, in Galician, so as to avoid any possible misunderstanding: ‘Vai de morto quen non foi de vivo’, which translates roughly as ‘he that didn’t go during his lifetime will go in the afterlife’, thus securing the faithful attendance of both the living and living dead. Heavy stuff.

Since then the stream of romeros to this wind-lashed hamlet on Spain’s stormy north-west coast has been continuous. The 12km route from the charming fishing village of Cedeira winds through some stunningly beautiful countryside, and the sloping granite cliffs here are the highest in Europe at 2,034ft. The path down to the village begins at the cliff-top Mirador Os Cadrís and is clearly marked by two wooden posts with yellow markings. Traditionally, the most devout of pilgrims make the descent on their knees. Today you’re more likely to see them do a time-saving, knee-bound lap-of-honour of the lovely granite 16th century chapel that houses, according to tradition, the saint’s bones.

The first written record of a chapel here dates back to the twelfth century when the Knights of Malta paid for the construction of a sanctuary on the site of a much earlier building. The wall murals inside the church depict the saint’s martyrdom and there is a magnificent 18th retablo, a typically ornate Italian Baroque reliquary, and a spookily lifelike statue of our man sporting a fabulous wig. The faithful deposit offerings of candles and exvotos, disturbingly weird wax effigies of hands, legs, feet, heads etc, in hope of the saint’s intercession in a number of areas, ranging from affairs of the heart to illness in the family, pets and even the family cow.

Local expert Antonio ‘El Tas’ Rey Caruncho confided to me that San Andrés de Teixido ‘moved millions of euros’ throughout the year, that a euro on a candle or exvoto here and a couple on a rosquilla, a kind of donut, there, generated a handsome income for the locals who live exclusively off the rich pickings of the pilgrimage. The entrance to the village is lined with stalls that hawk t-shirts, postcards, bottles of homemade augardente, the local hooch made from distilled grape-skins. There are several versions of this and all are great, though the uninitiated should tread carefully as augardente can be deceptively easy to knock back. Look out for herbas, made with local herbs, tostado, or toasted, crema, a cream liqueur similar to Baileys and the wonderfully potent licor café which can dangerously prolong any sobremesa or after lunch/dinner round the table chat.

After you’ve paid your respects to Andy, head down to the Fonte do Santo, or Saint’s Fountain, which is said to be fed by a spring under the altar of the church. Although someone has crudely daubed no potable or unfit for human consumption on this listed fountain, this doesn’t seem to deter the romeros, who, after they’ve made their wish, fearlessly drink from it. Many pilgrims gleefully pluck what is known as the herba de namorar or lovers’ herb, a sure-fire way of enlisting the saint’s help in the quest for a mate. What did seem strange was the enormous variety of herbs being plucked, which in turn led me to believe that no-one really knew or particularly cared about how to actually identify the herb in question. An odder and perhaps more tacky side to the romería is the custom of tying bits of white tissue paper, Tibetan style, to trees, bushes and barbed wire fences on the way down to the fountain.

I asked several people about it, but nobody seemed to be able to come up with a plausible answer. The huge Galician rubia or blonde cow that sat nearby, ruminating on the kerfuffle taking place didn’t seem very convinced either. Another deeply rooted San Andrés superstition are the almas en pena, or souls of the departed.
They can take the shape of reptiles and amphibians like lizards and toads and are said to represent the ones that didn’t hit the pilgrim’s route in their life-time.
Children down the centuries have been told the tale of a lad who, in a fit of boyish cruelty, was about to stamp on a toad that happened to be hopping along the pilgrim’s way. Just before the lad’s boot came crashing down on the hapless creature a voice croaked out ‘Don’t do it José, it’s your Grandfather’. Faith can evidently move mountains.

After fighting my way past the trinket floggers I was relieved to find the village bar-restaurant. One of the great things about romerias in Galicia is the fact that the comilona or mega pig-out is never far away. The sun had passed the yard arm and we entered the bar for an aperitivo. The place was packed with pilgrims and eco-tourists, the term the Spanish Tourist Board uses these days for ramblers. A swift glance at a sign up on the wall told me I was in percebe country.

The percebe or goose barnacle (pollicipes cornucopia) is Spain’s most expensive crustacean, which, depending on the time of year, can reach up to 120 euros per kilo. So why then are they so expensive? Basically, because the gathering of this most sought-after animalito can be downright suicidal, with percebeiros losing their lives on the rocks almost every year. So why don’t we eat them in the UK then? Probably because it hasn’t occurred to anyone yet that something resembling Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s frost bitten toes could be in the slightest bit edible.

‘El Tas’ and his lovely daughter Luz were shocked to hear that entire colonies of percebe on Britain and Ireland’s Atlantic coasts, probably capable of sustaining entire communities, were left to their own devices. If the Canadians and Moroccans could export their percebe when demand in Galicia outstripped supply, then why couldn’t the British and Irish board the percebe train too? Percebe for thought. The annual pilgrimage of San Andrés de Teixido takes place annually on September 8th when the wantonly beautiful fishing village of Cedeira swells to bursting point. So remember, O que non vai de vivo, vai de morto. The choice is yours, but take heed of the western wind and the stormy weather.