Only eight weeks to go to this year’s Festa do Tinto do Salnés in Barrantes, an exaltation of the famous Tinto do Salnés or Tinto de Barrantes. This exceedingly fruity wine is a deep violet tinged, blackcurrant red colour, and quite tart on the palate. Drunk from traditional white porcelain bowls or cuncas, its teeth, gum and lip staining qualities earn it the name of manchamorros or pintalabios (lipstick), enflaming the passions of simple country folk for decades and winning over sophisticated wine gurus in more recent times. Tinto do Salnés is made from the grapes of hybrid vines, often referred to by local growers as Folla Redonda (Round Leaf). They were planted in the late 19th century and early 20th century in the wake of the catastrophic destruction caused by the phylloxera beetle, ‘imported’ from America in the 1870s. After a day tasting some incredible Albariño with Todd Blomberg of Benito Santos Winery in Vilanova de Arousa and Honorio Noya of the Veiga Serantes Winery in Ribadumia-Barrantes, we felt that the day wouldn’t be complete without relishing a few cuncas of Tinto Barrantes over an excellent ‘homage’ of ‘pulpo á feira’ and sargo (white bream) at Restaurante Tío Benito, a venerable institution whose patrons range from the humble to the rich and famous. Our wine tour guests on this occasion were Addison and Rachel Morphy who both work for notable wineries in Santa Cruz California (The Bonny Doon Vineyard and Sones Cellars). They described the wine as awesomely fruity and a definite joy to quaff. More about the festival. During the month of May, a team of professional tasters visit tiny vineyards and ‘furanchos’ like ‘O Manco’ and ‘Berto O Serradeiro’. ‘Furanchos’ are family homes uniquely licenced to open their doors for a limited period of time in order to sell the wines they make mainly for their own consumption and are usually served up with simple fare such as cheese, ham, tinned cockles, sardines, pickled clams, queen scallops in spicy sauce, pickled mussels etc. They are superb places to get to know the local folk and are sometimes located in lovely centuries old stone cottages and are totally unpretentious and very often absurdly cheap. So how does one find them? Look out for signs that say ‘Se Vende Vino de Cosecha Propia’ and a few bay/laurel tree branches hanging upside down from the garage door or outer wall. Back to the festival. The best wines of the vintage are painstakingly narrowed down from around two hundred and fifty entries to just three and duly awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. These are presented to the proud winemakers at the Confraternal Lunch held on the final day of the festival. This most ‘jolgorious’ event (boozy) is held in the Carballeira de Barrantes where the cosecheros (winemakers) have their stands, with live music and as always in Galicia, stands that sell the omnipresent ‘pulpo a féira’ (octopus) and ’empanada’ (a kind of pie), which are as Galician as the strolling pipers you’ll see over the weekend. Those that fancy some sophisto Albariño tasting amidst all the tinto de barrantes can contact the genial Honorio Noya at Veiga Serantes, which is signposted and just a close walk from the town. http://www.veigaserantes.com Photo: Lunching at Tío Benito, Barrantes.
The Food & Wine Festival of Alella, now in its 37th year, is a fabulous showcase of traditional Catalán cuisine. The festival, held in September, features a wonderful selection of vintage wines from Alella itself and from other parts of Catalunya. One of the principal crowd-pullers is the primer mosto or first pressing of the grapes. Don’t feel shy if someone thrusts what looks like a Victorian lamp into your hands for a quick slug, it’s a porrón or wineskin and the trick is to hold it as far away from your face as possible and avoid spilling its precious contents on your shirt, nearly impossible for beginners, but an essential part of the fun. The local bars and restaurants join in the spirit of things by laying on some incredible dishes. Definitely one for foodies.
Every year Catalunya’s biggest Cava producing town holds its annual fizz-fest. Things get underway with a stirring opening speech and the much awaited crowning of the Cava Queen, who, accompanied by her lovely ladies in waiting, pulls into town escorted by a police motor cavalcade from Barcelona. After a week of sumptuous banquets, a three hundred strong bike race, art exhibitions dedicated to Cava, evenings of Petanque, Catalan folk music concerts and Cava symposiums, it’s time for the Great Barcelona Train Ride. On the 12th October, a national holiday in Spain, over a thousand Cava aficionados ride the rails from Barcelona to San Sadurní de Anoia and are greeted at the station by an ecstatic welcoming committee of giants, big-heads and assorted nut-cases. Amid much pomp and fanfare they are escorted to the town hall and Cava Houses. After the customary tour of the cellars and an extended lunch, they blissfully head back to the Capital. A real must for Cava fans.
After a fishy conversation with Ruth of http://www.costadelsol-vacationrentals.com, I decided to take a look at the distinctly nondescript use of ‘Seabream’ in recipes translated from Spanish. There are many different sparidae or bream species available in plazas up and down the country, and in gastronomic terms, some are far more spectacular than others. Ask any Spaniard and you’ll guarantee a table-thumping debate.
Let’s take a look at just a few examples:
1. Besugo-Pagellus Bogaraveo-Red Seabream
2. Urta-Pagrus Auriga-Red Banded Seabream
3. Dorada-Sparus Aurata-Gilthead Seabream
5. Sargo-Diplodus Sargus-White Seabream
6. Aligote/Pancho-Pagellus Acarne-Axillary Seabream
7. Chopa-Spondyliosoma Cantharus-Black Seabream
8. Mojarra-Diplodus Vulgaris-Two Banded Seabream
As I said before, a visit to any Spanish ‘plaza de abastos’ will acquaint you
with most of these individuals, so it pays to know the Spanish name for
them, though they can, of course, vary from region to region, and sometimes within the same region, bizarrely. The names I’ve given seem to be the most common throughout the peninsula and are in a one to eight open-to-debate order of culinary quality. Besugo is a popular Christmas/special occasion dish up in Galicia, for example. No ‘ama de casa’ or housewife would consciously buy aligote/pancho if the occasion actually demanded Besugo, though they do look very similar. It’s the black mancha or mark near the gill cover of the Besugo that gives them away! For this reason they are also known as Ollomol in Galicia, as ollo means eye in the Galician language. The citizens of Rota near Cádiz, for example, are convinced that the Urta is the king of them all and even have a summer fiesta dedicated to them where bars and restaurants vye, in direct competition with each other, the preparation and presentation of their exquisite Urta la Roteña. So next time you’re trawling a plaza de abastos, ten cuidado que no te den gato por liebre, or literally, take care they don’t give cat for hare, a besugo is a besugo and pancho is a pancho. Photo: Urta or Sama Roquera
Considered by the world’s number one chef Ferrán Adriá to be the place in Europe, if not the world, to find the best seafood, this two week extravaganza in O Grove has to be seen and tasted to be believed. The event, held in the first fortnight of October, pulls in well over 200,000 people every year with attendance figures steadily on the rise. Mollusc and crustacean lovers will find themselves quite overwhelmed with the sheer variety of stuff being served up. The subtle flavours, textures and perhaps even aphrodisiacal qualities of mussels, clams, oysters, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, lobsters, langoustines, scallops, queen scallops, razor clams, goose-barnacles, velvet swimming crabs, sea urchins and spider crabs are a real challenge on the senses. Apart from all the action in the food pavilion, there are plenty of other activities, such as sculpture exhibitions, Galician and Portuguese folk dance and bagpipers and tambourine bashing girls in regional costumes. Info:www.turismogrove.com
A celebration of the culture of La Mancha, the land of Don Quijote de la Mancha and the emblematic molinos or windmills our heroic knight errant mistook for the enemy. Consuegra is right at the centre of Spain’s azafrán or saffron industry, providing about 90% of the country’s production of this wonderful spice. One of the key events is the Monda competition where expert hands separate the stamen from the flower, something that only the deftest of digits can achieve. Children, locals and saffron picking experts from other regions take part in this century’s old chore. Another highlight is the flour grinding in one of Spain’s best preserved medieval windmills where you’ll be able to take home a small bag of flour as a souvenir. A wonderful food festival and showcase of Manchego cuisine, featuring saffron of course, is held in Calle D. Jose Ortega y Munilla, along with parades, exhibitions, singing, dancing and sports competitions. The hot plains of Castile should be cooling down nicely in October too. Photo courtesy of Ayuntamiento de Suegra.
Still feeling somewhat giddy after the closing day/night of one of Spain’s longest running and most important gastronomic fairs, the LVIII Fiesta de Albariño. This year’s gold medal went once again to Señorío de Rubiós from Bodegas Coto Redondo in As Neves. The silver went to Pionero from Adega Almirante in Portas, near Caldas de Reis, and the bronze medal was awarded to O Casal from Bodegas Boado-Chaves from Ribadumia. One of the inexplicable entry rules is that one has to present a wine from the latest vintage. The powers that be decided years ago that Albariño Rias Baixas was a ‘young wine’ and therefore must be drunk young, despite the fact that it’s common knowledge an Albariño can gain some complexity in the bottle, no amount of gentle persuading will convince them otherwise. We live in hope. The photograph was taken at the Xantar dos Cabaleiros or ‘Knights’ Banquet’, with friends from the wineries that produce the excellent Mar de Frades, Paco & Lola and Valdamor wines.
Lamprey was widely eaten by the upper classes in mediaeval England, especially during fasting periods, as the flavour and texture of lamprey is more akin to meat than fish. Largely forgotten about in England today, except in the upper reaches of the River Severn, the lamprey’s last gastronomic foothold in Europe is on the French Atlantic coast, in Bordeaux, and on the Spanish and Portuguese sides of the River Miño in north-west Spain.
A bizarre creature, half parasite-half predator, it has remained largely unchanged for at least the last 360 million years. The lamprey has no scales, a cartilaginous backbone, a ‘nostril’ on its head, port-holes for gills and a hideously ugly mouth armed with razor sharp teeth. It uses this formidable set of chops to clamp itself onto its prey. Favourite targets include migratory Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout. They secrete an anti-coagulant which enables them to carry on feeding until they’ve had enough or until the unfortunate host croaks it. The lamprey is also a migratory species like salmon and eel and can be found in fresh water, lakes and the open sea, growing up to about 36” in length.
From January to April, the Galician villages of Arbo and As Neves on the River Miño draw gourmets from all over Spain. They come in droves to feast on lamprea and delicious angulas, or elvers, which enter the Miño from the Atlantic Ocean at the same time as the lamprey. Angulas are probably Spain’s most expensive dish, at around 60 euros for just a hundred gram serving. They are pan fried with garlic and whole cayenne pepper and served in a small earthenware dish, always with a wooden fork.
Lamprey can be served bordelaise style, stuffed or smoked. Casa Calviño in As Neves, is one of the known ‘temples’ on the River Miño to try this most typical of Galician dishes. While there I was invited to watch the complete process from beginning to end. I was taken to a vivero or fish tank, the size of a chest freezer, in the garage of the restaurant. Here I was cheerily greeted by the owner’s granddaughter, armed with a broom handle, and busy stirring the water in the tank. The lamprey were going bonkers, swimming around in circles and up and down the sides of the tank. I was told that this was vital; the lamprey had to be antagonised in order to reach the kitchen stressed out, thereby ensuring optimum results in the kitchen. To add insult to injury, these animalitos are also deprived of sustenance for a few days, which adds to their general grumpy disposition when they leave the vivero.
Preparing lamprey bordelaise style entails cooking the creature in its own blood, and mixing that blood with a good rioja, or a nice spicy red mencía from the banks of the Miño and perhaps a dash of bacardí for good measure. It’s believed locally that this stress factor has something to do with a chemical reaction in the blood, which is still ‘warm’ when mixed with the rest of the ingredients. But the lamprey is a fish, and fish don’t have warm blood, you might argue? Well the locals insist that the lamprey is not actually fish, but a bicho raro, or strange beast and end of story. Who would argue with them?
Meanwhile back in the garage, the granddaughter stood poised over the tank waiting for a lamprey to foolishly approach the surface; at this point she bravely plunged her hand into the seething mass of water, grabbed the writhing lamprey and dropped it into a white bucket. She then ran quickly up the stairs and handed the bucket to a lady, cook’s knife in hand, waiting at the sink. This half snake-half eel thing was then plunged live into boiling water for a few seconds and the first layer of its mottled greyish-brown skin was scraped away. With a couple of swift nicks, she deftly removed the still flinching head, central nerve and guts, taking great care to pour the precious blood into a pre-warmed earthenware dish. After a thorough rinsing under cold running water, it was then passed to another lady who made eight deep incisions along the length of its body. It was at this point that I was asked to turn my back. The cook was presumably mixing together, in just the right proportions, the all important ingredients of blood, wine, olive oil, vinegar, bacardí, bay leaf, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, finely chopped cured ham, garlic and onion for the final stage of the cooking process.
That part over and done with, I headed back downstairs to rejoin my hosts who were stood gathered round a table having an aperitivo. Thirty minutes later, the call came for me to head back upstairs again. I was ushered into the kitchen, glass of mencía in hand, to see the glorious end result – ten neatly stacked dishes of the exquisite lamprea a la bordelesa. After the customary team photo, we took our seats at a table upstairs for a fabulous four hour lunch where we were served both of the lamprey house specialities, the bordelaise and the stuffed, accompanied by a wonderful salpicón of finely chopped semi-hard boiled egg and strips of pimientos de piquillo, the famous roasted red peppers from northern Spain. Pudding was the local requesón, a riotously rich and creamy cheese curd made from cow’s milk and drizzled with the local honey.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the lamprey was hideous creature, it most certainly is, but it also has to be said that there’s nothing quite like it, gastronomically speaking. So if you’re Galicia bound early next year, reserve a table at the lamprey temple Casa Calvino for a truly memorable culinary experience.