From little acorns – how the finest jamon is created

While we are all still on a plant based diet kick right now, there is still room for meat that is ethically and responsibly sourced, traditionally made and totally delicious.

Away in the distance, under the hundreds of Spanish oak trees, large dark shapes are moving. An occasional grunt or squeal drifts our way and Antonio Hernández of the Dehasa ‘Los Pinos’ answers back with strange noises.

The black Iberian pigs prick up their ears, or they would if their ears weren’t so charmingly floppy, and a mob begins to move toward us. Continue reading

Wine cathedrals and wondrous wheeled adventures

Up in the Terra Alta in Northern Spain, they have an almost religious reverence for white Grenache and a building to prove it. I cycle the Greenway to discover more

Sunset over the mountains

‘I’m not much of a cyclist,’ I tell the man fitting me out with my bike and helmet. To be honest, and I keep this to myself, the last time I rode a bike it had gears labelled Sturmey Archer and my short trousers had name labels.

‘That’s okay,’ he replies, ‘it’s all downhill from here.’ ‘Story of my life’, I think, as I try to get onto the saddle in a dignified manner. I fail and the bike shoots backwards and I make contact with the crossbar in a painful way.

The old railway station

We’re at the Horta de Sant Joan train station in the Terra Alta Tarragona province  in Catalonia, or Catalunya if you wish to be politically more (or less) correct.

It’s a small and very pretty town on a hill, inhabited for many, many centuries, and also a place where Picasso used to hang out.

There was once a single-track railway line that ran up to here created by republican prisoners of the war in 1942. Continue reading

Sun, sea and sustainability in Ibiza

Known for its club culture, there’s also a different beat in Ibiza, one that’s all about sustainability, Zero Kilometre sourcing and the rise of the female chef.

A wild and lonely place

‘Skreeeeek, skreeek, skreeek’, I’m watching a man laboriously pull in his fishing net by hand. His small ancient local boat, called a Llaut, is bobbing about on the water between Ibiza and its smaller neighbour, Formentera. The net, all 5km of it is being slowly retrieved using a large wheel as a capstan. It’s badly in need of some WD40, hence the ‘fingernails down blackboard’ noise it’s making.

Not a large catch

Every now and then the fisherman bends down to retrieve a fish from his net. If it’s too small, it goes back over the side otherwise it goes into the cold box. His nets are only left out for an hour each time to avoid any chance of the fish being crushed to death when the haul is good.

As a method of fishing it’s old and ineffective, but that’s the point. The fishermen of Ibiza have embraced the need for sustainability.

You can fish over there!

On our boat, Pere Valera who heads the Ibizan Fishermen Guild, pulls out a chart and shows me where in the local waters large scale trawl fishing can take place, where it has to be done only in this old style and where it is totally banned so that the fish can breed in peace. This last area is Es Freus Marine Reserve of Ibiza and Formentera, which was set up in 1999.

It takes in the far south of Ibiza, the north, the west coast of Formentera and the space that separates them with a total area of 13,617 marine hectares, making it the second largest protected marine area in the Spanish Mediterranean.

Back on shore, at the Guild headquarters where all fish are processed, he shows me some more of how the system works. The fisherman all signed up in 2008 to an initiative called Peix Nostrum – Our Fish.

Bagged and tagged

Under this ‘brand’ bright yellow tags are clipped to each fish and lobster and these must remain attached all the way to the market, and the fish must arrive within four hours of being caught.

The tag gives information on where the fish was caught, precisely when it was caught and by whom, as well as guaranteeing it has been processed correctly.

Bullet de Peix

This means that every restaurant on the island can be confident its fish has been supplied in a sustainable manner. And that matters, both to the chefs and to their customers. Everyone loves the local fish stew Bullit de Peix and they want to know it’s been made with care.

‘None of the fishermen in Peix Nostrum wants to empty the sea,’ Pere says, waving a fish about. ‘We want fishing to continue for our children and grandchildren, so we only catch reasonable amounts of fish and shellfish. And it works. We’re the only part of the Mediterranean where the lobster is not disappearing, for example.

Eco and very friendly

Back on dry land to the west of the town of Santa Eulalia Del Rio, is Can Musón. Founder and driving force María Marí Colomar was about to retire from her work as a fashion designer when she was horrified to find a local child, when asked to draw a chicken, drew a box instead.

So, she picked up a spade and not a pen and created a wonderful place to teach the upcoming generations the importance of sustainability of local produce and of rare breeds.

Mari

Here on her 65,000 sq. eco farm she grows organic fruit and vegetables in profusion, as well as many herbs too. She also raises rabbits, pigs and goats, most of them local breeds that need protecting from dying out.

The produce is all sold out the front from a large market stall, as well as served in the simple but delicious cafe. This area is discreetly wealthy with plenty of expat and second-home Brits around. They have a very Notting Hill vibe about them, with the women drifting about in floaty boho dresses and hats, all topped off with subtle designer sunglasses.

They help keep the farm paid for, its main purpose being to educate the children who come out on regular trips to the farm school – S’al lot Verd (it means ‘the green youngster’ in Catalan), to see where food comes from and to be schooled in the need for sustainability.

A digestif

Mari puts me to work making a bottle of Hierbas, the local post-meal stomach calmer. Into a bottle of spirit go 21 fresh herbs from the farm, these will then steep for as long as possible to bring all manner of complex flavours and remedial qualities to the drink.

I screw the top on tight and hope baggage handling doesn’t turn the Hierbas into a big mess in my suitcase. That would really give me an upset stomach.

Zero Km sourcing is big with Ibizan restaurants. The closer the produce is to the plate, the better. Not just for the taste of course, but also for the freshness and the fact that no transport but Shank’s Pony is needed, which cuts helps pollution on the White Island.

People who cook in glass houses

At Can Domo restaurant, a beautiful Agroturismo hotel and restaurant created from a 17th Century hilltop farm by a husband and wife team and located up an axle-breaking dirt road in the north of the island, 18 km from Ibiza town, they have over 600 olive trees surrounding them. Arbequina olive trees and Picual olive trees are all tended organically to produce the award-winning fruity, floral oils they use to cook with and also sell.

A chef and his produce

They also have a vegetable plot that produces almost all chef Pau Barba needs to create his stunning dishes for his farm-to-table restaurant located in a glass-walled room across from his semi open-air kitchen. He cooks and his wife takes care of the design and running of the hotel with its 8 rustic-chic individually decorated rooms in whitewashed stone outbuildings

The wine served is from Ibiza; ‘of course’ you might say, but in fact it’s something you’d not have said twenty or so years ago because Ibiza just didn’t make wine then. Today though the island has around seven wine producers and one of the most successful is Can Rich.

Earthy goodness

Since starting up in 1997, Can Rich now produce only organic wines, and were one of the first people to make wine in Ibiza since the Phoenicians left about 2000 years ago.

Can Rich, like all Ibizan wines, differs from other Spanish wines. The almost non-stop continual sunshine of Ibiza means the red Monastrell grapes can be harvested earlier and so escape the full blasting heat of summer, and there are minerals in the grapes unique to the island, all characteristics which come out on the nose and the palate.

Monastrell produces a very earthy, vegetal smelling wine. I thought my wine was corked when first served it, but soon grew to love it and drank little else after.

Chef Sílvia Anglada

The sun is beating down at Club Nautic Sant Antoni and Ibiza Sabor 2018 is under way and packed with chefs, trainee chefs, suppliers and press. I can see Pere who waves cheerfully as well various other chefs I’ve met over the past few days.

A beetroot donut

It’s very much focused on sustainability and has a focus too on female chefs. Sílvia Anglada of restaurant Es Tast de na Sílvia, in Ciutadella, Minorca runs her restaurant on strict eco lines and demonstrates one of her signature dishes, a kind of cheese doughnut with a beetroot jam

Coca bread topped with roasted tomatoes

She’s followed by Marga Coll from restaurant Miceli, in Majorca who tells us her restaurant never has a fixed menu and is driven entirely by what she finds in the morning market. As she talks she creates a dish of coca bread topped with roasted tomatoes, dried fish and cheese from Can Caus an artisan producer.

Not your average Mr Whippy

Alejandra Rivas runs Gelateria Rocambolesc, a project of the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca fame, and she is married to Jordi Roca. Her demonstration of novel ways with ice-cream, both sweet and salty, was refreshing and it’s easy to see why she now has four gelaterias in Spain.

Paella all round

Lunch, of 12 courses, each prepared by one of the chefs, was a triumphant celebration of the Balearic produce, the passion for sustainability and the talent of the islands’ chefs. The giant paella finally served was the icing on the cake,

If you’ve been putting off going to Ibiza because you don’t dance that much anymore, think again. That side of the island is one very small part of what it does, so pack a knife and fork and leave the glowsticks at home.

Our thanks to my hosts Ibiza Travel and to all the marvellous chefs and producers of the White Island who work so hard every day.

Can Domo images sourced from their website

Delta Force

The eco-conscious Ebre Delta in Tarragona is unlike any other part of Spain. I took a few days to explore the rice, the food, the wine and even the sake.

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Paella is taken very seriously in the paddy fields

‘In a few square kilometres, I can find everything I need to eat,’ says local legend Senor Polet, as his friend stirs an enormous paella in the kitchen.

Outside the ancient house, a barraca style that’s typical of the area, the paddyfields of the Ebre Delta stretch away, stopping only at the base of the distant mountains in one direction and the nearby Mediterranean sea in the other. Continue reading

Snuffling for truffles in Spain

Italy? Yes. France? Of course. But Spain? Discover a region where the truffles and mushrooms aren’t just delicious but one of the area’s biggest industries and tourist attractions.

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Gourmet’s best friend

‘He got bitten by a snake out here a few months ago, he almost died!’ The man from the company Tuber Viveros ruffles the neck of his dog with affection, ‘but he’s okay now and happy back at work.’ His dog looks up at him adoringly, keen to get on with his job.

That job is to sniff out truffles, because somewhere in this massive plantation of trees stretching out in all directions, the black gold lies buried. The dog’s work is made a little easier by the fact that every tree is almost certain have a truffle or two amongst its roots, some ripe some not. That’s because the element of chance was reduced by a discovery back in the 1970s. Continue reading

Simply Red – Taking the Gastrobotanical Tomato Tour in Alicante, Spain

stairtomsAnyone stumbling slightly the worse for wear into the lobby in the Hospes Amerigo Hotel might be forgiven for thinking the DTs had set in. Not pink elephants but red globes are everywhere; they’re piled in heaps next to the reception desk, they’re lined up like tubby soldiers on every available spare shelf, they lurk by the lift doors and they offer themselves as trip hazards on the marble stairs. There really are a lot of tomatos hanging about in this chic converted monastery in Alicante old town.

The reason is simple, Hospes Amerigo is launching a new holiday idea for foodies who also love the sun, ‘Discover the Tomato’. For three days guests can immerse themselves in a local product; seeing how it’s grown, how it’s harvested, how it can be cooked and most importantly how it can be eaten. Continue reading

Tapas take centre stage at the Valladolid Tapas Contest

mcith_headsIt’s the annual all comers Tapas contest in Valladolid and Nick Harman has got a ringside seat. But as well as watching the three days of cook offs, he finds time to explore more of what this Spanish epicentre of small plate dining has to offer the food loving visitor.

I don’t mind eating horses but it’s very odd being simultaneously watched by them. Both horses are stone dead but they are very lifelike, very big and very, very stuffed.

They do rather worship horses in this northern part of Spain and when the best ones die they become decoration. I’m eating Shergar in the main hall of a ranch dedicated to the ancient art of fighting bulls on horseback, as evidenced by the sepia photos lining the walls. These days bulls aren’t really harmed, the rider ‘spears’ them with the three foot equivalent of the inside of a toilet roll, but the art is the same as my host shows me later with a macho display in his own private bullring.

First though some lunch. Continue reading