Take 4 bloggers, add a sprinkling of culinary activities, a generous dollop of local knowledge: the perfect recipe for a trip with Tasty Andalucia. By @iznoble
It’s remarkable that just one conversation is all it takes to cause a surge in productivity in your salivary glands. One unassuming Monday morning the familiar trills of the telephone were to bring great excitement to Entrelenguas, bearing news of an invitation on a gastronomical tour of Andalusia. For a foodie, the opportunity to indulge one’s inner gourmand is never to be passed up on and so mid-November I set off for Malaga, keen to RSVP to the invitation that had so whetted my appetite: a trip with Tasty Andalucia.
First up: a trip to a winery in Sedella, a mountain village about an hour or so from Malaga. Having whizzed up the winding hillside, fighting extreme dizziness before the wine tasting had even begun, we arrived at the vineyards. Sedella’s damp winters provide the perfect climate for viniculture, our drizzly reception proving no exception to the norm. Despite being greeted by reams of grey fog, we were assured that the mountain views were usually spectacular and in fact were what first attracted wine-maker Lauren Rosillo to the village. Holidaying in Sedella in 2006, he heard whispers of a long-lost indigenous grape, the Romé, and decided to investigate further. Fast-forward to the present day: having planted a new north-facing vineyard and revived a previously defunct south-facing vineyard, out of use since the 1940s, Sedella is now producing 3 distinct varieties of wine. Preserving ancestral agricultural techniques are at the heart of their activities – Sedella is one of very few commercial vineyards in Spain in which donkey-drawn ploughs are used to work the land. Admittedly, getting a tractor up 450 slopes would be somewhat of an uphill battle, so to speak! To produce such high-quality natural wine Rosello steers clear of pesticides and is almost witch-like in his use of traditional recipes and brews, liberally spraying his vines with boiled camomile water to fight possible sources of infection. He has also introduced spiders into the vineyard to predate on insects which could otherwise wreak havoc on the vines. Upon the discovery of one such spider in my wine glass, ‘don’t tell the others they’ll complain,’ it became clear that the classic waiter-waiter jokes cross boarders!
When in Spain, it can sometimes feel like talk of your 5 a day is referring to your jamón intake, rather than portions of fruit and veg. Come Tuesday morning, however, we were en route to Primaflor to meet a man on a mission to get Spaniards eating their greens. Primaflor is a family business which has its roots in floristry. Originally producing carnations for a German market, hence the name which conjures up images of Lederhosen and Oktoberfest rather than the sun-baked Andalusian plains, Primaflor has since taken a leafier path, diversifying into salad varieties. Based in Almería where they have 6400 hectares of land, the biggest challenge currently faced by the company is water shortages. An ingenious hydroponic system is however helping to make the most of every last drop, recycling the water in which their lettuces are grown. Agriculture is truly part and parcel of life in this province, entire families, from grandfathers to grandsons working at Primaflor. In fact, at a recent celebration dinner, held in honour of the company’s 40th birthday, the hard work of 20 employees who had been at Primaflor for more than 30 years was recognised at a prize giving. Incidentally, CEO Cecilio Peregrín explained to me that were they to have awarded prizes to employees who had been at Primaflor for 25 years or more that figure would have tripled to 80 employees, just one example of the shrewd business principles that have enabled the company to flourish! Leaving Pulpí on our way to the eponymous capital of the province of Almería I was struck by the juxtaposition of beautiful ocean on my right and the so-called ‘plastic sea’ of greenhouses (invernaderos), used to produce so much fruit and veg on the left. It so happens that Primaflor supplies a slightly more upmarket greenhouse, Rodrigo de la Calle’s Michelin star restaurant: ‘El Invernadero.’ During my next trip with #TastyAndalucia I wouldn’t mind stopping by!
Arriving in Almería we put our foot down, keen to get to the port in time to see the boats arriving with the evening’s catch. All manner of fish and seafood was being brought in, including the famous red prawns, ‘gambas rojas,’ so typical to the region. Safe in the hands of local marine biologist Elvira Morote, we were ushered into the auction in which all the fresh fish was to be sold. Just 10 years ago the auction was a more musical affair, all bidding was sung, but nowadays each buyer is equipped with a remote with which they can make their purchases – all mod cons! Even better, you don’t have to be buying restaurant quantities of fish to be able to enjoy this wholesale price. A new project, ‘Del barco a la mesa,’ (From the boat to the table) is making inexpensive fresh fish available across Spain. Keen to buck latest trends showing a sharp decrease in the number of young Spaniard regularly eating fresh fish, Elvira and her team have launched an internet shopping platform directly from the port. There’s no need to trek to the fishmonger, simply pop a mackerel in your online basket just as you would a new top from ASOS! Your chosen fish will be dispatched within 2 hours of arriving off the boat and they even include tips for checking that its fresh. The fish should have round eyes, shiny scales and vibrant red gills – all signs that it hasn’t lost lots of water and is fresh from the sea.
Bright and early on Wednesday morning, we headed inland towards Granada to visit another winery, ‘Bodega Muñana,’ and enjoy some local artisanal cheese. Once again, the ascent to the vineyard was not for the fainthearted, our chosen route featuring hairpin bends a plenty, however this altitude is essential to the wine production at Muñana. Situated 3700ft above sea level on the north side of the Sierra Nevara, the mineral rich snow melt from this mountain range provides the perfect irrigation for the vineyard. Mountain caves serving as cellars provide the ideal conditions in which to mature their famous Delirio wines, renowned for being particularly strong and inducing feelings of ‘delirio’ amongst their consumers! After many assurances that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, we got started on the tasting, trying wine of different ages. Younger wines tended to have a more purple tint, whereas older wines were of a deeper brown shade thanks to a lengthier ageing period in French oak barrels. We then met Ignacio from Quesos de Leyva, an artisanal cheese maker who produces various cured, semi-cured and fresh varieties from ewes’ milk. He explained an old Spanish proverb to us, roughly translated as ‘If you’re going to buy wine, whatever you do, don’t let them serve you cheese,’ (I promise the original was catchier) as strong flavours can distort your palate. He must, however, have been in cahoots with Muñana as such advice was promptly followed by a generous serving of his finest products! I must admit, no one was complaining as the selection offered up to us was finger-licking good, to the extent that we ate the lot – rind and all (this was, however, completely organic and fit for human consumption as opposed to the average plastic-coated cheese you buy from the supermarket.) We left Muñana bursting at the seams and headed off extremely merrily on our way!
On Thursday, we had the pleasure of spending the day at Castillo de Canena, a biodynamic olive oil producer. Wrapped up in gloves and scarves to fight against the biting November wind, we visited the olive groves to watch the somewhat brutal harvest taking place. First, a vibrating machine rocks the tree trunk to shake the olives from the branches, before a team of workers armed with sticks give the tree a good beating to round up any stragglers. As it so happens, a TV crew was filming a documentary on the olive harvest whilst we were there, so in the pursuit of the perfect shot some poor trees endured even more whacks, being ‘harvested’ more than once – as they say, there’s no business like show business! We left the olive groves for a spot of lunch in the farmhouse, a traditional countryside rice dish cooked over the open fire, making sure to wipe our muddy shoes carefully before setting foot inside. Being entirely biodynamic comes with its own specific set of challenges, Castillo de Canena has to produce all of its own compost, using manure from the sheep living at the farm. Despite having destroyed a brand spanking new pair of trainers, I could rest assured that the mud in which they were coated was certified organic and biodynamic! Our evening was spent in the estate’s castle, which provided a particularly regal setting for the olive oil tasting and dinner. Originally a fortress, the castle was purchased by Francisco de los Cobo, secretary to Charles 1st, as a wedding present for his daughter – a gift that puts your usual toaster to shame! He launched a huge DIY-SOS style renovation project, adapting the building to create a palace fit for the arrival of his daughter and her new husband. We enjoyed a spectacular meal in the castle’s feasting room, each course incorporating a different olive oil: from smoked to citric-infused. Olive oil tasting is a serious affair, the oil served in an opaque bottle to prevent tasters being influenced by its colour. When changing from one olive oil to another it’s important to cleanse your palette with something acidic – popular choices include slices of apple or mouthfuls of champagne (I know which one I’d prefer!)
Early Friday morning, four bleary-eyed bloggers hurried back to Malaga ready to catch their flights home. Brimming with stories and recipes to share with families and friends we bid farewell to Tasty Andalucia.
#Andaluciatasteslike wine, olive oil, cheese, fresh fish, seasonal vegetables…. and so much more! Embark on your own voyage of discovery to discover our region’s exceptional gastronomy for yourself.