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On a road trip through the Spanish ecological map

There was an uncontained joy in the environment and very special energy. It was the first time in a long time that exhibitors participating in Organic Food Iberia left their virtual bubble to participate in a brick-and-mortar fair. Those fairs in which samples of wine and ham, are truly appreciated and networking is done in the old way: face to face. And I soaked up all these good vibrations instantly as soon as I crossed the threshold of pavilion 8 at IFEMA.

I had not heard of this exhibition until I received the invitation and searching for information about it, I understood why. It is a young fair, the first edition took place in 2019, which saw its steps truncated last year due to pandemic restrictions.

Organic Food Iberia is an international fair, organized by Diversified Communications UK in collaboration with IFEMA, and is also held in Australia, Sweden, and England. Currently, Spain is booming with organic agriculture and food production, so it was logical that it would have its event.

In fact, according to data from the organizers, Spain currently cultivates 2 million hectares of organic crops, the largest area in Europe and it is the fourth largest producer in the world. The consumption of organic products in Spain grew by 20% last year and we are already reaching the levels of other countries in the north of the European continent.

Spain currently cultivates 2 million hectares of organic crops, the largest area in Europe

In a fair of this type, the best thing is to walk and let yourself be carried away by your intuition, and this is what I did. In this time, I started in reverse mode, when my interest made me begin first with dessert and stop at the ice cream stand of the Runakay company, a pioneer in the production of artisanal and vegan ice cream. I have to say that the name is not the most accurate part of the product, since it is not very catchy and reminds you of a sports store, but the ice cream was delicious.

I was very kindly attended by Manuel Sanchez, the company’s delegate in Madrid, who gave me a taste of the mango sorbet, very rich, and the horchata with stracciatella that won my heart because it combines two of my favorite flavors. Luckily, I already can find it in Madrid so from now on it is included in my shopping basket.

Then I came across an interesting corner designated to “do a wine tasting yourself”, with a selection of organic wines. The most interesting of them was Granza Crianza 2015, made with Tinta de Toro grape by the Cyan winery from Matarromera group.

The DO Jumilla has played a prominent role in this fair, with a stand entirely dedicated to its wines. The answer is that its geographical conditions, in transition between the Mediterranean climate and La Mancha plains and its remarkable altitude, between 320 and 900 meters, and the climatic conditions give their vines a natural resistance to various pests, making it a perfect enclave for the production of organic wine. Currently, 70% of the wine produced in Jumilla is organic. A good example is Numun, from bodegas BSI.

My next stop was Dehesa de Luna winery, also located in the Albacete area. I must admit that I was attracted by the smell of the Iberico ham tasting. But this farm is much more than ham. Located in a unique enclave surrounded by 2,800 hectares of nature, it has been creating organic wines for 15 years from its centuries-old vineyards and protecting the fauna and flora that surround it.

Taking a break from wine, I came across a drink more unknown in Spain and full of healthy properties. Ginger beer, which is different from its companion ginger ale. Ginger beer is produced by fermentation like traditional beer. In California, ginger is a more than familiar spice, and an artisanal and fair-trade company from there, The Ginger People, has finally just arrived in Spain. In addition to this drink, they sell too really interesting products, such as ginger syrup, ideal for preparing healthy pancakes with a zen flair.

A farm as unique as Dehesa el Milagro requires a special mention. Behind a company with such a suggestive name is Blanca Entrecanales Domecq, who a little more than a decade ago turned a mix between dreams, utopia, and the search for a quiet life in what is now an established but innovative company. The project for this ecological farm was born in Alcañizo (Toledo) to treat Nature with the utmost respect so she, in return, returns us healthy products of the highest quality. On the farm, they try to be self-sufficient to the maximum through a closed production cycle in which the cattle are fed with their pastures and in which seasonal products are respected to the maximum.

The intention of its creator was also to make consumers participate in the excellence produced by the land. For this reason, its objective was to eliminate intermediaries in the distribution chain, and therefore its products can be purchased online. Their latest launches are a line of products already prepared such as meat for tacos, very rich, and also an ecological stuffed chicken with which they won the award for the best innovative product. We will have to have it on the radar for the festivities to come.

I still had two interesting stops to finish my tour of Organic Food Iberia. The ecological preserves Monjardin, a family business on the Navarra riverbank that has been producing quality products for more than 50 years. and another of my favorite products and which is now starting to hit the ground running in Spain: kombucha.

The first company in the country to make them by hand is Mun Ferments, created by Jordi Dalmau in Mataró in 2015. Kombucha, a common drink in yoga studios in the western United States, is a probiotic fermented drink made from green tea that improves intestinal flora and promotes the detoxification of the organism, and is also a guilty free soft drink since its composition of sugars and alcohol is very low.

In short, a very interesting route that combines tradition and innovation. Because they are not only compatible. They are a combination of success.

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Rice from Aragon, a high-altitude product

Not many know that Aragon, the Northeast under the radar Spanish region, has been producing rice since the 19th century. Although, indeed, its cultivation is quite a testimonial. Around 4,500 hectares compared to other communities such as Delta del Ebro, Valencia, Extremadura, and Andalusia.

Arrocera del Pirineo is one of its main producers. It is a second-degree cooperative made up of three other cooperatives in Aragon: Virgen de la Oliva, in Ejea de los Caballeros, San José in Sadaba, and Osca in Alcolea del Cinca. It is precisely in Alcolea where they have the mill that processes and packages the rice produced by the farmers of the cooperative exclusively.

70% of this rice is distributed in bulk, containers such as a big pack of 1,200 kilos or sacks of 25 kilos. This year it has been commercialized only in Spain, although normally a significant percentage is exported mainly to Middle Eastern countries: Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. “We produce a variety called Guadiamar, of crystalline semi-long rice that is highly appreciated in these countries,” explains Susana Hernández, director of the cooperative.

But the jewel in the crown is its own brand, Brazal, sold directly to consumers. It currently accounts for 30% of the production, although the cooperative’s objective is that in the future it will be the major form of distribution and sale. Brazal is a well-known brand in Aragon, but it can also be found in supermarkets in other cities such as El Corte Ingles and Alcampo.

We asked Susana Hernández what is special about Brazal rice and why the people that taste it become faithful followers: “Mainly the growing conditions. We are 500 meters above sea level. This creates challenges when it comes to cultivating because we are in a limit zone, we can only cultivate two or three varieties as we only count on 150 days from sowing to harvest”, she explains. “But this makes the maturation of our rice take place in September slowly, and this gives it a lot of quality. It absorbs the flavor a lot and it holds up very well without costing the consumer as much as Bomba rice, a variety that is widely used to cook paella”.

That´s why this product is highly valued by the hospitality industry and by a loyal public who, if they try it, don´t buy anything different. But it is difficult for this brand to make itself known outside of Aragon because Arrocera del Pirineo continues to have the limitations of a medium-sized entity to promote its product. “There have been promotional campaigns for Alimentos de Aragon in generic terms, but that does not mean a direct benefit to us,” she complains.

Another difficult challenge is the sharp decrease in cultivated hectares in recent years. According to official data, 4,500 hectares were cultivated last season. Ten years ago, the figure was around 12,000. One of the main causes is that younger farmers are not attracted to this crop, which requires more pampering and care than other cereals, especially during the summer.

The maduration of our rice take place in September slowly, and this gives it a lot of quality because it absorbs the flavor very well. Our rice is perfect to make paella

Another problem according to the director of Arrocera del Pirineo is that every year phytosanitary products disappear from the list of allowed products, without finding too many viable alternatives. Susana Hernández thinks that the rural and urban world continue to mutually turn their backs on many, despite what might seem a change of perception after the arrival of urbanites to the countryside after the Covid confinement. “Agriculture has to continue to be the main economic engine for the small villages, and our farms need to be economically viable. Add to this the bad reputation of rice for being a crop that consumes a lot of water. But this is not the case, because it is planted in clay fields. You put the water in, and it won’t go away”. On the other hand, rice crops take advantage of land that would be unviable for other crops, because they are very saline areas. “If there were no rice, it would be desert, with the consequent damage to the native fauna,” she says.

For her, the future is not particularly optimistic, but at least she does believe that the hectares cultivated today can be maintained. What her main objective is to grow the volume of their own brand. “It is a slow and continuous work, but we trust that consumers will continue to believe in the quality of our product”.

entrepreneurs wineries Wines

Get this special wine … before it flies

In Aragon, a well-known region in the NE of Spain, it’s uncommon to find a winery with two wins and the name of a saint as its logo.

Legend says that Saint Frontonio was beheaded on the banks of the Ebro river, but his head sailed upriver instead of downstream. This is where Frontonio winery gets its name. According to Aiyana Vilimek, Key Account Manager, “We also like to do things against the tide, constantly innovating”.

As a native of Aragon, I gravitate very frequently towards fruity wines in general and towards Grenache in particular. That is why I decided to try two of the star wines of this winery: Telescopico Carignan 2017 and Supersonico 2018. They surprised me even more than I expected because they had very unusual notes, more earthy and risky than usual. I decided to contact them to understand something more about their history and work philosophy.

Bodegas Frontonio is located in the small town of Alpartir, one hour away from Zaragoza. Behind this adventure, we discovered Fernando Mora, an engineer who always dreamed of being a winemaker and who started making wine in the bathtub at his home and finally pursued his dream in 2013. He continued his training until he achieved the title of Master of Wine in 2017. This is a select club to which only 416 professionals worldwide belong, seven of them living in Spain. Obtaining this title opened many doors for him to make himself known among winemakers and give impetus to his new projects.

“Here in the winery, we do the work in the fields and harvest in a very traditional way and very different from how things are done today,” explains Aiyana. “The grapes are hand-harvested and then trodden, and we till with horses”.

Frontonio winery is aware of the close bond between the natural environment and the identity of a bottle of wine. For this reason, they have made this determined commitment to a type of organic and sustainable viticulture, maintaining the native vegetation and working with some vineyards in poly-cultivation. They also maintain green corridors for animals to achieve a perfect balance between biodiversity and agriculture.

Elaboration in the winery

Once the grapes are harvested, they are worked by gravity in a three-story cellar, two of them being underground in old caves that maintain constant humidity and temperature. The wines are fermented in crates and used wood barrels so that the wood does not add too much character to the final product and the wine does not lose its vibrancy and character.

The hallmarks of Frontonio winery wines are their high acidity to achieve greater liveliness and freshness, with the predominance of fruit and berry notes so characteristic of Grenache, the original Aragon grape. “I would say they even have some earthy and aromatic herbs notes as well,” says its sales director.

“I would say our wines even have some earthy and aromatic herbs notes as well

Aiyana Vilimek, Key Accounts Manager

When I asked her to recommend three wines for this summer, Aiyana decided on a white wine and two reds: “First of all, I would choose a Frontonio Blanco 2018, made with white Grenache and Macabeo from our vineyards in La Loma and Los Santos. It has been fermented for 12 months in used wood to keep that most vivid part of the fruity note,” she explains. “And I would also choose two reds, the Supersonico and the Telescopico. The Supersonico 2018 has a touch of raspberry that makes it a very special wine. It is made at an altitude of more than 1030 meters with Grenache and some Macabeo in vineyards that are more than 80 years old. These characteristics give it high acidity and perfect freshness,” she adds.

But Aiyana loves especially Telescopico 2018. “In the 2017 vintage there were two reds made with Grenache and Carignan grapes. The new one is a fusion of both and in fact, we launched it just a few weeks ago. It is an organic and very special wine, and in my opinion, it is going to improve over the years and become a spectacular wine, since we have seen that this has happened with previous vintages”.

When I ask her if a good product or good marketing is more important to stand out in the competitive world of wine, Aiyana has no doubt: “A good product. Marketing is essential to make yourself known. Press articles or Parker scores are very good for us, but you do not keep a customer if that wine disappoints him. For us, loyalty to our product is essential,” she says.

It is essential for the winery to care for and maintain this loyal audience, who can be made from professionals or other winemakers, but also from people without specific training that have been enchanted by the fascinating world of wine. For this reason, Fernando Mora, Frontonio’s alma mater, creates tutorials on Instagram and a quarterly wine club in which something different is done in each box, with guest wineries and a wine made especially for that occasion in the winery. They know excellence is not achieved by isolating themselves and seeing other wineries as competition, but by collaborating and learning from them. This attitude is reflected in their amazing and innovative wines.

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Chefs Eateries and restaurants entrepreneurs

Friendly fire in Leña, Dani García’s new restaurant in Madrid

The steep stairs that lead to Leña, the new restaurant of the Dani García group, could well resemble Dante’s descent into hell. Basically, because what you do not expect is a dark place dedicated to the cult of the grill and the smoke. However, this story ends well, because the experience of enjoying this innovative concept is closer to paradise than eternal punishment.

I wanted to know this daring concept of steakhouse, whose mother house is in Marbella, García’s hometown, even though it is not what you could most want on a summer day. Even opening around this time has been a brave and unexpected move. And the truth is that I must admit that any time of the year is good for grilled food.

The fusion concept of Leña is to show and share the mark that international travels have left on the Marbella chef, especially the US and Japan. Garcia add to the mix his Andalusian essence and his total respect for the integrity of the product. And this is something that is sensed from the first moment. From luxurious American décor to Japanese-style tableware. Curiously, I immediately found myself at home, because the experience of the years I lived in Seattle recognized this combination as very familiar.

baba ghanoush

His effort to “democratize” haute cuisine is well shown here. Garcia abandoned the trap of a 3 Michelin star restaurant a few years ago to feel yourself freer and enjoy family and work balance. This is how he describes Leña concept: “a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros” if you are careful with the wine you choose, of course.

If you’re Spanish, you come to a restaurant like Leña for meat. And if it’s red, the better. But I also came for the vegetables. Because if you can make a humble eggplant unforgettable, baba ghanoush is the best I’ve ever eaten, you can get it all. Also, the bimi with romesco was very tasty, al dente as I like it. I decided to save the grilled Malaga avocado and the smoked burrata caprese for the next time.

“Leña is a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros”

The ribeye does not disappoint, but I fell in love with the pluma iberica, a piece less cooked than usual for me, but exquisite. The portions are more generous than I expected, and the restaurant gives you bread and butter that are delicious, so in the end we had no room for dessert. We will need to return to enjoy it, as well as the grilled fish like that you can find on the menu if your table companions took you to Leña a bit tricked and you are more “pescatarian” than carnivore.

Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager

On the day of my lunch, I had the opportunity to meet Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager of the restaurant, who was kind enough to spend a few minutes when the restaurant has their doors closes to the public to show me the backstage of it.

I had the chance to visit Smoked room, a very special place that arose unexpectedly when Dani García found the perfect space to prepare a tasting menu at a fixed price of 135 euros called Fire Omakase and whose dishes are chosen by the chefs with seasonal products. The food is prepared in front of the customers, who are sat at a “fake” bar. And I say fake because instead on high stools you will enjoy the meal in several comfortable armchairs raised at a decent height, so you won´t miss a movement of the chefs. In an attached room there are two other small tables.

Laura’s job is to make clients feel at home and at the same time to make them enjoy an unforgettable experience. “They take the effort to reserve and get groomed and, on many occasions, they come to celebrate special moments. It´s my job to make everything perfect,” she explains to me. In fact, many of her customers have become friends over time. They are regulars at all the group’s restaurants in Madrid: Bibo, Lobito de Mar and Dani Brasserie and they come to one or the other practically every week.

She tries to be more a clairvoyant than a psychologist. “The funniest thing about this job that I love, is learning to know what people want without knowing them.” To do this, she tries to be coordinated as much as possible with the rest of the team, especially on an always sensitive issue such as allergies and intolerances.

Laura has job experience in other restaurants in the group. In fact, she trained several months at Leña Marbella before she opened Leña Madrid. Comparing the clients of the two cities, she qualifies the Madrilenian as “demanding, but very faithful if you earn their trust” and considers that another of the elements that make Leña special is that it is a place where everyone feels welcome, and no special dress code is necessary. “There may be a table with a final bill of 70 euros and another with a bill that is close to 1,000. We treat both types of clients with the same love”, he concludes.

In short, Leña is a very special place in Madrid, a buzzling city now, as chef Quique Dacosta commented a few weeks ago, following the recent and upcoming opening of several luxury hotels. Leña restaurant itself is on fire, but it is worth being patient and insisting to get a reservation to enjoy this unique experience.

Laura Machado

Make your reservation here

Books Chefs entrepreneurs

Renee´s Erickson slow writing… and food

Elena F. Guiral

Her first book A whale, a walrus and a carpenter is the most beautiful cookbook I´ve ever read in my life but at the same time one of the most practical. Some of its recipes stuck with me forever, such as the halibut and morel sauce, the parsnip soup, and the Brussel sprouts with Espelette paprika.

When I had notice that Renee Erickson, one of the most amazing Seattle chefs and entrepreneurs had published her new book Getaway I tried my luck to know if she would be willing to talk to an anonymous Spanish blogger and admirer. To my surprise she said Yes!

Renee, as the rest of us, is still emotionally and financially recovering from the pandemic that has shaken to the bone especially the entertaining industry all around the world. “It´s been a really hard year and workers and customers are exhausted, but luckily things are improving with the vaccination campaign. Luckily, we live in a progressive state where science rules”, she explains.

Getaway talks about travel, cocktails, and informal food to share with friends, inspired by Erickson trips to places such as Rome, Paris, London, Normandy, and Baja California. She shot the photographs in 2019 without knowing she would be again a visionary as when she began to blend and honor local pacific northwest products with a European flair a long time ago. Because now everyone is dying to travel again, this is the perfect book to plan our most special summer holidays ever.

As a journalist and writer, I am perfectly aware of the epic amount of work and care behind such beautiful books, and Renee confirmed my guess. She doesn’t write in a conventional way, blocking 3 weeks of her time to finish all the work. “My books are conceived seasonally so you have to take the time to develop the idea and the book. We traveled to Baja in January, and shot the dishes related to Seattle in summer. It makes all sense to take a picture of a tomato in summer”, Renee adds.

She laughs when I ask her which is more challenging: writing a book or opening a restaurant. “Both are difficult because I want to be hands on fully on both processes although know I have and amazing team managing my restaurants so I can focus more on my books”. In fact, her restaurants are as deeply personal as her books and offer a complete vision of her way to understand beauty and cooking. I would say is a slow cooking and writing way of life.

I hear another laugh on the phone when I ask her why Spain is out of the table and out of Getaway. “In fact, it´s a great question. Spain is the first European country that I visited, and I loved it. I guess it has to be with the way life went, as my first restaurant Boat street café had a strong French influence, and the fact that I went to school in Rome”, she recognizes. “And my personality. When I love a place I always want to return and know more and more”

When I ask her if she has a specific reader in mind when she begins writing she barely tells me “culinary educated”. She wants to share all these experiences and friendships with the home cook in an easy but a special way with tips and discoveries she has been exposed too. “I collect a lot of amazing memories, as when all fishing boats were coming back in Normandy and scallops where so fresh that they were still clapping”, Renee remembers.

She is planning a trip to Sardegna or Greece to celebrate her 50th birthday, but I hope to see her soon in Madrid because a lot of interesting things are happening right now here. She promises to consider it: “I am a big fan of Europe. I love the tradition of all these individual places that are so uniquely different. It´s exciting to be part of the European culture and learn from that”. I will wait here for you, Renee.

Bateau restaurant Seattle

My Getaway particular discoveries

As I expected, you want your suitcase as soon as you begin to read Getaway, but trips will need to wait for now, so I browsed through the book to find the most appealing recipes to entertain and enjoy your virtual culinary tour. The things that surprised/didn´t surprised me where the amazing cocktails featured in the book with local spirits, from the Italian bitter wonders like Amara Amaro to Calvados, the Normandy pear and apple liquor. I am a bit lazy and clumsy to prepare them, so I will try for sure the ultra-easy concoctions as calvados and tonic or the white Negroni. Easy but adventurous, as I will expand knowledge of drinks for sure.

As a Spanish and seafood lover as Renee is, I will focus on the fish and seafood recipes such as the fried salted cod with lemon aioli and the clams with Dijon broth that I prepared with mussels (see below), because a cookbook is a path not a prison. And I will remember my Mexican friends from Seattle grilling pineapples and fish to prepare tacos in my barbecue. But any recipe is worth trying and it won´t disappoint you.

My mussels version of clams in Dijon broth

Read more about Renee

Bon Appetit

Eater

And buy her book here

Companies Festivals Food Images Products Wines

Teruel: The High Desert Magic of Spain

Elena F. Guiral 

Teruel has a millenary agri-food culture developed in an arid, cold and hard land with the particular characteristics of the High Desert: heights estimated between 2,000 and 4,000 ft (600 and 1,300 meters) with short and very hot summers and summers cold and sunny but with presence of snowfall. This climate gives its cuisine a very particular personality reflecting those its inhabitants and their extraordinary ability to adapt to the territory.

In recent decades, farmers and producers in the province, mostly small farmes, are struggling day by day to preserve this millenary tradition. This is also the best way to fix population in a desertified territory, with 9 inhabitants per square kilometer, and to protect and care for the environment against the threat of climate change.

On the occasion of the XXV Teruel Cured Ham Fair, the Chamber of Commerce of the city organized a conference and a press visit last week to publicize the most representative food products of this area of ​​Spain in which I was fortunate to participate .

Here a review of its star products to interest your palate.

Cured ham

Eclipsed outside Spain by the famous Iberian ham, Teruel ham also has much to offer the most exquisite palates. Teruel ham is produced from the Duroc pig variety, native to the province, at 800 meters of altitude and after a curing and drying process that always exceeds 14 months. All the pieces keep the hoof of the pig, a numbered label and the Mudejar star engraved on fire as a guarantee of quality and distinction.

The first museum in the world of Ham of Teruel, Aire Sano Experience in Puebla de Valverde, has been recently open to inform the general public about the process of making such a special product. It gives you the opportunity to enjoy an interactive experience around this product thanks to the latest technologies, learn to cut ham virtually and finish your tour in the Museum store and restaurant that stands out for its careful preparation of local products such as cured ham, trout, peach and saffron.

Foto Jamon aire sano

Bajo Aragon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Centennial olive groves spread out through the province of Teruel, especially in the area of Bajo Aragón, Bajo Martín and Matarraña regions accustomed to the hard and generous winters in their production of local Empeltre, Arbequina and Royal olive varieties. More than 8,000 families are dedicated to grow it since it is a Denomination of Origin: its production has to meet a series of criteria established by the European Union. In fact, their producers are small and are grouped in cooperatives.

Juan Baseda, its technical director defines this Extra Virgin Olive oil as “soft, sweet, bit bitter and quite fruity, so it fits with everything.” Curiously, although in Aragon its consumption is very common, the denomination of origin finds it difficult to compete with the rest of olive oils in Spain since its price is higher and the consumer is accustomed to a more intense oil such as the picual, apart from the fact that its production is modest, between 5% and 10% throughout Spain. It is currently exported to the US and Asia, and is especially appreciated in Japan for its more subtle organoleptic qualities that harmonize perfectly with the delicacy of japanese cuisine.

Calanda Peaches

Yellow, large, soft and at the same time full of flavor for growing in dry land of hard and cold winters. This is a late summer crop due to the cold climate of the area.

They are really unique because of their large size, never less than 73 millimetres. Each box is composed of 20 pieces. This is achieved with a technique in which 70% of the tree’s production is eliminated when the fruits are the size of a tennis ball. In addition to this, the fruits that remain in the tree are pocketed in bags one by one to protect them from pests and maintain all the aroma and flavor that makes them an extraordinary product. In fact, only 10% to 15% of the production is certified as Calanda peach.

melocoton calanda

Aragon Ternasco

The ternasco of Aragon, a kind of lamb meat, was the first fresh meat recognized with a specific denomination in 1989 in Spain.

Lamb has a vital historical tradition in Aragon, where its consumption doubles that of the rest of Spain, since it is very important to fix the population in the rural environment as well as sustainable since sheperds labor helps fight wildfires.

The ternasco weighs between 8 and 12.5 kilos and has been exclusively fed with cereals and breast milk, so its meat is soft but tasty and also very healthy since it has a high protein content in vitamins of B3, B6 and B12 and is a source of zinc and phosphorus.

You could also say that it is a product that has become fashionable due to its versatility and the modernity of its new cuts and presentations.

ternasco de Aragon

Bajo Aragon wines

The climate and the cold and hard land also characterize the wines of Bajo Aragon area, many of them made from centuries-old vines and are already part of the history and landscape of the area.

This is a small group of only 20 wineries that have decided to bet on quality  to be able to compete with other production areas in Aragon as powerful as Borja, Cariñena, Calatayud and Somontano, recognized throughout the world.

Teruel black truffle

The black truffle is the best kept secret of Teruel, one of the world’s leading producers and is one of the best survival guarantees for the province, being a highly prized crop that grows precisely in the poorest soils in mountainous areas very limited for extensive crops such as cereals.

Truffles arise from the symbiosis with native trees such as holm oak, oak or hazelnut. Until a few decades ago they grew wild underground and were collected thanks to the help of truffle dogs. Nowadays it is possible to grow them in a controlled way.

In Teruel, the black truffle stands out in winter and the summer truffle, less intense in aroma and flavor but also very appreciated in the kitchen and that is increasingly causing more interest since its collection takes place in summer and is a good reason to attract tourism to the area during vacation time.

The Truffle Growers Association of Teruel (Atruter) was created in 1996 to advise and help the pioneer producers of this crop, although at present it focuses a good part of its activities on the promotion of this crop still relatively unknown to the gastronomy of Spain. In fact, they have prepared the world’s first tasting tab, which serves to distinguish Teruel Trufer melanosporum black truffle from the Trufer indicum that is imported from China and has a much simpler and less intense aroma and composition but is used sometimes instead of the black truffle because of its lower price.

That is why education and training is such an important task. That is why Sarrión, a town in Teruel known as the world capital of black truffles, organizes each year an Annual Fair and numerous activities to discover one of the wonders of the Spanish High Desert.

perro trufero sarrion

Wines

Spanish vines, Washington wines. Spanish engineer, Washingtonian wine maker

Elena Fernandez 

Nothing could make me happier than seeing a wine maker… making wine. Even better if he is a fellow Spaniard compatriot. Javier Alfonso, owner of Pomum Cellars, was dealing with a batch of Tempranillo grapes just when I met him is his cellar at the Warehouse district in Woodinville (WA) last week.

This hub of wineries established in small garages is particular. Situated in the outskirts of the city around 50 little size wineries produce wine in a small scale but with great quality.

Many of the wine makers have second jobs and dedicate the evenings and the weekends to their passion. Javier did the same until 2012, when he decided to abandon his promising career as aeronautical engineer to fully focus on Pomum cellars.

foto-pomum-1

He began to produce wine in 2004 as a weekend hobby in his house garage “We wanted to produce wine for ourselves but our friends loved it and encouraged us to increase our production”. They finally moved to the Warehouse district in 2007 and to their current location in 2010. So, inspiring to know that Pomum occupies today the previous location of Betz wines, one of the most respected brands in Washington.

But Javier brought his love for wine making directly from his roots, a tiny Spanish village that I had the opportunity to visit a long long time ago, Castillejo de Robledo. In that historical gem his family has vineyards that belong to the DO Ribera de Duero, one of the most important wine areas in Spain.

“I soon realized that the continental climate of this region in Spain was really similar to the characteristics of  the Eastern Washington desert. With hot short dry summers and long and cold winters” this area is blessed with the Yakima and Columbia river waters. Javier picks the grapes cultivated exclusively for him for farm contractors in the Yakima valley area. Climate and soil are the key factors in wine making: “soil gives flavor, climate gives viability”

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He wanted to give a chance to our national grape, Tempranillo to grow up here in Washington, and as a pioneer he brought the first vine from Spain in 2005. “It was a long and complicated process managed through a Spanish scientific institution and the UC Davies in California because they had to check, clean and classify the vine to give it the final blessing”. To get an idea about how special Idilico wines are nowadays only around 20 wineries in Washington work with Tempranillo varieties and only 5 with Albariño grapes.

You can find two more Spanish grape varieties, Tinta de Toro and Graciano, in the Idilico wines: “Spanish vines, Washington wines,” as he explains with an open smile. But you only can get them through the wine club or dining in one of the restaurants that carry this wines in their wine menu in the Seattle area.

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Events Festivals The yummy chronicles Wines

Tasting Washington… and beyond

Elena Fernandez 

And here we are! Facing again a big food and wine event! The difference is that Taste Washington is not big is totally massive! So massive that is the biggest of his kind in the US. 225 wineries, 65 restaurants. 700 wines, 5,000 glasses, 200,000 wine pours. And these are only the estimated facts of the Grand Tasting weekend. Much more happened last week because this event who began humble but steady 19 years ago reinvents itself every year.

2016 edition novelties were 2 fun evening parties: Red & White Party and The New Vintage and 3 lunch excursions really rooted in the sustainable farm to table movement that is shaking the State and pretty much the way we are beginning to approach food in the whole country.

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Schedule issues only allowed me to attend Saturday´s Grand Tasting for the first time ever. This means a fresh new approach but some amateur mistakes driven by me and my impossible goal to envision the real size of the event. Because who is able to taste 700 wines without ending emotionally, intellectually and physically intoxicated? It´s simply impossible to do it although a fun winemaker from Walla Walla told me: “Some people try… and fail” giving me a metaphorical wink. “I prefer focusing on trying all the food”.

So you should have checked the impressive list in advance but you didn´t and you don´t have so much time now. And every booth is a magnet calling your attention… And then, between bite and bite You see Pomum Cellars! No problem in admitting that I find pretty awesome the idea of making Washington wines with Spanish varietals. I visited the winery last year and the wines didn’t disappoint me at all so first wine tasting of the day.

Javier Alfonso Pomum CellarsI was lucky enough to meet the owner and winemaker, Javier Alfonso, who came to WA to get his degree in Engineering and never went back. But he hasn´t forgotten his love for Ribera del Duero one of my favorite wine areas in Spain where the climate and terrain is pretty similar to Eastern Washington with cold winters, dry summers and a huge difference in temperature from day to night which gives this bold balance between sugar and acidity to the wine. Really good red wines at this winery particularly the Tempranillo, made with our unofficial official grapes.  And don´t forget Idilico Albariño to pair with oysters and crab.

April Redout from the relatively new Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser was so nice to give another clue about some new interesting things happening. She invited me to visit this center in Prosser (bucket list) and pointed me towards Intrinsic Wine Co. a new adventure from Saint Michelle wine group leaded by Juan Muñoz-Oca his head winemaker.

Not easy to talk with this expert, one of the real celebrities of the day but he was so nice to take a few minutes to explain why this wine is so different: “the grapes remain on the skins for 9 months and 10% of the wine is fermented in a concrete tank”.

It´s to interesting and innovative that in a back to the farmland era as previously cited Muñoz-Oca has taken a complete different direction creating an urban modern wine. Even the amazing bottle design “Fun, it looks like a flamenco dancer” I thought, it was created from graffiti art. Another really interesting wine really rich, I usually find Cabernet a bit plain and soft, for my list perfect to impress guests and hosts.

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Really fun the marketing campaign of Red Mountain AVA alliance with pins reading “Ask me why Red Mountain is so special” and other pins with the answers scattered through the association wineries. Sometimes you don´t need a lot of budget to make an impact.

DSC_0085Because when you are competing with other 224 wineries you have to use to imagination to stand out. Charles & Charles winery only needed to be the only ones… as far as I know to serve rosé wine. It´s fun this trendy trend of you not being a wine connoisseur because you drink rosé. I love rosé because it reminds me two things: summer and paella. You can find an occasion for every kind of wine. Other interesting classics with no failure rate… Betz Winery, Gorman Winery and again Alexandria Nicole Jet Black Syrah 2014. (link Seattle wine and food experience).
Kalaloch lodgeLet´s talk about food now. Nope I didn´t hit the 65 restaurants either but I tried to be pretty eclectic as I had to give my cork-vote to my favorite one. It looks like I missed the favorite, the Swiftwater Kobe short rib… Maybe because I am more into the seafood/fish world. Anyway I always will have room for torchon and foie, really good. Good to know there is a reliable French style place so close to home in Kirkland Le Grand Bistro AmericainThe nice people from another Capitol Hill classic, Gnocchi Bar, showed me how to cook them to perfection.

And even better to know that there are some guys curing ham Spaniard style in Leavenworth. Yes, they call themselves Cured. Leavenworth is the perfect place for that, cold and drier in winter. I bet they wouldn´t be so successful in the Puget Sound area. Really good products, a touch salty for my palate, but they point an extra good reason to visit the Bavarian village soon.

ostrasOf course I had to follow the legendary line to get some Aqua oysters. Simply amazing. In fact, I was about to give them my vote, nothing is more perfect than oysters with squeezed lemon to me. But I wanted to reward some creativity too so I finally picked Kalaloch lodge´s chef, Ashley Miller, salmon mousse. OK, salmon mousse is not so innovative but the truth is that I love simple beautiful, classic flavors, not 12 ingredients packed in a bite.

Fun because I had the opportunity to taste his food again 2 days ago during my first epic loop around the Olympic Peninsula. Superb ingredients treated with simplicity and respect, just the way I love it. And with this also epic sunset as background. Lucky me.

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Bloggers Chefs Events Festivals The yummy chronicles

A real NW food and wine experience

Elena Fernandez 

Writing about a massive food event like Seattle Food and Wine Experience is always tricky. It´s like trying to describe a complicated puzzle piece by piece to the eyes that never had the opportunity to taste, smell and see all the bounty and the complexity that the Pacific NW (and our special guest, California) have to offer.

You also know that your body and your mind have to physically endure a lot of food and alcohol offerings and you don´t really want to feel silly sick or terribly bloated after this. The idea is having fun not a post event nightmare. So my strategy is grabbing a first bite, usually It will be close to the entrance, jambalaya in this occasion, and a glass of sparkling water and go for a first quick tour all around the place to see and prioritize your favorite pit stops.

I was particularly interested in the American Lamb Board´s Brews and Ewes Experience but I wanted something lighter at the beginning so I dropped by Chinoise restaurant booth. Unluckily the Bibimbap that gave chef Thoa Nguyen the victory against Bobby Flay in the Food Network show had ran out but the poke salad was really good too… A bit too much spicy for my Occidental taste though.

So I needed a glass of wine to rinse my palate. White if possible. Chateau Saint Michelle Riesling was a really interesting option. Loved again the classic, everyone´s favorite, the dry one but Eroica brand was quite an interesting discovery for me a bit more  fruity but not overpowering.  Both good options not only to enjoy as a drink but to steam clams and mussels, two of my favorite seafood dishes.

Just landed in lamb´s territory I grabbed one of the winning bites of the day, the smoked lamb meatballs from Gavin Stephenson, chef from The Georgian at the Fairmont Olympic hotel. Cute tiny little pots were used to highlight the hearty spirit of the dish and the potatoes were simply awesome. I felt more disappointed with the cold and not so appealing sticky rice cake from Frolik. Lamb plays better with a more traditional simple approach as its flavor is strong enough. So interesting the info displayed by the American Lamb Board about recipes, pairing and cooking techniques that you can find also in their web.

Talking about funky unexpected meats… meats that we love to cook in Spain I was so lucky to bump into Nicky Farms based in Portland. This company, created to support small ranchers in Oregon sell to retailers and restaurants delicacies as quail, goat, rabbit and venison. I had the opportunity to enjoy a really goat mortadella prepared by chef Seth Fenald from Lark and to have a fun experience exchanging with them my tips as a Spanish cook. Talking about more meat I had the opportunity to taste dirty rice with pulled pork for the first time from Davids & co a small American restaurant located in Benarroya Hall and It was pretty nice too.

The truth is that the pattern of not so much fish at all and this will be mainly salmon was played yesterday too. It´s a bit disappointing that a place like Seattle who is at the sea doesn´t take full advantage of this location to enjoy even more the gifts of the sea.

Time for more drinks… chosen carefully and sipped frugally. Fun the honey beverages from Nectar Creek in Corvallis (Oregon), interesting my first Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards, although I´m a girl of Grenache and Syrah, really happy with Jet Black Syrah 2014 from Alexandria Nicole Cellars who will be released this summer. Close to zero the Spanish wines representation at the event. Only Bodegas Torres 2014 5G Garnacha paired with Iberico cured ham… A hidden gem that I hope any foodie didn´t miss.

I wouldn´t to finish my SWFE chronicle without featuring the small entrepreneurs and artisans that work so hard to fulfill their dreams and to give us amazing food or condiments. It´s always so fun to talk with them and to learn from their experience and their journey. Sportsmen´s cannery, Rusty´s cheesecake, Forte chocolates, Copperworks Distillery are only a few of them. Special mention for Alaska Pure Sea Salt and Co from Sitka (Alaska) who worked for 5 years to find the perfect flake salt, the salt that I call Maldon. A bunch of dreams, goals and experience under the same roof for a few hours. This is Seattle Wine and Food Experience.

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