Cooking in Spain: The Food
By: Chris Dressick
As I was boarding the plane in Barcelona I walked by a small coffee stand on my way to the gate. As I got about one hundred feet past it I realized that that coffee stand holds my very last Café Cortado. Deep sadness fell upon me at that moment. Well, I walked back and got in line. And even though it was airport coffee, it was still far better than most coffees I have had at so-called “Gourmet” shops domestically. For the next ten hours I had plenty of time to ponder this, as I was unable to sleep a whole lot. So is it the beans that make the difference, the machine or the barista?! Or is it the love!
As I look back on my month long experience in Spain and think of the countless markets I shopped at, the cured meats I tasted and restaurants I was fortunate enough to dine at, the picture becomes clear. One word pretty much sums it all up for me. Love. Love of food. Love of the land. Love of the culture. Love of cooking. I think the respect and appreciation that goes into the growing and producing of foods in Catalunya trickles all the way down to the dishes we ate in the restaurants or the basic ingredients I started with in the Estate kitchen. I was even able to put together a last minute lunch for the Purple Patch crew of the forth week at the base of Vallter. A quick lunch on the road in a town with less inhabitants than the riders themselves.
Yes, that’s right the “Estate kitchen”. It has an almost magical sound to it. Almost as magical as the Estate and countryside were themselves. Having the opportunity to go to markets and shop for fabulously local grown produce that is in season and ripe was awesome. Here in the U.S. I take for granted that we can buy whatever we want year round. Doesn’t always taste good but we can buy it. In Catalunya, not so much. The markets had what was fresh, in season, and just picked. Let me be the first to say that the taste was amazing! It was like tasting an orange or tomato again for the very first time! You just don’t get to experience that sort of thing very often in life.
Let’s talk meat!!! Jamon Iberico! Oh yeah!!! This was possibly my favorite part. Tasting our way through several different kinds of ham (i.e. Spanish style prosciutto). There are dozens of varieties but they are especially tasty when the “Iberico” is attached to the title. So we had Jamon Serrano Iberico, Jamon Iberico, Jamon Pata Negra Iberico. All were from pigs that dined on acorns! The taste was unreal! Between the Jamons, fresh crunchy bread, local goat cheeses
and wine, who needs anything else? Ok, coffee maybe.
Let us not forget the countless other types of sausages we ate. Fresh, Semi-Cured, Extra Hard Cured, the varieties were endless and all delicious. The Chorizo Iberico was out of this world! Mexican Chorizo move over and take a lesson from a Catalunyan sausage maker! We had sausage for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I personally just couldn’t get enough. So many varieties and all so different and tasty.
Other meats I prepared like the farm fresh chicken and local rabbits and beef were all very unique in their taste and tenderness. Why? Diet perhaps?! Stress level of the animal?! I don’t have the answer but I can tell you that the flavor of everything I consumed was delicious. Maybe it’s back to the love. Food is grown and raised locally, and consumed locally. Know your farmer!
Who said the Mediterranean was dirty?!?! All I know is that some of the most flavorful seafood on the planet comes from that beautiful body of water! Clams, mussels, Langoustine, Shrimp, Sepia, Ponga, whitefish it was all a tasty treat!
What can I say, I could talk all day about how great and delicious the food was, and to work with these ingredients and prepare a massive spread nightly was about as fun as it gets. Using great ingredients, cooking tasty meals for a group of ravenous cyclists, popping corks and having a great time. It doesn’t get any better! Oh wait, it does. I was privileged enough to drive SAG each week for our awesome guests! How can that be fun you ask?! I ask you, Have you every driven over one thousand miles in the Spanish countryside? It was gorgeous!!! Hills, castles, valleys, walled cities, beaches, monasteries, restaurants, THE Pyrenees!!!
And, in each area the group rode through I tried to find local food produce there. Be it cheese, sausages, mushrooms, wine, etc. What a cool experience. Now that is cooking locally. I drank coffee out on the road every day for thirty days. In that time, including my last Cortado at the airport, I had one bad coffee. One folks, one. To me it shows a culture steeped in history that is proud of who they are and what they do. From the produce farmers, to the butchers I talked to and the ladies at the supermarkets working the meat and fish counters. It doesn’t matter what the job at hand is, it will be done as best as is possible. In Catalunya food is a way of life, it is consumed everyday just as it is here but it is that love and pride for what they do that adds to the finished product. Speaking of love, let’s not forget the killer Spanish wines! Oh yeah! Tinto de verano is my new love. I am going to start making T-shirts that read: Got Cassera?
Well, on a finishing note of my rant of how awesome my job was for one month, thank you. Thank you to all the guests that enjoyed my food as much as I enjoyed preparing it. I am so happy I got to meet each and every one of you. After all, it’s all about the love! Bon Dia !!! Chris a.k.a. Ritchie Dressick