The reign of Spain

The unstoppable duo – Casey Death, renowned Australian food researcher and tour guide, and Spanish chef and cookbook author, Frank Camorra — are back again to lead an overeager bunch of Aussie foodies throughout Barcelona in September. When I first heard about this tour, I felt a pang of homesickness rush through me, longing to return to this country that I so adored. But rather than sitting around listlessly daydreaming about my Spain days, I thought I should share my experience – to show to you all how crazy it would be for everyone else to not take up this opportunity. See link below for details of how to book.

So, let’s go back 12 months…

I’d been spending way too much time behind a computer- my back ached, I was drinking coffee at the speed an Englishmen drinks beer at Oktoberfest and I was tired, constantly tired. So when I got a phone call from Casey to ask if I’d like to come with her on a culinary tour of Spain, I almost packed my bags on the spot. And that was before I knew that Frank, my favourite Spanish chef, would be joining us, too.

On a side note, the tour also conveniently coincided with the re-launch of our new magazine Top 10which just so happens to have an international section! But who’s taking notes, right?

The journey began, quite appropriately, in Madrid, the heart of Spain. Within hours of arriving I adopted “buenos tiempos” (said in a horrifically Aussie accent) into my vocab, which means, “good times”. Because that is what I had, all across Spain, for ten whole days.

To kick-start our culinary adventure, we sat down to a long lunch at the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin (and yes, you can check the Guinness Book of Records!). We feasted on platters of 3-week-old pork and 40-day-old lamb – specialities of this famous restaurant – before being taken into the kitchen where we were greeted like old friends by the Botin chefs.

Our time in Madrid was spent wandering the streets and meeting locals while grazing on tapas and sipping espressos. We all know the saying ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’ – and this proved true in Spain, especially when you’re rubbing shoulders with Casey. And this is what made the tour so unique. With the group trailing behind our foodie Spanish conquerors, Casey and Frank, we were taken to Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest indoor markets. We stumbled our way through hessian bags filled with colourful spices, stalls laden with mouth-watering Iberico ham and baskets brimming with large red-shelled prawns. It was the perfect way to be initiated into Spanish life.

After our sensory overload at the markets and feeling windblown from the frenetic buzz of Madrid, we travelled to the South-West of Spain. Boarding a bus, feeling a little like we were on school camp, our next stop was a place called Extremadura. Stepping off the bus felt like I was walking onto the set of a Don Quixote movie and this is where we discovered the heart and soul of Spain.

The characters that Frank describes in his book Movida Rustica’s Tour of Spain suddenly came to life as we met the local farmers and producers. Each family we visited, we were shown a little slice of Spain. From our time with “Fasto”, we learnt of ancient Spanish legends while picking wild mushrooms and from Mario Blasco Rey, the owner of the famous Spanish Cheese Factory, Quesos del Casar, we discovered the oldest, and most traditional, process to make cheese. In Dehesa, we watched black-footed Iberico pigs roaming in the forest and learnt why Iberico Jamo is the most popular cured meats in the world.

But it was our trip to Palencia — where paprika is made (and also Jamie Oliver’s paprika of choice) — where the reign of Spain really started to take hold. I’ll never forget the smiling faces of the workers, picking the chillis to be smoked and dried before being ground into paprika. All the while, laughing and chatting the day away.  I remember questioning; have the Spanish discovered the true meaning of happiness? It was contagious. Still, 12 months later, whenever I get whiff of the unmistakable smoky scent of Spanish paprika, I am reminded of those laughing, smiling faces.

We finished the tour in true Spanish style – with a long lunch at a local Michelin star restaurant. We ate, drank and laughed till our hearts content and parted, wishing that this could go on forever…

And this leads me to my next exciting news – I’m heading back to Spain in two weeks to do it all again! If only I could stay until September for Frank’s next tour.

 

Yolanda de Groot

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