A 16 day food tour through Portugal, that’s what I won with this post I submitted for the Aptece competition a few months ago. I hardly had time to process my good fortune when I found myself in a van with four other bloggers, from different parts of the world, ready to embark on a whirlwind tour that introduced us to Portuguese specialties, comfort foods & the people who produce them. In the next few posts brace yourself for stories from my favorite food encounters, land & cityscapes and the interesting lodgings we stayed in. Today, I’d like to introduce you to the small producers we met on the road.
Manuela & Francisco José Granjal, Serra da Estrela
Manuela and Francisco José Granjal is the couple who have been tending to their flock of Bordeleira sheep & producing Queijo Serra da Estrela DOP (cheese from the Serra da Estrela region) for a handful of decades now and are still showing the gusto of someone who’s just starting out. After a round of playing with the 2 day old lambs and generally scaring the sheep we met Manuela inside the house to watch her daily routine of cheesemaking out of sheep’s milk. Her skilled hands are in rapid motion, mirroring her speech. It’s easy to detect just how proud she is of her craft when her eyes brighten whenever we ask a question (through our interpreter) expressing interest in her work.
After walking us through the process and a few demonstrations we were able to taste the final product The cheese is meant to be scooped from the top which reveals a soft middle with a creamy texture. It’s a pungent cheese and extremely palatable when spread on a crusty loaf of bread. A fun fact about this cheese is that it is curdled with cardoon thistle (pictured below) instead of rennet making this a true vegetarian option for cheese lovers.
Célia Rodrigues, Setúbal
In Setúbal, we met Célia Rodrigues, the passionate mastermind behind NeptunPearl. Célia distributes crabs, fish and even samphire to restaurants but her passion lies in my favorite bivalve: oysters. She gave us a tour of her oyster farm where rows of oyster bags are half submerged in water and in another part of the land a small flock of pink flamingos were just plain chillin’.
Like a proud mom, Célia showed off the baby oysters in one of the bags. There’s a lot of manual labor involved which has kept Célia busy in the last two years especially since it is just a team of 2 (with plans to increase headcount in the near future). One of her goals is to open up Portugal’s palate to oysters, which apparently is not high in demand there. I found this shocking particularly when later in the evening Célia plied us with a meal consisting of dishes upon dishes of oysters. The raw oysters served were large, meaty and wonderfully briny, much akin to the Island Creek oysters I favor back at home in New England, except for the size. Though I tend to prefer raw oysters, Célia surprised me with some sautéed and dressed with caramelized onions in a sweet vinaigrette dressing. It packed a pretty impressive punch with explosive flavors. If she keeps feeding Portugal what she fed us surely the demand will soon outstrip supply!
Count Calheiros, Ponte de Lima
Lastly, I wanted to share a moment I had early one morning as I roamed about Count Calheiros’ property in Ponte de Lima. The sun was just about to peek over the hills when I stumbled upon the hand pickers harvesting the grapes for vinho verde (green/young) wine. It was their laughter that drew me down the vineyard and then the sun popped up casting the grapes aglow. What a way to start the day!
While we didn’t have the chance to taste the wine, the juice we tasted was utterly refreshing. I was also a little obsessed with the property, which has been in Count Calheiros’ family since the 12th century, and will be giving you a glimpse of the manor in a later post.
I hope you enjoyed meeting some of the small producers we met in Portugal. There’s more to come from my culinary travels through the country so stay tuned!