We hope it rains in August

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When friends who visit Portugal tell us they tasted some amazing mushrooms, we always worry they are mistaken. During hard times, Portuguese cooks found ways to make tasty dishes out of many animal parts to make sure nothing went to waste. So those delicious “mushrooms” were probably pig ears in coriander sauce or sautéed veal kidneys.

But Portugal does have amazing wild mushrooms. They’re called “míscaros” (pronounced “meescaros”) and grow in the pine forests of the Beira region.  You can stew them, cook them with meat, or combine them with rice. Míscaros are one of the crown jewels of Portuguese cuisine.

One of our grandfathers loved eating míscaros. He was always happy when it rained in August because that meant that míscaros would be abundant in the Fall. We remember him very fondly for many things, big and small. And we always like it when it rains in August.

You can often find míscaros in the Fall at Salsa & Coentros, one of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon. Click here for more information about the restaurant.

The past and future of Portuguese wine

AmphorasCrato

The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo.  The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.

Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.

Chocolate tastes new again

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Isabel Landeau is a designer who, as a hobby, baked chocolate cakes to share with her friends. She loved so much the oohs and aahs that her cakes inspired, that she became obsessed with perfecting her recipe. For nine months, she experimented with different chocolates and cocoas. The result is a master piece, a cake that is deliciously light but layered with exquisite chocolate flavors.

When Landeau opened a store to share her creation with the world, she was surprised at the praise lavished by the international press (the New York Times called her cake “devilishly good”). Her store has become an obligatory place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers.

Landeau makes chocolate taste as exciting as when it was brought to Europe in the 16th century, as exotic as when it was used by Aztecs in religious cerimonies. Try a slice of Landeau cake and you’ll see.

Landeau is located on Rua das Flores, N. 70, 911-810-801. Click here for their website.

Europe’s most western vineyards

DCIM103GOPRO Baron Bodo Von Bruemmer, born in Tsarist Russia in 11/11/1911, made a fortune working as a banker in Switzerland. Then, at age 51, he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and told he had two years to live. He decided to look for a place where, after his passing, his wife could live without worrying about money.

Von Bruemmer came to Portugal and fell in love with the country. He bought Casal de Santa Maria, a farm in Colares near Sintra. There, he spent his days breeding Arabian horses and planting roses. The airs of Colares nursed the baron back to health and today, at 104 years of age, he continues to thrive.

In 2007, shortly after his 96th birthday, Von Bruemmer felt the urge to plant a vineyard. He knew nothing about wine making, but was eager to learn. Since then, he has become a legend. With the help of a talented team of enologists, he planted the most western vineyard in continental Europe. Close to the sea, cooled by the Atlantic winds, its unique terroir produces amazing wines, salty, aromatic, and with great minerality.

The baron continues to plant new vines and supervise new projects. He makes his decisions using a small brass pendulum. If the pendulum rotates clockwise the answer is yes. Otherwise, it is no.

Every day, Von Bruemmer drinks a glass of champagne. But soon, he will drink instead the sparkling wine that, with the help of his pendulum, he decided to produce.

Casal de Santa Maria is a magical place, where vineyards surrounded by roses produce some the world’s most interesting wines.

Casal de Santa Maria is located on Rua Principal Casas Novas, n. 18/20, Colares, tel 219-292-117, email geral@casalstamaria.pt.

Codfish poetry

Pastéis de BacalhauJune 10 is a holiday dedicated to the great 15th century poet Luis de Camões, whose epic poem Lusíadas helped forge the identity of Portugal as a nation.

One of Portugal’s most revered contemporary writers, António Lobo Antunes, said that “To know how to make codfish cakes is as important as to have read the Lusíadas.”

Lobo Antunes meant his words as a compliment to the genius of Camões. Try codfish cakes accompanied with tomato rice and a great glass of red wine and you’ll see that they are pure poetry!

Tasting Portuguese cheese

Queijaria Composit- ©mariarebelophotography.comPresident Charles de Gaulle asked how could people expect him to run a country with 246 kinds of cheese. Judged by this metric, Portugal is easier to govern than France. We have fewer cheese varieties. But there are still many regions, types of milk, producers, and styles.

Many interesting Portuguese cheeses are hard to find. They are made in small quantities by artisanal producers and sold in local markets. Queijaria, a new store in Lisbon, makes it easy to sample these local specialties.

The store is run by people who are passionate about cheese and wine, so they are uniquely qualified to serve as your guide. They prepare a degustacion of different cheeses, perfectly sequenced and paired with great wines. In one sitting, your palate can travel from North to South, to the island of Azores and back to continental Portugal. It’s a gastronomical journey you will not forget!

Queijaria is at Rua das Flores, 64, Lisbon. Click here for their web site.

The sweet alchemy of Tecolameco

Tecolomeco

At the end of a wonderful meal at Flor de Rosa, a great historical hotel in Crato, Alentejo, the maître d’ brought us two slices of a dessert called Tecolameco. In our quest to eat fewer sweets, we decided to have only a small bite to be polite. But once we tasted this marvelous dessert, our will power vanished.

Tecolameco is made of sugar, eggs, almond, pork lard, butter, and cinnamon. There are many other Portuguese desserts made with these ingredients, but none tastes like Tecolameco.

It is said that an old chef found in the Crato castle an ancient book that revealed the meaning of life. All the pages were blank, except for the one with the recipe for Tecolameco.

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.