The extraordinary salt of Castro Marim

Castro Marin Composit

The Romans loved salt. They used it to cook, to preserve food, and as a form of currency (the practice of paying soldiers in salt is the origin of the word salary). So, it is not surprising that the Romans settled in Castro Marim. This small town on the marshes of the Guadiana river produced great salt.

During the 20th century, this production became industrialized. The salt was harvested with heavy machinery that leaves plenty of chemical residues. It was then washed and processed to turn its grey color into white, striping the salt of magnesium, potassium, and other important minerals.

Artisanal producers abandoned their salt ponds and so did the fish and birds that used them as habitats. Centuries of knowledge about producing great salt was on the verge of being lost.

But then, the tide turned. In the late 1990s, a cooperative called Terras de Sal revived the artisanal salt trade. It invited a French certification body to establish the strictest certification norms to ensure the highest standard of quality. It created the conditions to attract a new generation of producers who left their city jobs and came to Castro Marim to produce the best salt in the world.

These producers harvest the salt manually with wooden tools, a slow process that is essential to avoid chemical contamination. They do not wash the salt, to ensure that it retains all its important minerals. Since rain muddies the water, they only harvest when the weather is dry, between May and September.

One of the cooperative’s producers is called Água Mãe. Their salt is amazingly white and flavorful. Their “fleur de sel,” made of fine crystals created by temperature differentials between water and air, is exquisite. Água Mãe also bottles liquid salt, which is low in sodium and high in magnesium. When we spray it on our salads it gives them layers of delicate flavor.

The Romans were prescient in their love of salt. An amazing fact about our bodies is that, because life began in the sea, the composition of our tissue fluid resembles that of natural sea salt.

The ordinary act of seasoning our food becomes extraordinary when we use salt from Castro Marim. It is a privilege to nourish our body with the same pristine salt prized by the Romans 2000 years ago.

You can find the Água Mãe salt store on Travessa dos 3 Marcos, n.º 11, Castro Marim, Algarve, tel. 961380503, email  aguamae@aguamae.pt . Click here for the Terras de Sal web site. To buy the wondrous salt of Castro Marim in the U.S., click here.

Winter gloves

Luvaria

The queen of England loves to wear them and with good reason. Gloves protect our hands from the elements, giving them the feeling of being on a perpetual Summer vacation.

The best place to buy gloves is a small store in downtown Lisbon called Luvaria Ulisses. It has, since 1925, offered a large selection of gloves, so we can always find a pair that is perfect for us. Every time we leave the store, wearing new, elegant gloves we find Winter more appealing.

Luvaria Ulisses is located on Rua do Carmo, 87-A, tel. 213420295, email: info@luvariaulisses.com.

Diamond glasses

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If you’re looking for a souvenir from Portugal that will remind you of your vacation, consider getting a set of Bicos, the beautiful water glasses sold by Vista Alegre.

Their diamond-shaped pattern was first produced in a glass factory in Marinha Grande in 1901. More than a century later, these glasses are still in fashion because, when you use them, they brighten your day.

Click here to see the Vista Alegre website.

Olive oil tastings

Azeite Gallo

Olive oil bottles make great gifts. We recently tasted two interesting, delicious, affordable olive oils. The first is Gallo Azeite Novo. It is made from olives that are still green, giving the oil a spicy, fresh taste. The second is Gallo’s Moonlight Harvest. It is made from olives harvested at night and pressed while they are still cold. It has a smooth, fruity taste.

The quality of olive oil can vary greatly from crop to crop, depending on rainfall and temperature throughout the year. That is why, to ensure consistency of quality and taste, Gallo blends olive oil from different regions.

Each year, Portuguese farmers wait nervously to taste the new olive oil in a ritual called “tiborna.” They dip warm country bread into the oil and, to bring out the flavors, season it with a pinch of salt or a pinch of sugar and cinnamon.

You can invite some friends and enact the same ritual at home. Which olive oil do they prefer? The freshness of young oil or the smoothness of midnight oil? You can peer into their souls by observing their choices.

 

It is generally a good idea to buy the olive oil at the airport’s free shop and take the bottles inside the airplane as a carry on.

Time travel

A vida Portuguesa

Physicists think that traveling to the past is impossible, but Catarina Portas, a Portuguese entrepreneur, proved them wrong. Through painstaking work, she brought back to life many Portuguese products and brands that had disappeared: beautiful baskets, blankets, ceramics, glassware, pottery, toys, and much more. In her wonderful stores we can be archeologists without dealing with dust and visit the past without giving up our smartphone.

Catarina Porta’s stores are called A Vida Portuguesa (the Portuguese life). There are two in Lisbon, one in Chiado (Rua Anchieta, 11, tel.  213-465-073) and the other in Intendente (Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, 23, tel.  211-974-512). There is also one store in Oporto (Rua Galeria de Paris, 20, tel. 222-0220105). Click here for A Vida Portuguesa’s web site. 

One day we’ll go to Viana

Loiça de Viana

Minho (“meeño) is a region in the north of Portugal where mountains and valleys, rivers and sea join forces to create lush landscapes. It is a land of ancient traditions, influenced by the celtic tribes that once populated the area and by the roman invaders who thought these were the Elysian fields.

No one understood Minho better than the poet Pedro Homem de Mello. His famous poem, “One day we’ll go to Viana,” describes the allure of visiting Viana do Castelo, one of the gems of the region.

If you’re lucky enough to fulfill the poet’s dream and go to Viana, look for the beautiful LRV pottery. Local artisans paint these elegant pieces with the patience and care of an era gone by, when time flowed slowly and it was hard to travel to Viana.

“Havemos de Ir a Viana” was set to music and became a hit in the voice of the great fado singer Amália Rodrigues. Our version of this song features Cecília Fontes on voice, Evandra Gonçalves and Teresa Mascarenhas on violin, and Sergio Rebelo on guitar. The piece was mixed and produced by Pedro Rebelo. It was recorded in Chicago, at a time when violinist Evandra Gonçalves was missing her hometown, Viana do Castelo.

Party cookies

PipaBolacha

We’ve all been there. We’re going to a party and would like to take something special, but we ran out of ideas. There’s an easy solution to this problem: just call Pipa Bolacha, maker of brilliant, handmade cookies! You can personalize your cookies by choosing shapes, colors, and designs.

Dinner with an actor? Take cookies with greek comedy and tragedy masks. Lunch with a pilot? Bring cookies with cloud shapes. Breakfast with a poet? Order cookies with words that can be combined into poems. Date with a chemist? Chose symbols from the periodic table (earth metals if the relationship is serious, helium if your feelings are volatile). These delicious cookies will be the life of the party!

You can contact Pipa Bolacha by phone (962 691 389) or email (pipabolacha@gmail.com). Click here to see photos of her recent cookies.