The best cheese in Azeitão

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In the beginning of the 19th century, a farmer called Gaspar Henriques de Paiva moved from the Beira region to Azeitão, near Lisbon. He liked his new home, but craved the taste of the famous cheese made in Beira’s Estrela mountain. In 1830, Gaspar brought some “bordalesa” sheep from the Estrela mountain to Azeitão and arranged for a shepherd to come once a year to help him make cheese.

Gaspar owned only a few sheep, so his cheeses were small in size and his production low in volume. But the cheese was so great that it quickly gathered fame. Gaspar taught his neighbors how he made cheese with only three ingredients: sheep milk, cardoon and salt. Soon there were several cheese producers in Azeitão.

We traveled to Azeitão to try the cheeses made by the current generation of producers. When we asked the locals about their favorite cheese, they we unwilling to take sides. Finally, someone agreed to talk under condition of anonymity: “the best cheese in Azeitão is made in the village of Quinta do Anjo (Angel’s farm) and the best producer in Quinta do Anjo is Rui Simões,” he whispered, making sure he was not overheard.

We were lucky to get this tip because Rui Simões’ cheese is sold in only a few places, so we might have missed it.

We liked all the cheeses we tried in Azeitão, but there was indeed something special about the ones made by Rui Simões. They have an addictive creamy, salty, satisfying taste. Now that we are no longer near Azeitão, we crave them. Maybe we’ll buy some “bordalesa” sheep…

Click here for the web site of Queijaria Simões. 

The last harbor

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The existence of one of Lisbon’s best fish restaurants has been a closely guarded secret for more than half a century. Its name is “Último Porto” (the last harbor). Now that the secret is out, we might as well confess everything.

The restaurant is tucked away in the corner of one of Lisbon’s harbors (Rocha do Conde de Óbidos). It is not a glamorous place. But for fish lovers it is heaven.

There are tables inside and an esplanade surrounded by containers that is very pleasant when the weather is warm. It is easy to park and the walk to the restaurant is beautiful with the river in front of us and the city on our back.

“Último Porto” opens only for lunch and it is always full of locals. Grilled fish is the main event and the stars of the show are the “salmonetes” (mullets). Their skins are colored with yellow and orange hues, their flavors as bold as their colors. But, there are many other great choices, from sea bass to codfish.

Many restaurants showcase their fish in a refrigerated display. Others bring a fish platter to the table so that customers can choose what they want. At Último Porto, the fish is treated like a work of art—shielded from light and protected from the elements. It only leaves the refrigerator to go to the grill where it is cooked to perfection. It is this care that makes the last harbor our first choice for grilled fish in Lisbon.

Último Porto is located in the Estação Marítima Da Rocha Conde d’Óbidos, tel. 21 397 9498. It only serves lunch and reservations are a must. 

 

 

 

The wonder of photography

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In the 19th century, photographers were sorcerers who could conjure life-like images that were exhilarating. Today, photos are so common that much of the wonder of the early days of photography is lost.

We were curious when we heard about Silverbox, a studio in Lisbon that specializes in portraits taken with an old photographic process. The studio is located in an elegant early 20th-century building. We entered the ornate iron elevator and pressed the key of the 4th floor to embark on our trip to the past of photography. Rute Magalhães, who runs the studio with Filipe Alves, was waiting for us.

Rute and Filipe are architects who fell in love with alternative photographic processes. After trying different methods, they specialized in wet collodium. This technique, invented in 1851 by a sculptor called Frederick Archer, was widely used between 1855 and 1880. Rute and Filipe mastered this difficult process after years of experimentation under the tutelage of Quiin Jacobson, an American authority on early photographic processes.

To take a photo, Rute and Filipe coat a glass plate with collodium and then immerse it in a silver nitrate solution that makes the plate sensitive to light. Before the collodium dries, they place the glass plate in a view camera and take the exposure. The plate is then bathed in a fixing agent and washed with water. The result is a precious image that is exhilarating.

Silverbox is located on Rua Braamcamp, nº88 4 esq. in Lisbon, email info@silverbox.pt, tel. 915074612 /218057735. Click here for their web site.

 

Cave 23

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Dinner at Cave 23, ink and watercolor on paper, Fernanda Lamelas, December 2016.

Ana Moura, the young chef at Cave 23 in Lisbon, was born in a family of gourmands who planed vacations around restaurant outings. Her father, António Moura, runs a jewelry firm that produces sumptuous pieces of handcrafted filigree. Her mother, Fernanda Lamelas, is an architect and a talented watercolor painter.

It is easy to find traces of parental influence in Ana’s food: there’s an architectural quality to the presentation and an intricate detail that makes each dish look like a piece of jewelry. The hake, as white as a pearl, came adorned with a spirulina mayonnaise, dressed with a bouillabaisse sauce, and accompanied by pennyroyal, mustard, curry leaves, Alentejo bread, manga and white truffles. The cheese tart was encrusted with a ruby-red muscatel gelatin, delicate milk paper and honey foam.

Ana’s cuisine is centered on the flavors of the Portuguese cuisine. She uses foreign ingredients—Indian bread, Japanese roots, Vietnamese puffed rice—but only to make local ingredients shine brighter.

A passage through Arzak, a famous Basque restaurant, left Ana with a taste for bold flavors. She served us a large shrimp paired with bone marrow, the two flavors enhancing each other. The sublime crab soup was made with broth reduced for two days.

The menu features creative combinations of flavors that work well together: the rabbit rice came with persimmon, the crab meat with a radish bisque, the shrimp with a mousse of arugula and Azores cheese.

Cave 23 is a new star in the firmament of Lisbon restaurants. Our dinner was an intense, memorable experience; we can’t wait to go back!

Cave 23 is located in the Torel Palace (Rua Câmara Pestana, nº 23). Click here for the restaurant’s website.

 

Gold from Bombarral

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“In Bombarral, each generation produces brandy for the next,” explained Ana Reis, one of the heirs of Quinta do Sanguinhal, a wine estate in Bombarral that dates back to 1871. We were standing in a room full of contraptions that were used to distill brandy a century ago. After distillation, the precious liquid sleeps for decades in oak barrels before it emerges with a beautiful orange color and a bouquet of alluring aromas.

The Bombarral region has ideal conditions to produce fine brandies. Everyone there seems to have an old casket of brandy at home to share with friends on special occasions.

If you don’t have friends in Bombarral, you can buy the wonderful brandy made by Ana Reis’ family at Quinta das Cerejeiras. It has a smooth taste, full of depth and wisdom. We love drinking it in the Winter, imagining the sunshine of the ancient Summer that produced this liquid gold.

Click here for information about the wines and brandies produced at Quinta do Sanguinhal and Quinta das Cerejeiras.

Salt-water tea

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Two architects working in Lisbon, Paulo Esteves and Sandra Gomes, went to the Algarve to visit their family. By happenstance, they heard about a competition for the concession of a restaurant at the entrance of the Manta Rota beach. They were tired of their busy lives in the capital and yearned to be closer to nature, so they decided to apply.

A long time passed until one day, when they had almost forgotten about the competition, they learned they had won!

They called their restaurant Chá com Agua Salgada (salt-water tea). It is a beautiful place with a terrace overlooking the ocean. The food is great and tastes even better because the appetizing aromas are mixed with the ocean breeze.

Our meal started with octopus samosas that were crispy and flavorful, seasoned with a curry mayonnaise. Then came carabineiros, large shrimps from Algarve, paired with spinach wilted in oil and garlic. Next, we enjoyed a luminous corvina cooked with lemon and a delicate algae called sea lettuce. The octopus returned to end the meal, this time seared and adorned with migas, a bread-based accompaniment.

The food looks deceptively simple, but it is prepared with great expertise by chef Marco Jacó. The service is flawless, we felt like we were having lunch at a friend’s house. And the location is heavenly.

Chá com Água Salgada is located at the entrance of the Manta Rota beach, tel. 281 952 856. Click here for their website.

The Portuguese Tea Company

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Portugal played a leading role in the trade with the Far East after Vasco da Gama discovered the sea way to India in 1498. One of the commodities brought from the orient by the caravels were the dried leaves of a plant called Caméllia sinensis. The Portuguese called these leaves and their infusion chá, after the Cantonese word chàh. Their Dutch rivals preferred a word from China’s Fujian province: tea.

When Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II of England in 1662, her trousseau included a basket of tea leaves. She used them to throw tea parties at court. These parties were such a success that drinking tea became a fashion that endures.

Two centuries later, Wenceslaus de Moraes, a Portuguese diplomat who lived in the orient, wrote a poetic book called The Cult of Tea. His goal was to introduce Europeans to the ancient art of serving tea.

Despite these historical connections, Portugal didn’t have a purveyor of fine teas until an Argentinian called Sebastian Filgueiros came to live in Lisbon. Trained as a tea sommelier, he decided to create the Companhia Portugueza de Chá (the Portuguese tea company). The company’s logo combines the profile of Catherine of Braganza with the word Lisbon handwritten by Wenceslaus de Moraes.

Sebastian travels often to the Far East in search of new producers. His favorite teas are the Darjeelings from India and the old black teas from China. But he is very proud of the teas made in Portugal. He’s been able to source two wonderful teas from Azores. The first is a delicate white tea made in cooperation with a research institute. The second is a rare Oolong from the Gorreana plantation. Sebastian sells a fragrant earl grey produced with bergamot oil from Alentejo and his own tea blend called Lisbon breakfast.

When he talks about tea, Sebastian has all the time in the world. And there’s a lot to talk about, from the harvest and oxidization of the leaves, to the way each tea is prepared and served. He speaks softly, as if the secrets of tea are for our ears only. It is worth listening because on the shelves of his store lies a world of tantalizing aromas and flavors waiting to be discovered.

The Companhia Portugueza de Chá operates in Rua do Poço dos Negros, 105, near Chiado, tel. 21-395-1614.