Ambrosia from Azores

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The ancient gods of Greece and Rome satiated their hunger with ambrosia, a food with exuberant colors, an elegant aroma and a taste that has the perfect combination of sweetness and acidity.

No one knows what this divine food looks like except the people from the island of São Miguel in Azores.  It is an open secret that ambrosia grows in the island in the form of a small pineapple.

While other places produce ordinary pineapples meant for human consumption, São Miguel produces extraordinary pineapples meant for the gods.

If you visit the island, don’t miss the chance to try this transcendent food. Just make sure the gods are not looking.

 

 

Wines of the future

Quinta da Pedra composit

Carlos Dias is a Portuguese entrepreneur who had great success making design furniture in Italy and luxury watches in Switzerland. When he decided to produce wine in Portugal, he brought with him the determination and ambition that have been key to his success. He wants to produce Portuguese Grand Crus, wines that stand head and shoulders with the famous nectars from Bordeaux and Burgundy. You might think this is a lofty goal, but the Italian magazine Spirito di Vino has already listed Principal, one of his wines, among the world’s top 10.

We drove to Monção in the north of Portugal, to visit Dias’ Quinta da Pedra. We’ve been to many wine estates and we knew what to expect. But that is not what we found. There is no emphasis on history and tradition. Instead, we saw angular buildings built in red concrete surrounded by vineyards planted with geometric precision. Everything at Quinta da Pedra is about the future.

Miguel Pinho, the firms’ Chief Commercial Officer, described the meticulous production process. The vineyards are divided into micro lots controlled by GPS to ensure that the grapes in each lot are picked only at the right moment. After picking, the fruit travels in refrigerated trucks to the winery where they are immersed in a nitrogen bath to avoid further contact with oxygen. The grapes are gently pressed over an extended period of time, a process that allows both whites and reds to age gratefully in the bottle. Pascal Chatonnet, a famous enologist, makes the wines without using enzymes or any form of chemical manipulation.

The first wine we tried was a Quinta da Pedra made with Alvarinho grapes. This varietal is often used to make young vinho verdes (green wines) that are easy to drink and even easier to forget.  We were surprised to hear that this wine, produced in 2012, aged first in wood barrels and then in the bottle. And even more surprised by its complex aroma and the way it left our mouth refreshed and enchanted.

This stunning first act was followed by a procession of amazing wines. Eminência and Royal Palmeira, two wonders made of Loureiro, another green wine varietal. Colinas, a joyous sparkling wine made in the salty limestone soils of Bairrada. A Principal rosé that staged in the bottle for five years to get ready to astonish us with its elegance and poise. Dom Bella, an impressive  Touriga Nacional wine made in the granite plateaus of the Dão region.

The atmosphere inside the beautiful building, the taste of these unique wines, and the passion and eloquence with which Miguel talked about the project made our experience feel like an initiation rite. We are part of a small sect of people who have tasted the wines of the future.

Click here for the website of Carlos Dias’ company, idealdrinks.

 

Sweet moments in Lisbon

Composit Manteigaria

What is the best pastel de nata in Lisbon?  The answer depends on our mood. Some days, we like them perfumed with lemon. Other days, we prefer them scented with vanilla.

Our current favorites are the lemony kind. They are made by Manteigaria in Praça Camões near Chiado at a location that was once occupied by a butter shop (manteiga is the Portuguese word for butter). Perhaps as an homage to the past, Manteigaria’s pasteis have a buttery taste. The crispy crust and the rich filling are so satisfying that they make us feel, for a moment, that we discovered the meaning of life.

Whenever a new batch of pasteis comes hot out of the oven, Mantegaria’s cashier rings a bell. You’ll see people dropping what they’re doing and rushing to Manteigaria in search of a moment of sweetness.

Manteigaria is located on Rua do Loreto, 2 near Chiado in Lisbon, tel. 21-347-1492.

Lunch at Herdade do Esporão

composit Herdade do Esporão

We should have known that it is hard to get to paradise. We drove from Vila Viçosa to Herdade do Esporão guided by a GPS system that chose an old dirt road over the new road from Reguengos. Taking the slow road helped us understand that Esporão is an oasis. A place in the dusty interior of Alentejo where a blue lake nurtures pristine vines that produce some of Portugal’s best wines.

The road to the success of Esporão was also slow. José Roquette bought the estate in 1973 at a time when Alentejo was not a major producer of great wines. Shortly after the 1974 revolution, the estate was nationalized. It was returned to its owner only in 1984. The first wine was bottled in 1985 and released in 1987. The success of this vintage and of those that followed put Alentejo on the world wine map.

Maria Roquette, José’s daughter in law, welcomed us to the dinning room. It is a tranquil space that overlooks the lake and the vines. The walls are decorated with art that Esporão commissioned over the years to use in the labels of its reserve wine.

Maria introduced us to the chef, Pedro Pena Bastos. We did not guess that this unassuming 25-year-old was about to take us on an extraordinary culinary journey.

To prepare our senses, Pedro brought us a heavenly concoction of chick peas, seaweed, codfish eggs, and citrus caviar.  Next, came a marriage of peasant food and contemporary cuisine: pig’s feet with coriander in a red shiso gelatin. We visited the woods to taste wild mushroom beignets and a green garlic custard with truffles. We cruised rivers to enjoy crayfish and sailed seas to eat mackerel and porgy. Back on land, we had lamb from Alentejo with artichokes and apricots.

Finally, we entered the garden of delights: a green-almond ice cream, a lavender and peach tart, a gelatin of late-harvest wine, and marshmallows made of hazelnuts and chocolate.

Our traveling companions were the wonderful wines of Esporão. There were many different personalities and styles. Some, like the experimental white made from the Sardinian varietal Vermentino, were new and festive. Others, like the classic reserve red, were gracious and wise. The meal ended with fireworks provided by a wonderful tawny-style dessert wine.

If you’re visiting Portugal, travel the road to Herdade do Esporão, a place where you can taste the food and wine of paradise.

The Herdade do Esporão is located at Reguengos de Monsara, near Évora, Alentejo. Their telephone and email are 266 509 280
 and reservas@esporao.com , respectively. The Herdade’s GPS coordinates are: latitude: 38.398611 and longitude: -7.546111. Chef Pedro Pena Bastos is the fifth from the left on the photo above.

A cheese revolution

Composit Queijaria 2016

Queijaria, our favorite cheese store in Lisbon, keeps getting better. It is a place where the ordinary is banned to make room for extraordinary artisanal cheeses made in small batches by traditional producers.

On our last visit Pedro Cardoso, one of the owners, invited us to taste two unique cheeses. The first was from São Jorge, an island in the Azores archipelago. It is made with the milk of happy cows that roam free on the island. São Jorge cheese is always delicious but this one was the best we ever had–sharp, peppery and full of flavor. “This cheese is aged for 30 months which makes all the difference. It is very hard to find because the production is tiny and almost all consumed locally,” said Pedro.

The second cheese was from Serra da Estrela. It melted in our mouths leaving an amazing buttery after taste. It is made with milk from “bordalesa” sheep. This breed is being replaced with sheep whose milk is less flavorful but more abundant. “Eating this cheese is an act of defiance. It is saying that we don’t want this wonderful taste to disappear; that quality trumps quantity.”

Pedro speaks with revolutionary zeal. He wants to preserve and enrich Portugal’s wonderful cheese heritage. Will you support his cause?

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

 

Bussaco’s mystical wines

Buçaco Branco

Karl Baedeker, the famous guidebook writer, recommended a visit to Bussaco in his “Spain and Portugal, a Handbook for Travelers,” published in 1908. Here’s what he wrote:

“The royal domain of Bussaco vies with Sintra in natural beauty. In variety of trees and shrubs, the woods are without a rival in Europe and the views ranging from the Atlantic to the Estrela mountain are as picturesque as they are extensive. […] The woods […] include not only trees indigenous to Portugal but also a large number of exotic varieties, some brought home by the Portuguese navigators as early as the 16th century.”

Baedeker arrived too early to appreciate one of the great pleasures of Bussaco, which is the wine produced by the Bussaco Palace Hotel. The first bottles date back to 1917.

The Palace Hotel owns no vineyards, it buys its grapes from the Bairrada and Dão region. The quality of the wine comes from the careful grape selection and the meticulous traditional methods used in production. Bussaco wines taste great when they are young and taste even better when they lived for some decades. Both whites and reds are famous for their longevity.

These wines are difficult to buy, the easiest way to try them is to stay at the magnificent Palace Hotel. The cellar of the palace stores thousands of bottles going back to the 1920s. Trying these old Bussacos can be a mystical experience. The cellar walls are used to hearing visitors say words like divine, blessed, and sacred. These words would have delighted Friar João Batista, the Carmelite monk who started making wine in Bussaco in the 17th century.

Click here, for the Bussaco Palace web site.

Portuguese pop art

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Pasteis de nata, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2014.

Andy Warhol captured the essence of American culture using simple images: the appeal of convenience with cans of soup, the allure of fame with portraits of Marilyn Monroe, the love of brands with bottles of Coca Cola.

We wonder how Warhol would have captured the essence of Portugal. A good candidate image is the pastel de nata. It is sweet, with an exotic touch lent by vanilla and cinnamon. The crust gives it substance and the combination is unforgettable.