Breakfast in the Alentejo

"Uma estrela de Via lacteaa" -a star of the milky whey.

Somewhere over the rainbow
"Whey" up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
The tradition of pastoralism in the Alentejo, the wide variety of herbs that are in the fields and the vast array of produce available, bring to the breakfast table some of the country´s most popular recipes. Bread is an almost mandatory ingredient in these recipes.Just one feature of many that will put you in touch with the workings of the Alentejo region is a breakfast of Requeijao cheese spread on thick slices of country bread drizzled with lashings of rosemary honey,or scoops of Doce de tomate (sweet tomato jam )and a selection of home cured meats such as presunto de javali  (wild boar ham).This mornings repast is finished off with a Bolo podre cake.This cake is very typically Portuguese.  I was intrigued by the idea of making a cake with such large quantities of olive oil and honey and just had to try it. Bolo Podre has a dense but not dry texture and is ideallly served with fruit compotes or again drizzled with honey or just enjoy a slice with a cup of tea or coffee.Such a feast will set the locals up for a hard day´s work, or perhaps if you are on holiday a good old hike across the Alentejo countryside.
Requeijao is a by-product of cheese production. Lemon or rennet is added to the whey to  to make the curds.About 10% whole milk is added to the whey and the mixture is heated and skimmed. The skimmed thin cream is then placed into round wicker baskets and drained.It is produced all over the country,but the best  Requeijão is from the Serra da Estrela and the Saloios region near Lisbon.
Requeijao is sold young, swaddled in water to keep it moist and cool.The wet cheese makes the paper it is wrapped in charmingly disintegrate.Its taste and texture are similar to that of ricotta cheese and it is eaten fresh. It is typically sold in specially designed draining plastic or basket-like weaved containers,reflecting its heirloom production process.
For a modern take on the traditional Alentejo breakfast I looked to Australia for some inspiration and Hey hey its Donna Hay. I have now brought to Casa rosada a traditional Alentejan breakfast with a modern antipodean feel. A plate of Bruschetta with honeyed Requeijao, fresh strawberries and mint.

Breakfast Bruschetta with honeyed Requeijao and strawberries
1  baguette,cut into slices on the diagonal
cups (200g) Requeijao cheese or ricotta
500g(1 lb) strawberries, hulled and cut into ¼-inch dice
Honey, to taste
20 fresh mint or basil leaves,for garnish

Beat the requeijao with 1 tablespoon of honey. Lightly toast the bread. Spread a spoonful of Requeijao on each bruschetta slice and top with the strawberries, sprinkle with mint (or basil) and serve.


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