Call me by my name,local heroes
Provenance is so important when sourcing ingredients. In an ideal world, when ordering in a restaurant, wouldn't it be great if we knew where all the ingredients on on our selected dish came from. A plate of perfect provenance I would call it. When a restaurant adds the name of the producer to the product on its menu it is endorsing the quality of that producer and giving a vote of confidence to his or her product. Take an example; the oysters on the menu at LPA went from being just Ria Formosa oysters to being "gourmet" oysters from Eduardo Soares, They now appear on the menu as "Eduardo´s" oysters. Giving its signature to a supplier helps customers focus on sustainable producers and at the same time showcases local artisan food. It aids my decision making when ordering in a restaurant to see quality products from trusted local fishermen, regional farmers and growers being promoted in this way. Food is important to us at Casa Rosada. We search out small, local artisan producers and are lucky to have some great producers close to us. Those criteria are also joined by welfare, sustainability and quality. Products and commitment that are outstanding. It has made us think in a fresh way about what we could bring to the table at Casa Rosada to create a menu of sustainable local produce. My plan is that far as achievable we would design a menu including what we grow and produce ourselves on our property, in the village, in the surrounding county or in the Algarve, in that order. Castro Marim Flor de sal harvested by hand, locally caught fish, fruit and vegetables of the season picked on our own premises,or grown locally.
Having already made one field trip into the realms of local producers we now serve artesanal local fresh goat cheeses to our guests. Whats more, the entrepreneurial independent supermarket
Corvo in Castro Marim is also now making some of these cheeses available to
customers like myself. They too have their own farm a few kilometres outside Castro Marim and flag up home grown produce ( propria ) and a selection of home reared meat to customers. I have also introduced the figo da India to the Casa Rosada breakfast table working with Nelson Ventura,manager, Confraria do Figo da Índia. Last week we sourced locally bred acorn fed black pig for the thespian´s annual Christmas cure. On the Monday we were informed when the slaughtering was to be and a paleta (front leg ) would be ready for us to collect by the end of the
week. What follows is the story of The Baixo Guadiana, a region of the Algarve with a small population.It is a story of a river and a network of small artesan producers who inhabit villages scattered around its shore. As you drive North from Castro Marim you will discover in what appear to be sleepy villages, a warren of thriving craftspeople farmers and food producers.These people have one thing in common, to spread the message that "local" is the way forward. Shop local, buy local, get to know local, spread the "local." word and take local home. Authenticity and honesty is the name of the game.
Zambujal is just 35 kilometres north of Castro Marim. This small village, demographically Algarve, in the municipality of Alcoutim but by the nature of its close proximity to its neighbour gives an appearance of familiarity with the Alentejo, and because of its adjacency to the river, bordering Portugal with Spain, Andalucia too.
Reputation told us that the Alentejo pig, often nicknamed the black pig, is esteemed here. It is what two brothers Rui and Manuel Jeronimo have dedicated themselves to producing, high quality charcuterie production. Hams,cured with Castro Marim salt, paleta, jamon. chorizo, paio, greaves loins, jowls, rolled bellies and paiolas are some of the products they produce. They, like others made a decision to leave the hurly burly and confusion of urban life and have settled back in the homeland of their parents. They have higher education, but are dedicated to the raising of free range pigs in the northeast of the Algarve.
Rui Jerónimo returned to his family home in The Baixo guadiana exchanging the world of finances to achieve this goal with his brother Manuel and to make extraordinary inroads into promoting a business trademarked Feito no Zambujal ("Made in Zambujal") where the motto is "made with tradition." He guarantees that the principle is "purity, without the use of traditional chemical preservatives and with a knowledge and tradition of know how passed down through generations of his family.The small producer sums it up in one word "the truth"*
The myth of black pigs roaming in green meadows under oak trees might seem endearing but if the truth be known In a terrain that remains "almost useless for anything" fertile, Rui says
that his pigs, (around 120 of them )- live in "an extensive regime",
fed on grains crushed on the spot, grass, garden compost, fruit and
vegetables and the acorns of holm oaks.The pure bred
black pigs roam the barren ground outside looking for the acorns,beans herbs and wild
flowers that give them their
"Rui studied management in Beja and, his father was a tax officer. "I leave behind 14 years of banking in Faro tired of life, people and the lack of values, at a time when the country was depressed, with constant news about the disaster" In February 2012, encouraged by friends, he invited his brother Manuel to set up the project "Feito no zambujal", in celebration of the "cold, dark nights of the Algarve mountains, warmed by the boiler fire that distills a drop of medronho". When there was still no electricity in the mountains he and his brother sat in the yard on long sultry summer nights counting the stars with their grandfather. Rui recalls the 1960s with the beginning of an emigration, from a region that lost people, of a place where it was no longer possible to have a decent life. But today, with his exploration, he has proved that "it is possible to produce high quality products,from the heart, which can reach the four corners of the world and, in this way, give payback to the land they grew up on, to the grandparents and the people who have always lived and insist on continuing the tradition of the region.Rui explains that Zambujal, despite being in the Algarve, "has and always had a culture very closely connected to the Alentejo." He says that even today "in the mountains, some people continue to say" I'm going to the Algarve "when there is a need to go to Faro. On the other hand, it adds the proximity, partnership and friendship of the Spanish side "that the river never shared." The producer says that for about two years he learnt techniques "in a small pueblo in the Serra da Huelva", exchanging experiences and "earning great respect and admiration for those people".*
For Rui jeronimo "the search for food from which people can trace the origin .. the desire for a more selective and higher quality food than good health" has been the motivation.He hopes that we begin to have an understanding, in the midst of so much stress,and that "we can all stop, even if for a few hours" grasp the situation and contemplate, enjoy what is true, without so much greed, so much accumulation and share and resource what the planet offers us."*
Rui and Manuel are always ready to open the doors of their house to visitors, but just as a mark of respect they do prefer advance notification if possible. The moment we entered the room and were introduced, a feeling of warmth and friendship enveloped us. The two brothers busied themselves preparing food for a lunch composed entirely
But before that Manuel was to give us a guided tour of the fabbrica.e family in the manufacturing room preparing choriços by hand and the butcher preparing other cuts.The sausages would then be hung in the smoke room next door to cure for a couple of days. Downstairs we entered the inner sanctum,what you might call a pig emporium ( may I call it Emporio Umami ). As you pass through the doors you are hit by a tantalizing aroma.Stored in high purity like bullion, each limb constituting an average €200. It was the culinary equivalent of designer shopping. Smart hams hanging on rails ready to be selected. Many might consider it a bit of a luxury and indeed it can be, but this is only because of a shopping habit of buying expensive miniscule packets in the supermarket rather than going to a proper supplier who will show you its very provenance. For me this meat is sacred and deserves a certain reverence. The nearest I can come to describing this experience is having been in church as a child when I was often prone to fainting on my knees when the fragrance of burning incense was released from a thurible. As he moved us to the storage room he reminded us that this is a bespoke business with a highly curated clientele of restaurants and private customers.The respect for the traditional, for the cycles of nature and for the seasons of the year requires that the production be made only between autumn and spring. Stocks are also frozen to maintain a supply chain in the summer months. Our enlightening tour ended in the small shop. Two of our neighbours arrived having made the 35 kilometre journey to pick up their alimentations.
Now it was time for lunch. Freshly sliced jamon,freshly baked bread, torresmos, and gunciale garlic toasts arrived on the table.I have no qualms about saying that what was on that plate of gunciale was something heavenly. The fat is as important and as much of a treat as the meat.It not only edges the flesh,but weaves its way through the meat, lending tenderness, moisture and flavour. Few things are as subtly aromatic and ravishing as the silky fat sliced from the meat. An astonishingly good red wine to be imbibed found its way to the table from their own estate.
Remember, shop local, buy local, get to know local, spread the "local" word and take
Casa Rosada´s best of local
*With thanks and credit to journalist Augusto Freitas de Sousa for any transcripts, passages and periodic quotes I have borrowed and translated from his article on Feito no Zambujal which appeared in Jornal de Negócios, 8.5.2020.