A COUNTRY HOUSE IN THE HEART OF EXTREMADURA where you can stay at the cortijo and learn how to create delicious feasts. A seven or four night holiday with cooking, relaxing, exploring historical towns and delightful country walks in the stunning Sierra de Montanchez. Our cooking style is a fusion of Iberic and Moroccan cuisine.
The holiday includes cooking, walking, well-being, cultural visits and country life. We create and enjoy sumptuous Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Iberic feasts at the cortijo of Finca al-manzil
There has been much acclaim for the dinners prepared at the finca so we have decided to share our secrets and run a creative cooking course several times a year.
The cortijo kitchen is spacious with all the special equipment and implements needed to create delicious dishes from Morocco, Middle East, Spain and Portugal. We use natural fresh local vegetables, meat, fish, fruit and herbs; the spices are imported regularly from Morocco.
Our aim and pleasure is to inspire enjoyment of the food in the well designed and decorated surroundings of the finca.
Dinner will be the highlight of every day; starting with tapas which we have had fun inventing then we eat dinner around the huge dining table or in the garden if the evening is warm.
Possibly dinner will have been cooked in the traditional clay oven or over a charcoal grill. We serve Extremeña wines and maybe with coffee a special liqueur from the Jerte valley or some aguadente made from the medroño or wild strawberry bush.
The accommodation is at Finca al-manzil cortijo or barn and a neighbouring house all in beautiful, peaceful situations with splendid views of countryside and up to the peaks of the mountains. The rooms have en-suite bathrooms; there is a choice of single occupancy or shared twin room or renting a whole house for your own use. The sitting room has a wood burning fire for chilly nights and there are two terraces for gazing at the stars.
The classes are open for a maximum of 6 people and minimum of 1 person. Discounts are available if you are able to arrange your own group of 4 friends or more. Our holidays are designed on a weekly or 4 night basis and integrate an interesting programme of cooking, walking, nature observation and culturally based activities. Visits to Merida, Caceres, Trujillo and Montanchez.
We also enjoy introducing our guests to any fiestas or seasonal agricultural activities that are going on, such as the grape harvest for wine making in September and the olive harvest in November and December.
7 nights holiday at Finca al-manzil or neighbouring house with the following daily programmes, 3 days of cooking and eating the preparation for dinner, 3 days of alternative activities with dinner at the finca. OR 4 night holiday which follows the itinerary for the 3 cooking days on consecutive days
WHEN DO WE OPERATE?
All year except for July and August the hottest months which limit time for the more active part of the holidays. The climate is excellent in the sierra; Spring and Autumn, February – June, September - October are delightfully warm and sunny. Winter, Nov. Dec. and January are less warm but usually sunny and bright with of course more rain. It rarely rains for more than a few hours. We have a wood burning stoves and a cosy atmosphere for the chillier days.
SEVEN NIGHT COOKING HOLIDAY PRICES DOUBLE ROOM FOR SINGLE OCCUPANCY (ENSUITE BATHROOM) €950 PP DISCOUNT FOR 2 PEOPLE SHARING A DOUBLE ROOM €775 PP INCLUDES ACCOMMODATION AT FINCA AL-MANZIL ; ALL DINNERS AND LUNCHES COOKING TUITION ON COOKING DAYS.
DOES NOT INCLUDE FOOD AND BEVERAGES ON EXCURSIONS DISCOUNTS ARE AVAILABLE IF YOU ARE ABLE TO ARRANGE YOUR OWN GROUP OF 4 - 6 FRIENDS. NB. Non-cooking partners and friends are welcome. Optional- some hours of creative cooking or cultural tours or simply enjoy the wonderful location, food and wine. Prices on request
ITINERARY DAY 1 ARRIVAL AT FINCA Time to get to know your surroundings, meet the other guests and relax after your journey. Dinner prepared by Pippa DAY 2 COOKING DAY - MOROCCAN
10.00 – 14.00 - Moroccan Cooking tuition, preparation and cooking of a selection of Moroccan dishes using typical ingredients and spices. Lunch is a healthy light salad with local cheese or jamon, fresh bread and maybe a juice, smoothie or spritzer . Time to relax, a siesta, a swim, some reading or photography perhaps
17.00 – 18.00 or 19.00 for longer walks An optional afternoon walk in the sierra. We see the rich bird life and wild flowers of the sierra and the local agricultural activities, olive and fig groves, sheep and the iberic pigs nurtured on acorns in the woods. There are also mountain bikes if you prefer a ride on the quiet lanes around the finca.
Depending on the time of the year we participate in olive harvest (Dec/Jan) grape and fig harvest (September) Wild Asparagus picking in Spring. Visit to WOMAD in Caceres (May) Medieval Fair in Caceres (November) Usually every month has a local fiesta going on which we can visit.
A pause for another swim or preparing yourselves for the evening, we believe in making a special evening every evening, the table will be looking very pretty and the food is going to be stupendous.We are on Spanish time so tapas and drinks at 20.30 and dinner at 21 ish. Now the rest of the evening is up to you, you have had an interesting, active day so now relax, enjoy and converse.
Trip to Merida to explore the largest collection of Roman ruins besides Rome.
Walk over the 2000 year old Roman bridge into the town where we will visit the impressive theatre and superb museum of Roman art.Time for some shopping or a break in the attractive plaza.Visit the traditional covered market for ingredients for tomorrows cooking. Lunch in a traditional bodega with great collection of bull fighting memorabilia on the walls.Back to finca for relaxing afternoon. Dinner prepared by Pippa , observers and helpers welcome
DAY 4 -COOKING DAY -IBERIAN As day 2 using some of the ingredients that we bought yesterday for preparation of Spanish and Portuguese dishes for dinner.
Afternoon as day 2
DAY 5 Trip to Trujillo a stunning historical town with the most atmospheric Moorish lanes and wonderful views.
A guided tour by Pippa. Lunch in one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain. Back to the finca. Afternoon as day 2. Dinner is prepared for you by Pippa but you can join in with preparation of creative tapas before dinner.
DAY 6 Breakfast. Visit to our local villages to stock up on delicious ingredients which will include a visit to a cheese maker and a tour of the jamon curing in Montanchez. Lunch in a local bodega.
An optional walk through the gorgeous mountain scenery to the garganta de molinos, the watermill gorge, and back down to the finca. A wonderful walk which takes 2 hours in total. Relaxing afternoon at the finca.
DAY 7- COOKING DAY- MIDDLE EASTERN
Breakfast.Preparation and cooking with typical Middle Eastern ingredients and spices. Various dishes including an array of mezes for lunch and more substantial dishes for dinner.
Relaxing afternoon at the finca. Extra special Farewell Dinner.
DAY 8 DEPARTURE Goodbye! With promise of receiving all the recipes during your holiday by e mail plus many others from previous holidays
FOUR DAY COOKING HOLIDAY
DOUBLE ROOM FOR SINGLE OCCUPANCY (ENSUITE BATHROOM) €600 PP
2 PEOPLE SHARING A DOUBLE ROOM €450 PP
INCLUDES ACCOMMODATION AT FINCA AL-MANZIL ; ALL DINNERS AND LUNCHES COOKING TUITION ON COOKING DAYS.
DISCOUNTS ARE AVAILABLE IF YOU ARE ABLE TO ARRANGE YOUR OWN GROUP OF 4- 6 FRIENDS.
NB. Non-cooking partners and friends are welcome.
DAY 1 -ARRIVAL AT FINCA
Time to get to know your surroundings, meet the other guests and relax after your journey. Dinner prepared by Pippa
DAY 2 COOKING DAY - MOROCCAN
10.00 – 14.00 - Moroccan Cooking tuition, preparation and cooking of a selection of Moroccan dishes using typical ingredients and spices for lunch and dinner.
Afternoon is time to relax, depending on the season; a siesta, a swim, some reading or photography perhaps. An afternoon walk in the sierra directly from the finca is interesting, you can see the rich bird life and wild flowers of the sierra and the local agricultural activities, olive and fig groves, sheep and the iberic pigs nurtured on acorns in the woods. The walk to our local village of Montanchez takes 40 minutes, there is a Moorish castle, cafés and bars.
We also have mountain bikes if you prefer a ride on the quiet lanes around the finca.
Dinner - We are on Spanish time so tapas and drinks at 20.30 and dinner at 21.00
DAY 3 -COOKING DAY -IBERIAN
Preparation of Spanish and Portuguese dishes for dinner.
Afternoon as day 2
DAY 4 COOKING DAY- MIDDLE EASTERN
Preparation and cooking with typical Middle Eastern ingredients and spices. Various dishes including an array of mezes for lunch and more substantial dishes for dinner.
Relaxing afternoon at the finca.
Dinner 20.30 – 21.00
DAY 5 - DEPARTURE
Goodbye! With promise of receiving all the recipes during your holiday by e mail plus many others from previous holidays
WHEN DO WE OPERATE?
The holidays are run all year except for July and August the hottest months which limit time for the more active part of the holidays. The climate is excellent in the sierra; Spring and Autumn, February – June, September - October are delightfully warm and sunny. Winter, Nov. Dec. and January are less warm but usually sunny and bright with of course more rain. It rarely rains for more than a few hours. We have a wood burning stoves and a cosy atmosphere for the chillier days.
JUST A DAYS EXPERIENCE WHILST STAYING AT THE FINCA OR ELSEWHERE We meet at the finca at 10.00 and spend a happy morning cooking a wonderful lunch with expert guidance from Pippa. We enjoy lunch on the patio or in the dining room. The meall will consist of 3 courses with wine, liqueurs and coffee. After lunch you are welcome to stay a while, for a little walk or a swim. The cost includes all the ingredients, tuition, serving and clearing of the meal,time to enjoy the finca. Per person €50. Minimum persons 2
Another wonderful week at Palacio de Piedras Albas. Perfect weather, super guests and the bonus of watching the Corpus Christi fiesta from the loggia of the palacio.
We tried some new recipes and ingredients during the week. It seems that cassava/manioc/yuca was not familiar with any of our guests so making some intensely flavoured and delicious yuquitas as tapas was fun, the boiled yuca is sticky and makes it easy to form into these pefect balls.These have a Extremadura twist with the addition of jamon. Here is the recipe.
YuquitasRellenas Yuca is a root
vegetable, also known as cassava and manioc root. It can be peeled and boiled
just like potatoes, and it's a staple food in many parts of South
America. These crispy little balls are made by shaping the mashed
yuca around queso fresco and jamon, then rolling them in bread crumbs and
frying them until golden brown. The result is a crispy shell around a soft
starchy filling, with melted cheese in the very middle. Fried yuca balls are
excellent dipped in a spicy salsa. Ingredients: •1 kilo of yuca
root • 100 g queso
fresco and 100 g jamon mashed together •1 egg •2 slices of
bread •10 saltine
crackers •Vegetable oil
for frying •Salt and pepper
to taste •Huancaína sauce
for dipping Preparation: 1. Bring a large
pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the yuca root and cut it into 3 inch long pieces. 2. Add the yuca
to the boiling water and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the yuca is
very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. It should be fall apart when
poked with the fork. 3. Drain the
yuca in a colander. Remove as many of the woody stems from the center of the
root as possible. Pass the yuca through a potato ricer, or force it through a
colander, to remove any remaining fibrous strings. 4. Season the
mashed yuca with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. 5. Place 2
tablespoons of mashed yuca in the palm of one hand. Make a small well in the
middle, and place a piece of cheese in the well. Wrap the mashed yuca around
the cheese and jamon and roll between your hands to make a round ball. Repeat
with the remaining mashed yuca. 6. In a deep skillet or deep
fat fryer, heat 2 inches
of vegetable oil to 360 degrees. Fry the yuca balls in batches until lightly
golden. Drain on paper towels. 7.Crack 1 egg
into a bowl and whisk lightly with a fork. Process the bread with the crackers.
8.Roll each ball
in the egg and then in the bread/cracker crumbs, until well coated with crumbs.
9.Fry the yuca
balls a second time, just until they are golden brown and crispy. Drain on
paper towels and serve warm with huancaína sauce for dipping. Note: Yuquitas can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes until ready to serve.
It's a misty Wednesday afternoon and the pigs are hard at
work. So is their porquero Juan Carlo, who's busy guiding them across this
1,700 acre farm to the land's choicest acorns. At sunrise, Juan Carlo rouses
about 340 pigs from their farmhouse and sets them to work. At sundown he
corrals them back to the ranch. This year marks his 25th on the job.
In a few weeks the pigs' work will be done: they'll be
sufficiently fattened up from their grazing to be slaughtered, butchered, and
turned into some of the most expensive ham in the world— jamon Iberico puro de
bellota, acorn-fed pure breed Iberico ham.
Acorn-fed jamon Iberico is intensely sweet. It's floral,
earthy, and nutty like good Parmesan, with fat so soft it melts right in your
The dehesa around the Sierra de Montanchez is rich with holm
and cork oak, cooled by the breezy Iberian climate, it is one of many across
Spain and Portugal, the pigs have a joyful life but finally end in a small
town called Montanchez where hams cure in jamoneras designed for the task. From
start to finish, the ham-making process is simple: grant good pigs the freedom
to be good pigs, let them feast on the land, then cure their flesh with little
more than salt and air.
For most eaters, that's where the story begins and ends. But
there's more to it—a process that blends unwavering tradition and modern
technology to produce this sought-after ham.
In the world of Spanish ham, there are two premium
classifications: Iberico pigs and acorn-fed pigs. Unlike white pig breeds like
Serrano, black-skinned Iberico pigs are descendants of the Mediterranean wild
boar, and are colloquially called pata negra("black foot") for the
hoof that accompanies each ham. They're athletic animals, runners and rooters,
and thanks to the structure of their intramuscular fat, their meat is more
flavorful, juicy, and distinctive.
Iberico pigs are expensive. They have smaller litters, yield
less meat per head, and take time to mature, which is why many ham producers
around Spain cross-bred them with other varieties. Up until recently, ham made
from pigs that were as little as half-Iberico could be sold as jamon Iberico,
but new legislation now requires Iberico ham to be labeled according to the
percentage of the pigs' Iberian ancestry.
Then there's the acorns, the bellota, which fall from oak
and cork trees from early October to early March on the farms where the pigs
are raised. They're high in fat, a large percentage of which is unsaturated
oleic fatty acid, and eating them is what makes the pigs' fat so soft and
creamy, on the verge of melting at room temperature. Acorns also contribute to
the ham's nutty flavor and aroma, as essential to the product as the meat
itself. Of all commercially raised Iberico pigs, only 5% are both pure breed
Spanish ham culture has a vocabulary all its own. There are
porqueros, not shepherds; pigs are "sacrificed," not slaughtered; and
the farms where they're raised are calleddehesas.
The dehesas are a national treasure: each one to two
thousand acres of forest partially converted to pasture, often hundreds of
years old, with rolling grassy hills amidst crops of acorn-producing oak and
cork trees. Just as acorns are an essential ingredient to the ham, so too are
the dehesas. These pigs need to run around all day, over the hills and through
the woods, for their muscles to develop and for the ham to taste the way it
Over 18 to 24 months, the pigs will root around the dehesa,
grazing on grass, mushrooms, bugs, herbs, whatever they can find. Come October
all through March, the montanara, or acorn-dropping season begins, and the pigs
march into action. Fatty acorns are the pigs' favorite food, and with a
mandated five acres of dehesa per pig, there's plenty of room to look for them.
By the pigs' second montanara, they'll have feasted enough to reach their kill
weight, about 360 pounds.
Managing the pigs isn't just left to nature, inspectors pay
anonymous visits every two to three weeks to check on their treatment and diet.
They also sample the pigs' fat to analyze its oleic acid content—too little and
the pigs won't meet quality standards, too much and they'll be impossible to
cure into ham.
You may have heard that pigs are as smart or even smarter
than dogs. On the dehesa they behave more like sheep dogs than sheep. Curious
about newcomers, they'd inch closer and closer to me, some even posing nicely
for the camera, before bolting away. Unlike livestock domesticated into
complicity, these wild boar descendants stay smart.
The curing tradition in Montanchez is centuries old: you can still see hundreds of hooks
on the ceilings of every old house from when ham was cured in the natural air
flow. Nowadays there are huge jamon drying barns, some climate controlled but many using the traditional methods.
Before they get there, the pigs must be slaughtered. They're
knocked out with CO2, and once a pig is deemed unconscious by a vet, a worker
slits the artery along its throat until it bleeds out. Legs, loins, and
shoulders go towards other products, the
remaining fresh meat is sold to restaurants. The ham-bound legs are then
skinned, salted, rinsed, dried, and sent to the curing cellar, where they'll
remain for about a year and a half.
Step into a jamon
bodega and you're slapped with an aroma that's something like rising bread,
aged cheese, and your deli's cured meat display—multiplied by the 40,000-odd
Thick brick walls, a breezy, hilly climate, and a stable
population of ham-friendly microorganisms are most of what the meat needs to
finish its journey into ham. Skilled specialists monitor the cellars at all
times, noting fluctuations in temperature and humidity, but their adjustments
are amusingly low-tech. Need to change the temperature? Open or close a window.
Air too dry? Spill some water on the floor.
It's more complicated than that, of course—hams too close to
a window may get moved if they dry out too quickly, and the legs are regularly
rubbed down with oil to prevent insects from taking up residence.
Before any ham leaves the cellar, it gets a sniff test. A
trained nose can purportedly detect 100 aromas from a premium ham, some sweet,
some meaty, some nutty. Different regions of Spain have their own hammy
terroir, and even different cuts of the same leg bear unique aromas.
With a short, stubby needle called a cala, the ham sniffer
pokes down to the bone, quickly takes a whiff, and covers the breach with a
smear of fat. There's just a second or two to detect the balance of sweet,
earthy, fermented, and floral aromas that signal a well-cured ham, and only a
ham that passes the sniff test in four inspection sites makes its way out the
door. If anything goes wrong, the nose knows.
From there the ham moves on to a grateful world, though in
truth many whole hams have already been spoken for by bars, restaurants, and
large-scale clients that reserve them while they're still aging. Jamon Iberico
shouldn't be sliced by machine—the soft fat would sheer out and the lean, bony
legs make horizontal slicing difficult.
Like cutting fish for
sushi in Japan, carving Spanish ham is an artisan job of its own. The perfect
slice is nearly see-through, small enough to eat in one bite, and carved at a
level angle to get the most consistent and efficient slices from the ham as
Remember how expert ham sniffers can detect four different
aromas from the same ham? You may not be able to pick up on all the nuances,
but it's easy to see that different cuts of ham look and feel different, from
the maza's clean striations of fat to the ribeye-like marbling of punta—or the
hard-to-reach "butcher's cut" of the ham, the chewy, flavor-packed
cana near the hoof. A skilled carver knows how to make the most of them all,
mixing up a plate of ham with multiple cuts for contrast.
Which brings us back to where we started: why does good
jamon Iberico cost so much? It's more than the expensive pigs, spacious
farmland, or acorn-rich diet. It's more than the time and investment needed to
prepare and cure hams properly, or the laboratory science and quality control
behind the scenes. In Montanchez there are many jamon shops and bars where you can sample the sublime product such as Casa Bautista, one of the oldest.
At the end of the day the question comes down to scale—how
much can you produce when every step along the way is so labor-intensive? What
substitute is there for highly trained specialists who in some cases are born
into the job?
Good pigs need time. And as with plenty of
other luxury goods, there's a choice to do something fast or to do it right.
Fortunately for us (and the pigs), there are still some people more interested
in the latter.
Eduardo Sousa has brought back to life a tradition of goose rearing that was almost extinct in his native Extremadura. His magnificent, ethically-produced Spanish foie gras is fetching top prices in the world’s finest food emporia – and ruffling a few French feathers in the process. Paul Richardson reports.
It’s easy to be complacent about the excellence of a local product. Sometimes it takes a comment from an outsider to remind us just how excellent it is.
Eduardo Sousa and his goose foie gras provide a perfect example of this maxim. The story goes as follows: for generations the Sousa family, natives of Fuente de Cantos in southern Extremadura (also birthplace of the painter Zurbarán, but that’s another story) made a modest living from the sale of patés made from ibérico pork liver, according to recipes handed down through the family. Like many owners of large fincas in the region the Sousas also kept geese, potting the fat livers as presents or as a special treat for the family. The product, though delicious beyond imagining, had no presence in the marketplace either locally or nationally - to say nothing of internationally. What’s more, the idea of a foie gras made in Spain was an anomaly that no-one in their right mind would contemplate: the real McCoy was French, and nothing else would do.
The turning-point came in 2006. Briefly, Eduardo took his Spanish foie gras to SIAL, the leading food fair in France – talk about bringing coals to Newcastle! - and against all the odds, won the fair’s Coup de Coeur prize for innovation. It is no exaggeration to say that the prize has transformed Sousa’s life, bringing fame (if not fortune) to this small-town company and revolutionising the suspicious and hermetic foie gras trade. La Patería de Sousa’s foie gras has been discovered by the global gastronomic community, fêted and fought-over by chefs like Dan Barber of the restaurant Blue Hill in Manhattan, who once served it to Barack Obama and describes it as ‘the culinary experience of a lifetime’. Ironically enough, one of the countries that holds Sousa’s product in highest regard is France, heartland of traditional foie gras production.
In order to understand the uniqueness of this product, it helps to know something about the way most French foie gras is produced – namely by the ‘gavage’ method by which the birds are force-fed, massively boosting the growth of the liver by artificial means. The revolutionary aspect of Sousa’s foie gras is its entirely natural process, which relies on the birds’ natural instinct to gorge on acorns and grass in the weeks leading up to their winter migration. The result is a product that ticks all the boxes for superb flavour and texture, organic status, and immaculate ethical credentials.
In many ways La Patería de Sousa seems an exemplary small business: family-run, based on a sustainable product derived from local and traditional sources. The company is essentially Eduardo Sousa and his wife Jacinta, four permanent employees, and his son and daughter of 9 and 13, who are already keen on the idea of taking over when the time comes.
We meet at Sousa’s HQ in Fuente de Cantos (Badajoz), where a small shop on the ground floor sells the tinned patés which are the company’s daily bread. Based on locally-sourced ibérico pork liver and fat, these are fine examples of the genre and, astonishingly, contain not a single preservative, colouring or any other artificial additive. (The range includes Pedro Ximénez and raisins, orange, three pepper, herbs, and ‘D.O.de bellota’. My only criticism would be that the timid use of these flavours makes the patés less distinctive than they might be.)
Leaving Fuente de Cantos we visit the farm, which lies some 20km to the south outside the hamlet of Pallares, among rolling hills of dehesa (holm-oak wood). As we drive Eduardo gives me the historical background on goose production in this part of Extremadura, rare in Spain but common at one time in this region thanks to fincas owned by wealthy members of the clergy, who were notoriously fond of the pleasures of the table. Charles the Fifth’s favourite dish, Eduardo tells me, was goose-liver pie. The Duchess of Abrantes’ recipe book, pillaged by the French from Alcántara during the War of Independence (1808/1814), contained recipes for goose liver pie and mi cuit. Yet curiously, goose in any form has almost zero presence in contemporary Spanish culinary practice. ‘In the old days there were producers of goose meat and eggs, but the liver itself wasn’t valued, it was melted down for oil.’
It is midday and the geese are either resting or pottering quietly in the shade of the oaks. As we cautiously approach one small group the birds become restive, honking in alarm. Just over the stone wall of the Sousa estate, the neighbour’s ibérico pigs rootle contentedly under the trees. Sousa’s geese and these pigs have a lot in common: both are raised in a semi-wild state, both spend the winter months ingesting large quantities of acorns (in the case of Sousa’s geese, up to a kilo per day, plus another kilo of windfall figs and olives, insects, grass, and whatever else they can find) and both are highly valued for the superlative quality of their respective fats.
It seems such a perfect set-up, such a splendid use of an extensive terrain, and such a highly sought-after finished product, that it is surprising to me that no-one has followed the Sousas into goose production. Evidently it is not an easy proposition. The care of these peculiar livestock requires a degree of sensitivity. Free-range geese need a great deal of space, and as wild creatures, must be disturbed as little as possible. Slaughtering is an especially delicate operation since the birds are extremely prone to stress, which spoils the liver: CO2 is used to put them to sleep. Eduardo loses around 20% of his birds annually to attacks by foxes and other predators (including poachers). All in all, insists Eduardo, foie gras is hardly a money-spinner, despite the high retail price of the finished product (as much as US$150 for a 250g jar). Even so, a few of his neighbours in Pallares have expressed serious interest in taking up the challenge. ‘Our objective is to rescue this tradition, so that the whole of the county goes back to goose production, just like in the Middle Ages’, he declares.
For the moment, he certainly has his hands full. Interest in the product is greater than ever – indeed, the quality of this foie gras, plus the media chatter around the world following the Paris award and Dan Barber’s personal seal of approval, has created a demand which Sousa is unable to satisfy. On the day I visited, a major Swiss distributor had just been to visit, begging for 2500 kilos. Sousa’s total production of foie gras barely reaches 500 kilos from 1000 geese, but, remarkably, he refuses to increase the flock, believing that this would only compromise the welfare of the geese and their environment.
He remains deeply committed to the idea of ethical standards in food production – a long-standing concern of consumers in Nordic countries, but as yet little-discussed in Spain. For years gourmets have fretted about the cruelty of the ‘gavage’ process. Now their qualms are resolved, and they can feast with a clear conscience on Sousa’s ethically-produced foie gras. ADDA, the Spanish campaigner against cruelty to animals, whole-heartedly approves of his initiative. La Patería de Sousa is also a founder member of the newly-formed National Association of Ethical Food Producers (ANPAE), whose quality seal, ALIMENTICO, guarantees that the product in question contains no dubious additives and that its manufacturer respects the environment and treats animals humanely.
It goes without saying that in the world of traditional foie gras this unusual extremeño version is not well regarded. Both the French industry body, the Comité Professionnel Français de Producteurs de Foie Gras, and their Spanish equivalent, the Asociación Interprofesional de las Palmípedas Grasas, have criticised Sousa and his product in the harshest possible terms, accusing him of everything from lacking an export licence to passing off a product that does not meet the true definition of foie gras (which is, that the livers must derive from animals force-fed artificially).
For his part, Eduardo shrugs off the controversy. ‘It is normal that they are angry about this, because they’re afraid’, he says simply.
Totemic in France, ignored in Spain
He then tells me two stories. One is a paradox: in Paris, in the temple to the most totemic of all French gourmet foods, le véritable foie gras espagnol is the star product, even at twice the price of the local sort. A second anecdote illustrates the vagaries of fashion. In the days before the Coup de Coeur award, Eduardo sent a few pots of his foie gras to the gourmet department of a well-known Spanish department store. The next time he was there in person, months later, he asked after the pots, and was told they were still in the storeroom. A foie gras from Extremadura? It was inferior, no good, it wouldn’t sell. No one was interested; what the discerning customer wanted was proper French foie gras.
How completely the situation has changed: the foie from Extremadura is now the one that truly discerning customers want and fine food retailers all over the world are desperate to get their hands on. But revenge is a dish best served cold – preferably on hot toast, with a glass of chilled muscatel. And as hard as you may look, you still won’t find Sousa’s foie gras in the gourmet department of that well-known Spanish department store…
CV of author
Paul Richardson lives on a farm in northern Extremadura. A freelance travel and food writer, he is the author of A Late Dinner which of course we have a copy of at Finca al-manzil together with many more interesting books about glorious food.