Spain 2: cured meat and wine

Our first day we left behind three casualties: two recovering from queasiness from the previous night’s tapas feed, and one sore throat.

We drove through the wooded hills – a surprise to many of us, expecting a parched, desert-like landscape – to sausage-maker Fussimanya, which has been operating for 35 years. It started life as a restaurant serving Catalan specialties, and, as we had a chance to discover, is still hugely popular (it was pretty much full on a Monday lunchtime when we left). They began by making sausages for the restaurant but now produce a full range of products which are sold through their own shops on the site and in Vic.

Here we watched the production of brisba, a hefty boiled sausage which comes in white (made from a lot of things you might not wish to see listed here) or black (made from blood, fat and meat).

They also make five varieties of cured sausage: longaniza, churizada, chorizo, fuet and sumaya. This one, fuet, uses 3 grams of pepper per kilo of meat: whole peppercorns inside and ground pepper outside; it’s a firm, dry sausage, very moreish as we discovered in a tasting.

We also got to see how the traditional wine vessels are used:

No wine was spilled, but one knee was grazed, ironically right after negotiating oh so carefully the slippery floor of the factory.

Afterwards we were taken for a look at Vall de Sau Collsacabra – a valley whose centre is a drowned village, its church steeple showing in times of drought – as now – from the middle of the lake. This was part of Franco’s legacy, the translator told us; he wanted to bring water to the country and created a series of artificial lakes through damming rivers and walling in valleys, and drowned more than one village in the process. I’m not sure what the villagers must have thought of it all, but such areas are now rich playgrounds, studded with posh hotels like the one we were standing in front of. Nearby was a former Benedictine monastery (Sant Pere de Casserres) which had been founded in 1005 but abandoned after the 14th century; it was restored in 1998 and is a popular attraction– but we didn’t get to see it.

Instead we headed back to Fussimanya for a long and excessive lunch:

More pan con tomate..

Cold roasted vegetables:

A platter of raw cod:

Some fried mushrooms:

The ever present aoli, called allioli in Catalonia:

Crema Catalana: is it so different from Crème Brûlée? We thought maybe it was not as dense a custard. And served in this characteristic bowl, with the wafer.

After lunch we drove to Santa Maria d’Horta d’Avinyo to visit the winery Bodegues Masia d’Avinyo, home of the Roqueta family, wine producers since the 12th century.

Most of the old bits and pieces from this history of winemaking are now part of a museum. We saw the sunken wine vats, over which were suspended ropes for the grape-treaders; a system of drains then allowed the juice to drain out by gravity. The vats had to be cleaned by hand, but it was very dangerous work, because there could be a lethal build-up of carbon dioxide, and so in a twist on the canary in a mineshaft idea, the winemakers suspended cats inside first; if they died, it wasn’t safe to go in. Lucky for the local felines, they later realised that candles worked just as well.

Here’s an olde worlde kind of way to put corks in your wine bottles:

We had a small lesson in historical market economics as we finished the museum tour. This was always a big wine producing area, and became even more so at the end of the nineteenth century, when phylloxera had devastated the vines of France and stepped up demand for Spanish wine. Many of the French workers moved to Spain. Once the French restored their industry (by grafting their vines onto phylloxera-resistant American root stock), and when phylloxera reached Spain in the 1890s, Spanish wine production dropped still further; with the arrival of the industrial revolution, the winemaking families turned to more reliable factory work, so it became difficult to convince workers to return to the vineyards. But the winery is now producing some 476,000 bottles a year, under the supervision of youthful oenologist Joan Soler.

They produce two labels (Roqueta and Avadal) and we enjoyed a tasting of some of Avadal’s offerings. Here’s the elegant tasting room, lined with barrels that have been autographed by visiting celebrities, including Ferran Adria who we’d be meeting just a few days later.

The wines included Picapoll – a local grape named for a Catalan word meaning how chickens peck. Quite an acidic one. Then a very nice Chardonnay, a couple of Merlots and a Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend.

And then back to Vic, where thanks to a free dinner, and a possible bad reaction to some gazpacho, two more of our classmates would fall to stomach ailments.

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