A Celebration with Tapas
Renowned in Barcelona, the Catalans invented tapas, bite-sized appetizers to enjoy with an aperitif before a meal. Here in French Catalonia you can enjoy the casual tapas atmosphere just about anywhere.
Bread toasts topped with garden tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, manchego sheep cheese drizzled with honey, pata negra ham sliced thin, fresh anchovy paté, olivade…and the list goes on.
But food and cooking in French Catalonia go beyond just tapas. Mediterranean in nature, French Catalan kitchens express Spanish and Moorish influences and utilize gifts from the sea as well as the region’s mountains and arid hills. On Real Travel France tours expect to try things like l’agneau (lamb) Catalan, Collioure anchovies, cured Jamón Ibérico, and the famous mountain ranging beef, la rosée des Pyrenees. You may get to savor rare Vallespir truffles, cheeses from neighboring family farms, peppery olive oils pressed fresh from local groves and fruits from the famous vineyards and orchards of Roussillon.
The prolific abundance of this southernmost region of France is paradisaical in its variety. Goats, sheep and cows are raised on the region’s varied grazing grounds, from coastal ranges to high mountain meadows, resulting in a great number of cheese styles.
Before the freeze of 1956 the region was the number one producer of olive oil in France and in recent years has begun to once again make its mark with high quality grassy and peppery oils for refined tastes. Coveted fruits of the region include cherries from Céret, peaches from Ille-sur-Tet, apples from the Vallée Gourmande, Roussillon red apricots and the numerous citrus fruits that seem to scent every garden path.
Palm trees grow at the base of snow-capped mountains and cold-weather crops make friends with sub-tropical varieties. French Catalonia is a surprising land where many cultures intermingle and the laws of nature seem to bend to accommodate. The proof is in the cuisine.
Home-cooking Catalan Style
Common Catalan dishes to try are bullinada, a fish dish prepared with the day’s catch, potatoes and bacon; cargolada, snails grilled over an open flame served with aioli sauce; boles de picolat, a Catalan take on Italian meatballs made with garlic and cinnamon or escalivats, oven-roasted Mediterranean vegetables drizzled with olive oil.
Almond groves drop their bounty in late summer/early fall for fresh pressed almond oil, almond flour, toasted almonds and torrons (almond candy). Catalans are famous for their sweet tooth and take full advantage of the harvest. Panellets are bite-sized pastries made from almond paste and pine nuts. Crema cremada is their caramel custard and bunyetes are large round sugared fritters.
But the most famous Catalan sweet are the rosquilles, frosted sponge cake donuts celebrated in every Catalan household at Easter. The best rosquilles in the country are said to come from the bakery in the village of Arles-sur-Tech, but we’ve found an even better source in the village of Vernet-les Bains. Come ride with us and we’ll take you there.
- November 28, 2015