Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Acorn season for Iberian pigs

A few days ago I ran my Iberian ham tour. This is the time of year that the Iberian pìgs that will produce the best hams are released onto large tracts of land to gorge on acorns. In Spanish this period is known as the "montanera" and lasts 3 - 4 months. It is not uncommon for a single animal to consume 700-800 kilos before it is ready to be sent on its final journey. This diet is supplemented with different grasses and clover that grow in the "dehesa", the name given to the typical landscape of holm oaks, cork oaks and other plants and shrubs. 

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The olive harvest

On Friday I spent a few hours at one of the olive mills that I visit observing the picking and processing of olives to produce high quality extra virgin olive oil. The firist photo below shows oilves being picked using electric combs. This is one of the best ways of picking olives as no damage is done to the olives, the branches or to the root system of the trees. 

Olives need to be transported to the mill and processed as soon after picking as possible to avoid any problems due to deterioration. At the mill leaves have to be separated from the olives which is done by using a machine that blows air through the olives as they fall after being elevated by a conveyor belt. At the mill that I visited the olives are also sorted by hand.

After the process the olives are introduced into a milling machine in which a hammering   action turns them into a paste.

The paste is then introduced into a machine called a malaxator. Circular blades turn around mixing the paste and helping for the droplets of oil and also water to be released from cells in the flesh of the olive. This process should be between 20 and 40 minutes. If the process goes on too long the oil can start to oxidise and also increase in temperature. It is important to keep the temperature below 27ºC to avoid loss of aromatic components due to volatility.

The paste is then introduced into a horizontally-axised centrifuge that spins around at about 3500 rpm. This process separates the solid from the liquid parts. It is in fact possible to separate off most of the water with the solid material. However, there will always be some water mixed in with the oil, so to separate them the liquid passes to a vertically-axised centrifuge. This time the liquid is spun at around 6000 rpm and the oil settles above the water. Pipes can then syphon off the olive oil and water separately.

There will always be some mositure left in the oil as well as some fine particles, so ti is always advisable to let the oil settle for several weeks before doing any bottling.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Olive oil and tapas

One of the tours that I did this week combined a morning olive oil tour and a tapas tour at lunchtime. At the mill that we visited it is only a matter of a few weeks before they start making olive oil. This year it seems there will be a good crop of olives with the tree in the photo below being representative of this.

The other two photos below are on the tapas tour with the second one showing some very fine acorn-fed Iberian ham.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Three days with a group of Australians

Earlier this week I spent three days with a fantastic group of four Australians, two of whom had been with me in 2012. I took them on a tapas tour, on my Iberian ham tour and a tour with a visit to an olive mill and to a winery where we had lunch.
The first photo below of some Iberian pigs was taken as it was raining. It was a relief to see some rain and to have a day with much cooler temperatures.

After visiting a farm and a ham-curing facility we went for a gourmet lunch which included a dish called migas. This is made with bread which is usually a day old. The bread is soaked in water and then squeezed to remove a lot of the moisture. Oil is heated in a pan and whole unpeeled cloves of garlic are added in addition to some pieces of chorizo and maybe pancetta. When the garlic starts to brown the bread is added and is stirred around until the moisture has gone and it is loose like large bread crumbs. Iberian ham can be added before serving as well as  fruit such as melon, grapes or orange. In the dish we had it was melon.

The last photo below was taken at the olive mill we went to the following day. 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Wine tour to Ronda

On one of the tours that I ran this week was to Ronda. It was with a group of four fantastic women from Australia who were great fun. We are now at the time of year when grape picking starts in the Ronda area. In fact at the two wineries that we visited the first grapes had been picked a few days before we arrived. At the first winery we went to the grape pickers were hard at it picking Merlot grapes as can be seen in the photo below.

The first grapes picked at this winery were Pinot Noir. The grapes can be seen in the photo below undergoing cold maceration before the start of fermentation. What is curious is that grapes undergoing this process almost always smell of black tea, that is to say the leaves.

At the second winery that we visited they were unloading boxes of Tempranillo grapes from a trailer just as we arrived. These grapes were to be placed in cold storage for 24 hours before being put on the sorting table, through the destemming machine and into the fermenatation tanks the next day.

We had lunch at the second winery on the patio. Lots of great food was accompanied by five wines produced at the winery.

My clients and I had such a fun day.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Wine tour to Arcos de la Frontera

Earlier this week I ran a wine tour to the Arcos de la Frontera area. Arcos is one of the famed white villages and is very spectacular with the old part of the town atop a sandstone ridge with towering vertical cliffs. I was with a group of wonderful Australians who were real fun to be with. at the winery quite a lot of the grapes had already been picked. In the  photo below you can see a large part of the vineyard with the leaves already changing colour and drying out.

The second photo is of the triconical oak fermentation vats which are used for the higher-end wines.

The final photo is in the tasting room where we tasted 4 wines, a white made from Chardonnay, a rosé and two reds. For the reds the winery grows 4 grapes; Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tintilla de Rota which is an aromatic local grape. Syrah vines make up the major part of the vineyard.
My clients enjoyed all the wines and favourably compared the reds with Syrah or Shiraz based wines from their homeland.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Pablo de Olavide University course on the wines of Montilla- Moriles

Every year in the summer I try to do a course at the Pablo de Olavide University. They run their summer courses in the town of Carmona in a wondeful old palace. The course has to have something to do with my work, so this year it was the wines from the Demoninación de Origen (D.O.) or appellation Montilla-Moriles, which is in the province of Córdoba. They make sherry-style wines from the Pedro Ximénez (PX) grape. Most people know PX as a dark sweet wine. It can, however, be used to make finos, amontillados, olorosos, etc. The area also makes a lot of young white wines. The course was for two days but I already had work today so was only able to attend the first day.
There was a general talk about the D.O. by its director which was followed by a lecture given by the head wine maker at Alvear, one of the best wineries in the area. His talk was on finos, amontillados and olorosos. I was very interested in the next lecture, given by a research scientist, on the yeasts involved in the ageing of finos. That is the yeast that covers the wine when it is ageing in the cask. After another lecture given on the wines of the winery Bodegas , we headed down to the cellars of the building for what was going to be a real fun experience, a food and wine pairing exercise. We paired a young white wine with smoked salmon, a fino with acorn-fed Iberian ham, an amontillado with cured tuna and almonds, oloroso with sachichón, moscatel with cheese and finally PX with dark chocolate truffle. This was a great way to finish the day!