Artisan adventures: a small expedition to Northern Catalunya

30 Jun

Artisan adventures: a small expedition to the North of Catalunya

On Wednesday I and 7 other interns headed up to Northern Cataluna to explore the culinary treasures of Olot, a small town situated amid sleeping volcanoes. The trip was partly an occasion to say bye to David – a chef and historian who has been working at Alicia for the past month and who lives near Olot. Although I got very sick towards the end of the small expedition, I really enjoyed myself and was thrilled to witness the pure catalan authenticity and thriving artisans that can be found in the most surprising places.

Below is a small photo story from the trip.

L’hostalet, the village where David lives, is a small, sleepy village, where the 200 inhabitants all know each other; a town where a 2-meter tall Swede is a certain peculiarity. Working in his parents traditional catalonian restaurant on the weekend, David gets to witness the moments when his village wakes up, as people from all across Catalunya and Spain come to observe and enjoy the many culinary treasures of this small pearl.

And it is probably the tourism that allows artisans like this baker to survive only from baking bread the way it has been done for centuries. The bread – juicy, tangy and crispy from the long fermentation process – is prepared in a traditional stone oven and is sold to everyone from next-door neighbors to Swedish tourists like me. We got a tour of the small bakery that is located on the first floor of an old stone building. The temperature inside reflected more that of a coal mine than a bakery; it was clear that no one but the baker himself has evolved in accordance with the wood-fire oven and the heat therein.

The fertile volcanic soil and the mountain climate of this region of Catalunya makes it an ideal place to grow corn. And corn they grow. I guess that I have to make a corn-analogy, because I am Carleton student. Here it is: It was almost like being in an exotic, interesting and mountainous Midwest. Or not… I guess the only similarity is the corn.

After some sightseeing, we jumped in to the car and headed towards Olot. Five minutes outside the volcanic city we met a family that runs an artisan sausage business. The family, very proud of their product, oversees the entire production process and makes sausages from around 1000 pigs a year. Even though 1000 pigs might sound like a large number for a small farm, it is miniscule relative to other farms in the region. That the region is famous for its meat came as no surprise when I found out that around hundreds of thousands of pigs become sausage each year, being exported to Japan, China and Russia. The farm was cute and the family was nice. However, the pigs did not seem very happy. Not a surprise, considering that more than 15 pigs had to live in an area smaller than 3 x 3 meters. We stayed at this place for more than an hour, and this left a few of us incredibly frustrated and tired . I still don’t understand what was so fascinating about making sausage from pigs.

Driving down a dark, winding road, we eventually arrived at another small farm. Sleeping in the car, I was woken up by a loudly barking dog, and immediately realized that we had arrived at a place that had something to do with sheep. Indeed we had. The last stop before dinner was a small goat-and sheep cheese farm run by a woman in her 70’s. We got a small tour of the production area and got to taste two kinds of aged cheeses; sheep’s and goat’s cheese. My favorite was the sheep’s cheese. At this point, I was so tired and hungry that I did not enjoy myself that much. We bought the cheese and headed and drove to a very special location in Olot, where we enjoyed the ingredients we had purchased: the sausage, the cheese, the bread, and some tomatoes and local white beans that David picked up at his parent’s restaurant. Right as we were about to eat, I got a fever, shaking vigorously.  As you might understand, I did not enjoy this part of the trip quite as much. Quite frankly, I don’t remember much either. However, taken as a whole, the trip was a great expedition. It was yet another taste of the richness that Catalunya has to offer.


One Response to “Artisan adventures: a small expedition to Northern Catalunya”

  1. vayumi July 1, 2012 at 1:09 PM #

    Reblogged this on FireBellies.

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