On L´Alcúdia, the Fira Gastronomica and the Putxero Competition!


Fira Gastronomica.

Come the first bank holiday of October, come the first Gastronomic fair of the month. L´Alcúdia, at the centre of the persimmon ( kaki ) growing area in the Ribera Baixa comarca of Valencia holds the first of two extremely good Gastronomic fairs ( the other being Utiel ) in October. Coinciding with the anniversary of the conquest of the moors and Valencia´s `National´ day the fair also plays host to the Concurs de Putxero Valencià y Postres de Kaki de la Ribera. Sponsored by the Town Hall, San Miguel cervezas, Murviedro wines the Valencian Government through its tourist arm the competition ( in its fifth year ) is  held in the Siglo XXI banqueting complex.

Top Cheeses.

I particularly like this fair because there is such a mix of gastronomy available, much of it local, with an opportunity to buy quality produce at reasonable prices. Not all of it is wine! In fact there were less bodegas in evidence this year than I can remember from previous fairs, probably a sign of reduced marketing budgets, but worthy of mention for continued support are La Encina, Murviedro, Cellar la Muntanya, Torrevellisca, St Vicent Ferrer ( Teulada) and Daniel Belda who always launch the first wine bottled from the current harvest ( Verdil) of any Northern hemisphere bodega.

The artisan butchers such as La Casa from Carcaixent bring fresh figatells ( the prototype burger) and blanquet ( a large white sausage)  flavoured with orange amongst a superb range of sausages, sobrasadas and other items. These sausages are  subtly  different from those produced by the butchers of Requena or Menorca, e.g, both of whom were represented as well. Cheeses from several artisan producers such as Granya Rinya and Cati, both winners of awards at world cheese competitions were available along with olives, pickled vegetables, fresh dates, turron ( the almond based sweets of the region) and never mind the crisis, from wood baked bread to Foie Gras and everything else in between it was all flying off the stalls.

Foie from Che Que Foie.

Now, in addition, the town is home to the annual Putxero competition. In February of this year ( archives Feb 17 2012) I wrote a post about Putxero, the classic Spanish `stew´, a one pot extravaganza which you may think is a peasant dish but which actually was a high status dish known right across Europe and almost certainly carried by diplomats and royal chefs as far as the United Kingdom and Austria.

There are those who believe its origins lie the other side of the mediterranean in couscous or even as far as the jewish dish prepared for the sabbath. Whatever the truth of this may be it lives on here, in Ireland as boiled ham and cabbage, in the UK in any number of casseroles with vegetables and beef ( whether cooked in beer or wine ) and in France  as Pot au Feu.

Gastronomy varies in Spain, every 30km or so there is a different version of a classic dish. here in the Ribera Baixa it is exactly the same.

Concurs de Putxero.

Each of the thirteen participating restaurants ( the competition like its Paella equivalent in Sueca is only open to professionals) has to cook the same dish with the same ingredients. These are shin of beef, spine, bones rich in marrow, blanquet, pelota ( a pork burger with spices) , chicken or cockerel, chickpeas, carrots, turnip, potato, parsnip and cardo, ( a giant thistle with edible leaf stalks from the artichoke family).

The dish commences with the cooking of the bones in the water to create a stock and the gradual addition of the other ingredients so that all come to be cooked evenly at the finish.

Putxero.

The dish is served traditionally in two or three plates. Firstly after the cooking is complete rice is cooked in the remaining stock to create a first dish, rich in colour and with good flavour which the rice absorbs. Secondly the vegetables may be served on a plate separate from the meats or altogether on one platter. Sometimes the pelotas are served wrapped in cabbage separately.

This year I was invited to join the jury by the President of the fair, Llúis Ribera. After breakfast taken with the competitors the jury settled down to await the first plates and the President of the jury Juan Carlos Galbis Olivares explained the rules and suggested a uniform system of marking which included marking down for ingredients missing, illegal ingredients or poor presentation including overcooked vegetables, or too little or insufficient seasoning. After that it was simply a matter of flavour and quality!

Putxero and Winning Dessert!

Thirteen Putxeros later I was quite amazed at the range of dishes that had been presented! Looking at my notes now, the range of colours of the stock ranged through light lemon yellow, quite deep golden-yellow and finally to a brown stock to which a concentrated beef jus had clearly been added! Only one of the entrants presented on three plates and each of the remaining entrants had a different serving platter in shape, depth and material ( ie glass or ceramic or terracotta ) some with the vegetables neatly stood up, propped against the meat with the chickpeas forming a base. Each judge tastes the soup and samples of the meat, vegetables and chickpeas to establish a standard.

After the putxeros come the puddings, confections made from the persimmon and with a fancy name to describe it! Many of these dishes incorporated the kaki in mousse, yoghurts or ice cream and there was a flan, typical of many home-made restaurant puddings but three entrants had gone to town and matched flavour with artistry in the presentation. After the session there seemed a unanimity that the entrant with four separate elements to the dish served on a gilt framed mirror had produced something quite outstanding and it was no surprise that this was the overall winner.

The Prizes.

Following the judging there is a lunch and then the prize giving takes place. Interestingly in this competition the judges and the competitors share a table and for me this just emphasised the good nature of the event and the camaraderie between and respect for the different restaurants. For the record the lunch was a selection of typical

Valencian starters, followed by…..putxero and desserts  made with  kaki!

This was an unforgettable experience, a great honour  and a day  which I will treasure for ever.

The Official Results!

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