Monthly Archives: March 2013

Where to Eat in Benlloch, Castellon? Restaurante La Bodegetta.


Olla Belloquina

Olla Belloquina

Over the last couple of years I have often found myself in `La Plana Alta´, the area of Castellon which includes the towns of Vilafamés, Les Uséres, Vall D´Alba, Cabanes, Pobla de Tornesa, St Joan de Moro, La Torre d´en Domenech and Benlloch. The reason is often related to the vineyards and bodegas of the area which have recently formed their own wine route and following visits to one or more of them, often after an early start, a hearty lunch of traditional local food is very welcome.

Each of the towns has its own bars and restaurants where such local fare can be found. Some of them are better for almuerzo, the mid morning breakfast, or for tapas if you do not want a full-blown meal. For those who do want a dining experience, whether at lunchtime or in the evening, La Bodegetta in Benlloch is top of my list. Once or twice a year a treat is called for,  this is where I go to fulfill that wish.

The restaurant is also very much a local bar, with tables in the street outside, an extensive selection of tapas and bocadillos for almuerzo, but it has a serious menu of main courses, mainly directed from the` brasa´, as well as a selection of home-made puddings to tempt the palate. In season La Bodegetta also produces the local `ollas´ or stews from this part of Castellon. These often have pigs feet , ears, lamb neck, jamon bones, black pudding ( morcilla) , chard, spinach, potato, green beans, carrots, pumpkin, turnip amongst other ingredients.

Pan con tomate.

Pan con tomate.

I have eaten there three times and always received a friendly welcome, booking a table is advised and  essential if the local fairs are on.

The bar/restaurant is clean and modern inside, with a separate private dining area at the back although in fiesta the whole bar will be set up with  tables laid for meals rather than snacks.

The extensive choice of starters, tapas and main courses is committed to memory…..not mine, the waiting staff´s!

Revueltos de Jamon y Ajo Tierno.

Revueltos de Jamon y Ajo Tierno.

On our latest visit there must have been 15-20 choices for starters, including revueltos (scrambled eggs) with various additions such as jamon and ajo tierno, or morcilla,  different salads,  gambas al ajillo and all come accompanied with the local version of  `pan con tomate´,  bread cooked with tomato rubbed into the top of the dough.

Revueltos with Morcilla.

Revueltos with Morcilla.

Main courses included rabbit, any number of beef , lamb and pork dishes or fish cooked on the brasa or the plancha as well as some cooked in the oven such as cod in a tomato sauce.

Gambas al Ajillo.

Gambas al Ajillo.

We plumped for a salad of mojama, (served with sliced tomato  with carpaccio of cod and anchovy and timbales of chopped vegetables with aubergine),  a revueltos with black pudding and ajo tierno, gambas al ajillo and the bread. These typical sharing plates are generous starters and three are usually enough between five people. The mojama ( tuna loin, air-dried and sliced thinly) was perfectly accompanied by the salad of vegetables, lightly oiled, the anchovy and cod producing a contrast of flavours. The revueltos was just right, neither firm nor sloppy, the egg bound perfectly with the baby garlic tops and morcilla with onion and spices.

Ensalada de Mojama.

Ensalada de Mojama.

The gambas, ( prawns cooked in oil and wine with garlic and a dried chilli) served sizzling were plump and full of flavour.

For mains we chose five different dishes. From the brasa the chuleton de buey (beef rib) was cooked perfectly `poco hecho,´  melted in the mouth and was well seasoned with rock salt.

Chuleton de Buey and Mas de Rander Syrah.

Chuleton de Buey and Mas de Rander Syrah.

The `secreto´ of pork was tender and generous in size.The rabbit is served spatchcocked, whole and is ideal for those who love picking up the bones!

Conejo a la Brasa.

Conejo a la Brasa.

From the fish dishes we selected emperador ( swordfish) from the plancha and cod served in a tomato sauce. All five dishes came with a garnish of chips and a `padron´ pepper. More bread was offered, and accepted  as well.

Emperador a la Plancha.

Emperador a la Plancha.

To accompany the meal we chose a white wine from Catalonia and a red from the local bodega Mas de Rander, a syrah full of fruit but with sufficient tannin to cut through the natural fat in the meat dishes. If there is one shortcoming it is the wine list. There is a choice between local wines and those from elsewhere in Spain Sadly the local white was not available and the restaurant could give some thought to improving its choice of local wines.

Secreto de Cerdo.

Secreto de Cerdo.

For some reason we skipped the choice of home-made sweets, mainly flans and mousses!

However no visit to Castellon is ever complete without the local coffee, Carajillo de ron. This is claimed to be the birthplace of the carajillo…..rum boiled with sugar and then served with the coffee sat on top with a piece of lemon rind and a coffee bean. It is said this was all the Spanish troops had before going into battle in Cuba.

Carajillo de Ron!

Carajillo de Ron!

With water, the whole meal will cost you around 25€ a head, well worth it for a quality meal, well cooked and presented in an atmosphere where the cuisine was clearly being appreciated by the other diners and the staff care about what they are providing!

The restaurant is in the centre of Benlloch and only 10 minutes drive from the new Castellon airport. For those waiting for their `White Elephant Airways´ flight this is a convenient point to while away the hours…….and with guaranteed service!

www.restaurantelabodegetta.com

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Benlloch…Local Wines and Produce Fair 2013….More New Wines from Castellon!


Benlloch Fair 2013.

Benlloch Fair 2013.

 

The Benlloch Fair, in its second edition this year, is very like a traditional agricultural fair in the United Kingdom. On visiting for the first event last year we were surprised to see a big display of rare and international breed cockerels, peacocks, quail and partridge. In the ( dry) riverbed there were a few donkeys. In the streets of the town, local bakers display there fresh made breads and savoury dishes such as coca and empanadas, sweet cakes, whilst cheese makers from the local area were selling their artisan made `servietas´ and specialist products, all made locally.

Cockerel on Display.

Cockerel on Display.

The town is also host to a medieval market selling all sorts of hand-made clothes, wooden implements, pizzas and trinkets.

Most importantly there is a section for the wine-producers to show off the excellent local wines from the surrounding towns and villages.

The fair comes fairly close on the heels of the `Best Wines from Castellon´ fair which was the subject of my 24 February blog ( see archives) . As a result I can report on a few more bottles  and the reader will have a fairly comprehensive update on the taste of the regions current crop of wines.

This years fair is no different except there were more livestock on show, brown cows and bulls ( almost never seen other than in the mountains) and horses. There were more exhibitors in the towns streets and the sun was shining on all!

Roques Negres.

Roques Negres.

El Mollet is the Bodega producing Roques Negres, a blend of 70% Monastrell and 30% Syrah which currently shares premises in Les Useres with a couple of other bodegas. Juan Carlos Pavia, the owner is hopeful that he can eventually relocate the bodega to Benlloch where the family still own a building which was once a distillery…sadly now lacking the wherewithal to make spirits! That will take time but his wine is really distinct. Medium bodied, cherry red to ruby with good glycerinous legs. On the nose there is a spiky cherry fruit with chocolate and liquorice. Juan Carlos does not have barrels but does want to give the wine a touch of oak which stabilises it. He adds oak chips to his 3000 litre deposits for a period of 14 days and this seems to have the desired effect. In the mouth there is a hint of oak, no more, the wine is a big mouthful, plenty of cherry fruit, with an easy pass across the palate and a long full satisfying finish. Sensibly priced this is a good quality easy drinker.

José Luis Sanchez of the Benlloch bodega Banús was showing three wines from his range. Hot off the heels of the fiestas in Castellon all of the Sauvignon Blanc had been sold. However Jose Luis did still have his Rosado from Tempranillo and the light red Tinto from the same variety under the Torito label both of which have now settled down in the bottle.

Banús Torito.

Banús Torito.

Both wines are meant to be easy drinkers and neither disappointed! The rosado at 13.5% ABV has a typical bright, clean, strawberry colour with long legs. On the nose red fruits and that boiled sweet, chewing gum bouquet that is so typical of good rosados here. In the mouth good fruit is balanced by a clean acidity, it has a grapefruit, mineral dry long finish which is very satisfying. This will be a good summer drinker.

The red is a medium  bodied cherry red,  also 13.5% ABV and with long legs. On the nose there is soft fruit and in the mouth it is very smooth with good cherry fruit and a hint of clove. Nice easy drinker!

The Cabernet Sauvignon Crianza 2011 from the Ildum range by contrast is a bigger wine with a deeper ruby-red colour, long glycerinous slow legs . On the nose it is a bit stalky with hints of green pepper. In the mouth whilst the fruit is there it is a leaner , drier wine which would be better with food, green pepper and a long finish.

I first met Guzman Orero in the Valencia fair in 2010. Guzman´s family own the Segorbian bodega Masia La Hoya and he is secretary of the organisation pulling the bodegas together into a group which can challenge for IGP and eventually DO status for wines from Castellon. Whilst he and I enjoyed a fascinating discussion about the politics involved mor importantly we enjoyed a tasting of his current range.

Artisan Cheese Stall.

Artisan Cheese Stall.

Masia de la Hoya 2010 Merlot is a wine which has been in deposit until it was finally bottled at the beginning of March. Plum red, with good legs the nose is still closed as the wine settles into its new environment. However in the mouth there is plenty of ripe fruit, plum, damson and good depth and body. There was no hint of bitterness in the finish. Very nice, this will be much better in a couple of months and has a good life expectancy.

More Livestock on Show.

More Livestock on Show.

The 2009 Syrah by contrast has had twelve months in a mixture of French, American and Romanian oak. A nice medium bodied cherry red, good long legs, on the nose the spiky black cherry fruit associated with youngish syrah, full-bodied with hints of lilac, smoke and liquorice. Very nice.

The 2006 Tempranillo/Merlot/Syrah  is a small production wine which I first tasted in 2010. It seems to have aged only a little in the last three years, now a little more garnet than plum in colour! It retains its blackberry fruit, star anise  and  vanilla flavours although they may be a little dryer now. Nonetheless this wine could still be laid down successfully for a few more years. Meaty and satisfying long finish, very good.

Finally we tasted the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, 2010. This again has good long glycerinous slow legs, a deep black cherry colour, but was very closed on the nose. In the mouth the potential is there, full, meaty, fruity, with a solid body but with a feeling there is still more to emerge. Another wine to lay down.

I hope to visit the bodega in May once the vines are in colour.

José Manuel from Bodegas Vega Palacio was showing his 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon ,Syrah and Merlot in 60-20-20 proportions a wine which won a silver award in Castellon last month. 12 months in French oak, this wine has a deep black cherry colour, but again is a little closed on the nose. There is good grip in the mouth, this a hard young wine with a huge development ahead of it. One to lay down for the future.

Wine from Ismael Sanjuan.

Wine from Ismael Sanjuan.

Also from the Segorbe area is Ismael Sanjuan of bodegas Sanjuan. I had tasted his white in Castellon but sadly this had also sold out already! His joven Tempranillo Edición Limitada 2012 has spent just a month in oak. A light ruby colour.  On the nose good, fresh fruit, red and black. In the mouth a very easy pass across the palate, a nice light, easy drinker packed full of fruit. Like this a lot.

The Viña Viver from the same bodega is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot from 2009. At 12.5%ABV it has spent 11 months in American oak. As a result it has a much deeper body and is a black cherry in colour. On the nose it is full of ripe fruit, cherry, plum and there is black chocolate. In the mouth very smooth tannin underlies good fruit, red and black, ripe, a hint of spice, ( clove). Very nice, a quality red!

As I have remarked before it is always a pleasure to come across a bodega I have not encountered before. New to me was Castells i Montoliu, an organic bodega in La Torre en Domènech run by Ximo Montoliu with the help of Adria Perez, winemaker  of the Priorat bodega Cims  de Porrera. The bodega produces three wines, a white and two reds.

The Blanquet white had only been bottled three days ago  and needs time to show its best. A pure Macabeo, 13%ABV, it is from 60-year-old vines. The wine has plenty of promise, there is ripe, concentrated apple fruit, and the wine is very full with a long full finish and good balancing acidity. I would like to try this again in a month or two.

Ximo Montoliu.

Ximo Montoliu.

Next we tried two contrasting vintages of the Siull. The 2009, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell with French oak ageing. A good deep cherry red with long legs it is 13.5%ABV. On the nose lots of ripe black fruit but still fresh whilst in the mouth it is packed with rich, mature red and black fruit. This is an excellent  wine.

The 2009 by contrast is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Tempranillo and Monastrell with American oak ageing. Much deeper in colour, much more closed on the nose and in the mouth full of black fruits of the forest, with very smooth tannins. A wine which is concentrated and needs to be laid down….sadly there are only a few cases left!

The other red is L´Encanteri. 13.5%ABV, 2010. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha. A light to medium bodied ruby-red, bright. On the nose red fruits, strawberry and boiled sweets. In the mouth fruity, medium bodied with a hint of minerality. A real easy drinker. A bodega to watch and visit soon!

Wines from Castells i Montoliu.

Wines from Castells i Montoliu.

Finally we enjoyed a palate cleanser before lunch! The excellent white from Vinya Natura, Barranc L ´Infern is a blend of Macabeo and Chardonnay with four months of oak ageing. The wood is barely noticeable in the mouth but has clearly added depth to the wine which has great fruit and body, a quality wine.

This is a very interesting fair to visit with lots to do for all the family and is well worth a visit! The town also possesses one of the best restaurants with traditional local dishes always well presented and with a high standard of cooking. La Bodeguetta deserves a post of it´s own!!

 

 

 

2013-International Year of the Paella…Ten Commandments and some Etiquette!


2013 Year of Valencian Paella.

2013 has been designated International Year of the Paella, a dish which began it´s life in Valencia where it is still cooked with much love and care , but similarly some real atrocities are perpetrated and called Paella which are not…..some even sold within a few metres of the Town Hall in Valencia City!

The leading light behind this initiative is Paco Alonso, journalist, t.v. presenter, full-time wit, comedian, some time DJ and above all a man with a huge knowledge of Valencian Gastronomy and the people who produce it! His blog, in Spanish can be read at www.pacoalanaranja.es/ . Paco is also leader of the Platform for Gastronomic Information a Facebook group dedicated to gastronomy which has a very active membership  in Valencia province and ambassadors all around the world.

Paco has written the definitive work on paella…`La Paella Valenciana, del ADN al I+D+i.´

In an attempt to aid with the diffusion of knowledge and completely behind the initiative to promote Valencian Paella here is my humble explanation of the ten commandments for producing the perfect example and some important rules of etiquette to be observed when invited to eat one…..especially for those who are visitors to Valencia or aspire to cooking this dish in foreign parts!

The Ten Commandments.

Valencian DO Rice.

Valencian DO Rice.

1. Valencian Paella can only be cooked with rice from Valencia. Risotto, Basmati, wild rice and pudding rice are not only unacceptable they have entirely the wrong properties. Valencian rice is available in the UK from several outlets, is not expensive even when it comes in a small sack. It should me demarcated DOP Arroz de Valencia and if it says Albufera or Sueca on it as well….even better!

2. Do not call a rice dish Paella when it is not. Simply put all paellas are rice dishes but very few rice dishes are Paellas!

3. Paella should be eaten on a Sunday or Christian day  of obligation. It is always preferable to eat paella in a large group because it is a dish of celebration provoking friendship…..or as the Spanish put it so well….amistad!

4. Always preserve your traditional family recipe with it´s secret ways passing this information on to your children and Grandchildren to preserve it for posterity. Wherever there are 20 Valencians gathered there will be at least 21 variant  views on the correct manner to cook it!

5. Do not fry the rice, this dish is not Chinese, Thai or from any Asian tradition!

Preparing the Vegetables.

Preparing the Vegetables.

6. Do not add non-permitted vegetables to paella. The holy trinity is Runner beans, Lima beans and a locally grown variety….known here as ferradura, garrofo y tabella. At certain times of the year one or other may be out of season. If you cannot find dried versions which you soak overnight, it is permitted to add artichokes, properly prepared, as an alternative. Peas, red peppers, onions etc are the devils spawn and never to be added. Wild rosemary is permitted and briefly added during the point of bringing the water to the boil.

7. Always return any utensils you have to borrow from your neighbours clean and without signs of oxidation. This includes gas rings, gas bottles and the paella pan.

8. It is very bad manners to make impertinent comments to or about the cook or attempt to discredit him or her whilst at work. Just because you think you can cook a paella better is no excuse! It is however good manners to keep the cook supplied with cold beer, wine and a supply of the tapas everyone is enjoying. His ( or hers) is a grand labour!

Beer to Refresh the Cook.

Beer to Refresh the Cook.

9. Always defend paella cooked over orange wood. They are the best, the wood is easy to control, burns slowly but with an even heat and lasts a long time. As long slow even cooking produces the best paellas this is important. As is the water! Water from Valencia is high in calcium which adds to the way the rice cooks. Valencian water is called `H dios O´and is considered miraculous.

10. Do not covet your neighbours `socarrat´. This is the slightly burn´t bit on the bottom of the paella where the rice has been in contact with the caremelisation produced by cooking the meat. It is considered the best bit. ( More on this in the Etiquette section.)

Paellas were traditionally eaten from the paella pan which sat on a low table. The diners sat around it each with their spoon and ate the portion directly in front of them. Today you are more likely to be served a portion directly on a plate. The pointed wooden spoons which were traditionally used have been banned by the Health Department and are now gifted as souvenirs in better restaurants!

The Etiquette Associated with Eating Paella.

Imagine the paella is like a box of cheese portions. Your portion is in front of you and not to either side! Today you help yourself to your portion with a metal spoon!

Your guests should be mixed up, men amongst women, children amongst the elderly. This ensures a fairer distribution……. remember this is not àlmuerzo popular at your neighbours where the men all sit together and the hostess does all the cooking and waiting!

The Finished Item!

The Finished Item!

There are those who display a preference for soaking their portion in lemon juice, freshly squeezed. Ask both your neighbours permission before performing this heinous act.

If the paella is good it is good etiquette to praise the cook every couple of mouthfuls!

The ingredients will be spread evenly throughout the paella. If you do not like a particular ingredient it is permitted to remove it to the centre of the pan to be shared by the other diners.

This brings me to the vexed question of the rabbit’s head. Often placed in front of the English guest it is normal to be told you are the guest of honour and this is the most important part of the dish……….my friends….your hosts are `aving a laarf´ and teasing you. The only merit the head has is to add flavour and the enjoyment on the hosts face when you see it. Be warned!

Do not compensate by stealing anything from your neighbours portion or plate. The first offence will be marked with a gruff warning. Similarly do not rotate the pan to give you access to other bits you may fancy. Subsequently you might well end up washing the paella pan and oiling after the meal. ( The worst bit!)

Occasion for Celebration!

Occasion for Celebration!

When your spoon hits the bottom here you will encounter the `socarrat´. Not always easy to remove without committing several offences such as rotating the pan or shaking ingredients onto your space it is  sometimes more polite to forego this delicacy and wait for pudding!

The meal is over when the last guest leaves the table or when the paella pan is empty – the indisputable sign the paella was good!

A Quick guide to what is not a Paella.

Some of the worst abuses have been committed by famous T.V. chefs. Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein and even the `saintly´ Delia are all guilty.

Paella does not have onion, red pepper, chorizo, peas, whole artichokes, shrimps, prawns or anything else other than the permitted ingredients and variations here in Valencia. Thus in the Ribera Baixa around Sueca it is permitted to add `pilotes´ ( small pork balls flavoured with cinnamon) and similarly at Xmas the paella in the Maestrat may also contain a similar variation. It is important to respect local tradition in Valencia  but you should be aware Paella Sandwiches such as those sold in Tesco, Pizza Hut´s Paella Pizza as found in Poland, frozen pre-prepared paella and the monstrosities produced in Mexico and the Canary Islands are correctly called `arrocidades´ for that is what they are.

Now go and enjoy the real deal!

Something to Drink With it!

Something to Drink With it!

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