Today we take a trip to the demarcated region of Távora-Varosa, in Beira Alta, the oldest in the country, to understand the whole story that exists in the bubbles of wine.
This story begins under the ground and ends at the height of the party, because this is the trip of a bottle of sparkling wine after all. No other drink spends so long in the darkness of a cellar. It is the liquid that seals the importance of ephemeris and that embodies the remarkable events. In recent years, the Portuguese sparkling wine has started to lose the shame of not being champagne and has entered the most brilliant period in its history. New producers have appeared, the oldest are playing cards in international competitions, sales are growing steadily.
Lamego, a land of great nobility that holds a significant place in Portuguese history, was, accordingly, the birthplace oh this wine. Even though the raw material comes from the original Champagne grape varieties, this wine has made its mark as a quintessentially Portuguese product.
It all started in 1898 when the junior rebel commander and his family founded the raposeira cellars. At that time, the owners of the raposeira cellars went on to study in the famous champagne region, and from then on a series of experiments carried out in lamego lands allowed to create the personality of some of the most renowned Portuguese sparkling wines.
On average, five million bottles are produced here annually. The area was demarcated in 1989, there are 3,500 hectares of land, spread over eight counties in Beira – Tarouca, Lamego, Sernancelhe, Moimenta da Beira, Penedono, Tabuaço, São João da Pesqueira and Armamar. Together with Bairrada, it is a region of effervescence par excellence. From here come two icons of national sparkling wine, Raposeira and Murganheira. In the valleys of the Távora and Varosa rivers, two tributaries on the left bank of the Douro, it is clear what is happening today in the national sparkling wine market.
Acácio Laranjo was a textile producer in the region with business in France who one day decided to bring with him a Moët & Chandon winemaker to develop a high quality product. And when you enter the cellars of the company, you immediately see the path that the tycoon wanted to take. Underground, in the 1940s, two hundred meters of corridors were opened with dynamite in the middle of the granite. It is an impressive work, the blue walls of the Murganheira cellars maintain a constant temperature of 12.3 degrees, whether summer or winter.
There are roughly three flavors of sparkling wine: sweet, medium-dry and raw. If Murganheira produces essentially raw products, Raposeira clearly bet on sweets, cheaper and with less risk of error, because liquors are able to rectify any flaw in the product. Founded in 1898, these are the oldest sparkling wine cellars in the country. They are also the biggest center of Portuguese production – and both the dimension and the history are understandable at the first impact.
Távora ‑ Varosa is not the most productive region in the country, but it is the one that produces the most certified sparkling wine, that is, with a designation of origin and quality assurance.
The sauce that coats the clams is prepared with olive oil (of very good quality as it is the star ingredient of the sauce), garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper and sometimes, as is the case here, some dry white wine to bring even more flavor. Then, the juice of lemon juice is drizzled before being served.
The Lisboetas and travelers returning from the Tagus river will speak to you with joy of the infinite pleasure of savoring amêijoas à Bulhão Pato by the sea and finishing the dish with a good bread to soak up the wonderful juice of the clams intimately mixed with the olive oil, garlic and cilantro. An easy and quick recipe for a short lunch break or at the end of the day, at sunset, at the Port of Lisbon.
Many of the emblematic dishes of Portuguese gastronomy are prepared with fish or shellfish. Nothing surprising for a country bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and whose capital sits on a bay.
The Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, enjoys a great reputation for the variety and freshness of its fish, shellfish and crustaceans. It is from this region that comes a large part of the seafood consumed in Portugal, including clams. Some are farmed and others are picked up by mariscadores, shellfish farmers.
In Portugal, the amêijoas are at the heart of many recipes such as cataplana (seafood dish with spices, white wine, tomatoes, etc.) or carne de porco à alentejana (consisting of pork, clams and accompanied by potatoes). And many others.
But today, I decided to feature the recipe of amêijoas à Bulhão Pato. It is named after Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato, a poet, gastronomist and epicurean, who was an important figure in the intellectual and artistic life of Portuguese society in the mid to late nineteenth century. He even participated in a culinary book, “The cook of the cooks” (O Cozinheiro dos Cozinheiros) by Paulo Henrique Plantier, published for the first time in 1870, which offered a chapter of recipes invented and made by famous Portuguese artists of the time.
So this is a nice tribute to this epicurean and lover of good food, that this dish that is so popular still bears his name today, and continues to challenge the curious foodies like us.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato – Recipe
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato are a delicious traditional dish of the city of Lisbon that is prepared with clams coated with a sauce composed of olive oil, garlic, cilantro, and white wine.
- 2 lb fresh clams
- ½ cup olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic , peeled and sliced
- 1 bunch cilantro finely chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 lemon
- Soak the clams in a large amount of water with the coarse salt for 3 hours. They will desalinate and get rid of the sand they contain. Place in the refrigerator.
- Rinse thoroughly and several times in cold water to completely get rid of sand.
- Use a brush to scrape the shells to remove the last traces of sand as well as any marine residues.
- Pour the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the garlic and cilantro. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
- Add the dry white wine and bring to a boil. Add the clams. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover and cook over medium heat until the clams open, about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Once all the clams are open, place them on the serving dish and let the sauce boil over high heat for 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over the clams.
- Sprinkle with lemon juice before eating.
Thinking about the typical products of Portugal, we immediately think of the wine, such as the Port or the Madeira wine, or the splendid ceramics, the azulejos, hand-painted that decorate houses and gardens.
However, not everyone knows that Portugal is in first place in the world for cork processing with 53% of world production. In the Alentejo area, between Lisboa and the Atlantic coast, 72% of the total production of the entire country is concentrated and skilled craftsmen work cork here.
What do you get from cork processing? Virtually everything: caps, home accessories, fashion accessories, clothes and shoes, but also bags, furniture and floor or wall coverings.
Cork is a 100% natural product, it is soft, resistant, versatile, recyclable, hypoallergenic and has thermal properties keeping both heat and cold.
Cork is an element so important in the history of Portugal that we find traces of it in many monuments:
– The Convent de Santa Cruz do Buçaco and the Convent dos Capuchos of Sintra, for example, where the monks used cork to cover the walls and make the environment more comfortable and this is how we find some cells and some common areas with the walls covered cork.
– In the basilica da Estrela in Lisbon, you can admire the 18th century Nativity with terracotta figures on cork scenarios.
– The door jambs, windows and portholes of the Chalet of Countess of Edla in Sintra are decorated with cork elements.
– São Brás de Alportel (Algarve), owes its development to the cork industry and today is located in the center of the Rota da Cortiça (The Cork Road) through beautiful cork forests.
The cultivation of cork oaks is an art that requires time and a lot of patience. A cork oak takes 25 years to be productive and to be able to make the first extraction of cork. Between one extraction and another we have to wait 9 years and only after the third one we will have a fairly compact and usable cork. The cork boards are stacked outdoors, then they are boiled and divided according to thickness and quality. With the best boards, natural corks are obtained while the lower boards are used for soles for shoes or corks for common wines. Trees can live up to 400 years and ensure crops for 200 years.