Earlier this summer, I had the good fortune of attending a food styling & photography workshop in Andalucía, held by two internationally revered photographers, Béatrice Peltre of La Tartine Gourmande and Marta Munoz-Calero, food photographer | stylist | writer extraordinaire. Exploring a country through its food, I've come to find, is the truest way to its soul. The colors, flavors and smells transport your senses into the lives of the countrymen, who pour their love into every preparation, proudly touting the fare that defines them as a people. And so, over the course of four days, we engaged with the Spanish countryside's savory offerings, walking throughout the El Esparragal estate engulfed in sprawling agriculture, enriched in livestock; working with the regional ingredients, stylishly composing traditional favorites, and capturing the relishing fare that defines this impassioned culture.
The first day we payed homage to Béa's roots, diving into the art of constructing the TARTINE, a French open-faced sandwich. We spent morning piling warm, home-made breads with traditional Spanish cheeses like Manchego, Ibérico, + Crema de Cabrales, paired with crisp, vibrant produce fresh from the local markets. After several hours of forging, fumbling, and fixing my way to a reasonably palatable tartine, I realized that this was merely half the battle; rendering its beauty for the lens is a completely different form of art...
The afternoon was an extension of the morning, although a much larger collaboration awaited our hands, and palates. Together, we crafted a colorful countryside picnic bearing the likes of cured jamon Ibérico & Serrano, fuet (a Catalonian sausage), rich gazpachos, wild fruits + vegetables, artisan cheeses made from raw sheep's milk, a sundry of tartlets + pastries, and of course, limonada. However, something unexpected stood out as I watched the assembly of each plate unfold. Our group, as a whole, represented over seven countries; and it was magnificent to observe how each individual's characteristics & homeland began to uniquely proliferate their dish. It was a beautiful concert of food + culture. And, it was through that mutual exploration of not just food, but one another's roots, that it would eventually blossom into what I know will be life-long friendships.
Gambas, Langostinos, Mejillónes. Bacalao, Berberechos, and Boquerones.
Nestled amongst three bodies of water, from the north of Basque country to the southern tip of Gibraltar, when educating the palate in España, one thing is clear: seafood is compulsory. Delicately baked in salt crusts, or fried + frittered; layered on tapas, tucked in tortillas or enriching paellas, MARISCOS are the wholesome staple pervading dishes of the Old Country. Thus, day 2 of our culinary venture deemed only appropriate to tackle the ornate task of decorating (and consuming) traditional Spanish fish. Squid, shrimp, mackerel, and flatfish, the most commonly found in Spain's southern region, were the guests of honor...
Day 3: It would be remiss to spend one day here without establishing a solid appreciation for PAELLA, a Valencian rice dish that also serves as the most widely recognized cuisine of Spain. Tucked with hearty chorizo, healthy seafood, and a comforting, rustic broth, it's easy to see why this dish is so beloved by its people. BOMBA rice, grown in the Calasparra region, is the varietal used for the base rice, as it can absorb twice the liquid as arborio without becoming too soft. This is critical as paella must simmer at length in order for the bottom to develop its signature crispy, golden rice crust. Likewise, SAFFRON also plays a key role in branding paella, exporting a hay-like taste with a hint of sweet, and enriching the stock with rich, yellow-orange hues. And last but never least are the proteins, seafood & vegetables which tie it all together, supplying the heartiness + flavor, leaving it unsurpassed by any comfort dish. Razor clams, shrimp, scallops, lobster, chorizo, red + green bell peppers, onions, garlic, parsley, lemons. Every recipe does it a bit differently, yet one constant remains: it is a beautiful, heartfelt meal that lies at the very soul of Spain.
On the final day we gave our new found styling chops a rest, and instead, drove out to the lush wine country of Jerez, the epicenter of SHERRY production. There we toured the magnificent estate + cellars of Tío Pepe, one of the world's most renowned sherry brands, produced by Gonzales Bypass, a family partnership that has been researching and cultivating sherry in Spain since the 1800's.
After a brief train ride throughout the estate, we matriculated in a short schooling of this fortified wine, discussing Amontillado (darker, heavier, aged sherry), Olorosso (darker, deriving from raisins), and Pedro Jimenez (dark dessert wine, used for cooking, tapas, + dessert). We then traipsed through the dim, open-aired barrel houses, which are naturally temperate at 20 - 30 C° with the help of Atlantic and Mediterranean currents; dodging elaborate spiderwebs which remain undisturbed, as they eat termites + keep the temperature of the barrels down; smelling the bouquets wafting from the American Oak barrels, a favorite in aging sherry as they help to absorb humidity. And, naturally, after a morning of roaming the romantic scapes, we parted with a healthy tasting of Tío Pepe's finest.
It was a lovely way to put a ribbon on four gorgeous days in the south of the Spain.