Every now and then I come across a really special place, a gem so special that I have mixed feelings about revealing its whereabouts . Should I write about it or will I keep this discovery all to myself. What if gets unbearably busy, expands, loses its magic? Pink washed Finca Buen Vino emerges out of the oak and chestnut woods at the end of a winding country avenue, in the middle of the Sierra de Aracena Nature Reserve in Andalucia in Spain. We had travelled since before dawn to get to Seville, rented a car, followed the map painstakingly and eventually turned off at the 95km sign on the road between Seville and Aracena. We arrived close to midnight, almost too tired to eat, but the warm and spontaneous welcome revived us almost immediately. Jago and Sam carried our bags upstairs, a huge fire crackled on the hearth in the drawing room, Bucket and Teaser rubbed up against our legs. Would we like a whisky or how about a little bowl of soup? We had a delicious leek and potato soup with homemade breads, a selection of Spanish farmhouse cheeses – a Cabrales, Manchego, a creamy melting Torto wrapped in its traditional band of lace and and the famous Tetilla. We arrived in the dark so couldn’t wait to draw back the curtains when we eventually woke the following morning. The view across the hills, thickly wooded with sweet chestnut and cork oak was spectacular, here and there are olive groves, walnut trees and orchards of plums, peaches and figs. Wild rocky escarpments are covered in cistus and tree heathers. Stone walled mule tracks meander from village to hamlet, perfect for walking or riding. Breakfast is in the dining room or conservatory between 9-11, thick unctuous home-made yoghurt, local honey and crunchy granola, dried fruit, homemade jam and Seville orange marmalade, freshly squeezed orange juice, lots of hot toast and bacon with eggs from their own hens. The tea comes from India – the coffee a very good Spanish brand. After Sam and Jeannie Chesterton were married in Scotland, they left for Spain where Sam had been living in a remote candlelit cottage. Drawing on their experience of running shooting lodges in the Highlands, they wanted to make their home in a wild yet accessible place of great natural beauty; there to receive guests, enjoy conversation, good food and genial company, and to raise their family in unspoiled surroundings. After six months they discovered Finca Buen Vino set amid 150 acres of woodland in the Huelva area of South Western Spain and started to build their dream.. A happy combination of Latin and Anglo-Saxon influences, the house is filled with an eclectic mix of furniture, paintings, pottery and books. There are five bedrooms reserved for guests, all are charming and distinctive whether due to hand-painted walls, oriental hangings, a bath tub with a view or a fireplace. The small, winter dining-room is pine-panelled and entirely candlelit, and dinner is eaten together with fellow guests. Sometimes neighbours come in to join the guests for dinner. There are huge log fires, and cosy rooms which make one feel at home. It was beautiful in December but I’ve been told that in Spring, the valley below the house is filled with white heathers, primroses and the song of nightingales. In summer one can dine late under the stars, while the crickets chirp and the jasmine unfurls its scent. Tapas are served approximately an hour before dinner, to keep the wolf at bay! Most weekend nights there is a village fiesta to go to nearby. Summer days can be spent beside the spectacular pool; with advance notice they can serve a barbecue lunch at the poolhouse. Drinks are available at the poolhouse or the conservatory. One can just help oneself and fill in the bar book and pay at the end of one’s stay. For me the whole experience was even more exciting because I could at last learn first hand about the rearing of the famous black pigs and the production of Pata Negra, the finest cured ham in the world. The village of Jubugo, famous for the production of jamon, is just a few miles from Buen Vino, but there was no need to venture that far because Sam and Jeannie’s pigs were gorging on the acorns under the corn oaks. Sam cures the hams himself, slowly and painstakingly in the time-honoured way. We ate slivers of jamon with salted almonds, delicious Aracena potato crisps and ? for tapas every evening, never tiring of the exquisite flavour. We donned our walking boots and walked across the hills to Linares de Sierra, a little village with narrow cobbled streets and patterned stone mats outside every house. In the little central square the village ladies washed their clothes in a communal well, chatting contentedly in a wonderfully relaxed and convivial way, may not be everyone’s cup of tea but infinitely more sociable than flinging the laundry into the washing machine. We had a delicious simple lunch at the local Los Arieros restaurant. Several memorable dishes including ijado al aceite – very thinly sliced pigs liver, cooked with sweated onion and extra virgin olive oil, tiny vol au vents with black pudding mousse and fresh mint, succulent pigs trotters and quese del cabra con miel. The latter can be easily reproduced at home using a soft Irish goat cheese like Ardsallagh. We did another 6 hour walk through breathtakingly beautiful terrain. We stopped for lunch of jamon, salsichon and local cheese in the village pub in Cortelazor. This part of rural Spain is totally unspoilt, the people are friendly and welcoming – the food honest and delicious. Sam and Jeannie also have 3 tranquil cottages in the wood, each with its own swimming pool, an idyllic spot for a peaceful holiday. Even though its deep in the countryside there’s lots to keep one occupied. If you crave urban adventure the city of Seville is just an hour and a quarter away – however be warned, you may become so relaxed that you might never venture out. We eagerly looked forward to every meal – Jeannie is a wonderful cook, here are just some of her recipes. She and Sam offer a series of cooking classes at intervals throughout the year with trips to see the Sherry being made, the historic sights of Seville, cathedral, gardens, shops – check out their website for more tempting details of the itinerary. www.buenvino.com Buenvino Ginger Custards
Serves 8 250g (8ozs) fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 900ml (1½ pints/33 cups) cream 4 ozs (110g) castor sugar 6 eggs 2 pieces preserved ginger, drained and diced 8 x 7.5cm (3 inch) ramekin dishes Preheat oven to 140C/275F/ gas 1 Put the ginger into a saucepan, cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and then drain. Put the cream and sugar and sliced ginger into a saucepan, bring to the shivery point. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for an hour or more. Separate the eggs, put the yolks in a bowl (keep the whites for another purpose). Whisk the yolks in the bowl, strain the ginger-infused cream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Put the ramekins into a bain-marie and fill with the custard. Cook for approx. 40 minutes or until just set. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Sprinkle with a little dice of preserved ginger and sugar.
Jeannie Chesterton’s Lamb with Coffee & Chocolate
1 leg of organic lamb
4 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 pint coffee
1 oz (25g) dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)
deep ovenproof dish
Have your butcher debone a leg of organic lamb. Fill the inside with 4 crushed cloves of garlic and a good sprig or two of rosemary. Put the lamb into a deepish ovenproof dish, rub the top with olive oil and then sprinkle with a mixture of rock salt, and a teaspoonful of the following freshly ground spice mix; pepper, pimiento, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and cloves. (It’s worth keeping a little electric coffee grinder for this, but needs a regular wipe out afterwards or the oils in the spices can cause corrosion.)
Pour 1 pint of coffee around the lamb and roast in a moderately hot oven 15 mins to the lb.
Take the lamb out, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Add 1 oz of good (minimum 60% cocoa solids) dark chocolate, and work into the sauce over heat. Carve the lamb into slices and add any blood/juice which comes out to the sauce. Place on a hot serving dish and poor the sauce over.
Quesa de Cabra con Miel – Goat Cheese with Honey on Toast
We ate this at the local restaurant in Los Arieros in Andalucia
1 slice of sour dough or yeast bread soft goat cheese, eg. Ardsallagh, St. Tola….. honey thyme leaves Toast or chargrill the bread. Cut the slice of toasted bread into strips approx. 1 inch thickness. Reassemble the slice as you transfer it onto a small baking sheet. Top with slices of goat cheese. Sprinkle with some fresh thyme leaves and drizzle with honey. Pop back under the grill until the cheese starts to bubble, serve immediately – so simple but truly delicious.
Jeannie’s Mountain Paella
In Spain one can buy a gas ring specially for cooking paella for a picnic, how wonderful would that be?
Extra virgin olive oil – about 6 tablesp.
2 large onions, chopped 1 large green pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes 1 large red pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes 8 cloves garlic, sliced 2 rabbits, jointed and cut into smallish pieces 1 pork fillet, cut into cubes salt and freshly ground pepper 1 teasp. saffron 1kg (23lb) paella rice aprox. scant 1 cup per person stock frozen peas
paella pan Put lots of olive oil in the paella pan. Add the garlic, onions and peppers. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the rabbit and pork pieces. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Saute for 15 minutes, add 1 teaspoon of saffron and stir around. Add rice , (about 1 cup per person). Add stock to almost cover, stir to blend and then don’t stir again. Add peas (Jeannie says you must have peas in a paella). Lots of people use rabbit and prawns but Jeannie prefers to use rabbit and pork. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes because the meat is now almost cooked. Stand over it and move the ingredients around a little. Bring the paella pan to the table . Serve immediately directly from the pan. Fantastic to serve lots of people. Back to Top Foolproof Food
Pears Poached in a Saffron Syrup
Most exotic of all the fruit compotes, pears cooked this way turn a wonderful deep golden colour and are delicately infused with the flavours of saffron and cardamom - two of the world’s most precious spices. We use Conference and Doyenne de Comice pears. This compote is rich and intensely sweet best served well chilled. 100 g (7oz) sugar 450ml (15fl oz) water 6 whole cardamom pods ¼ teaspoon good quality saffron (the threads) 45 ml (3 tablespoons) freshly squeezed lemon juice 4 firm pears Put the sugar, water, lightly crushed cardamom pods, saffron and lemon juice into a shallow, wide pan: we use a stainless steel saute pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile peel the pears, halve and core them. As you cut them put them into the simmering syrup cut side uppermost. Cover with a paper lid and the lid of the pan, cook gently for 20-30 minutes, spooning the syrup over them every now and then. Carefully take the pears out and arrange them in a serving dish in a single layer, cut side downwards. Pour the syrup over the pears. Serve chilled. This compote keeps for several weeks covered in the fridge. Tip For a more concentrated flavour the syrup may be reduced a little after the pears have been removed to a serving dish. Be careful not to cook it for too long, or the syrup will caramelise. Sam and Jeannie Chesterton, Finca Buen Vino, Los Marines, 21293 Huelva, Spain. Tel 00 34 959 12 40 34, fax 00 34 959 50 10 29 email:email@example.com www.buenvino.com Top Tips Saffron –Known as the world’s most precious spice, immediately one thinks that it costs a fortune, but its so potent and aromatic one uses very little. Jeannie stressed that it should be used within a year. Avoid the powdered version because its sometimes adulterated, look for saffron strands. Available from Mr. Bell in Cork’s English Market, Health Food Shops, good supermarkets and speciality shops. Cookery Schools Two of our past pupils have recently started cooking schools – Catherine Fulvio at her award-winning Farm Guesthouse, Ballyknocken House in Glenealy, Co Wicklow, Tel 0404-44627, www.ballyknocken.com and Gretchen Oldfield at Woolsgrove Cookery School in Crediton in Devon, www.woolsgrove.co.uk Tel 00 44 1363 85155. Ballymaloe Cookery School courses on line www.cookingisfun.ie The ICA Adult Education College at An Grianan, Termonfeckin, Co Louth have their 2004 brochure now available and cookery features strongly among their wide range of courses – great place for a relaxing break – Tel 041 9822119 firstname.lastname@example.org www.ica.ie