Olives, bread and cheese

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Continuing his exploration of Sicilian food, DonQui Oaty turns his attention to olives, the second most important staple of Sicilian cuisine (after wine!).

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Olive grove in an ancient Greek quarry

The olive trees at Casa di Latomie near Castelvetranto on the west of the island, are rooted in the limestone of an ancient Greek quarry. They derive much of their flavour and nutrients from it. They are picked by hand from in order to ensure the careful selection of high quality olives. 

 

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1200 year old olive tree

DonQui is introduced to the great-grandfather of the olive trees. 1200 years old, this tree was a sapling when the Arabs took Sicily from the East Romans and grew into maturity when the Normans came. It is still producing fruit.

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Oil and tapenade with tumminia bread

The olives, the oil and tapenade that DonQui samples are utterly delicious. The tapenade is served on crusty rustic bread made from tumminia flour. This ancient grain has a delectable nutty taste and is unique to Sicily.

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Animals are rarely seen in the fields of Sicily

Meat does not feature much in Sicilian cuisine. Milk and butter are noticeable only by their absence. Olive groves and vineyards dominate the landscape and, apart from a few sheep and and the odd cow or two, DonQui does not see any animals in the fields.

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DonQui’s Sicilian cousin

Livestock is mostly important for cheese. At La Masseria dairy, near Ragusa, DonQui encounters a whole menagerie including a distant Sicilian cousin.

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Shaping the cheese

At the dairy DonQui learns how caciocavallo is made. This a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese is quite mild.  Sicilians prefer to use it rather than northern Italian parmesan on their pasta. 

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A selection of medium-aged and mature caciocavallo

DonQui finds it pleasant enough but a bit too bland to get excited about.

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Fresh caciocavallo

He does rather like the fresh version which has not been aged and is served with olive oil and herbs. It is a bit like mozzarella but slightly firmer 

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Fresh ricotta

The curds are made into a delicious ricotta. The taste is vastly superior to any ricotta DonQui has tasted at home in England.

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The most wonderful cannoli

Sweetened ricotta is the filling for cannoli. These ones also have a few chocolate chips in them and they taste fabulous.

 

Cheese, Wine and Beer

No matter how good a meal has been, for DonQui, a good cheese course is often his favourite part of a long leisurely dinner.

Cheese and wine simply go together. It is for this reason he always takes cheese before desert, prolonging the savoury tastes and finishing off the wine at the same time.

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DonQui’s previously mentioned the superb cheese board at Domain de Barive’s Restaurant des Epicuriens. Before leaving he wants to try it again and he asks the sommelier to choose a glass of wine for him to accompany his cheese.

The sommelier peers over the cheeses DonQui has selected, thinks for one moment, pauses for a second, then makes a most interesting suggestion.

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Given the wide variety of cheese flavours DonQui has selected, the sommelier says that no one wine would go perfectly with all. What DonQui needs is three different accompanying drinks. DonQui silently tots up his alcohol tolerance, bearing in mind he had a glass with a previous course and a beer before the meal.

The sommelier reassures DonQui, telling him that for the price of one glass he could have three small ones. This seems like something worth trying.

DonQui had anticipated the sommelier would appear with red wines with his cheeses, or perhaps two reds and one white. He could not have been more wrong.

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To go with his local cheeses (on the left of the photo), he is brought a honey-coloured ‘biere du garde’ — a special ‘keeping’ brew from northern France which is reminiscent of some Belgian Trappist beers. There is champagne for the soft goats’ cheese (centre of photo) and a white wine from the Pyrenees to go with the Italian provolone and creamy Pyrenean white cheese (right of photo).

It all feels very indulgent but then DonQui likes to indulge himself. Left to his own devices he probably would have gone for a familiar hearty red wine for his cheese. He is glad that he did not. Not only were the sommelier’s choices absolutely perfect but they opened DonQui’s eyes to other new possibilities.

A Fine Domain in France

Needing to spend some time deep in the countryside of northern France, DonQui looks around for a good place to stay.

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Not far from the medieval city of Laon, he stumbles upon the Domaine de Barive. It is a great find.

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Set in in its own grounds amongst farmland, miles from anywhere it is approached by a long lane lined with poplars. With spa, outdoor terraces and a highly rated restaurant it looks like just the sort of place DonQui can enjoy a few days of tranquil contemplation along with a good meal or two.

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His room is comfortable and spacious. The bathtub even comes with its own rubber ducks, for those who go for that sort of thing.

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Breakfast is a typical French offering, made special by the fine selection of fresh, locally baked breads and pastries along with homemade jams. There is even champagne available along with juices, coffee and other hot drinks.

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Best of all is the Restaurant des Epicuriens. DonQui arrives late after a horribly long wait for his rental car from the very inefficient Avis counter at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

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As in most French restaurants, the set menus offer very good value for money but at 9pm DonQui does not feel like a full 4-5 course meal so he orders a la carte, choosing the ‘turbot en trançon’ (turbot filets with spinach in a crispy phyllo pastry) with kumquats and mushrooms in a champagne cream sauce.  It is utterly delicious.

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To finish off he opts for a selection of cheeses from the very tempting cheese board. The choices are so overwhelming that DonQui leaves it up to the very pleasant waitress to help him with his selections.

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Very knowledgeable and helpful, she suggests a sampling of 5 different cheeses, all of which are perfectly ripe, providing a wide range of different flavours.

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival

On the drive back home from Spain, DonQui sees a sign on the side of the road. It has a picture of a rather fine looking crab with a caption telling him that he is only 5 miles from the most delectable delights. This is too good to pass up so he follows the sign to find himself at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival which is not at Aldeburgh at all but rather at the nearby Snape Maltings.

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He pauses for a moment when he sees the entrance price but, as he likes to support local farmers and local produce, he digs deep into his wallet to produce the required £8.

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On entry he is confronted with a plethora of stalls displaying their wares and all offering tasty samples. He goes from stall to stall trying out what is on offer and doing his best to be disciplined and not buy everything that takes his fancy.

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“I’ll come back and buy later,” he say more than once, determined to see and sample everything before filling the tote bag he had been given on entry with the stuff he really wanted.

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He has a plan to buy something for supper and so tries to avoid filling up too much on all the goodies on offer.  So he passes by the many tempting stalls offering everything from suckling pig to goat burgers and crispy duck wraps. Instead he lunches on the free samples.

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After tasting the goats’ cheeses offered by Fielding Cottage, his resistance breaks down. He buys several of them while Duchess also adds curds and some lotions made from goats’ milk.

wild meat

DonQui  loves wild meat and the Wild Meat Company is one of his favourite suppliers. Wild boar, venison and guinea fowl all end up in his bag. With a couple of wild boar filets he hopes to recreate the delicious meal he had in Seville a few days ago.

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The Kenton Hall Estate is offering Longhorn beef. Not to be confused with Texas longhorns, these cattle are a medieval British breed which are much slower than modern cattle to raise and the price is correspondingly high. DonQui decides to buy a couple of small filet steaks to see if the difference is worth the effort and cost. If nothing else he wants to support the survival of ancient breeds.

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DonQui samples several beers on offer from Barrel and Sellers. Unlike most English beers this is bottle rather than cask conditioned. DonQui loves English beer and is a great fan of his local Adnams brewery. However it is hard to take a decent pint home as the beer in the bottle has none of the character of the draught as English beer is usually cask conditioned. He pronounces these new bottle conditioned beers to be “rather good.”

raw milk

The raw unpasteurised milk and cheese from Fen Farm Dairy are very tasty but DonQui does not buy any as he has already filled his cheese quota from Fielding Cottage. He takes their card and vows to buy some at a later date. Mass production and the necessary corresponding health and safety regulations have almost wiped out non-pasteurised milk products and DonQui is rather pleased to see some local producers are still able to supply them.

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All of this has taken a bit of a toll so DonQui decides to take a break amongst the beans and pulses at the Hodmedod’s stall. He has met the lovely people who offer these products before at the market in Halesworth and they are happy to let him rest a while.

book

They have a book on sale: Out of the Pod by Vicky Jones.  The recipes look rather delicious so DonQui decided to buy a copy and at some time in the future he will try out some of their suggestions and let readers know how they turn out.

cheese and wine

When he gets home Duchess cooks a lovely dish of kale with goat curds which DonQui rounds off with some of the delicious Fielding Farm’s goat’s cheese, fresh sesame baguette and a rather fine bottle of Côte-Rôtie which DonQui had bought in Vienne a few months ago.

In all pretty hard to beat!