A new year doesn’t quite feel like a new year in the northern hemisphere, I guess mostly because everything gets jump-started in September after summer. The good thing about that is is the whole new year’s expectation-thing sort of loses water. Which ironically is my New Year’s resolution, no more expectations, they hurt my heart and quite frankly as I get older they hurt my health. So here is to a year living without expectations. Doing great so far! Hashtag no expectations only celebrations.
Luckily we went to Salamanca way back in December 2018 when my expectations were still high and I was able to expect to eat some delicious food. We discovered some impressive wines and mouthwatering ham (jamon). We also ate suckling pig, deer meatballs (frikkadelle) and roasted lamb. Spanish food rarely disappoints!
Almirez wine served with lamb
We went to Salamanca to meet up with a family friend who is studying there. Salamanca is home to the third oldest University in the world and the oldest in the Spanish world. During our visit, I encouraged our daughters to study there so that we can relocate and live in an apartment overlooking the Cathedral. They are ten and seven . Expectations were soaring in those days.
The original entrance of the University is a most detailed piece of architecture which amongst all the detail has a frog sitting on a skull. There are many skulls, but only one with a frog. A sweet little innocent frog just sitting there, waiting to be found before it goes about its business of sitting again. Urban legend has it, that if you are a student and you find the frog then you pass your exams of that year and if you are not a student you will have one year of good fortune. We found the frog, 2019 sorted! And when our daughters go and study there they will know where it is and pass their first year. Win-win all the way!
Salamanca is a small city, which doesn’t feel like a city at all. If I would give it a colour it would be camel and the smell would be a mixture of firewood and leather topped with red wine.
Normally when talking Spanish wines, thoughts go to Rioja, and rightfully so, Rioja delivers delicious wines. However, there are many other regions in Spain that produce gems. One of these regions is Toro, based in Castillo y Leon, Toro delivers some mighty fine flavours. We tasted as many as we could in the 5 days we were in Salamanca. Three that stood out were Almirez, Piedra (stone) and La Vieja Zorra (The old female fox). The saying on the La Vieja Zorra label is: “La zorra vieja vuelvese bermeja” which translates to “The old female fox returns more red” and in this instance, more red refers to wiser.
After spending Christmas in Salamanca we made a detour to La Alberca. We wanted to visit this little village because of Matt Goulding, author of the Grape, Olive, Pig. His words literally seduced us into visiting La Alberca. In this little mountain village, you will find Herederos de Fermin selling the best ham in the world (jamon) upon tasting it Matt Goulding had the following to say:
“Acorn-fed ham is so rich with fat that it sweats as soon as it’s exposed to air. Rub the fat on your lips like a balm, then place the slice on your tongue like a communion wafer and wait for it to convert you. First, you taste the salt, then the pork, then the fermentation, and finally some deep, primal flavour will rise up and scratch at your throat and leave behind a ghost that can haunt your palate for a lifetime.” (from “Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture” by Matt Goulding)
Many things go on in this little village over Christmas and New Year, one such happening is Anton the pig, who walks through the streets eating continuously as he is fed by the villagers. On the 16th of January or the weekend closest to the 16th, someone wins Anton. There are lottery tickets in every shop, restaurant and bar where you can buy a ticket to win Anton. We attempted to look for Anton but were a bit short on time. Upon asking around for Anton’s whereabouts the villagers were surprised that we haven’t seen him yet and informed us that he is very fat this year. Originally the tradition was that a farmer would donate a pig to the village, which would then be fed by the villagers and by mid-January the poorest family in the village would receive the pig to carry them through the rest of the winter.
We also met a chocolatier, Mariluz, who has met some of the best chefs in the world and makes beautiful chocolates. It was a delight to hear her stories and get to see her photos. This little village was an absolute treat! We left La Alberca with lead in our feet.
New Year awaited us back home. In Spain when the clock strikes 12 times on the final hour on the 31st of one year and transports us to the next, the tradition is to eat 12 grapes, one grape every time the bell strikes. It should be white grapes, however, we were fresh out and thought Sweet Celebration grapes will work perfectly and the name sat well on this occasion. The grape really did set the mood for 2019, not the no-expectation part, but the Celebration part, our daughter is a decade old this year and I am four decades along with some of my best friends!
Sweet Celebration is a red crunchy refreshing piece of work, deliciously sweet but with enough acidity to keep it light and leaving you wanting more. I would even go so far as to say there are notes of cherry, but I don’t specifically like finding one fruit within another, makes no sense. But if you could imagine the tartness of fresh cherry with the sweetness of grape it could guide you to what Sweet Celebration is about.
The seedless round berry is another David Cane delivery and like Spanish food, whatever David Cane brings to the table never disappoints.
Sweet Celebration is commercially produced in South Africa, Spain, Italy, California, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Australia. You will find them in supermarkets in Holland, Germany, Canada and the UK. The variety is in season in the southern hemisphere from mid-February to mid-March and in the northern hemisphere from July to end of August.