Food in rural Alentejo revolves around these six ingredients: wine, olives, bread, cheese, porco preto and eggs. Almost every household will dine on a combination of these for at least one meal a day if not both. Wine drives the Alentejo economy and the stomachs of its workers, from simple house wines to celebrated international award winners. This is my Christmas present to myself — a presentation box of five reds from the renowned Cortes De Cima.
No meal can be complete without olives or olive oil. Every meal starts with olives and bread and the oil to soak the bread in.
Bread — deserves a post of its own later as do all of these to be honest. This, however, is the quick intro to whet your appetite. Nearly every village has its own baker and its own speciality bread depending on the geography of the village, the crops it grows and the soil in which they are grown.
Cheese is to be found anywhere goats and sheep are found — there is very little cheese made from cows here as dairy herds are not as common as elsewhere. Fresh goat and sheep cheeses are available in every village and like the bread the recipes vary from village to village. This is one of my favourites – it is soft in the centre and eaten with a spoon.
Next up is Porco Preto or Black Pig; a very different class of pig to normal and particular to the Iberian Peninsula. The meat of the black pig is a favourite for smoked and preserved meats and in particular “linguiça do Alentejo” which are this areas equivalent of the French saucisson or salami.
Last and by no means least is the humble egg which finds its way into as many dishes as possible — be they savoury or sweet. Quite often a poached egg is added last minute to savoury dishes and stirred in at the table. They are added protein to vegetable soups, and an element of the trucker’s lunch — meat, egg, chips and rice.
The yolks form the foundation of many of Alentejo patisseries — they are spun with sugar to weave spider’s webs creations and imitate apricot in all of their cakes — much to my disgust!