This is one in a series of re-posts from past travels by Culinary Collective founders Betsy Power and Pere Selles to Spain and Peru. Culinary Collective travels the world to find the very best gourmet traditional foods, supporting small producers who have strong ties to their lands and their communities. We hope you enjoy the journey as much as the ultimate destination – delicious food!
It had been a typically overwhelming Alimentaria, the food show that takes place every other year in Barcelona. Five exciting days of entertaining customers, visiting supplier booths, sourcing new products, and eating and drinking had left Pere and I exhausted. It was time to shed our specialty food importer skin and grow tourist wings. So we headed for the island of Mallorca, only a half-hour journey by air, and spent a few days relaxing with friends. Unfortunately, it only took a few minutes in a beat-up Honda on a steep, winding road leading to an Agroturismo bed and breakfast to set our hearts thumping again.
With each maneuver required to negotiate the curves, I pictured us plunging into the beautiful horseshoe bay that spread out below us. Only fear and luck kept us from going over the edge, although Pere, my business partner and chauffeur, argued that driving skill was also involved.
A few more zigzags and our anxiety turned to relief. We found ourselves surrounded by ancient olive trees on a hilltop overlooking the port of Soller. A 500-year-old stone farmhouse stood as a backdrop.
We were greeted by Francesca – chef, receptionist, and owner of the renovated farmhouse. She explained the farm had been in her family since the 1500’s, when the king gave them the whole mountain in return for protecting the land from invading armies. In the 1800’s the property was sold, only to return to the family a hundred years later. By pure chance, Francesca married into the family that had owned the property, allowing both families to retain their connection.
As Francesca talked about the land and community, our importer instincts took over as we gleaned tidbits about local companies that had caught our eye at the Alimentaria food show. My taste buds tingled in agreement as she confirmed the wine producer we visited the day before had one of the best wines on the island. We also learned that the delicious cactus fig jam we had spotted at the show was made in the town at the foot of Francesca’s mountain, and that the producer is a non-profit organization that employs mentally disabled residents. We vowed to visit them the next day.
Trying artisan products and learning what makes the local economy succeed may sound more like business than tourism, but it’s enjoyable. Spain is full of unexpected treasures. Every town proudly offers its own traditional recipes and special local delicacies. On each visit to Spain, we stumble upon new culinary discoveries at every turn. And of course, it is our duty to taste as we go along.
We retired to our farmhouse suite overlooking the ancient olive grove and the distant bay to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine and the promise of a delicious dinner to come. Over a dinner of fresh fish, house-roasted artichokes, and sweet strawberries and cream, we learned more about Francesca and the family farm. For the past three years, an island-wide drought had decimated the olive harvest and the family had relied on the proceeds from the agroturismo business. Fortunately there hasn’t been a dry spell for the tourism industry in Mallorca.
The next morning we lingered over breakfast, walked the gardens, and touched the gnarled trunks of the olive trees that had sustained Francesca’s family for centuries. We were slow to pack up and retreat down the mountain, only partially due to the state of the road.
As we were saying our good-byes to Francesca she asked if we had seen the olive oil mill. We couldn’t believe we almost missed such a treat, and without realizing it, had been walking over olive oil storage tanks throughout much of the farmhouse during our stay. Francesca told us about the family’s plan to renovate the old mill and begin producing estate olive oil with the next successful harvest. We quickly reserved a few cases. Duty was calling again another product to try.