|Our home grown vegetables|
Five years ago we conducted a study on the food that we serve in the hotel. We wanted to know how much of the food was produced by ourselves, and where the rest of it came from.
|The vegetable garden in winter|
We were pleased to find that about 30% of the food was produced on the hotel farm. Since then we have tried to increase this amount though it is actually been quite difficult. The percentage we produce our selves has gone up slightly but unless we start to grow wheat or keep cows and pigs we won’t be able to make significant increases.
|Home baked breads|
Of the food we don’t produce ourselves over 15% is bought directly from certified-organic local small producers. We still bake all our own bread, cakes and desserts from basic ingredients, representing another 20% of the food consumed. The amount we buy from specialist organic distributors is about 30%. It’s also worth mentioning that over 98% of all the products used in the hotel restaurant are certified organic.
|Local producers in the market at Cangas de Onis|
But what does this mean?
When 30% of the food we use is produced by ourselves, that means a lot of fresh food, so a lot of preparation time in the kitchen – scrubbing, peeling and cutting vegetables and fruit – no ready-prepared packs just waiting to be opened and cooked. It also means the cooking has to be adjusted to what is available and in season. Growing and farming are weather dependent, and however hard we try on the farm, we don’t always get a continual supply of the same food all through the period when the hotel is open. Most of the food is seasonal, and this means that the kitchen has to adapt to what is available from the farm at any particular time of year.
|Stringing the onion harvest for storage|
|Our team of cooks|
|Our Xalda lambs in early spring|
When I asked Joe what she thought was the most characteristic thing about the hotel cuisine, she said it is cooking with what is available. This means making the best use of what we have in the vegetable garden at that moment (or what is available from other small producers, or the market, or wherever), and using imagination in the way the food is prepared.
Roulades are an excellent example of adapting the dish to what’s available. Roulades can be based on so many different ingredients – such as leaf-beet, leeks, or carrots for savoury roulades – or on soft-fruits for dessert roulades, such as raspberries or strawberries. And when you get a glut of beetroot, for example, it can be roasted with cheese as a vegetable to accompany the main course, or used to make soup, or served in a salad with an orange mayonnaise, or served marinated in honey – and of course in a roulade. It’s all about imagination and creativity, and Joe certainly has those when it comes to food.
|Onion and apple delights|
Is the food we serve typically Spanish? Probably not. But because of our belief in using local varieties and races, the food we serve is based on a lot of genuine Asturian products. We often grow local varieties, and even produce the seeds of some of them so as to help maintain those varieties, as is the case with our onions, dried beans, and maize. Our apples are all Asturian cider-apple varieties. Our lamb is the indigenous Asturian race the “xalda”, now recognized by the slow food movement. Our beef comes from another indigenous breed, the “casin”, or Asturian mountain cow, which we buy direct from a young organic farmer called Angel Merino. Angel grazes his cattle on the
range just 5 kms from the hotel. We buy a whole cow, which gets sent to the
slaughter-house, and then we go to the cutting-house to supervise how it is cut
for us and to help pack it. We then have a whole cow, with lots of different
cuts of meat, and imagination is needed again to think of ways to prepare the
different cuts. Maybe we will serve fillets with a mild “Cabrales” sauce
(Cabrales is a local blue cheese), or a stew with peppers and tomatoes, or maybe
we will make sausages and serve them with caramelized onions (onions from the
vegetable garden of course, and from a variety which was saved in the village for
40 years and we now maintain the seed stock.) Sueve Mountain
|Local organic Casin beef with Cabrales cheese sauce|
One thing is sure – a lot of work, time and effort are put into sourcing, growing, preparing, and cooking the food that we serve in the hotel restaurant. However, to serve food which not only tastes good and is healthy, but embraces our beliefs, respects the environment, and supports local communities, is a reward in itself for us, and hopefully for our guests too.