October 30th, 2011
As you peel that Valencian Orange and bite into the juicy segments, or tuck into a delicious Paella whilst on holiday at the local fiesta – you may be forgiven for imagining the Spain you see is all about Sun, Sea and Sangria…. but a thriving agricultural layer survives here too – and it´s not just about the rice and the oranges! - although they are an important part of the fabric of Spain too…
Hop into your wellies and Barbour jacket, and let´s look at the farming patterns of Spain…
A family affair
The Costas are great fun, all those kilometres of coastline offering you relaxation or watersports stretch for miles – really, Spain cannot be beaten on Costa life. The big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona are second to none for galleries, nightlife and shopping – but travel inland for a day and take a closer look at the areas around you, all the neat fields and vines, seemingly impossibly steep farmed mountainsides – and think about the families that have lived off the land here for generations…
From potatoes to pisos…
Drive inland from the holiday resorts, a lot of them in fact particularly along the Costa del Sol, once farmland themselves. Tourism in the 1960´s turned out to be more productive in the fortune department than crops and hard work – and a lot of people got rich very quickly. The varied climate of the country and the type of land varies wildly – because the place is just so vast – but broadly speaking may be divided into dry – Secano – and wet – Regadío - cultivation.
…and plastic to perfection
The Costa Tropical further along the south from the Costa del Sol, and further again to the Costa Almeria, is a staggering sight. What you may think is twinkling Meditteranean sea under the hot Summer sun is in fact an ocean of plastic that covers a large area. It can actually be seen from space. A sign that even tourism cannot compete with the demand for tomatoes at Christmas in Northern Europe…
A system where saline sea water is changed into fresh water ensures constant irrigation and years of more of the same to come – it is ugly but I guess necessary and in contrast there are some wonderful salt marshes and great bird watching spots in between them. Further along and the beaches are unspoilt, and they give way to the wonderful Cabo de Gato and the only natural desert in Europe. So I guess that the best areas will remain protected. Here are some lovely Almeria properties to browse if you fancy a week Lawrence – of – Arabia – style!
Here in the Alpujarras region of Andalucía, it never ceases to amaze how anything grows. The ground is like digging hard soap, and in my experience just as you manage to plant something tasty a Wild Boar comes along with his jar of Mayonnaise and napkin and digs it up!
But, the Romans and Moors were clever with water, and that is the key. Ancient waterways, terraced hillsides – some so steep only a carefully stepping Mule will do – and the use of the melting snow from the almost year round snowcapped Sierra Nevada – ensure a perfectly behaved agricultural system exists today in the 21st century. There´s nothing 21st century, however, about the sight of a ploughman driving his hardworking beast across the mountainside at an alarming angle – but it´s a great photo opportunity!
Come and stay in an Andalucían mountainside holiday rental and see it for yourself at first hand!
A fruity location!
Las Alpujarras grows Vines for the superb wine of the area, and Almonds that are shipped all over the world. Trees of Quince, Pomegranate – in Spanish it´s a Granada! – Caqui fruit and Mulberries, a sign of the Silk Route – we have a couple of ancient trees in our village still and the dark staining enormous fruits are sweet and delicious. Figs of course, the food of the Gods that grow like weeds everywhere here – I have finally learned to preserve as many as possible in syrups, jams, jellies and chutneys – for what you are throughly sick of when they are ready to harvest, you tend to crave as soon as they are finished!
Come to Las Alpujarras in the Spring – book your 2012 break now and look forward to it over the long British winter! The sight of the mountains covered in the pink and white Almond Blosson of early Spring – sometimes as early as February – is a delight not to miss.
And Olives of course, travel through Jaén and admire the rigourously straight planted lines of Olive trees,like soldiers lined up for inspection! Jaén is the the largest producer of Olive oil in the whole world, and Baena near Córdoba holds a fiesta every year – come for the fiesta or just to picnic underneath the shade of an ancient Olive tree – because you can!
Rice is nice
Where would the Spanish housewife be without rice?! Not just Paella, it´s the equivalent of a potato for an Irishwoman! The absolute best grows in L´Albufera near to Valencía and also growth is concentrated in Murcia and Catalonia along the Ebro delta. The fat short grain is the one used for making Paella and Risotto type dishes and a long grain one is grown too. Visit the Paella making competition -in Sueca – where it gets really serious! Visit the rice growing areas and the fantastic Albufera Natural Park, you can read all about both of them here. Valencía, of course, also world famous for those Oranges, and is the prime producer, the bitter ones come from Seville, that´s your marmalade!
The green coastline
Northern Spain is often compared to Ireland and one look at the high rainfall and green countryside as a result and you can see why. Dairy farming and the sight of a Cow in a field is rare in Spain – but not up here, where in particular Galicia produces Beef, Milk and some of the best Cheese you will taste anywhere in Spain, indeed anywhere in world! Wheat and Maize are also grown here, and also further south in the Central Meseta – on the fertile well watered land.
Uncorking the bottle
Next time you open a bottle of red, remember the cork was probably produced here in Spain. The areas around Extramadura and the west of Andalucía has acres of those Cork Oak trees that look as though they have been caught with their trousers down!
What´s beneath that cork? Spanish wine is varied and it´s not all about the Sangría!! Sparkling Cava from Catalonia, rich Rioja, a chilled white from Penedés….the choice is yours. The standard is D.O., or Denominación de Origin, and that classification is the guarantee of the quality and the area where the wine was produced. Cosecha is a recent vintage, and the more expensive Crianza and Reserva are aged, usually in American Oak, for at least 2 years. But some of the tables wines – Vino de Mesa – bought ridiculously cheaply in supermarkets – are often fairly palatable and quite acceptable to drink as well as sloshing into the cooking…
And the cheeseboard?
We have mentioned the dairy farms of the North and the great Cheese selection, but if you visited Spain before then you will undoubtedly tasted Manchego, the hard cured cheese. This is produced from Sheep which graze on the difficuly stony ground of Central Spain, La Mancha. You may be on the Don Quixote route – admiring the windmills dotted all around - so make time to stop for some Manchego and a beer too!
That´s your Farmer Giles tour completed!
Next time you visit this wonderful and varied country, look around, a drive is not just a distance to be covered between two places, it´s also for discovering the rich history of the labour intensive ancient methods of farming in Spain.
We´re off now on this sunny October Spanish afternoon to gather mushrooms, the Pine forest which frames my village has had a couple of days of rain and with luck we will be grilling Saffron Milkcaps for lunch on the outside Plancha – you can do it too! Book your 2012 Spanish break now!