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Photo by Sara Blaylock
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Photo by Sara Blaylock
Mantequería la Sierra
In the truest sense of the word, a locavore consumes food or drink made from products grown within a 100 mile (160 kilometre) radius of their home. Locavores contend that consuming within 100 miles of your doorstep not only reduces carbon emissions (by shrinking food miles) and farm waste (generally, local farms mean smaller farms) but also promotes community economies, food appreciation and food sovereignty.
Since the Bay Area in San Francisco named it, locavorism has become a national movement in the United States. In a country where the average distance that food travels from farm to table is a staggering 1500 miles, Americans are embracing the locavore lifestyle as a means to shrink the consumer/producer gap. This means a resurgence in heirloom vegetables and unusual tastes. Purple tomatoes, dinosaur kale and dragon tongue beans are just a few examples of the delicious additions I made to my diet while hitting the local markets in California.
City folk, country dwellers and suburbanites are catching on to the craze and dramatically reinventing not only the American way of eating, but also food economy and production. I spent a week in October living the locavore lifestyle in Barcelona to see how easy it would be in a country that hasn’t yet embraced the movement on any great scale. 100 miles from the city is, more or less, within the boundries of Catalunya. Although I did not encounter anyone touting the locavore name, it quickly became clear to me that most people shopping at the markets, small grocery stores and butcher shops were already following the guidelines of the movement. In fact, in pretty much every case, the grocers, bakers, butchers and produce vendors I asked were confused by my investigation. “Of course”, they said, “all this food comes from Catalunya. Where else would we get our food from?”
A report on Catalan industry lists pork meat, mineral water, olive oil, wine and cava as products of the region. During my week I found these products quite easily and in addition, I found flour, rice, pasta, eggs, poultry, dairy products, fish, seafood, beer and a limitless supply of fruit and vegetables such as grapes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce and green beans. Though I went to a variety of places, for the most part I shopped at my local market (Mercat de Sant Antoni, Rda Sant Antoni, 18). The stallholders at Sant Antoni were thrilled to talk to me about their products but no vendor exclusively sold food of Catalan origin; however rarely was anything from outside the country.
Among the various highlights I bought over the week were a variety of bolets fresh from the local forests. My partner prepared our chanterelles and saffron milk caps in a cream sauce made primarily of Ato dairy products (a Catalan brand found in any supermarket) on top of hand crafted pasta from Pastes Sanmartí. We washed it down with wine from Penedès, Catalunya’s most abundant wine region. We also could have, and often did, opt for any number of cavas and local beers to accompany our meals. One evening, we split a hefty bottle of a cold dark brew from Les Clandestines de Montferri, purchased at the Xarxa de Consum Solidari. The XCS is a Barcelona-based organisation that offers both Fair Trade international products and local ones. In addition to their shop in Born, they also offer a weekly farm share programme, where members can receive a box of fresh and seasonal local products.
Drinking out was pretty easy, too. Most bars stock a variety of Catalan wines. Finding a local beer, however, was a bit more of a challenge. Moritz, I’m sorry to report, is no longer a Barcelona native. It hasn’t been brewed in the city since the 1966. But you can find some bars that stock locally produced beers if you hunt around. I particularly enjoyed the brews I found at Cervecería Jazz (Margarit 43), including a sprightly little number from the Ca l’Arenys brewery called Guinea Antius and the Agullons Bruno Pale Ale, a hand-labelled number from Masia Agullons.
One of my biggest sacrifices living as a locavore was in my morning or evening cup. I could not drink tea or coffee and the resulting headaches were brutal. An option for addicts like me is Café Saula, which roasts coffee and teas at their factory in Sant Feliu de Llobregat.
I unfortunately found no remedy for my forced abstention from chocolate, another daily and necessary habit. In a bid to temper my sweet tooth, I ate a lot more honey than usual. I came across an extraordinary variety of honey products made by A. Camprubí Santos, an apiary in La Vall de Campmajor, at a one-day market in front of El Molino theatre. The market also introduced me to mató, a fresh, ricotta-like cheese produced throughout Catalunya which is just perfect on buttered toast with honey.
During the week we ate some lovely free-range eggs from Sant Antoni market, cooked quite simply as an omelette one afternoon and as a tortilla another. Though I’m generally not too fond of eggs, I will say I noticed the difference. Those little brown beauties from Girona had a fresher, less ‘eggy’ taste and were well worth paying the small increase in price for.
Something I found during my experiment was that local vendors were always passionate about their food. Meeting Ramon Lasierra and his daughter Núria in their family colmado Mantequería La Sierra was a definite highlight in my week. Ramon’s parents started the grocery in the late Thirties and they continue to stock the old-fashioned establishment with the very best, primarily Catalan, products at good prices. Ramon was eager to sell me his favourite oils, rice, cheeses and embotits. I came home with a few kitchen staples: Mallafré olive oil (Tarragona) and Molí de Pals rice (Girona), as well as a few decadent inessentials: a semi-cured goat cheese from Fromatergies Montbru (Moià) and a pink and fatty sausage so regional to be simply named the butifarra Catala. You could tell that Ramon’s excitement over Catalan cuisine was more than just a professional passion.
At the end of the week, I visited El Mercat de Mercats, a weekend festival of Catalan food and drink. Despite the crowds I managed to buy a chewy pancetta from Embotits Artesans Gori de la Vall d’en Bas. We used our pancetta on both a hand-made pizza and as an added garnish to a Catalan lentil stew.
Later in the week, we also enjoyed some local chicken. Our butcher prepared the cuts for both a roast and a stew, which we enjoyed with our rice from Girona and various veggies. In general, it was easier to find meat than sea creatures from Catalunya; unbelievably it turns out that a lot of fish and seafood is imported.
I was also surprised to find that more often than not bakers could not tell me where their flour came from, or if they could, it was usually from outside the region. I put this down to production. Though the breads at the corner store bakery may look, or even taste, better than at the supermarket, neither are more committed to using local ingredients. The difference, instead, is in recipes, freshness and quantity of production.
Whereas the primary definition of the locavore diet relates to food and drink, it is also possible to apply it to other aspects of your life. A true locavore may consider it as important to buy locally produced honey as to only purchase CDs from local companies. The heart of the issue is local shopping, rather than local consuming, focusing on supporting the local economy rather than local production. In fact, because clothing or objects require more complicated production than food, it is almost impossible to guarantee 100 percent local origin.
The economic philosophy behind supporting a family run business over a chain is that money stays in a community, rather than being sent back to corporate headquarters and redistributed. Another positive argument is that small businesses add character to streets, maintaining individuality in town centres and keeping them interesting. What’s more, in many cases, shopping at local businesses can benefit the environment, at least from the consumer’s standpoint. People who have access to a nearby town centre that is well stocked with small, local shops, it is argued, will reach for the trainers and not the car keys, thus, amping up the walking and keeping the car parked in the garage.
To that end, I also spent my week in search of local items for the wall or wardrobe. This proved a bit more difficult. But I found that Gràcia has the greatest variety of boutiques that offer goods made locally. I especially recommend Carrer Torrent de l’Olla; it is chock full of shops selling clothes and accessories made here in the city.
I was impressed with Anna Pous and Rosa Pueyo who run nu_u, a Japan-inspired, Catalan-made clothes shop and studio. Anna and Rosa sew as they sell, leaning over long tables filled with gorgeous Japanese fabric. Up the street, Madam Pum Pum has a cool variety of clothes and accessories by local designers such as Gris Piedra, Beatrit Furest and Nerea Lurgain. Madam Pum Pum also sells the only locally crafted homewares I came across, by the Apparatu brand. Just around the corner, Roxana Rivas sells her own clothing label Olyva at her shop La Sastreria. You can also find locally made jewellery and accessories from labels such as Los Coleccionistas and Mon Carrusel. Roxana’s eye leans toward the mod and retro, and her shop is one of the most put-together I’ve seen in Barcelona.
The key to being a true locavore is to eat and live like our grandparents did; stick to the growing season, buy from your neighbourhood market and you’ll easily stay on track. If you’re stumped for new ideas, ask at your local grocers, butchers or market. Get caught up by their passion for Catalan cuisine and get some new ideas for your kitchen.