Remember way back when I started writing about our trip? I mentioned I had been at a conference that turned out to be really good for the trip? Well, one of those reasons was Monday. I should say that prior to going to Spain, I told pretty much anyone who would listen that I was going to Spain. I recommend in the future you do the same as well. Don't worry about feeling like you are bragging. You never know who has traveled to the same destination and will have a suggestion that turns out to be one of the best days of your trip.
At the conference I met Kathleen, who told me about Roger with A Question of Taste. She said she and a friend had the most wonderful tour with him several years ago. She spoke very highly of the experience and said she would e-mail him and me and maybe we could work something out. Even with the short notice, we were able to arrange for a day visiting an olive mill, a winery (with lunch at the winery), and a visit to Ronda, one of the "white towns" of Spain.
Roger picked us up at our apartment and there was mini-bus waiting not even a block away. What service! Really! To be picked up at our door and have a private tour for just our group! This was very fun. Roger was an amazing tour guide. He is originally from Wales and he had wonderful stories to tell about his life and Spain. He was just a pleasure to chat with as we drove to the olive mill.
First up, we stopped at a reservoir on the way. I've never seen water so blue before, and the white towns dotting the landscape in the distance were simply picturesque. It was also incredibly windy, but what a view!
Such blue water!
We continued on our way to the olive mill. What a beautiful day we had! Blue skies, and just look at that beautiful landscape. On our way, we passed grove upon grove of olive trees. Depending on what the olives are for, the trees may be pruned to stay smaller in stature (to allow for handpicking for olives you eat) or taller (for olive oil where the olives may be shaken from the tree). I may have this completely wrong - this was three weeks ago after all. Regardless, Roger really knew his stuff.
We were given a little tour by one of the owners. To live and work in such a beautiful place - how lucky they are!
I wish I worked here.
We learned that the weather had not been good for olives. The lack of rain had resulted in smaller olives and some were already looking a bit dried out. At this olive mill, they grow some of their own olives, but also press olives for other growers. The two olives they grow are Manzanilla and Lechin olives.
Since we have been back home, David and I have looked in the grocery store for Spanish olive oils, with very little success. Such a shame.
Once the tour was done, we were able to sample two different olive oils. Several plates of oil and baskets of the most delicious crusty bread were laid out in this bright, sunny room. Roger explained the differences to us and then we were free to taste.
Roger passes around blue cups for us to smell and experience the fragrance of the two types of olive oil we will sample.
Yum! One was a coupage - made up of oil from both the Manzanilla and Lechin olive. The other I think was from a single olive variety. Both were wonderful, but what I brought home was the coupage. It had a lovely peppery finish. I think David and I are pretty much through one bottle already.
David and I and a lot of olive oil.
After we all made our purchases (olive oil makes a great gift), we headed back into our van and headed to the Chinchilla Winery. The photo in the link shows Gemma, one of the owners of the winery and also an amazing cook, but I'll get to that in a bit.
Being a small winery, Gemma was helping with bottling when we got there, so we had the time to enjoy the scenery and the affections of a friendly dog.
Awww! Who's a good doggie?
I love this picture.
We got to wander a little bit amongst the grapes (we even ate some!) and see the operation at the winery. It's a small winery so we were able to get really up close to everything. David even helped put some labels over the corks. He he.
I will take this entire barrel home with me, please.
Of course, no winery visit is complete without a tasting, and Chinchilla really raises the bar here. We didn't just have a tasting. We had an entire lunch, with wine samples paired with most courses. And there were many, many courses. Bear with me, because photos aplenty are coming!
I must say, this may well have been the highlight of the trip for me. As you all know, I love to eat. Dining out is really my preferred entertainment. This meal was so amazing - it really justified, for me, the entire cost of the tour.
So, let's begin. First of all, I believe Gemma made most or all of this food. I believe it was all cooked from scratch. Below you can see her finishing up getting the table all set for us. Roger was able to join us as well, which was really fun.
First up, gazpacho. We ate a lot of gazpacho in Spain, and this bowl ranked up there as one of the best. Perfect blend of flavors and spices, a sprinkle of cheese. Yum! I think I need to work on my own gazpacho skills.
There was also this amazing dish on the table that was made up of eggs and tuna and a cream sauce. This was really good. I wouldn't have thought of putting egg and tuna together, but this was gobbled up pretty quickly by the nine of us.
After the soup, two dishes were brought out. Tomato slices with sardine filets on top and the amazing potato salad pictured below. Best potato salad I have ever had. In Spain it is called Salada Russa (?), and this was the best I had while we were there. It means Russian Salad, I think. If you order this in Spain, you'll get a salad of mostly potatoes, so I call it potato salad. This had some ham in it, and the best part...little pickles. I think I could have eaten the entire bowl myself. I also ate several of the tomato slices with the little fillets. They were dressed simply with some olive oil, perhaps? Quite good and the tomato was excellent. We had not had too many fresh veggies on the trip thus far.
Now, I am not much of a fish person, so the next dish to come out initially worried me. At least the heads were cut off. As you can see, we did pretty good as a group. These were little fried sardines. Reluctantly, I tried one, and wow! Loved them. Not fishy at all. I ate a couple.
We were not done with the fish yet! Next came the breaded anchovies. I've never eaten an anchovy and have always said I wouldn't, but I felt I should try them and I was glad I did. Also delicious.
Next up, Spanish omelet. First Spanish omelet of the trip, but definitely not my last.
There was also a platter of zucchini and cheese croquettes. I'm not sure that is the proper name; I just didn't want to call it a zucchini and cheese "thing" because they were so much better than that. When Gemma brought these out we asked Roger what they were and he asked Gemma and told us they were zucchini and we all went, "Ooooh" as though he had told us it was Kobe beef or something. I guess were were all really craving some veggies.
But wait! There is still more to come! Pork au jus (again, obviously not the proper name, but describes it well I think). Oh...this pork. This pork was so tender and flavorful. This pork has ruined all other pork for me for the rest of my life. It was just so good. I really thought the meal was done with the Spanish omelet, so when this arrived I was overjoyed.
And of course, we had to have dessert. Pears poached in red wine with cream. Simple. Delicious. Perfect ending for such a wonderful meal.
Next stop - shopping of course. You can't go to Spain and not bring home some Spanish wine.
With full bellies, we headed off to Ronda. Now, both my dentist and someone else I met at the conference told me we should go to Ronda, but I didn't think we'd make it there. They both told me about the amazing bridge and gorge. It did not disappoint.
Love the white buildings, blue sky.
Below is the "new bridge". It was built in the 1700s. Check out the link here. The photo is quite impressive.
I would love to go back sometime and have more time to explore. I would love to just get lost in the winding streets, have a glass of wine at a little cafe, enjoy some tapas.
Lea and Kelly explore Ronda.
I would have loved more time to enjoy views like this.
Alas, it was getting later in the day and we needed to get back to Sevilla. It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive or so from Ronda and most of us used that time to nap. We were dropped off once again close to our apartment. Door to door service!
Everyone talked about how much they enjoyed the tour and how it was the best part of the trip so far. Roger has a blog here that you can check out and read about some of his other tours.I would love to do a tapas tour with him! Exploring on your own is fun, but I think going on a tour with someone who really knows their way around adds so much to a trip. I'm not talking big bus with 50 other people, but arranging a private tour is definitely worth it.
So, how does one answer such a wonderful lunch? With pizza of course. We weren't feeling too adventurous and just walked across the park from our apartment to Il Solito Posto for dinner. The pizza was actually quite good...more a Neapolitan style. And they could seat all nine of us together, which was a plus. One of the things I loved most about Spain was eating outdoors most evenings. A glass of wine, a hot slice of pizza, my friends. An end to another wonderful day!