Special days. Sometimes you get one of those special days where the world moves pleasurably along, taking you with it on a trip that involves lots of easy laughter and unforgettable one-off experiences that could never be repeated in quite the same way.
A day of eating calçots and climbing castellers in Catalonia was one such day.
Whilst you can order calçots in restaurants in Catalonia during their season (November/December to March/April) I can’t imagine many places would match Mas Trucafort in Falset for creating the perfect ambience for preparing and scoffing this regional speciality.
A huge hearth takes up one wall of the rectangular building where the calçots are cooked, whilst a stove, blackened pots and pans and a stack of wood topped by a crate of walnuts line another. The third wall is relatively bare save for a wooden box with a small but lethal looking bow and arrow. To say it had a rustic flavour is a bit of an understatement.
We stand grouped together at the entrance to the calçot cooking building, ready to escape the smoke when it comes, and nursing glasses filled with local Priorat wine poured from a porrón – a Catalan carafe with a long spout from which the wine should be poured straight down the throat. It’s ideal for a sociable way of sharing wine.
Our host, chef and owner of Mas Trucafort, Roger lays out rows of calçots on a rickety, well used grill as he explains how the large green onions are grown and prepared.
Growing and Cooking Calçots
A speciality of Catalonia, the onions are ‘tricked’ into growing beyond their normal size by farmers building up the earth around their stems as they grow, resulting in a bigger onion with more of a white, edible stem.
When ripe for the plucking, the calçots are placed on a grill and barbecued over a fire of aromatic vines until the bulb is charred and the stem of the onion is firm but feels pliable to the touch.
Ones that are too firm are discarded and the rest are placed on newspapers (the Catalan version of fish and chips perhaps) and taken to a circular table where they fit snugly into clay roof tiles that not only keep them nicely in place but also warm.
How to Eat Calçots
Luckily and coincidentally I’d recently watched a video of how to eat calçots so had an idea of what to expect. Basically you need a tile packed with calçots, a bowl of romesco sauce (a creamy mix of red pepper, tomatoes, garlic, almonds, onion, paprika, bread, chillies, olive oil and red wine vinegar) and a bib.
Handle the cooked calçots assertively, holding the top and peeling the charred skin downwards; ideally in one fell swoop. When they’re cooked properly, the skin falls away quite easily. Then you dip the exposed calçot flesh into the bowl of romesco and eat it in much the same way as a sword swallower eats their sword. If you can’t peel like a pro it doesn’t matter, making an apocalyptic mess is part of the fun (hence the bib). Combine it with guzzling wine from a porrón the traditional way, and eating calçots will be one of the most fun and sociable meals you’re likely to experience. Just don’t wear anything you’re particularly fond of.
Calçots have a deliciously unique and more-ish flavour that falls somewhere between onion and white asparagus. Although the romesco sauce enhances the calçots flavour, I found that I really enjoyed simply munching on the odd one sin romesco sauce, savouring their country fresh flavours.
In what seemed like an epic calçot eating session, Roger and wife, Nina presented us with tile after tile brimming with the charred delicacies until we waved the white flag (or in this case blackened bibs) having gorged on mountains of calçots and downed rivers of fine wine.
Reluctantly Roger and Nina accepted our surrender… and then announced: ‘Now it’s time for lunch.’
Coming up ‘Eating Calçots and Climbing Castellers in Catalonia Part 2’.
Anyone can enjoy a similar and memorable experience of eating delicious calçots whilst enjoying the warm hospitality of Roger and family at Mas Trucafort. There are three mouth-watering lunch options all priced at €27 per person for groups of 10 people all more. Even better, there’s also accommodation at Mas Trucafort for people who want to linger longer in this lovely part of Tarragona’s countryside.
Buzz Trips got up close, personal and very messy with a mountain of calçots as a guest of Catalunya Tourist Board.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+