The pungent odour of mushrooms is intoxicating as Marc lifts up handful after handful of morels, mousseron and ceps for us to smell. It’s enough to make you want to tear your clothes off and roll naked in damp moss, or reconstitute them in stock, add cream and pour them over your pork tenderloin. As we’re currently standing outside Ca La Núria in Setcases in the Catalan Pyrenees, surrounded by a film crew and curious shoppers, I resist the former urge and opt to try the latter, later.
Ca La Núria, la Casa de la Mel is one of those shops where, if you’re a foodie, it’s virtually impossible to walk past. The outside doorstep in spring and summer holds baskets brimming with wild mushrooms, walnuts, chestnuts and pistachios while behind them, beehives act as a table for golden jars of home produced honey backed by a sticky honeycomb and a huge jar of bee pollen.
As we chat, a tray of cheeses has been produced for tasting and Marc is talking us through the different varieties. A cheese made from fresh goat’s milk and left to mature for two to three months; one made from fresh sheep’s milk and matured for 10 months; one made from pasteurised goat’s milk.
“We don’t produce the cheeses ourselves,” says Marc. “These are all from producers in those hills.” He nods towards the pine covered slopes that frame the horizon behind us. “They bring them to me because they know many visitors come here to buy local produce.”
Once inside, the range of locally produced cheeses is enough to send your decision-making skills into apoplexy and if they’re hoping to find solace in the choice of cold meat cuts, they’ll be fatally disappointed. Rows of butifarra and fuet, Catalan’s outrageously tasty sausages, hang behind the counter, while llom embotxats hang from a mug tree like the fruit on a haggis plant. At the far end of the counter locally produced wines mingle with more commercial labels, a fraternising trend clearly encouraged by Marc whose shelves are stacked with locally produced goodies such as chocolate bars, cheek by jowl with Kit-Kats and Twix.
Perusing the aisles of the shop is difficult as there are boxes of stock all over the floor waiting to be unpacked and shelved. It looks like complete chaos but Marc seems to know where everything is and how much it costs; he’s like the Arkwright of Setcases. Except that he’s more than just a shopkeeper, he’s also a mushroom collector and a beekeeper. Using mobile hives, he takes his bees up to 1400 metres above sea level in summer for them to gorge on the profusion of wild flowers that populate the Pyrenees once the last of the snows have melted. The resultant high mountain honey is a sweet, delicately perfumed health boost that finds its way into everything around here from the morning cup of tea to the sweeties behind the glass in the counter.
“These morels are €400 a kilo,” says Marc, holding a fistful for me to breathe their heaven-on-earthy scent. “If you travel just 50 kilometres from here to cross the border into France, you’ll pay €600 a kilo.”
Visitors to the Catalan Pyrenees and mushroom lovers of Provence take note; a visit to Ca La Núria pays tasty dividends.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+