The ultimate cow news (3)

La Rural is a vast space which takes up 12 hectares in the heart of posh Palermo. Functioning as an auction hall then latterly an exhibition and events arena since 1878, in 2012 it also hosts the annual book fair, a twice yearly fashion week, ArteBA and dozens of other events attracting huge crowds. However, the Rural Exhibition is the only one to use up most of those hectares.

Daisy A and Daisy B strike a pose. Ph: Diego Kovacic

The last event I went to there was ArteBA back in May, a strictly indoor fair which uses the Sarmiento Avenue entrance and a mere two pavilions, the Blue and the Green.

Seeing as La Rural was expressly set up for the Rural Exhibition, it obviously uses the main entrance to great fanfare on Plaza Italia, various pavilions and almost all the outdoor space including an enormous hole in the ground land developers would kill to get their hands on, for the 4WD driving experience.
Guided tours are available and I was given a whizz-around by Juan, who pointed out various arenas and pavilions which had escaped my attention.

“I’ve just come from Pavilion 9 and seen all those lovely cows there,” I told him.

He looked at me and without skipping a beat, replied: “Those were bulls.” I really should have been paying closer attention to their man parts, apparently.

Putting aside my unhealthy obsession with cattle, both male and female, there are some beautiful horses stabled up, some that will compete for prizes while others are the right-hand of the Argentine gaucho cowboys who perform some phenomenal stunts with their four-legged partners. Breath-taking.

Meanwhile, there are various breeds of sheep to get up close and personal with while the harder of hearing might find the avian pavilion rather more enjoyable than the rest of us.

But wandering through the crowds — and the joint is busy, given that it is lunchtime and the school holidays — there is a remarkable sense of naturalness about the campo setting up shop in the city for two weeks.

Although I am not strictly from the countryside, I was brought up in a small, vaguely rural, English village, watched ducklings hatch as a small girl, have anxiously watched sheep anxiously being shorn and wouldn’t know which teat to grasp in order to milk a cow, or indeed a goat. But there is something rather soothing, and inexplicably quirky about being in the heart of the metropolis, celebrating all that is great and good about Argentina’s own agricultural activities.

Maybe it’s the homemade jams, the cheesy squares on cocktail sticks readily available to taste-drive, the opportunity to pretend you’re driving a combine-harvestor (that was my 2010 photo opportunity) — maybe it’s simply that farmers and rural workers from a nation as large as Argentina (the world’s eighth-largest spanning more than 2.78 million square km) have come together to show people what they are about. A warm fuzz comes over me and I wish I could take a cow, or better still the baby calf which was born last Monday, for whom La Rural is running a name competition, home with me.

Back to some real cow news and a sight I have truly not seen before. All this competition malarkey is taken extremely seriously, given that there is huge money to be made from breeding and genetics, not just for cattle but across the board. Every cow and bull needs to look their very best in front of the judges, that we already know, but I never thought I’d see a cow, tail neatly tucked inside a plastic bag, being blow dried. And not even creating the smallest of stampedes over it. Daisy the Hereford was being given the spa treatment ahead of her show, basically being dusted down for rogue pieces of sawdust and in hindsight, I suppose I’m only surprised no one was reading out stories to her from the latest Vogue.

If today is Sunday, that gives you just two more days to grab a taste of the countryside on your doorstep. Some people have the fear of being cut off from civilization as we know it, so this is the one chance to get back with nature — whether it’s to try and get a gaucho’s phone number, impersonate a gobbling turkey, or chomp down a sausage sandwich — before jumping on the subway, if isn’t closed for a strike, to get home.

It was most fortunate that I had Juan to guide me around the vast space that is La Rural, because I would never had made my lunch reservation on time, let alone have found the restaurant.
In fact, despite my numerous visits to fashion week and the like over the years, it had always escaped my notice that there is a restaurant open all year round at the exhibition space. Terraza del Central opens all day during the Rural Exhibition but only at lunchtime throughout the rest of the year.
And boy, is it the place to be. First off, booking is essential, because it is packed. And second, in a country as large as Argentina, it seems remarkable that everyone in the agricultural industry seems to know everyone else. A small world it is indeed.
The venue is enormous, and is usually used for corporate events, but despite the hundreds of tables and diners, service was impeccable.
Although it has the air of an old boys’ club, the menu and table denoted otherwise. One of the prettiest breadbaskets I’ve seen, rolls and farmhouse slices loaded into a cute little sack compete with a rosemary garnish, it was hard to resist that carb temptation.
But a bife de chorizo was en route, requested medium-rare, and given the enormity of the restaurant there were obviously dozens of sirloins on the grill. My steak (99 pesos) arrived in record time and perfectly marked like the back end of a cow — I swear I didn’t wait any longer than four minutes for it — and accompanied by a perky green salad. And frankly, steak was the only option in my mind, because if they can’t do it right at La Rural, where can they?
Dessert options included a suitably rustic option such as cheese from Tandil with quince jelly, although I am always a sucker for red berries and slurped down some juicy, tart raspberries and ice-cream.
Terraza del Central, Sarmiento 2704 Tel: 4777-3572

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