Rubber sold

photo (9)The prospect of being surrounded — and I will hold my hands up, if requested, Officer Stilton — by cheese and cold meats is a perfect one.

It was perfect timing, really, for Caminos & Sabores to take place. Ahead of the winter holidays, it also took in a long weekend (kind of) that didn’t quite bridge over to mark independence on Tuesday. The weather was also a bit rum, so happy and unhappy families with not much else on their schedule descended upon La Rural for tastings and testings of goodies from around the country.

I’ll be honest with you, I was actually lured in by the wine, and the idea of sipping fancy blends and unusual grapes. Although now I really think about it, wine and cheese was also a delicious prospect.

And so it was late on Tuesday afternoon, the last day of four, that Mr. Links and I headed to Plaza Italia for a little food action. Tickets cost 50 pesos, there was barely a queue to purchase them despite the hum of punters at the main doors, and entrance was fast.

First, get a map and assess strategy. Divided into drinks, olive oil and spices, four rows of sweets, fruit, yerba mate, cheese and meat, the Blue Pavilion was teeming with folk inside. A deep breath, and we headed to the end to the meat section.

The map unfortunately did not specify producers and what their wares might entail, which would have helped to avoid time wasting wandering between cheese and cured meat stands that all seemed to sell the same.

And that was the most frustrating part. Everything looked the same, the cold meats, the pale yellow artisan cheese balls. Even the way everything hung looked a bit limp. There were relatively few products that seemed new across the board, nothing that truly stood out.

Co-ordinates to head directly to the goat’s cheese producer or the venison meat maker (as these were few and far between) would have made a huge difference as to what I, personally, would buy. I had gone armed with 200 pesos to blow on a picada that would hopefully be stacked with unusual or hard-to-find goodies for that night’s supper.

It wasn’t to be. Overall, the selection sucked, for want of a better expression. My pepato black peppercorn-laced cheese was a rubbery letdown and Mr Links had to sauté the short Spanish-style chorizo in olive oil and garlic to, well, turn it into a Spanish-style chorizo tapa. It had taken a while to unearth that sort of sausage as we weaved among the masses, and Italian-style products were everywhere while the Spanish ones were well hidden. A lot of effort that needed more effort to plate it right.

A lot of stalls were also quite protective over their samples, which was frustrating. Some probably attend with the idea of supplementing lunch with cheese slivers and bits of bread doused in oil, but I fear they would have left still hungry.

Without wishing to put a complete dampener on the event, a lot of people were obviously thrilled, those who are happy to try the same old rubber. Remember cheese school? “Argentines like, and I quote, ‘mild, semi-hard, orange-colour cheese,’” according to Dr. Beatriz Coste from UBA’s Agronomy School and cheese teacher at Argentine Cheese Centre (CAQ). I should have seen it coming. Anyway, here are a few gems I managed to unearth.

With two aisles dedicated to yerba mate and tea, there was a surprising array of loose teas. From herbal ones to Earl Grey and other traditional flavours, they were clearly outnumbered by the yerba brigade but it was interesting to see tea producers taking on the national beverage, albeit in small steps.

It was also positive to see the fair include the Mundo Invisible solidarity group, a gastronomic project based in Quebrada de Humahuaca, Jujuy, that uses native foodstuffs such as quinoa, potatoes and corn to promote the region’s culinary heritage. I’d love to see more such groups highlighted at these gastro events. They tend to be so small and with little, if any, funding, it’s a great way for them to raise awareness, and can also be inspiring when you get to try some dishes.

Then there was the blackened venison cured meat. These guys were the first we saw to openly offer little pieces to try, and we stupidly walked away after tasting, not wanting to splash the cash on the first product we tried. That ham ended up being a favourite, but the effort to go back and find them was simply overwhelming. I’m still regretting it five days later.
The personal highlight was unveiling Mr. Links’ favourite olive oil, a liquid forgotten in the mists of time.

His vague instruction to look out for “this really great olive oil that might called something molino,” we stumbled across Molino La Tebaida, an olive oil producer from Mendoza. Costing 90 pesos for two litres, an average price, Molino La Tebaida makes one single oil available in beautiful ceramic bottles that would make a perfect gift (for yourself). A cute oil-filled penguin is also available.

I never got round to trying any wine, which tended to hail from lesser-known regions such as Catamarca. After dodging and weaving my way through hundreds of shuffling bodies for a few hours, and carrying the oil and various goodies to take home, that was what we made a beeline for.

Buenos Aires Herald: July 14, 2013

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