When Maria Salinas needs fresh produce, she knows exactly where to go.
The queen of the rural Mallorcan kitchen hops in her car and winds along country lanes past Inca to a small ‘granja’ on the outskirts of Pina. Pulling up in the yard, she’s met by owner Margalida who leads her into a room stuffed with all the colours of the Spanish vegetable patch.
Bright red peppers; verdant green cabbages; regal purple aubergines and earthy brown potatoes just dug up from the field outside. Just the ingredients to make the grade for her acclaimed restaurant in the village of Mancor de la Vall.
S’hort de C’an Jaume is about as far from the bland surroundings of a supermarket as it’s possible to get. Simple, modest and wholesome, it’s not even akin to a market stall, but one step away from going onto the land with a spade and digging up your vegetables yourself. It’s also extremely cheap.
When some of the team from abcMallorca stopped by on a chilly November day, we filled our shop crate to the brim for just 10 euros – the money going straight into the hand of Margalida and her husband. This is the beauty of Venda Directa (direct sale); a government initiative aimed at establishing a link between the public and Mallorca growers: value for the customer, and fairness for the producer.
It does more than this, however. Setting off on a trail around a handful of island gourmet spots, our Pina route took us past the green Venda Directa sign through a field of rich red earth dotted with enormous cabbages to remind us where the food we eat comes from. While there, we picnicked at a spread laid on by the jolly Maria Salinas and her helpers, sampling ramellet tomatoes dipped in olive oil, the softest bread made from patatas violetas, delicate sheep’s cheese – and a tipple of vermouth which, along with the lit fire, helped warm us up in the cold autumnal weather.
The second stop on our tour, we’d come from Formatgeria Son Jover, an artisan cheese producer deep in the campo on the slopes of Puig de Santa Magdalena. Upon arrival, farmer Antoni Seguí showed us what makes his queso so great: his family’s herd of Mallorcan red sheep.
Four generations of 22 year-old Antoni’s family have run this farm with a commitment to traditional methods. They sell their ecologically-certified soft, hard and semi-hard cheeses at Palma’s Santa Catalina and Plaza de los Patines markets – and to all those who wish to buy it at the farm itself. Like all 16 small businesses under the Venda Directa umbrella, there’s a sense of welcome and a ready openness to share and educate about time-honoured crafts rarely seen by the general public.
When we land that morning trough feeding is in swing, and the farm’s milking vat is full of swirling creamy goodness, attesting to the quality of the milk produced by this special breed. The season between November and May is when Son Jover concentrates its cheese production, thanks to the abundance of grass in its pastures that guarantees premium-grade milk.
The majority of our collected party share a love of dairy products, but it is admittedly with some trepidation that some of us head to the next stop: a snail farm. Considered a delicacy in Mallorca, snails have since pre-Roman times been an integral part of the island’s cuisine. Sa Caragolera, on the outskirts of Binissalem, is devoted to heliciculture, as it’s technically known, displaying pens of moist soil and juicy greens.
Sa Caragolera welcomes groups of more than 10 people to take a tour followed by a sit-down tasting experience. Snail paté; snail dough balls; snails fried, sautéed, boiled and paired with sobrasada. It’s all, perhaps surprisingly for the uninitiated, quite delicious. You don’t know until you try. Perhaps you’ll even take some home.
With thanks to Laura Duran at Mallorca Gourmet Club for organising the tour.
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