Torrontes & Goats Cheese - a match made in heaven!
Trip Start Nov 04, 2010
83Trip End Aug 10, 2011
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We'd left Salta not so bright but oh so early on the 7am bus. This got us into laidback, sunkissed and blissfully tranquil Cafayate by 11am giving us plenty of time to walk the sandy streets of this jewel of a pueblo. After a quick chat with a couple of hostel touts at the bus station, we decided on EL Hospedaje, a charming place recommended by a lovable Irish couple we'd met on the salt flats, Aoife and Rory. El Hospedaje had lots of character with an interesting mix of the owner's family memorabilia, pictures in old-school black and white, country fare from horse shoes to hay tastefully displayed on the the tall walls of it's high-ceilinged breakfast room/restaurant.
Having left Salta with no breakfast we were both starving and headed straight to a cosy little spot that we'd seen on our walk to the hostel. "La Casa de la Empanada" was true to it's name. A cosy little 2-roomed establishment serving every combination of stuffing under the sun in it's artfully folded empanadas.
If it appears we travel from place to place paying tribute to this hearty, satisfying, budget friendly Argentinian delicacy, then you'd be right! Thought to have originated in Spain, the name comes from empanar, which means to coat with bread. Although most famous in Argentina and Chile, this has now become a Latin American delicacy, with every country on the continent giving the humble pastry a twist of it's own. Some fry it, some bake it, some make them tiny bite-sized morsels, others offer them in a more generous size, some call them saltenas but having sampled this treat in every single country bar Colombia and Ecuador, Argentine empanadas are the "real deal"!
We were in Cafayate for 2 and a half days and we religiously made a pilgrimage to "La Casa de la Empanada" every meal time. We tried a couple of other restaurants in town but none warmed the cockles like our trusty empanada. La Casa de la Empanada had special offers we couldn't resist - like 12 empanadas and a a bottle of the local torrontes for all of £5. In the evenings, a local cowboy dressed in a bolero and andean-style llama cape entertained the empanada gorging crowd to soulful renditions of acoustic pena music accompanied by a spanish guitar.
When not pigging out on empanadas, we pigged out on Argentina's other gourmet star - the helado! In Cafayate, helados were gourmet indeed with "Miranda's" owned and run by Miranda herself, serving organic ice cream loyal to the local grapes - cabernet sauvignon and torrontes. The vino ice creams weren't just watered down sorbets - they were intoxicatingly concentrated concoctions of these fermented grapes. Although our palettes marvelled at the uniqueness of the texture and flavour, our favourite combination of helado flavours is still dulce-de-leche with banana split. MMM...mmmm...mmmmmm!
It was time to work out our blissfully happy empanada and helado stuffed bellies with a walk to the goat's cheese factory - "Cabras de cafayate". Our guided tour was in spanish, so although we struggled to keep up, our skills only extending to present tense with "limited" vocabulary, we understood that the rearing of goats in this region was initially done with the motivation of using the guano/excrement as fertilizer for the surrounding vineyards. Over time though, the local foodies realised the pairing of goats cheese with white torrontes was literally a match made in heaven and we salute them for their vision. They had separated goats of different breeds,ages and sexes into different pens amazingly clean and free of the odour usually accompanying such tours. A lot of the spanish of our tour was going over our heads so we were easily distracted, playing 'Good cop Bad cop' with Anjli feeding the goats and Dhruve tugging on their tiny goaties. At the end of our tour, we were guided to a tasting room where we sampled the farm's soft, semi-hard and hard cheese - some of it completely natural in flavour while others were smoked or enhanced with herbs and spices which went down well with a tiny swig of white torrontes - gotta give them 100% on that. We each took away a sizeable cut of goat's cheese - Dhruve favouring the chilli infused one while Anjli preferred the mellower provencal goat's cheese peppered with parsley.
Our walks around the town of Cafayate were a stark contrast to those we'd enjoyed in Mendoza, different but breathtaking all the same. Picture skeletal vines, bare but still standing proud against the sanstone mountains of the valley against brilliant blue skies with plenty of grazing goats and fat bleating sheep to keep us company. Those were the days!
Whilst having an al fresco lunch on the square one afternoon, we were entertained to a bus load of teenage school girls drooling over an embarrased teenage justin bieber look-a-like while his parents and sisters in stitches, recording the whole thing on camera, egged the girls on. Ahhhh.......only in South America.
Whilst in town we took in a couple of wine tasting sessions at two of the most celebrated wineries in the region, bodega Nanni and bodega El Transito. We've both come to love bodegas whether old or new, they're all beautifully architechted and as houses of the nectar we've come to love they have seldom disappointed. Most of the wineries in and around Cafayate are small family owned and run affairs.
Most of Cafayate's wineries offered young wines. Although we'd come to love older, complex wines, there were a couple of young ones that pleasantly surprised us. Besides the white torrontes, Nanni offered wines from other grapes in the region, the bonnarda, tannat, malbec and cabernet sauvignon whilst El Transito had a largely torrontes offering. As we were on the last leg of our trip, we could finally buy a couple of bottles each to take home. Favouring the red grape, we made our most exciting purchase of our travels so far, one bottle of premium varietal bonnarda and a bottle of our favourite blend of grapes, the cabernet sauvignon and malbec.
The wines at El Transito were primarily white, and much sharper in taste - a tad disappointing but we enjoyed the experiece all the same at Transito's state of the art modern tasting bar.
Cafayate, we love you. We shall return.