All About Catacurian-The Priorat Region-Priorat Wines-Catalan Food
The Best Cooking Vacations in Spain Since 2003 with Alicia Juanpere Artigas-Teaching Gourmet Catalan Cooking and the Appreciation of Priorat/Montsant Wines and Olive Oils in the Most Casual Elegance - Priorat and Barcelona
- The Priorat region and the small town of El Masroig where our culinary vacations are located.
- Our boutique cooking hotel we so carefully rebuilt so that our guests may enjoy an unforgettable stay with all of the necessary amenities for comfort and privacy.
- The wines of the region: DOQ Priorat wines and DO Montsant.
- Catalan Cooking: It's history and ingredients.
AT CATACURIAN WE ADHERE TO THE FOLLOWING:-We only cater to a maximum of six people, so as to convey as much personal attention as you may need.
-We use exclusively fresh and organic ingredients from as many local farmers and producers as possible.
-We serve only quality DOQ Priorat and DO Montsant wines.
-Accommodation is at our own very comfortable Boutique Cooking Hotel, and this way you will feel very much at home in a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere.
-We provide our own transport to and from Barcelona
-Our prices are all-inclusive.
OUR BOUTIQUE COOKING HOTEL...and us
Catacurian is a fourth generation family house, built in stone by Alicia's great grandfather, and it is located in the small town of El Masroig, located within the region of El Priorat.
Catacurian was completely restored and transformed into a private boutique cooking hotel fitted with all of the amenities necessary to make your cooking vacation stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. There are three double bedrooms, all with private bathroom. A sitting room provides a common area where guests can read, listen to music, converse, or just relax. There is also a computer here with high-speed internet access for use by all of the guests, as well as wi-fi. The heart of the house is the large kitchen/dining area with its open fireplace, where your cooking classes will take place. Under the house is the barrel filled wine cellar with adjoining wine tasting room. Here is where you will learn of the famous priorat wines. A separate bar area provides yet another space where aperitifs or after dinner drinks are served. The garden and outdoor fireplace is where you will be making "Carn a la brasa", a typical catalan meal consisting of a variety of meats grilled over live coals. The whole house is climate controlled so that you may be cool in the summer, and warm in the winter.
El Masroig is a small agricultural town of merely five hundred inhabitants. It has its own cooperative for wine and olive oil production which are its principal activities along with the cultivation and harvesting of almonds. The surrounding mountain ranges are visible from all around, and when looking towards the south the view covers miles and miles of unbroken land. At night every star is visible in the sky and this is a great time to have a walk to the nearby Ermita de les Pinyeres.
We have been providing our guests with a wonderful experience and lasting memories since 2003.....Enjoy your stay with us,
Alicia and Jonathan
THE PRIORAT REGION
The Priorat is one of the oldest and also one of the least densely populated districts of Catalonia, and although it is only one hundred miles from Barcelona, it is as remote from a bustling city as could be possible. Located southwest of Barcelona, not too far from Tarragona, this region sits in a natural amphitheatre of low mountains that surround it on all sides. The twenty three towns that form the Priorat are all relatively small and quite close to each other, the principal one being Falset.
The economy of the Priorat has always relied on agriculture and the production of wine and olive oil, making it an ideal location for wine tours, winery visits and cooking vacations. Here they have been exporting wine since the fifteenth century, and wine production remains its most important activity along with the production of olive oil.
There are several ruins from pre-Iberian settlements as well as vestiges of the Romans' presence. The most notable historic feature though, is the 'Cartoixa', or monastery of Escaladei. Soon after the Islamic domination which ended in 1153, a group of Cartusian monks were sent here from France in order to establish their presence in Catalonia. Thus was founded the first Cartusian monastery of the Iberian peninsula, and which gives it's name to the region: The Priory....El Priorat. These were the monks that started th cultivation of wine in the area.
THE PRIORAT-MONTSANT WINES
At Catacurian, we put a great emphasis on allowing our guests to discover the great wines of the Priorat region. We do this by making multiple visits to some of the areas best wineries where the owners or the enologist take us around to visit the vineyards, show us the details of their winery and how they make their wines, and provide us with a complete wine tasting. These presentations are very one-on-one and are done with great enthusiasm by all of the wineries. They are extremely informative as to the whole process of wine making, and one comes away with an excellent knowledge of how the wines of this region are made and the philosophy behind them.
Although the Priorat wines have been produced for centuries, it is only recently, in the past decade or so, that these have taken a quantitative leap in quality that now puts them on the forefront of Spanish wines. This revolution has been taking place in the rest of Spain as well, and other regions such as Toro and Somontano, to name a few, previously lacking in the production of quality wines are now also producing some beautiful wines rivaling those of the usual Rioja and Ribera del Duero denominations.
Catalonia is probably best known for its white wines and cava (champagne method), such as Freixenet and Codorniu which mostly emanate from the Penedés region near Barcelona, but the constant increase in production quality from D.O.Q. (Denominació d'Origen Qualificada) Priorat wines and DO Montsant wines has put these in the spotlight of wine connoisseurs worldwide. This is what makes this area so interesting for a wine tour in Spain.
In 2001, the geographical area of El Priorat was divided into two wine denominations: DOQ Priorat, and DO Montsant. Geographically the DO Montsant area has a donut shape and completely encircles the DOQ Priorat area. They both share the same grape varietals, the same climate, and the same sub-soil, however the DOQ Priorat region has the hard black slate surface that the vines grow on and that is so characteristic of El Priorat. The main towns of DO Montsant production are Falset, Marça, Capçanes, El Masroig, Darmós, and Els Guiamets. The main areas of wine production in the DOQ Priorat region are Gratallops, Scala Dei, La Vilella, La Morera de Montsant, Belmunt, Porrera, Poboleda, Torroja, and El Molar. Together they total over 700 wine cultivators and over 150 wineries.
One of the advantages of the Priorat region is its temperate and dry climate with hardly any rain whatsoever during the summer months. The geographical factor which affects both the price and taste of these wines is the fact that most vines are on steep slopes of slate of volcanic origin which confer a mineral character to the wines, and also preclude large automation of the picking process, thus making it a very manual affair. The most interesting wines of the area are the dry reds. These are very concentrated, very high in color and alcohol content (14 to 15%), with great tanins, and are ready to drink at even a young age.
The grape varietals used for most wine production here are:
- Reds: Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, syrah, and merlot.
- Whites: Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca, Pedro Ximenez.
Apart from the reds and the whites, there is also a very particular wine made here called Vi Ranci, or "rancid wine" which is used as a dessert wine and in cooking. These are aged in barrels at a higher than normal temperature to allow for a natural oxidation process to take place. Another particular wine (although it doesn't follow a fermentation process) is Mistela, a sweet white wine also used as an accompaniment to desserts.
CATALAN FOOD and COOKING
The first ones brought the wine, the olives and the bread, and the Moors brought the exotic element such as saffron, oranges , dates, raisins, almonds and the combination of sweet and savory. It is soon after the last of these occupiers left that the first known Catalan cooking manuscript, the Libre de Sent Sovi, emerged in the fourteenth century. This was to become quite an influence on Italian and French cooking of the time.
In the fifteenth century the first actual cookbook to be printed, the Libre del Coch, attributed to Roberto de Nola, was done so in Barcelona.
One must also remember that the discovery of the new continent by Columbus in 1492 brought many new fruits and vegetables to Spain and helped change the shape of spanish cuisine before the rest of Europe had the benefit of these new tastes. Today, basic Catalan cooking has not changed all that much since the days of the Libre de Sent Sovi, but thanks to some innovative chefs many new dishes have emerged, and old ones have become more colorful and subtle. This is what makes this region so interesting for a culinary vacation in Spain.
One may divide Catalan spanish cuisine into three broad categories determined by geographical location:
- An important coastal cuisine based on fresh seafood.
- An inland cuisine which often uses seafood as well.
- A mountain cuisine which generally has a smaller variety of recipes.
Each of these categories are in turn different according to whether they are prepared by the middle-class, the peasants or fishermen, or whether it is popular cuisine for festivities.Catalan cooking is based on the use of fresh elements, whether they be vegetables, meat or fish usually purchased from the local market on the same day that they will be used. It is also a healthy cuisine as vegetables, fish, lean meats and fruit are its main ingredients, and cooking fat is almost exclusively olive oil.
These are the produce most typically used in Catalan cuisine:
Vegetables: onions, garlic, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms.
Fish: salt cod, monkfish, tuna, sardines, anchovies, herring, trout, squid, octopus, shrimp, prawns, mussels.
Meat: rabbit, chicken, quail, veal, lamb, pork, duck, cured pork meats and sausages, snails, tripe, liver.
Grains and legumes: rice, fava beans, lentils, chick-peas, white beans, black-eyed peas.
Other: eggs, potatoes, olives.
The most common catalan cooking techniques either use a cassola (a thick, low sided, earthenware pot), or a paella pan ( a low-sided metal pan with two handles located on opposite sides). Also very common is to cook al caliu (on hot coals), or a la Plancha (on the griddle).
Many dishes start with a sofregit, a base of mainly onion but which can also use garlic, tomatoes, peppers,- that is slowly cooked in olive oil until it is caramelized and consistent. This then forms the base upon which the remainder of the dish is built upon. Also typical of many a dish is the use of the picada. This is a mixture of garlic, olive oil, almonds and /or other nuts, fried bread, herbs and spices crushed together in a mortar and used to thicken and add flavor to the dish near the end of the cooking. The most used accompanying sauces are the famous allioli, olive oil and garlic mixed together until creamy in consistency, mayonnaise (most Catalans still make this fresh and by hand), romesco a mayonnaise consistency sauce made with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, almonds, hazelnuts, bread, tomato, parsley, nyores (a dried pepper), and samfaina, a mix of onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers cooked in olive oil.