The days have warmed up considerably recently and while on a bike ride it was noticable how colour is returning to the countryside.
Almonds, cherries, plum and peach are all in flower now so there is a wonderful scent in the air as well as a visual treat when venturing into the country. Olive trees bared of fruit and the ground swept below their branches after their recent harvest, vines pruned and waiting for the new growth to begin, bees buzzing in the fruit trees, this all adds up to a time where spring is getting close.
Of course, not everything is perfect, bee populations are severely reduced, as elsewhere in the world, and there may be a few late frosts to stop the blossoms, and rain is always needed in this parched land, but overall there is no stopping nature taking its course and the growing cycle starting again.
As part of the wine festival there are also olive oil tastings and cooking demonstrations throughout the weekend. This one was held in the main square of Falset and everyone had the same accessories of either a butane camping gas stove or a small charcoal grill on which to prepare their dishes.
All the important ingredients of the area were being shown off in spectacular and imaginative style from wild herbs, pine nuts and almonds, olives and olive oil, wine, vinegar to season wild boar, hare, rabbit and some juicy pork products.
What cannot be passed on through the pictures is the amazing smells and of course the taste, next year you will have to come to sample for yourselves!
Can Xapa is a very well kept secret since it is well hidden in the old part of Bordils, a town that most people pass through on their way from Girona to the Costa Brava without even noticing. If you do venture into the old part of town however there are several surprises in store, one of which is the beautiful church and the other which is Can Xapa.
The pastry and chocolate making here has been passed down through the generations to the current owners Esteve Fabregas and his wife but there is an issue of what will happen when they retire since they have no children and it does require many years aprenticeship.
I was given a tour around the medieval fortified farmhouse which has been the shop and workplace for hundreds of years, all beautifully restored with old materials but not easy to combine the modern equipment needed with low ceilings and narrow corridors. The day I visited they were preparing one of the standard ingredients in many of their famous recipes-roasted almonds covered in caramel and sugar. This base configuration will turn into slabs of dark chocolate, individual decorated chocolates, catanies and other delicacies. The catanies are sugar coated almonds which are then rolled in cacao powder and are very typical in Catalonia and given as a gift. The process is to use local almonds, which have more oil and hence flavour, than foreign varieties and roast them in the oven. Meanwhile it is time to get the caramel prepared in the special heated bowl into which the roasted almonds are added. Once thoroughly mixed the sticky almonds are poured onto a bed of sugar and mixed so that the sugar granules stick to the caramel and this means that we now have individual almonds covered in sugar which can be handled easily. The next process depends on what the ultimate product will be but in the case of catanies each sugar coated almond is further rolled in cacao powder to take on the traditional colour. It is a wonderful place to wander around admiring the cakes, chocolates of many types as well as the savoury dishes they also prepare for taking away. So, the next time you pass through Bordils, make a short detour and you will not be sorry!