The authentic taste of Argentina- food and wine
In the first of a series of blogs, we take a whistle stop tour around some of the culinary and wine delights of South America. We begin with Argentina - the beloved country where pampeano's story began.
'Grown by nature, manufactured by us' was the strapline for a recent key event which showcased Argentina's export potential of its wines and fresh produce to Asia and the rest of the world.
Argentine wine tasting
An international food show took place in Shanghai, China last month, and the event kicked off with a wine tasting of Argentine wines, which showcased the best of all things Argentinian.
The event gave the Chinese and other international guests a chance to sample the diversity of flavours of Argentinian wines from the Salta, Cordoba and San Juan wine producing regions to the jewel in the crown wine producing province of Mendoza. This region has produced several award-winning Malbecs but is also doing well with Bordeaux reds - including cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. In the white wine department, you will find vineyards producing torrontes, riojano, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier.
Star of the show: Malbec
Argentina's most famous wine is arguably Malbec, with some observers, including the Wall Street Journal, considering Malbec a synonym for Argentine wine. In fact, such is its popularity that Argentine Malbec even has its own malbecworldday.com, which it has been celebrating annually since 2011.
China promotes Argentine wine and produce
On the back of the Shanghai event, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has agreed to sell wines and fresh products from Argentine companies and to organise promotional initiatives in China to promote Argentine products. That is fantastic news all round - boosting the Argentine economy and introducing more and more people to the wine and culinary delights of this beautiful South American country.
Well done to the Argentina Investment and Trade Promotion Agency (AAICI) and Wines of Argentina (WOFA) in collaboration with Alibaba Group.
pampeano luxury inspired by Argentina
Of course at pampeano we are already huge fans of all things South American - its food, wines, restaurants, design, mate, culture, geography, climate, mountains, estancias, tradition, history, craftsmanship and people.
pampeano's first love - and what led to its creation - is Argentina and its rich heritage: from the awe-inspiring panoramic views, sun-baked estancias and snow-capped Andes, to the unrivalled horsemanship of the gaucho cowboys and its world-famous polo fields.
Inspired by the quality and craftsmanship of South America's traditional leather work, pampeano began on the polo fields of La Pampa (central Argentina) - providing polo players with their team colours through vibrant and expertly hand-woven leather polo belts. These iconic polo belts are still pampeano's trademark best seller to this day, and pampeano has since become known globally as a leader in technical polo equipment and purveyor of luxury handmade leather goods, hand-crafted textiles and one of a kind homewares.
A few wine facts about Argentina
In terms of Argentina as a wine producer, there are 864 Argentine wineries in operation in the country. This makes it the fifth largest wine producer in the world. The US buys 30 percent of its wine production, next the UK and then Canada, according to winesofargentina.org. Another fascinating fact is that Argentina is also the fifth largest wine consumer in the world.
So it will come as no surprise that wine is therefore very much part of Argentine culture. In fact, Argentinians say that it would be unusual to see a table set for any meal (apart from breakfast) without a bottle of wine.
A family affair
Suffice to say that meal times are very sociable affairs in Argentina, with large groups gathering in the home or at family-run restaurants to enjoy long leisurely hours dining together. Family favourites include lasana campestre (rural-style lasagna with Swiss chard, ricotta, cooked ham and cheese) and matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak).
Celebrating the Argentine Asado
But the most traditional family gathering for food is the Argentine asado, only very vaguely like an English barbecue. For an authentic asado you will need either a brick built grill (also known as a parilla), with space underneath to put coal or firewood, or an open fire. On the parilla, the meat is only placed on the grill when the coals underneath are red hot and the flames have died down. There is quite an art to this.
Argentinians know their cuts of meat, too: Bife de chorizo (sirloin) - a very popular one; vacio (flank), tira de asado (ribs), lomo (fillet) and cuadril (rump). Other cuts of meat are offal (achuras). This includes: mollejas (sweetbreads) - cow's glands, usually served with lemon - and chinchulin, part of the cow's intestines. Not for the faint-hearted but deliciously tasty and tender.
In fact, such is the reverence in which an asado is held in Argentina, there is even a national asado competition held annually in Buenos Aires to find the best asado chef across the country.
Steak and Malbec: a perfect combination
Enjoy your asado with a good, full-bodied red wine, such as Malbec. Wine buffs talk of Malbec being rich and soft on the palate, with a hint of spice, vanilla and clove layered over fruity flavours of soft plum and damson - a perfect accompaniment with meat.
Majestic Wine says that steak is the stereotypical answer to Malbec adding that it's a great BBQ wine and a real crowd-pleaser: "Serve with friends and soak up the adulation".
Three Ps of Argentine cuisine
People often talk of the three Ps in Argentine cuisine; pasta, pizza and parilla. The influence of pizza and pasta come from Argentineans of Spanish and Italian descent - of which there are many. Meanwhile, parilla (referring to grilled meat) emanates from the famous Argentine gauchos - the country's larger than life cowboys who herd the beef cattle on South America's endless rolling plains and pampas.
With fantastic, flavoursome grass-fed beef abounding, it is safe to say the gauchos (still working today) know all about their cuts of beef and what makes a good steak. You might be hard pushed to find many vegetarian gauchos in Argentina.
The ritual of rubbing salt into the meat is important. But it has to be the right sort of salt. The jury is out on whether it is rubbed into the meat before or during cooking. But we will leave that to another culinary blog for another day.
The dulce de leche vita
Other great Argentine delicacies include its famous pastries - including its little pies called empanadas. These delicacies will whet your taste buds, with various fillings and spices added depending on the region and chef.
But who can forget Argentina's world-famous queen of desserts dulce de leche, which will seduce even the most ardent pudding refusenik.
Dulce de leche's literal translation is sweetness of milk and is best described as a crème caramel Argentine style, with a sweet taste like caramalised sugar and a rich brown colour. It crops up in lots of gorgeously mouth-watering desserts and sweet meats in Argentina.
For breakfast, try pancakes filled with dulce de leche, washed down with the country's ubiquitous herbal drink of mate - considered by many Argentinians as a good way to start the day. It might be a tad too early for the Malbec.