Friday, 18 December 2009

Slow Food

Last weekend was the slow food exhibition in Bilbao “Algusto”, so it seemed a good opportunity to write a little about the slow food movement, slow food in Asturias and what we do on the farm and hotel with respect to slow food.

Slow food was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and the disappearance of local food traditions. It also tries to increase people’s interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the world around us. Today the Slow Food Association is a vast network of 100,000 members from 150 countries, grouped in local chapters called convivia, of which there is one in Asturias.

Local food traditions; Asturian cheeses

The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity builds the capacity of food producers and defends biodiversity and food traditions by creating new economic models that are being put in to practice around the world. The Ark of Taste is a catalogue of products in danger of extinction selected throughout the world by the slow food Association. Another initiative is the support of Presidia which are sustainable food production projects run by small producers of quality artisan products. Some of the Ark of Taste, and Presidia products were on display at the Algusto fair in Bilbao.

In Asturias there are four products which are in the Ark of Taste catalogue, they are; Asturian spelt, Xalda sheep, Natural Cider and Fresh Beans.

Selection of products made with spelt flour.

The Asturian spelt is a cereal sown during the winter since before the Romans. It requires special mills to remove the husk and produces an excellent, nutritive and flavoursome flour. It is used in breads and cakes and in the hotel we often make bread from organic Asturian spelt and serve it for breakfast or with the evening meal.

Xalda sheep on our farm

The Xalda sheep, indigenous to Asturias, is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in Spain. On the farm we have been breeding them for the last 12 years and regularly put Xalda lamb on the menu in the hotel restaurant. The meat is of excellent flavour and of a fibrous but tender texture.

Pouring natural cider.

Natural cider is the traditional drink in Asturias and has come to be a reference for the Asturian gastronomy. Apple plantations form a central part of the Asturian landscape reflecting the importance of cider in Asturias. On the farm we have 3 hectares of Asturian cider apples and although we do not make natural cider we make a natural apple juice. To try natural cider whilst in Asturias we recommend you visit a “chigre” (traditional cider bar.)

A selection of beans for sale at the Colunga local bean fair.

The fourth Asturian Ark of Taste “Fresh Beans” is a minority product at the moment. Its major difference with the traditional dried bean is that the beans are picked before they start drying. Beans are an integral part of the Asturian diet and there are many different types which are grown and sold in the region. There are various specialist been markets celebrated in Asturias throughout the year. At the hotel we grow different types of dried been and regularly incorporate them in the food we serve in the restaurant.

In the hotel restaurant; Xalda lamb with Canela beans and Mangetout, all produced on the hotel farm and waiting to be eaten!

More information on slow food
More information on the food we serve in the hotel
More information on Xalda sheep

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Stone walling made from stones from the farm

The farm we run at Posada del Valle is a certified organic farm and has been for almost 10 years. However over the last couple of years as well as maintaining organic farming practices we have also been looking at the way we operate with a permaculture perspective.

Permaculture means different things to different people. A popular concept of permaculture is a system of gardening requiring little external inputs and the essence of permaculture is to work with what is already there.

The sheep shelter we built recently reflects this line of thinking, as we tried to use materials we already had on the farm. The basic structure is stone, of which we have abundance and is the natural building material of the area. For the beams we used wood from eucalyptus trees growing on the farm. The roof was made from old pallets which we got from our local builder (who was going to burn them) and finally we did buy some black plastic to cover the roof. This contrast completely with the first stable we built 12 years ago, made from iron beams, breeze blocks and corrugated iron roof!

The sheep shelter made from stone and wood from the farm

Another idea behind permaculture is to produce no waste, and to try and think in continual cycles. Compost is a classic example of this, making food from waste!

Kitchen waste on the compost, soon to produce food again.

This idea of producing no waste can be applied to many things; it just takes a little shift in mentality. Its often all too easy to buy something new to do the job when very often we can make do with something we already have.

An example is the eucalyptus trees we have growing on the edge of our farm. They are an invasive species which drain the soil of water and nutrients, making it difficult for other plants to grow. But rather than just cutting the trees down to burn in site we now try to cut the trees only when we have a use for them, either in construction or when we need fire wood. Rather than looking at them as a pest or waste we look at them as an asset.

Making the most of trees for fire wood

Another example is seed sowing compost. Being a horticulturist and realising the importance of seed sowing, I always like to buy some good sowing compost to sow my seeds in. The commercial sowing composts are normally peat based and not very sustainable. We now have an excellent substitute for the brought compost, from the farm; leaf mould: We have been making leaf mould on the farm for the last 2 years from all the leaves which blow around the hotel entrance. Around the hotel the leaves are seen as a mess and a waste, but we now look at them as a valuable material.

Cutting hay with a scythe for winter food for the sheep

But permaculture isn’t just a permanent (sustainable) agriculture; it has evolved to one of a permanent (sustainable) culture and to encompass all aspects of human habits.

If you are interested in permaculture you may be interested in the following books:
The Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitefield
Permaculture, Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren


Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.