Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Food We Serve

Our home grown vegetables
Five years ago we conducted a study on the food that we serve in the hotel. We wanted to know how much of the food was produced by ourselves, and where the rest of it came from.

The vegetable garden in winter
We were pleased to find that about 30% of the food was produced on the hotel farm. Since then we have tried to increase this amount though it is actually been quite difficult. The percentage we produce our selves has gone up slightly but unless we start to grow wheat or keep cows and pigs we won’t be able to make significant increases.

Home baked breads
Of the food we don’t produce ourselves over 15% is bought directly from certified-organic local small producers. We still bake all our own bread, cakes and desserts from basic ingredients, representing another 20% of the food consumed. The amount we buy from specialist organic distributors is about 30%. It’s also worth mentioning that over 98% of all the products used in the hotel restaurant are certified organic.

Local producers in the market at Cangas de Onis

But what does this mean?
When 30% of the food we use is produced by ourselves, that means a lot of fresh food, so a lot of preparation time in the kitchen – scrubbing, peeling and cutting vegetables and fruit – no ready-prepared packs just waiting to be opened and cooked. It also means the cooking has to be adjusted to what is available and in season. Growing and farming are weather dependent, and however hard we try on the farm, we don’t always get a continual supply of the same food all through the period when the hotel is open. Most of the food is seasonal, and this means that the kitchen has to adapt to what is available from the farm at any particular time of year.

Stringing the onion harvest for storage

Our team of cooks

Raspberries galore

For example, in April there are normally lots of mangetoute peas, then broad-beans in May, an abundance of raspberries and strawberries in June, plenty of beetroots in July, courgettes from July to September, peppers in August, and so it goes on. And it’s not only the vegetables that are seasonal: the chickens lay lots of eggs as the day-length starts increasing in March and April; our lambs are at their best by July, having fattened up on the spring pastures; and then there is the apple harvest in October. True food is seasonal.

Our Xalda lambs in early spring
Imaginitive cuisine.
When I asked Joe what she thought was the most characteristic thing about the hotel cuisine, she said it is cooking with what is available. This means making the best use of what we have in the vegetable garden at that moment (or what is available from other small producers, or the market, or wherever), and using imagination in the way the food is prepared.
Imaginative and tasty cooking

Roulades are an excellent example of adapting the dish to what’s available. Roulades can be based on so many different ingredients – such as leaf-beet, leeks, or carrots for savoury roulades – or on soft-fruits for dessert roulades, such as raspberries or strawberries. And when you get a glut of beetroot, for example, it can be roasted with cheese as a vegetable to accompany the main course, or used to make soup, or served in a salad with an orange mayonnaise, or served marinated in honey – and of course in a roulade. It’s all about imagination and creativity, and Joe certainly has those when it comes to food.

Onion and apple delights
The result is a tasty, varied and healthy cuisine, using lots of fresh produce. It’s often only a couple of hours from the time the food is picked to the time it’s served on your plate.

Different lettuce varieties in the vegetable garden
Local products and varieties.
Is the food we serve typically Spanish? Probably not. But because of our belief in using local varieties and races, the food we serve is based on a lot of genuine Asturian products. We often grow local varieties, and even produce the seeds of some of them so as to help maintain those varieties, as is the case with our onions, dried beans, and maize. Our apples are all Asturian cider-apple varieties. Our lamb is the indigenous Asturian race the “xalda”, now recognized by the slow food movement. Our beef comes from another indigenous breed, the “casin”, or Asturian mountain cow, which we buy direct from a young organic farmer called Angel Merino. Angel grazes his cattle on the Sueve Mountain range just 5 kms from the hotel. We buy a whole cow, which gets sent to the slaughter-house, and then we go to the cutting-house to supervise how it is cut for us and to help pack it. We then have a whole cow, with lots of different cuts of meat, and imagination is needed again to think of ways to prepare the different cuts. Maybe we will serve fillets with a mild “Cabrales” sauce (Cabrales is a local blue cheese), or a stew with peppers and tomatoes, or maybe we will make sausages and serve them with caramelized onions (onions from the vegetable garden of course, and from a variety which was saved in the village for 40 years and we now maintain the seed stock.)

Local organic Casin beef with Cabrales cheese sauce
One thing is sure – a lot of work, time and effort are put into sourcing, growing, preparing, and cooking the food that we serve in the hotel restaurant. However, to serve food which not only tastes good and is healthy, but embraces our beliefs, respects the environment, and supports local communities, is a reward in itself for us, and hopefully for our guests too.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Winter Vegetables

The vegetable garden basking in the winter sun
We got back from our holidays last week and the first job on the farm was tidying up the vegetable garden after 5 weeks of neglect. With the help of some good weather and a few days work it’s now looking more or less like it should do. So here are a few photos taken this afternoon showing what we’ve got growing at the moment:

Italian peppers
Amazingly we still have lots of  peppers to pick! In fact we have got so many peppers that we have been making lots of chutneys and relish to use them before the bad weather comes and spoils them.

Blocky "Californian" peppers

More normal winter vegetables for this time of year are members of the Brassica family like cabbages, swede, turnips and brocculi. We have different Brassica planted; some for us to eat over the winter and some hopefully will be ready when our first guests arrive next April.

Savoy cabbage for spring harvest

Early purple sprouting just ready for picking

Late purple sprouting which should be ready for picking in March and April

We have lots of swedes. Some are for us to eat over the winter, some will be for guests in early spring and if we have too many the sheep love them!

These are the last of our oriental vegetables which are also members of the Brassica family. They grow fast and can be used either in salads or in stir frys.
We also grow endive or escarola for salads over the winter; they are hardier than lettuce and this variety "escarola rubia" tastes really good!

A lovely bed of leeks heavily mulched with horse manure and ready for us to enjoy over the winter months

and for our guests our onion seed bed. These plants will be planted out in March and the dried onions should be harvested June July time.

Broad bean plants which we should start harvesting from for Easter

In the greenhouse we are still picking plenty of tomatoes

and last but not  least oats, not for eating but for a cover crop; we sow them rather than having bare soil over the winter. They will help to help keep the soil in exellent conditions ready for the next crops to be planted here in the spring.


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.