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January 21st, 2009

on the road: Andalucía


The Andaluz village of Montefrío rises above olive fields. © Jeff Koehler

Earlier this winter I went down to Andalucía to visit a couple of the world’s finest olive oil producers. The olive harvest was in full swing – but so was hunting for perdiz roja, the succulent red-legged partridge found around Spain but especially in the center and south of the country.

In the space of a handful of days, I ate perdiz shredded and stuffed in canelones with local black truffles; in croquettes with cured ham (prepared by the legendary oil producers’ Nuñez de Prado’s family chef); wrapped in fatty bacon, roasted, and eaten with grapes; and, on three different occasions, as paté. The best paté de perdiz was in Zuheros at a lovely 19th century cortijo that’s just been converted to an inn, Hacienda Minerva, where it came covered with just-pressed, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil and matchsticks of fresh acidic apple. Sublime.

Elsewhere in the country I could have had perdiz stewed in chocolate; stuffed; cooked in cider or with chestnuts or cabbage or white beans; grilled and served with sardines; preserved in escabeche and eaten with the fingers, cooked in vinegar and eaten warm…

The glut of the season means the glut of eating in season. In my local market it often feels like feast and famine regarding cherries and figs, tiny mid-June pears no bigger than a fig, asparagus and artichokes, wild mushrooms, certain fish, game birds. But such seasonality coerces the widest variety of preparations. And in there lies the pleasure – for cook as well as diner.


A handful of olives at Columela in Santaella. © Jeff Koehler

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