Calçotada – Catalan tradition in the Penedès with Vilarnau:
It is that time of year when I ache for a little sunshine. Accepting an invitation to a calçotada at the Vilarnau winery in search of Spanish sunshine turned out to be overly optimistic. The temperature, even up on the hills of the Penedès region, was a few degrees warmer than London but for most of the day the sun seemed to have decided to hide behind a thick covering of grey clouds. But I’d defy anyone to feel chilly at a calçotada – whatever the weather.
For a start there’s a barbecue, usually fueled with vines. The calçotades themselves, something like giant spring onions some 15-25 cm long, are slowly roasted till the centre is meltingly soft and sweet, while the outside is black and charred. You eat the calçots by pulling out the middle section of the onion in a manoeuvre that for me was strangely reminiscent of shelling prawns, then dangling what is left in your hand down your throat. It does help if you start by loosening things up with a lot of cava…
Calçots are a speciality vegetable that have been given the coveted PGI status. They are only grown in Valls, a town in the Tarragona province in the south of Catalonia. The annual harvest of calçots — January to April — is celebrated with hugely popular events known as calçotada (the ç is pronounced like ‘s’ – Kalsotada).
In Catalonia calçotades are a country affair – they happen at rural restaurants,farms or in gardens and rooftops at home. The onions are grilled until the outer layers are charred, wrapped in newspapers to keep them warm and steam-cook them further, then served on curved terracotta roof tiles.
Of course a calçotada at a winery in the Penedès with a LOT of cava tasting is likely to be even more of a party.
As I found out, once you’ve had one calçot, you’ll end up wanting more. Beware though, Catalan tradition means this is only the start of the feast and after you’ve got thoroughly messy you’ll end up drinking more cava and eating more barbecue food. Globe Artichokes, Red Peppers, Bottifara and Morcilla and perhaps some lamb cutlets – all served with white beans.
Our event, hosted by Vilarnau winery, one of the leading Cava producers, also included a tour of the winery and a cava tasting and, for the sake of providing more information quickly for those who’d like to experience a calçotada in London, I’m planning to write a second post about the Cava produced by Vilarnau and about the ethos of the winery.
My inbox is filling up with events in London so I’ll be adding to this list as I find out dates. Meanwhile, if you find a date that suits, book sooner rather than later – these events sell out fast!
Alquimia in Putney have their event on Saturday 23rd January. You can find out more and book here.
There are four at Boqueria (two at each of the bars in Battersea and Brixton on the 21,28 of February and 13,20 of March). Find out more and book through their website. They’ve sent me a video of last year’s event which looks just as riotous as our trip to Vilarnau.