Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Uruguay's Culinary Traditions: Estancias & Wine Country

Experiencing the culinary sensations emanating from Uruguay revolves around a distinct culture. The capital city’s called Montevideo. The country itself hosts a population   of 3.7 million people. Typical La Cultura Gauchesca or gaucho culture remains a strong presence in terms of the gastronomy delights in Uruguay. The gaucho’s possess excellent horsemen skills riding half-wild pingo horses. The presence of gaucho cuisine in contemporary Uruguay remains strong even today.

A true gaucho drink revolves around the unusual name of mate. Mate’s a bitter tea-like drink made from the yerba mate plant typically placed in a hollowed gourd and then sipped through a tube. Because of the high caffeine content it’s considered a stimulant. Mate also includes other healthier nutrients besides a high caffeine count.

Other national drinks include clerico (wine mixed with fruit juice) and medio-y-medio (a wine and champagne mix). In addition cana and grappa remain widely available. Typical whiskey and gins are produced at local distilleries within Uruguay.

The traditional diet of Uruguay remains primarily red-meat from the abundant cow. The influence from gaucho as an equestrian ethnic group remains similar to North American cowboys and Ukrainian Cossacks. With the introduction of cattle and horses by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, brave horsemanship as well as the cattle food source became the norm in Uruguay.

Typical dishes influenced by gaucho culture commonly found in Uruguay consist of the following:

• Asado  (barbecued meat)

• Asado de tira (short ribs)

• Parrillada  (beef and entrails)

• Bife de chorizo (rump steak)

• Chivito (a hefty steak sandwich served with cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, ham, olives and pickles)

• Morcilla dulce (sweet black sausage made from blood, orange peel and walnuts) Marcella salada (salty sausage)

• Dulce de leche (popular gaucho milk sweets)

• Chaja (ball-shaped sponge cake filled with cream and jam)

• Faina (chickpea flour pancake)

Pork sausage traditionally gets served as an appetizer in Uruguay. For those who savour a more subtle taste barbecued lamb gets consumed in large quantities, especially in rural areas. It’s customary at rural banquets for entire cows to get barbecued with their hides still intact.

Uruguay remains South America's 4th largest wine producer after Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Uruguay’s often referred to as the "Land of Tannat” the Tannat (Harriague) grape remains the best known grape in Uruguay.  Ever since its introduction in 1870 by a Basque family the gape has flourished in the rich fertile soils. Uruguay remains the largest world producer of Tannat

Further exquisite red wines include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. White wines traditionally found in abundance include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Smaller plantings exist of Pinot Noir, Marsanne and Viognier exist throughout the 280 Uruguayan wineries.

Around 24 of these wineries (which function as small, family-owned businesses) export wines to the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Central America, Canada, Asia and several countries in Europe. In total 9000 hectares of vineyards exist in Uruguay with the main wine producing areas centring on Montevideo, San Jose, and Canelones.

Other notable vineyards exist at the Colonia del Sacramento as well as an interesting remote location in Rivera, on the northern border with Brazil.

The ideal places to experience true Uruguayan cuisine can be found around the lesser known Punta del Este area, the hot springs near Salto, or the hustle of the capital Montevideo. For the true gaucho experience spend a night or two at an estancia (a large rural estate), amidst the wide-open plains of true gaucho country.