Artisan produce

Artisan produce

By
Fernanda de Paula, Shelley Hepworth
Contains
11 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742706801
Photographer
Stuart Scott

Brazil has its fair share of artisan products, but the place that has the best reputation for outstanding produce is the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais. It’s an enormous state – you could fit Italy within its borders twice – and the food of the region is notoriously good. If there are three things that portray its artisan spirit at a glance, they are Minas cheese, goiabada (guava paste) and the country’s beloved cachaça.

Minas is the mining capital of Brazil and the farms that were established there during the gold rush create a bucolic scenery surrounded by a stunning mountain landscape. It’s a place where whole towns serve as time capsules preserving Minas colonial heritage. Mineiros, as the locals are called, are renowned for their hospitality. For them, food is an expression of love and you won’t enter a Mineiro home without being offered a slice of cheese, a sip of coffee or cachaça, and fresh cake straight from the oven. For Brazilians, Minas is the embodiment of warmth, conjuring images of hillside farm houses, smoked sausages hanging over wood stoves, the heady scent of home cooking and the toothless smile of grandma.

Minas Gerais is arguably the state that produces the best cachaça out of the more than forty-thousand producers nationwide. Distilleries dot the countryside and some haven’t changed for hundreds of years. The old water wheels still turn, rusted from years of use, powering the crusher to obtain the sugarcane juice ready for fermentation. The drink used to carry a low-class stigma, but it’s been climbing the social ladder in recent years. With exports on the rise, caipirinha, the cocktail made by adding lime, sugar and crushed ice to cachaça, was officially declared Brazil’s national drink by government decree in 2003.

The rolling hills of Minas are also the source of half of all cheese produced in Brazil, which is the sixth largest producer of cheese in the world. The production techniques were introduced by the Portuguese and adapted to the region. Fresh Minas cheese is sold in large, round wheels and its mild flavour goes beautifully with the state’s other famed product, goiabada – so well that the pairing has become known as the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ combination.

Goiabada, similar to quince paste but made with guava, is traditionally made in a rustic fashion with huge copper pans and wooden paddles for stirring. It’s a method that has been named an intangible heritage by UNESCO, ensuring the old ways are preserved. The idyllic village of São Bartolomeu, 100 kilometres from the capital Belo Horizonte, is renowned for its goiabada. The sweet business is the predominant economic activity of the village and most of the residents make a living out of it. They joke that when a child is born in São Bartolomeu they throw the baby against the wall: if it sticks, it’s a doceiro (sweet-maker).

Minas producers say it’s the combination of high-quality terrain (and therefore exceptional ingredients) and the love put into the preparation that makes their food distinctive, lingering on in the minds of those who experience it.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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