I woke up to the sound of church bells. It was still dark and cold and the neon sign above the pharmacy across the street said it was 9 degrees. I made myself coffee and watched the yellow truck with the flashing orange light on top come creeping in to the little square near Casa Montana spraying icy jets of water to clean the streets.
Robert brought fresh bread and pastries from the bakery next door and squeezed endless blood oranges for breakfast. There were jams, honey, cheese and fruit too.
Adella arrived from Ontinyent and we followed her to the little indoor market in Bocairent to get fresh vegetables and meat for our first cookery lesson. There were piles of calcots, artichokes, purple carrots and unfamiliar cheeses. (Calçot is a type of scallion known as blanca gran tardana in Catalan. It is grilled on high fire and eaten with romesco sauce.) Gigantic red peppers, rice and lean pork were bought, more coffee was drunk and we drove over the mountains to Finca Presencia.
The road twisted and turned through the parched, bare and rock strewn mountains. A little stream formed rocky emerald green pools. A railway line sneaked above the road with its massive embankments looking like Inca walls.
The ancient finca sits on top of a hill – as most country fincas do, surrounded by groves of small and aromatic Arbequina olives and apricot orchards. (A finca is a piece of rural or agricultural land, typically with a cottage.) For generations the owners of Presencia have made excellent olive oil. We had a tutored olive oil tasting before our first cookery lesson with Adella and Robert – red peppers stuffed with rice and pork.
The cubes of pork were cooked in olive oil in a large flat pan before adding the rice. The tops of the peppers were cut to make a lid. They were stuffed with the cooked rice and pork mixture and baked for two hours. We ate the peppers for lunch with good Valencian red wine en magnum.
That evening we drove back to Ontinyent to dine at the posh El Cuina. We drank Valencian Chardonnay and ate Spanish food with a Japanese twist!