Three bottles of extra virgin olive oil graced each table at the University of Trás-os-Montes’ Panoramic Restaurant in Vila Real, Portugal. The occasion—dinner themed around olive oil and prepared by three chefs known for culinary innovation—was the culmination of a day devoted to gastronomy at Douro TGV (Turismo-Gastronomia-Vinho) 2018. A stunning salad of edible blossoms was just one of six dishes on an extraordinary menu. For Tom and me, the evening was a chance to sample beautiful food featuring one of Portugal’s best-quality culinary products, lovingly presented.
Three talented chefs
Organizers called upon three talented chefs to put on a tasting menu with every dish showcasing the virtues of the region’s high-quality olive oils. Each chef brought a unique perspective to the event. The three worked in tandem through the evening to present a vibrant, colorful, one could even say poetic, salute to one of Portugal’s top contributions to gastronomy.
The culinary magicians behind our dinner were Chef João Paulo Magalhães of Quinta do Ventozelo in the Douro Valley, with a new restaurant featuring traditional Portuguese cuisine set to open in 2019; Chef Daniel García Peinado, whose Maroleum Restaurant Oleoteca in Malaga, Spain features olive oil in every dish, and uses no oils other than olive oil; and Chef André Magalhães, the spirited genius behind two remarkable Lisbon restaurants: Taberna da Rua das Flores and the recently opened Taberna Fina, with a contemporary flair and tasting menu.
Olive oil expert Francisco Pavão, director of the Olive Growers Association of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (AOTAD) curated oils for the evening. Edible blossoms and herbs were provided by Graça Saraiva, whose Ervas Finas organic gardens in Vila Real supply many of Portugal’s top restaurants.
Our dinner was a taste trip through the varietal olive oils of Tras-os-Montes and Douro: Cobrançosa, Madural, Verdeal Transmontana and Negrinho do Freixo.
First up was a slice of toasted artisan bread with aged ham. A ‘ploof’ of Cobrançosa, its light aroma hinting of fresh grass, was all this simple plate from Chef André Magalhães needed to activate our taste buds.
Next, it was a trip to the sea with Chef García Peinado: a single fresh oyster, briny and lightly sweetened with a citrus dressing featuring Madural olive oil. It was the first time I have been tempted to lick an oyster shell!
Then, it was on to two fish dishes cooked in olive oil at low temperature. From Chef García Peinado, there was croaker accompanied by couscous seasoned with basil, cheese and broccoli in a broth emulsified with Cobrançosa. Chef André Magalhães presented codfish confit on a sauce slightly spiced with Negrinho de Freixo oil and with a side serving of greens, to be seasoned to personal taste by each diner with the oils on our tables.
The meal closed with two special creations: before dessert, from Chef García Peinado, a glass of natural yogurt foamed with Verdeal olive oil and enriched with the flavors of peanut, banana, honeyed gelatin and a single blueberry. The finale, from Chef João Paulo Magalhães, was a delicate salad of edible flowers, curled around a slice of cured Terrincho sheep’s cheese and a dollop of cinnamon-tinged almond pudding from Casa Lapão in Vila Real—drizzled with port wine vinegar.
Every dish in this incredible meal was a burst of flavor, in which the oil supported, but did not overpower other delicate flavors. My favorites? I loved both fish dishes, but there was that incredible oyster and the salad of delectable bites brought together in perfect Trás-os-Montes harmony. Thankfully, I did not have to choose a favorite, just enjoy!
Wines were local too, a selection of excellent, unpretentious Douro whites and reds. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Três Bagos Reserva Douro Tinto 2015 from Lavradores de Feitoria. The wine’s soft tannins and acidity were in perfect harmony with every dish on the menu.
Douro TGV 2018
Regio-Douro Park’s three-day event promoted tourism in Trás-os-Montes and the Douro, as well as gastronomy and wine from Portugal’s northern region. Presentations on a gastronomy day coordinated by Francisco Pavão included extra virgin olive oil as a product, its benefits and the importance of attribution of Denomination of Origin (Azeite de Trás-os-Montes DOP is Portugal’s second largest area of olive oil production).
The day included debates about valorization of olive oil in the region, and tastings of olive oil and products made with olive oil—from ice cream to bread to chocolate. Best of all, though, was the opportunity of a marvelous dining experience to help us appreciate, dish by delicious dish, what top-quality extra virgin olive oil can do to enhance an already good meal!