Sunday, 6 February 2011

Artesanal and Boutique

The OED definition for ‘Artesanal’ - a craftsman produced product, usually handmade.  Our possible definition, when the adjective is applied to beer, bread and icecream would be ‘more expensive, and of no discernible difference to its non-artesanal cousin’.

Artesanal cerveza will still be a blond beer, a lager.  It will still be a generic, fizzy, gut-distending liquid.  Of no noticeable difference to its South American brewed, germanically named euro-associate.  A Stellapilsner or a Heinekenweiser.

With artesanal icecream I find I can’t taste the difference between the mass produced ‘Arcor. Indus. Arg’ product and that of the handcrafed variety.  I even wonder if the appellation of artesanal applies to the fact that they take the mass produced and add a few nuts and give it a localised name?  I do, however, feel that several more weeks field research will be required to finally confirm this supposition.

The artesanal pan can be more problematic, both hit and miss.  A rustica will still be white, but might be more chewy.  But essentially on a blind tasting will be no different from the store purchased baguette.  It is a case of purchase more in hope than expectation.  Caveat Emptor.

As with all generalisations, you feel you have confirmed all the facts when along comes the exception.  It is the white bread rule.  If artesanal is non mass produced, made in small batches and sold locally, then our latest experience of tortas fritas and pan casero fit the artesanal title nicely, even if neither make the claim.

‘Siete Lagos‘, a much touted tourist route north from Angostura, a boutique resort where boutique and expensive are synonymous, is a mix of asphalt and grit.  As a cycling day it was a case of surviving convoys of car-induced grit storms, a pebbledash of loose stones and biting horseflies.  The scenery is a classic tourist ministry of picture postcard productions.  Flowering pastures, green lakes, steep valley sides, much of it viewed in a soft focus of pale, swirling dust clouds.  We were well warned, it is a classic cycle route, just don’t attempt it in super high season.  Interestingly, about 40 other cyclists chose to ignore the advice forbye ourselves.  It takes a lot of concentration, picking an immediate route that won’t leave you floundering in a lateral moraine of loose sand, sliding down the roadside berm.  Down and wipeout.  So, by the time we hit the hard top, fingers are stiff from gripping, body plated in a sweat-encrusted dust, mind tied tight from concentration.  The last few kilometres are an exhilarating downhill, fast, smooth and there, at the bottom of the hill is the perfect campground.  Lodged between two lakes, cropped grass, views of mountains, enough wind to deter the insects.  Perfect.  We are prospecting the possibilities for the actual tent position when a gent with his sons and a basket go by.  He shouts over: ‘Tortas Fritas?’  It’s his last bag and there’s no way we are letting anybody else get them.  Now comes the reason for holding a cache of small change and low denomination notes.  It is always a cash sale and there’s never change.  We don’t have quite enough, but he is keen to clear his basket, so we get the bargain.  ¿What are Tortas Fritas?  They make a deep fried pizza supper look healthy.  Take a piece of bread dough, shape it to a flat briquette, gaff it on a hook, then dip into a vat of boiling beef dripping.  Simple.  On another occasion the vendor suggested that we add a spreading of butter to help improve them, taking the grease-saturation index up to coronary cholesterol extreme.  As ‘gasolina para cyclistas’ at the end of an interesting day, it was nectar, but was it artesanal nectar?

The pan casero experience happened when the campground owner in Alumine offered to make some one evening.  It is a loaf baked in a conical cob bread oven, all the heat coming from the base.  It gives a thick, crusty bottom and arrived at our tent hot, ready to melt butter into.  No artesanal appellation again, but it fits our definition of good bread.