Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Alan Holmes and Nick Hewitt's European gastro tour

Published:  10 February, 2010

Ten days - eating and drinking our way around Europe, sounds like fun!


That was our response when myself, (Alan Holmes - Chewton Glen) and Nick Hewitt, (The Kitchen) collected our prize for winning the Gastronomy Team Event last year.


Our first stop was in the village of Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy, home of some of the world's greatest white wines. We were guests of Olivier Leflaive, the famous winemaker who showed us around the vineyards before tasting our way through some of his most recent vintages, still ageing in the barrels.


Next was back to the hotel for a tasting lunch of 15 wines each showing different characteristics of the vineyards and vintages. Then we were swiftly whisked on to our next destination, this time we tasted white and red wines and had a chance to see distillation in use, where wine is made into brandy and eau de vie. This we tasted straight from the outlet and could be used by the painters to clean their brushes!


A days travel and we were in Porto, at the mouth of the River Douro in Portugal, the home to many wineries making red wines and particularly the fortified wine, port.


Over the next 3 days we were given a guided tour of the very ornate old city, visited the Port Lodge (Dockside Warehouses) of Croft and finally up into the vineyards to Fonsecas Vineyards. At Fonseca some of the hillsides are so steep and stony that they have to build terraces. The hillside is blasted out using dynamite, then built up with huge diggers.


After yet another tasting we moved down river to a winery called Quinta do Panaschal, which had a newly constructed boutique hotel and restaurant overlooking the vineyards and river valley. We stopped for lunch, which included a local delicacy, tripe, matched with a selection of wines and ports from the owner's own vines.


Another day of travel and we were in Parma, Italy home of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and delicious Parma ham. After settling in we had a guided tour of some of the most stunning, historical buildings from ancient wooden theatres to stunning Baroque cathedrals.


The following day we set of early to the dairy to see the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano. We saw the heating of the milk, to formation of the curds, the brine baths and finally the ageing cathedrals where these cheeses will mature for between 18 and 36 months.
Our final visit was to a family run house where they produced not only the finest Parma ham but also other cured pork and beef products.


Here we were walked through the process of massaging the pork, salting, drying and maturing stage by stage to see clearly why Parma ham is so expensive, with each ham taking around 22-26 months to reach full maturity and the best flavour.


A light lunch followed with a vast array of cured meats and local cheeses, very simple but very welcome before our long journey back.