Grape, Olive, Pig
Matt Goulden serves up hearty slices of life in Spain fusing foodie passions with history, curiosity and the joy of discovery.
The book is part travelogue, part chef worship, part love affair and it’s zested with deep respect for what is now his adopted homeland.
He takes us to the coast of Cadiz in the hunt for endangered Bluefin tuna, a village near Salamanca for ritual slaughter of acorn-fed pigs and to the freezing waters of Galicia for the perilous business of barnacle gathering.
Each of the chapters is a self-contained essay, a stage-by-stage gourmand route map to the heart of the nation’s soul, with stories told through the eyes of shepherds and slaughterhouse workers.
The drama of the almadraba, the ancient method of netting tuna, is Hemmingway-esque and one of the best.
The excitement of what’s about to unfold is tinged with superstition and fear: Will the catch measure up? Will the marine gods be kind? These are the brooding thoughts running through the mind of Antonio Gonzales as he “takes a fisherman’s breakfast of cigarettes and silence”.
It’s the descriptive passages around the events and characters we meet where the book is best, lifting it above a mere tasting menu of food indulgences.
Where it’s not so good are the parts of overblown prose like this description of a meal:
“Adria has long said that he’s not in the business of giving pleasure; he cooks in order to produce emotion. And there was no shortage in the range of feelings he pulled out of us that night. Like a hallucinogenic experience, we cycled through stages of nervous energy and quiet contemplation, inexplicable nostalgia and intense, childlike joy. If I really look back at my romantic life, it can be boiled down to one simple objective: to find the best dining partner possible. And here she was”.
The book is rife with similar passages that would be better served up in Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner and as my rapid and greedy consumption continued I began to experience symptoms over over-indulgence, there was just too much of it.
For that reason it slipped down in my rating which is a shame because, like a curate’s egg, it’s very good in parts though probably best savored in individual chapters rather than gutsed-down at a single sitting.