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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Excursion: 20th Annual Catalan Festival in Sonoma

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Catalan Festival and I was quick to accept Stacie's invitation to see it first hand. This annual event has become a tradition put on by the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards in Sonoma, California.

First a bit of history on Catalonia. Spain was once a series of several autonomous kingdoms among them Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Castilla. Each of these kingdoms had their own language, culture, heritage and royalty. Over time conquests and marriages melded the kingdoms into the country of Spain although the regions still have their unique personalities. Catalonia is home to Barcelona and is the most urban of the regions. It is often called "Paris with palm trees." Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards has strong ties to Catalonia and was visited by their president upon opening in 1986.

This plaque proudly sits at the entrance to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards
You can't get very far into the Catalan Festival before you are greeted by royalty. These huge statues loom overhead at about twenty feet tall and then even come to life with a march around the grounds. I found the king to be a bit scary with his ominous stare but the queen was actually quite a lady in spite of her size.

Giant Royalty Oversees The Catalan Festival
This trip was my very first ever to the Catalan Festival and here is my must see wish list based on the schedule of events we had seen on-line.

1. Cooking Demonstration by Paella Guy, Chef Jose Castaneda

2. Flemenco Dance Show by Sol Flamenco Dance Troupe

3. Grape Stomp Competition

4. Eat. Eat. Eat. Spanish foods and cheeses

We wasted no time running directly into that Paella Guy, Chef Jose Castaneda, because he had his gigantic paella pans fired up right at the start of the festival and directly in the middle of the main courtyard area. Just check out the colors and textures of this mass of goodness that greeted our eyes and noses. Like so many other parts of this vibrant culture you just cannot miss the flavor sensory overload of this classic one pan wonder of Spain driven by saffron and smokey paprika.

Totally Top Drawer Paella brought to you by Paella Guy
Chef Jose Castenada, aka Paella Guy
So how does he do it? Here is the play-by-play. Chef Castenada was very forthcoming with tips and secrets to making this one pan meal.

Onions saute kicked things off first

Up Next: Garlic
Chicken Onboard
Here comes the spicy Spanish Chorizo!
Jose's special seasoning sauces
In goes most of a bottle of dry white wine but with some held back for the chef
Rich stock for cooking the rice
Chef Jose carefully adds the rice in a spreading motion so it does not clump
A surprise pineapple garnishes the center and in comes all kinds of shellfish
Everybody's into the pool for a nice simmering and flavor meld
No doubt that Chef Jose makes this look a lot easier than it is. His collection of paella pans is extensive but the ones he was using are his favorite size. They serve up to 50 people and he brings everything needed to your party including bread, salad and flan for dessert. I highly recommend this unique type of catering to put a unique spin on an event. As we enjoyed the fruits (and veggies) of his labor we heard the Flamenco dancers warming up at the main stage right around the corner. No doubt this music and dancing is some of the most spirited you'll find anywhere. Backed by two guitarist the three lady dancers kept the crowd mesmerized with their seemingly endless energy.

Sol Flamenco Dance Troupe

Next up was the Grape Stomp Competition and we met our instant favorite well before the first round even started. His name was David Latour from Canada. Dave stood out in a very crowded field with his outgoing personality and infectious smile.

Meet Crazy Dave Latour - A Canadian Grape Stomping Fool

David stomps away with a little help from his wife
The Thrill of Victory!
Our next stop was a complete surprise as we stumbled upon a unique way to open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. We met Sam Simone who was one of the many very passionate people who was working at the festival. Sam was demonstrating the Sciabola del Sommelier which is a saber that looks very much like one you would see a soldier or pirate use. However, in the wine world it is a very festive way to crack open a bottle of your favorite bubbly.

A unique and very flashy champagne bottle opener - $150.00
Sam was very proud of his saber skills and he graciously posed for us with his favorite tool.

Sam Simone poised and ready to launch a cork
Mission Control: We Have Liftoff!!!
By this time I was getting very hungry and headed inside to check out all of the bites of Spain. This first picture is a grouping of my three favorites.

Clockwise from Left:  Gazpacho, Seafood Stuffed Piquillo Pepper and Corn Filled Filo Shells
I love gazpacho just about anytime but on a warm summer day it really hits the spots. This chilled soup from Spain is rich and satisfying. It had been puréed and had a very nice cucumber layer of flavor that made it also light and refreshing.

The mild Pepper was stuffed with a crab and shrimp moose and finished with a sherry reduction. It was another great refreshing choice by the culinary team for this very warm summer afternoon.

Fresh corn, goat cheese and an oven dried tomato made these filo tart cups very tasty bites. I only wish there had been more of them. 

For dessert I simply could not resist the sampler of Spanish cheeses. I have long been a fan of Spanish cheeses and especially Manchego. This little plate had a generous slice of three varieties paired nicely with cube of quince paste.

Spanish Cheeses: Idiazabal, Manchego and a Rocinante Blend (goat/cow/sheep milk)
Content with all those great flavors of Spain I ventured back outside where the group dancing had kicked into high gear with people of all ages joining in the fun.

Traditional Sardana Dance
This next photo might seem a bit mundane but it's indicative of the attention to detail we enjoyed at Gloria Ferrer. Instead of charging us a buck or two for bottled water these dispensers were continually refilled with ice cold filtered water. This nice touch was greatly appreciated in the warm weather and one of many good examples of the hospitality we experienced. It was obvious in twenty years of putting on this festival it has become a first class event.

My souvenir flute is a reminder of a really great time. There is much to enjoy at this two-day festival and I look forward to returning again.

My parting shot just speaks for itself. You don't have to travel to Spain to get a really nice taste of it.

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