Two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to take a weekend holiday up North to Guimarães, though each of us seemed to have different intentions for going. I wanted to visit all the wineries of Minho and enjoy a series of tastings, while he just wanted to relax and take it easy. In the end, he won since all of the wineries were closed for the August holiday; but the very Friday night we drove up, I was able savor as dish that I have been waiting a year to taste and ended up enjoying one of the best meals I’ve ever had!
If you do decide to drive up north from Lisbon, mostly likely, you’ll be taking the Estrada National, or National highway, which is about the only major highway in the area. The highway goes right through the town of Mealhada in the region of Bairrada, a small town but popular throughout the country for its Leitao Assado da Bairrada. What is this? Well, its the most succulent suckling pig that you’ll find anywhere! Actually, it’s not quite a suckling pig; the piglets used are between a month and a month and a half old and have been weaned, weighing an average of 6 to 10 kilos. Originally from towns of Covões
and Cantanhede, about 10km east, Leitão Assado has been regarded as the richest gastronomic traditions of the region and Mealhada takes pride in roasting their acorn fed piglets in brick ovens fueled by the aromatic eucalyptus bark. The result is a soft and intensely flavorful meat that flakes right off the bone, accompanied by very crispy, golden-orange skin. Additionally, they drizzle a very strong and spicy black pepper sauce and serve it with orange slices. This combination of soft and crunchy, citrus and spice in my mouth is quite a unique sensory experience and delicious!
As if this wasn’t enough, I had noticed when we sat down at the restaurant, every table had champagne flutes. This is definitely not something you find often at local restaurants in Portugal. The restaurant featured Portuguese sparkling wine, Espumante, including an Espumante Tinto, or sparkling red wine, as a splendid pairing for the characteristics of the Leitão . I was immediately drawn to the Espumante Tinto, slightly similar to the fairly popular Italian sweet sparkling red, Brachetto D’ Acqui, which has a bright ruby color, but this Espumante Tinto from Quinta do Ortigo was a Brut and quite a dark purple color that added to its mystery.
And as Cava is supposed to pair well with spicy food, so did this Portuguese sparkling wine. The bubbles and the chilled serving temperature was like a cool, refreshing wave in my mouth that both contrasted the black pepper sauce and complimented the citrus flavors of the oranges. Normally, this is where sparkling wine stops for me, but since this was a red, it also had tannin and a silky, dark fruit and plum flavor to compliment the smooth textures and flavor of the meat. My, what a little malolactic fermentation can do for a sparkling!
I loved every part of this meal, and the weekend could have ended there for me as I was completely satisfied to have finally experienced such a memorable Portuguese dish that wasn’t fish; alongside, a wine that is a rarity to the rest of the world. And as we continued our drive up North, I fell into a deep sleep with a smile on my face.
To enlivening our senses,
Photo attribution by Richardzinho