“No! Don’t take her photo,” I pleaded as we passed a particularly fetching russet-brown cow, grazing in a field along the coast road to Zahara.
“I can’t look her in the eye in case we might be eating her daughter later.”
I’m one of those hypocrites who doesn’t like bullfighting but loves beef and Dave and I were on our way to the IV Ruta del Retinto to eat it 30 different ways!
If it can be turned into a fiesta, the Spanish know how and the trades folk of Zahara really milk it with their culinary homage to a humble brown cow:
The retinto, a hardy little bovine indigenous to the Sierra de Retín in Cádiz Province that thrives on hay and acorns during summer droughts, giving the soft, lean meat its distinctive nutty flavour. Pure or cross-bred, it’s super-low in saturated fats.
The four-day fiesta, a ‘carnival’ in its truest sense (carne = meat), is beefing up local tourism by stretching the season out to the end of September.
Some 20,000 visitors come to taste the culinary creations dreamed up by 30 different restaurants in artfully-presented tapitas:
retinto ravioli, retinto mille feulle, retinto fried, fricasséed, flambéed and flaunted atop a scoop of savoury sorbet!
If you eat 12 and get a form stamped at each restaurant to prove it, you could win a colour TV or a tablet. It’s the same recipe for success as the Zahara Tuna Festival which netted 800,000€ last May!
It’s a great day out if you like socialising while you scoff!
“Have you tried the one that looks like a Walls Feast lollipop?” I asked a couple from Toledo as we sat down to a miniature beef burger, served in a scarlet bun with a ‘false egg’ of mustard and mayonnaise on the side.
“We can recommend the Sorpresa Esferica”, interjected a group of tourists from Frankfurt.
Happily, this ‘spherical surprise’ was not what it sounds like! (The meat comes only from yearling cows, not bulls).
It turned out to be a Scotch Quail’s Egg. For €3 including a beer, wine or soft drink, you can’t go wrong on this pub crawl with (cow) bells on!
As a sideshow there’s beach horseracing and polo, played out on a miniature arena. You can get close enough to the riders to see the whites of their ponies eyes as they flash past the flimsy fence, waiving their mallets like machetes.
From the colour-coded map and stunning food photographs that guide you around, to the helpful waiters resplendent in polo shirts to match, the Ruta de Retinto is one slick operation, masterminded by a chap who’s a one-man tourist board in Zahara: Gaspar Castro, President of the local trade association, ACOZA.
And, wow, has he put this pretty seaside pueblo on the map! The Zahara Tuna Festival will be six next May and for his next trick, he’s talking pork to the neighbouring province of Huelva in a bid to launch a Ruta de Cerdo Iberico.
“We’re living through a crisis so I’m doing this now, for my children,” he says simply.
Those children include the tradesfolk of Zahara who benefit from his efforts (45,000 portions of tapas x €3 = a nice little earner). It’s Gaspar’s ambition to make Zahara the Marbella of Cádiz province, and I don’t doubt he will for one moment.
Alas, later the same day my worst fears were realised when I locked eyes with the living versions of what I’d so recently eaten…
There was a corral of them – cute retinto calves, all liquid-eyes, long-lashes and soft russet fur, stumbling about on stilt legs, suckling from their mums – and I felt a very sharp pang that wasn’t caused by indigestion.
But, hey, no one’s to blame for that …. I’m just a soppy old animal-loving guiri!
Here’s a flavour of the fiesta on video
If you have time, watch this stunning video of life down on the farm at Ganadería la Tirilla, near Zahara. This retinto cattle ranch is run along ecological lines, respectful to nature and the animals which graze their pastures and eat grain grown on their land. You can enjoy the result at Restaurante Hostal la Muralla in Zahara.
If you love wining, dining and mixing with the locals, check out the Iberian Pork Festival in Tarifa – a gastro pub crawl with knobs on!