This past weekend was spent enjoying the finer points of life. Chocolate and champagne, or cava as it is referred to in Spain, are distinct delicacies to the Catalonia region.
On Friday, junior Carly Kauffman, her host mom Marta, and I, went to Freixenet, a large cava house in Catalonia. Cava is sparkling white or pink wine, essentially champagne, but the two are distinct in Europe. Champagne is the bubbly drink which originates in the region of France of the same name, whereas cava is the Spanish version, mainly created in the Penedes region of Catalonia Spain, the name originating from the Catalan word for cave. It is illegal under EU law to call cava “Spanish champagne.”
Freixenet is located in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia; a 45-minute train ride from Barcelona. We arrived there and bought our tickets for the tour. (We then headed to the bathroom, where I proceeded to get locked inside a stall for half an hour. The lock on the door broke, wedging a small piece of metal between the door and the wall, preventing me from escaping. The staff had to call in the house carpenter, so he could essentially break off the lock and remove the piece of metal. This was hilarious for everyone standing on the other side of the door from me.)
The tour started with a film in Spanish showing the history of the company. Starting in 1889 as a family-owned business; it has now grown into a global company, with many distributors worldwide, including the United States.
Freixenet uses the traditional process of wine making called “méthode champenoise” or “méthode traditionnelle” used for finer wines and cavas. The alcohol goes through two fermentation processes, the second being in the bottle where it is mixed with yeast and sugar. The tour guide held up a bottle to the light to show us the sugars mixing.
We headed down to the cellar where they still store wines for cava. The bottles are specially crafted to avoid combustion and to better mix the sugars in with the brut to sweeten the wine for that special cava taste. We walked deep into the cellar to the point where the walls and ceilings were no longer smooth, but dank and craggy, and came upon a surprise. They had a little train that took the tour around to where the bottles are packaged and shipped off. Next to the rooms where the bottles were filled and the cavas tested to make sure they were mixed correctly. The whole house has six floors.
At the end of the tour we tried a glass of their special Cordon Negro Brut. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and light. It takes up to 18 months to age the bottle deep in their cellars, and is a mixture of three different grapes.
Before we left we headed to the gift shop were I was able to snag a sweet shirt with a picture of the Freixenet mascot, a child holding a large bottle of cava under his arm and a big smile on his face. I found this picture off-putting as it reminded me of either child slavery or underage drinking. This theme also rang true with their bottle-car that seemed to spell out, ‘it’s ok to drink and drive when your vehicle is a bottle.’
The following day, Kaufmann and I ventured into the world of chocolate. Chocolate here is eXtreme. Not only does the word for chocolate, start with an X, “xocolata”, making it even cooler, but it is also very rich. Ordering a hot chocolate in Barcelona will land you with a thick cup of what appears to be a melted chocolate bar. It is for serious chocolate consumers. The people here love their chocolate so much, there is even a chocolate museum.
Kauffman and I went to the museum’s chocolate festival held near Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. Inside we found many variations of chocolate. Of course you had your darks, milks and whites. But there was also chocolate in huge bricks mixed with cinnamon, fruits, nuts, and other spices. We sampled all we could. Bocí, a Catalan gourmet sweet shop, was selling chocolate in a test tube. The chocolate was on the bottom of the tube, and on the top was flavored oil. I had violet, as in the flower. You shake up the tube to mix the two, and then drink it out with a straw. The flavor was a kick, the violet adding a bit of bitterness to the milk chocolate, though the novelty of it was great.
There was also a chocolate sculpture contest with professional chefs, and a chocolate fashion show. For the fashion show models came out dressed in different colors of chocolate. The costumes were very elaborate, each with different earthen tones of fabric, and lots of taffeta. Their bodies were painted and they adorned elaborate headdresses. We ate chocolate until we couldn’t look at it anymore.
So this was my high-class weekend, spent cavorting with cava and chocolate and wearing pearls. If you too would like a bourgeois lifestyle without going overseas, you can sip wine in the mansion of Waterloo Winery, 725 N. Market Street,
Waterloo, Ill. 62298, about a four-hour drive from the college. Or make a weekend trip to the trails around Owl Creek Vineyard, 2655 Water Valley Road Cobden, Ill. 62920; and Panoma Winery 2865 Hickory Ridge Road Pomona, Ill. 62975, about a five-hour drive from the college. Or just walk to Seminary Winery, 83 S. Seminary Street.