Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Estancia San Francisco - Its not just cheese

Me: Why am I excited about a trip to a cheese shop?"
Stephanie: "Because its not just a cheese shop, its an event!"

We walk in from the street. Gustav greets us with a smile, then a grin. He speaks English with an accent like Manuel from Faulty Towers, but the resemblance ends there. Gustav is the manger of a speciality cheese shop, and is robust, with greying hair and a large white apron. His hands are quick and manicured. He is always happy.

Our conversation started the usual way in Buenos Aires. "Where are you from"? "London"? 'No, we are from the north". "Ahh, Scotland - my brother lived in Scotland". We decide that Scotland is close enough to qualify as our home whilst we are 7,000 miles away, and leave it as 'Scotland'.

This is a cheese shop as you may never imagine. Large cheeses dress the windows to the street, and rows stretch along the counter top. Each labelled and marked with price per kilo. Stephanie selects Patras Paulina, a large, firm, yellow cheese, and a smaller piece of Pategras San Pimenta.

Cutting the cheese is an art. Deft and quick - you would not wish to meet Gustav in a dark alley with his knife. We examine the range of salame and pick 100 g of the de Puro Cerdo. And the nuts - there are bags and boxes of nuts, some shelled, others whole, varieties unseen elsewhere. Brazil nuts are expensive, and we choose walnuts. Then to the olives.

Olives are not behind the counter. They are displayed in a brightly lit windowed show case of olives and other delicacies, in large round metal bowls, spilling with produce. The Aceitunas Negras Conimenta are jet black and dimpled. "You try"? says Gustav. They are hot, peppery and astoundingly robust. We will have a pot "so big..." we say, and Stephanie cups her hands, extending them as Gustav ladles another spoonful.  I feel the heat of summer sun and the sound of olives raining to the ground in the harvest; I see the dark barrels in which they are stored over the winter; I smell the oil and the spices.

Cheese is an expensive commodity here in Buenos Aires that many local Portenos cannot afford. It is sometimes given as a present, especially the more exotic cheese. This is principally a nation of meat-eaters, although basic mass-produced cheese appears in the beautifully cut sandwiches, quiches, empanadas and omelettes.

We drift to the cash point to pay. This is not supermarket style, its just a separation of cash from the produce. Around us are a thousand jars and boxes of exotic items, savoury and sweet - each with a distinct character. We resist the temptation this time.

Gustav waves as we leave the shop. He remembers not our names, but he is always happy to greet. We remember his because relationships are so important here, and with this comes the value of connection. A bit like tango. Are we surprised? Not at all.