ENOGASTRONOMIA VIPJETBONELLI A great gastronomic and cultural festival in Bembibre, the heart of El Bierzo by Enrique Sancho


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The botillo, a humble and delicious sausage that justifies a Festival in its honor
A great gastronomic and cultural festival in Bembibre, the heart of El Bierzo
Enrique Sancho
Spain is very given to gastronomic festivals and great records on food and products. Seafood, cheese, oil, calçotada, garlic, octopus… and several wines are some of the products to which parties are dedicated. Regarding the records, there is also everything: the longest black pudding, the largest potato omelette, the largest plate of ham or cecina, the largest paella… and so on. But if there is an original party and a unique product, it is the Festival of Exaltation of the Botillo that takes place in Bembibre, in the Bierzo of León, and that brings together more than 1,800 diners around this unique sausage. It is a festival recognized as of National Tourist Interest since 2008 that aspires to the title of International.
Half a century ago this celebration was born when a group of friends decided to take advantage of their stay in Bembibre on the occasion of La Salida del Santo, a regional festival that is held every seven years, to organize a meal and taste the most typical product of the town, ” The botillo” –a meat product made with chopped pieces from the cutting of the pig, seasoned and stuffed into a pig casing that is then smoked and semi-cured–, since several of the attendees could not purchase it in their places of residence. That heat of the month of June, and the outdoor meal under the midday sun were not the best company for the menu that was enjoyed. All attendees were aware of this, but the atmosphere and company were so pleasant that it was unanimously decided to repeat the experience, albeit without the drawbacks.
For the next edition, in 1973, word of mouth had worked and the number of diners increased, reaching two hundred who on this occasion met for dinner in the inner area of the Dancing Club, a fashionable place in the municipality. Taking advantage of the meeting, one of the attendees, the lawyer and natural writer of the Villa, Antonio Díaz Carro, was asked to address a few words to those present. At that moment the figure of the Maintainer was born, from that year the Botillo Festival was definitively consolidated. Everyone aware that the sausage used as an excuse for meetings is a menu more typical of the winter season, the festival was definitely set for the Saturday before Carnival Saturday.
Over time, in addition to a gastronomic festival, the Botillo Festival has also hosted a Cultural Week in which exhibitions, theatre, dance, music, literature, cinema, conferences, colloquiums, round tables, competitions are held… Also contests that are based on gastronomy, such as the botillo tapas and skewers contest, in which 15 catering establishments participate to crown the botillo also as the ‘king’ of the botillo, cooking masterclass with products from El Bierzo, cutting and tasting of ham, elaboration of the preñao bun… The latest incorporation in 1999 has been the Villa de Bembibre Agro-Food Fair, already consolidated as one of the main attractions and dynamic elements of Bembibre, increasing in each edition the number of participating exhibitors from both Castilla y León as well as from other communities such as Asturias, Galicia, Castilla La Mancha, Extremadura or Andalucía in a continuous commitment to the artisan product, primarily berc iano, provincial and now national, backed by product quality brands, D.O. and I.G.P. classifications, with a special location and development in rural areas. Fifty hundred exhibitors participate and there is no shortage of typical products from El Bierzo and León, such as pippin apples, conference pears, roasted peppers, chestnuts, cherries, cecina, leeks and, of course, wines, especially those made with the Mencía red grape and among the white ones, Doña Blanca and Godello. During the three days that the fair lasts, you can taste a popular menu for only 14 euros.
The Maintainer, as in all acts that promote culture, has been a basic element in the dissemination of the botillo, since with his speeches and proclamations he has enriched and ennobled, singing his excellences, not only the typical dish itself, but also the customs, idiosyncrasies and all the values of El Bierzo in general and the role of Bembibre in its context, contributing with their presence to give greater prominence to this cultural gastronomic event. This unique role has been played in recent years by, among others, Alfonso Ussía, Juan Vicente Herrera, Fernando Ónega, José María Aznar, Luis María Ansón, Carmen Calvo, Vicente del Bosque… and even José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who studied and lived in the region and that on Friday the 10th will inaugurate the Villa de Bembibre Food and Agriculture Fair. This year the Maintainer is double, it is about the famous chefs, the Torres brothers, Sergio and Javier, who will talk about their long experience in the kitchen and in particular the botillo and their ways of preparing it. And the musical part will be carried out by the singer Víctor Manuel who will show a part of his wide repertoire.
A long story
Although the botillo may seem like a relatively new product that, thanks to initiatives like Bembibre’s, has become fashionable, it is actually one of the oldest sausages. It was the Celts, more than 2,000 years ago, who discovered the magnificent agricultural characteristics of the Bercian lands, full of oaks, holm oaks and chestnut trees, which were ideal for developing pig farming and almost immediately they began to make the botillo as a product to consume the first days of the massacre. Later, with the integration of Bierzo into the Roman world, the botillo did not go unnoticed either and began as a food for the slaves that the Romans exploited working in the nearby gold mines, especially in Las Médulas, just over 40 kilometers from Bembibre.
Some centuries later, in the Middle Ages, the monks of the Carracedo abbey, some hermit monks and the Order of the Temple, preserved and improved the original recipe, which the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago took to the rest of the region, arriving from this way to the towns of Galicia and Asturias, becoming a delicacy for abbots, bishops and kings. Some inspired poet even dedicated a few verses to it: “Sublime delicacy of ancestral mystery, which gives subtle delight to the palate, you are the scoop on the table, with joyful effluvia of incense.”
Currently, it is consumed throughout the winter, but especially at Carnival time, as a festive farewell to Don Carnal and a welcome to Doña Cuaresma, where sausages and meat products reach their peak in food in northern Spain. long and comforting, to enjoy these pagan festivals.
Although it is made in a different way, its basic ingredients are pork ribs and pig tails to which it can also be added, depending on the area where it is made and its manufacturer, other components such as tongue, cheek, shoulder and backbone, which they are mixed with paprika, salt, garlic and other natural spices, and everything is stuffed into a casing, from the pig’s stomach or even into the bladder, depending on the area, which in turn has also been previously marinated. In fact, that’s where its name comes from, which comes from the Latin term botellus, pork gut. Then comes the smoking, a fundamental point that gives the particular flavor to all El Bierzo sausages. It is made with the smoke produced by burning oak or holm oak wood for at least one day. And then we proceed to the drying, which is carried out for two days in dryers prepared for this purpose to eliminate the water and for the botillo to acquire a greater consistency. The entire process takes between 5 and 9 days. The botillo has the endorsement of Protected Geographical Indication that certifies its quality of production in a specific area, which coincides with the municipal terms of the Bierzo region.
The highlight of the festival is the Botillo Exaltation Gala Dinner, which this year is held on Saturday, February 11 and is attended by about 1,800 people with the botillo as the central dish and topic of conversation at all the tables, as a humble representative element of a secular tradition and gastronomic icon of a peculiar region such as El Bierzo.
More information:
Enrique Sanchez 
Santiago Rusiñol, 10 12º 3
28040 Madrid
Tels.: 91 447 72 91 y 670 09 82 85

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