We arrived in Costa Brava a little baffled and a little underprepared. In our first week, we had a fishermen’s lunched prepared by a group of chefs, one of whom has a Michelin star restaurant. We were invited into the home of another Catalan chef, where we met his wife, and his pet goat. We were tasting foods and wines from the Emporda wine region. But we were still learning the ins and outs of Catalunya food and wine, much of it different than the Spanish food we were used to in the rest of the country. Yeah, we remained a little bit baffled indeed. Until we spent time with Quique from Pastisseria Serra.
We first met Quique at the now famous fishermen’s lunch in Tamariu. Eric sat next to him, conveniently, as Quique is short for Enrique, Eric’s Spanish name from high school. Quique was friendly, and spoke very good English. His dark hair and black rimmed glasses made him seem like a Catalan Matthew Broderick. Although we chatted a bit at the lunch, we did not know his background.
During our traditional seafood lunch, when the pastries were displayed for dessert, we learned who Quique was. Quique provided the pastries from his family’s bakery, Pastisseria Serra, in Palafrugell, a nearby town, just in from the coast. The pastries were quite good and traditionally Catalan. Quique asked if we wanted to stop by the shop to learn how to make these Catalan pastries. The Costa Brava hospitality shone through again.
Visiting Pastisseria Serra in Palafrugell
We arranged to stop by Quique’s shop one day, I thought, to learn how to make this famous pastry, a Rus de Mantega. The Rus de Mantega is made with merengue and almond, along with butter cream. It’s topped with powdered sugar. Instead of learning how to make the Rus de Mantega, we received the crash course in Catalan food and Emporda wine that we were so desperately seeking.
We learned the Serra family’s history. Although they can trace back the family business to 1899, the oldest proof they have of their business shows a date around 1903. Prior to that, Quique’s great grandmother was selling pastries and other foods at the corner of Placa Nova, in Palafrugell. Eventually, the shop opened on the main square of town, and continued to expand over the decades, tripling in size.
Over the years, Pastisseria Serra also expanded it’s offerings, from pastries, to cured meats, cheeses, wines, and other luxury food products. Riding the trends, they have cultivated an impressive collection of gins, an addiction in Costa Brava, local vermouths, local craft beers, and one of the finest collections of Scotch in the region. In fact, Quique travels to Glasgow twice a year to place orders for Scotch from smaller, family owned distillers.
And, that is where the story really begins. Perhaps there are similar stories behind gourmet food shops around the world. But, this tour came with a passionate history lesson of the foods of the region, about a cured meat which is made with 120% water instead of 60% water. A cheese that is made in Costa Brava from cow’s milk where the cow’s have only eaten a particular grass from a particular valley. I could smell the grass in the cheese. They carry Joselito jamon, known to be one of the best, if not the best, jamon producers in the world. We learned the history of Emporda wine makers, and what makes certain cavas stand out among the rest.
And, we ultimately toured the bakery, where we met three of the bakers, all smiling, showing off the meringues and truffles they made. They were also very proud of a new oven, standing tall and shiny, next to the old one. The new oven now affectionately referred to as the Ferrari of bakery ovens.
We met Quique’s mother, briefly, who I am sure wondered about the American food travel bloggers touring their kitchen and wine cellar, who were being told some of the family secrets (which I promised not to divulge as they were off the record).
The Passion and Hospitality of Pastisseria Serra
There were a few consistent themes of our food tour through Costa Brava: hospitality and passion. There is a passion and a pride for Catalan food that I have not seen in many other regions.
Quique demonstrated this passion by bouncing us from one product to the next, explaining how it was made, about the food producer, or the history of the brand. But, during our tour of Pastisseria Serra, it was the Costa Brava hospitality that we noticed the moist.
Quique spent almost two hours with us, until the shop closed for lunch on Catalunya time. And, I am sure if we asked more questions, he would have stayed with us even longer. All of this with no expectation of anything in return, although I did buy a little of the grassy cheese, some aged Joselito Iberico jamon, and a bottle of reserve cava. He’s a good salesmen that Quique, and sold me on the story behind each product.
Quique quickly invited us back to Palafrugell, to the shop, or to come for a drink. He sent us on our way with a Rus de Mantega, the pastry that started the conversation back in the fishermen’s house in Tamariu. I was already looking forward to my aperitivo that evening, with my cheese, jamon, and pastry.