From game bag to table
Partridge. Toledo province (Castile-La Mancha). Antonio Mata/©ICEX
Author: José Luis Murcia/©ICEX
The provinces of Toledo and Ciudad Real can be proud of their great natural landscapes and the deeply-rooted game hunting tradition that has inspired fantastic recipes for hundreds of years. Here we offer you a gourmet tour for getting to know a little more about Manchego game cooking and enjoying some great food.
Game hunting in Castile-La Mancha enables populations to be maintained in places where survival is difficult, such as in the Montes Norte area in Ciudad Real or the Montes de Toledo, between Toledo and Ciudad Real. This 132 kilometer tour has been designed so you can try some of the best game dishes around and buy top quality handmade preserves.
Toledo is synonymous with majesty. Your tour begins in the 16th century former imperial capital with a walk round the historic quarter starting in Plaza Zocodover, where you can get supplies in the Santo Tomé cake shop, which sells a delicious marzipan, followed by a visit to the Cathedral and paintings by El Greco, rounding off your day watching the sunset from the cigarrales (mansion houses on the south bank of the river Tagus). These sights alone are more than enough to justify taking this trip.
But there is so much more to Toledo. Its architecture is a heady mix of Christian, Jewish and Muslim styles, which also exert a lasting influence on the local use of products such as olive oil, saffron and marzipan. These styles reach new heights in Adolfo, a restaurant founded in 1979 by Adolfo Muñoz and his wife Julita Martínez, which, along with Las Rejas, in Las Pedroñeras (Cuenca), and El Bohío, in Illescas (Toledo), are widely regarded as the very best exponents of Castile-La Mancha cuisine.
Adolfo, who also has a Jewish cave that some say dates back to the 9th century and others the 11th, raises wild game cooking to an art form with a now classic dish, partridge, an up to date recipe employing two different textures for the breast and legs and using Pedro Ximénez sherry and red wine. His subtly flavored Manchego risotto with turtle dove or pigeon, white truffle and black chanterelle mushrooms is very popular, the same as his roe deer cutlet with sautéed wild mushrooms.
Together with Adolfo, it is worth taking time to visit La Perdiz, which lives up to its name with its fantastic braised partridge; or Casa Aurelio, which serves a distinctive Toledo-style braised red partridge, or perhaps Los Cuatro Tiempos, also in the old quarter, with its amazing loin of venison.
From Toledo, along the CM-4013 road, the next leg of our journey takes us to Ventas con Peña Aguilera, a plain, flat landscape encircled by the nearby mountains of Navahermosa and San Pablo. Ventas, with its windmill perched high up on a hill, is a welcoming village that makes most of its living from selling leather goods, many of them designed for hunting enthusiasts of both sexes. This same road leads to the facilities of the company Aroma Manchego, which makes game food products such as pheasant or venison croquettes, braised partridge and quail and confit of venison, along with a range of game sausages.
The kitchen at Casa Parrilla, a family restaurant run by the Sommelier Álvaro Parrilla and his mother Guadalupe, serves a wide variety of local game dishes, with touches of other cooking styles and some very innovative ideas. Choose from carpaccio of wild boar with apple, red wine and Manchego cheese; red partridge canneloni with black truffles; or smoked air-dried venison with tomato, goat's cheese tart and a café vinaigrette, and that is only for starters.
The main courses are just as appetizing. With a menu that includes dishes such as traditional red partridge braised in white wine; loin of venison with dried apricots and pumpkin purée; creamy rice with baby vegetables, funghi and rabbit; La Granja haricot beans with quail; mini roe deer loins with goat's cheese tart, red wine and rosemary honey; or wild boar fillet steak on Manchego oatmeal, you will be spoilt for choice.
The road from Ventas to Ciudad Real is absolutely full of incredibly beautiful places, including the Torre de Abraham reservoir, one of the most important water storage areas in Castile-La Mancha. The Cabañeros National Park is an outstanding example of Mediterranean forest with a huge and diverse population of animals ranging from a major colony of vultures, to white and black storks, and all kinds of game such as deer, wild boar, roe deer, quail, partridge, turtle dove and pigeon.
Before arriving in Ciudad Real, make a stop in the town of Picón, only 11 km / 6.8 mi from the capital, to visit La Parrilla de Picón, a restaurant run by Valencians from the town of Cullera, who serve the very best rice dishes, along with a truly delicious griddled marinated loin of venison and a memorable country-style rice with wild rabbit and snails.
Ciudad Real has a long tradition of game preserves thanks to the company Félix Soto, founded in 1927 by Félix Toledano Soto's grandfather in the neighboring town of Piedrabuena and later moved to the capital. Their partridges in escabeche marinade are of the highest quality and well known in gourmet circles across the whole of Spain, as are their Toledo-style partridges, partridge with truffles, quail in escabeche marinade and partridge patés.
The capital has some fine monuments, including the 14th century Gothic church of San Pedro, the 13th century Gothic-Mudejar church of Santiago, and the 14th century Mudéjar Toledo Gate, the remains of the old wall that once surrounded the city. The local game is given top priority on the menu at Octavio, a modest but fantastically good place to eat, run by the García brother and sisters team, with Aurora in the kitchen, Belén as maitre and José behind the wine selection.
Tradition and Modernity
The García family, originally from Los Cortijos in Ciudad Real, have devoted 80% of their menu to game with amazing dishes such as game salad with white beans; false carpaccio of venison; partridge morteruelo stew with tomato jam or venison morteruelo stew with raspberries; venison or partridge croquettes; mountain-style rice; loin of roe deer with caramel sauce; wild boar stew with apples; venison meat balls with cockerel crests; or venison with chocolate and wild berries. A highly successful mix of tradition and modernity and a tribute to the very best in game cooking.
If you take a detour from your route towards Los Yébenes, along the Ventas-Ciudad Real road, you will find a village completely given over to the game industry, with preserve-making industries such as the Taller Gastronómico Montes de Toledo, where they make some very original products, including wild hare with truffles, wild boar in Armagnac, and pigeon in brandy. Pay a visit too, to Casa Apelio restaurant where you can sample home-cooked recipes involving venison and wild boar.
One of the region's most emblematic game dishes, although mostly found in the area of Lagunas de Ruidera and the Sierra de Alcaraz mountain range, is Manchego-style gazpacho, known locally as galianos, made using game and served with a flour-based tart.
José Luis Murcia is a journalist specializing in food and drink; he writes for Club de Gourmets and Sobremesa magazines.