The Portuguese make use of good quality ingredients, simply prepared to maximise their distinctive flavours, using herbs and spices sparingly. Home grown pork and chicken are the main ingredients in many meat dishes, beef, lamb, goat, veal, turkey and rabbit to a lesser extent. The nation’s climate and topography provide ideal conditions for growing fruit and vegetable produce.
In a country the size of Portugal there is inevitably considerable overlap of regional cuisines between adjacent areas. The following gives an idea of the various specialities of some of the individual regions.
In the mountainous area of north east Portugal, centred on Bragança the emphasis is on hearty flavoursome food. Veal meat and bread sausages (alheirâs) are a popular winter dish as also are meat stews and meat loaf. Smoked hams, partridge, blood sausage, roasted kid and lamb, fresh water trout and eels also feature in the local cuisine.
Across the north of the country, in the so-called Costa Verde region, codfish, pork fillets, and duck with rice are popular. Conger eel and white fish such as bream and whiting are used in many dishes. Tripe is a famous dish in Oporto.
In the area of the west coast known as the Silver Coast or Costa de Prata, fresh fish, particularly sardines and eels, and seafood such as cockles and clams feature in many dishes. The region has a deserved reputation for its pastry –making, making use of the locally available ingredients almonds and dried fruits.
Around Lisbon, in addition to the dishes of the whole country, all forms of fish and seafood predominate. Swordfish, red mullet and bass are readily available, as also are cockles and mussels. Pastries using eggs, nuts and dried fruits abound.
In the South, in the Algarve and Alentejo regions, the emphasis is on fish stews using eels and lampreys, octopus and squid. Meat stews containing kid, hare and rabbit, strong sausages and dried hams are commonplace. Again, breads and pastries are popular in the region, making use of figs and nuts. Little marzipan cakes shaped like animals are a regional speciality.
Queijo de Serra cheese.jpg
Portugal produces a limited but diverse range of quality artesanal cheeses, many of which bear the DOP registration of Protected Designation of Origin. Portuguese cheeses are not well known outside the country although some of those produced there rival the finest in Europe. In mainland Portugal, most cheeses are produced from sheep’s and goats’ milk although cows’ milk is used in the territory of The Azores. Lower quality mass-produced, processed cheeses are also produced in the country.
The main artesanal cheeses are produced in the Montanhas region of the north east, the Alentejo region of the south east and the area around Lisbon.
A favourite is the Queijo de Serra, a brie-like cheese made from sheep’s milk in the Serra da Estrela region of the north east. À ovelheira is a soft sheep’s milk cheese made in the area of Castelo Branco.
Sheep’s cheeses produced in the south east include Serpa (DOP), a rinded cheese containing tiny holes which is aged for about two years, Nisa (DOP) and Evora (DOP) – a firm cheese aged for two to three months and Azeitão (DOP) – a soft or firm cheese. All of these cheeses make use of cardoon thistle instead of animal rennet in manufacture.
Goats’ and sheep’s milk is used in the cheese-making in the region around Lisbon. Notable among these are produced in the Sobral de Monte Agraço and Azietão.
Port wine vinyards
Portuguese wine production has benefited largely from traditions introduced by the Romans but also to a lesser extent by influences from Greece, Phoenicia and Carthage. Wines grown in Portugal were exported to much of the Roman Empire.
The Bairrada, Dão and Douro are the key wine regions of the north of the country. The Vinho Verde wines may be white, red or rosé, are young (“green”) and meant to be drunk within one year. Much of the production is exported throughout Europe. Recent years have witnessed a vast improvement in the quality of the red and white Douro Valley wines, some of which are intended for early consumption, while others may be laid down for up to 20 years. A sizable proportion of the production of the country is fortified with neutral grape spirit and aged for varying lengths of time to produce Port Wine.
The Alentejo, Estramadura and Ribatejo wine producing regions lie in the southern two thirds of the country. In these regions the majority of the production is large scale, producing affordable, full flavoured wines, much of which is exported.