Blog | Spanish farmhouse near Seville | B&B Aracena | Self-catering cottages Andalucia

The blog of Finca Buenvino Bed & Breakfast near Aracena, Seville, Andalucia, Spain in the Sierra de Aracena National Park. Set amongst a chestnut and cork-oak forest we operate as a family B&B and self-catering holiday cottages. We run cookery courses, photography courses, creative writing retreats and fitness retreats. Hiking trails and stunning views.

Misty mountains and muted light......and our photography week has begun!

It has been raining all night.

Well, the mushrooms are happy, the chestnuts are swelling, the quinces are putting on weight, the winter cabbages are drinking. The tomatoes are bursting.

The acorns are falling, and the pigs are gobbling. The sheep have been locked into a grassy enclosure so as not to eat the falling chestnuts before we can begin harvesting in early November.

Tim Clinch arrived, fresh from Burgundy, where he has been photographing great wine houses for Le Pan Magazine

This week he is coming down a notch and staying at our B&B, where he is running his five night photography course. Food and Travel; portraits, still life, village and landscapes. Platescapes.

Of course we shall be eating and drinking, and we shall also visit 5 Jotas

Here we will see how their exquisite Ibérico hams are produced. The piglets are followed through life; by careful selection, breeding,  and diet. They lead a life spent out in the perfect dehesa landscape of wildflowers, grasses, roots, herbs, autumn mushrooms and acorns.

This is how the dehesa looks in springtime!

Misty mountains and muted light......and our photography week has begun!

It has been raining all night.

Well, the mushrooms are happy, the chestnuts are swelling, the quinces are putting on weight, the winter cabbages are drinking. The tomatoes are bursting.

The acorns are falling, and the pigs are gobbling. The sheep have been locked into a grassy enclosure so as not to eat the falling chestnuts before we can begin harvesting in early November.

Tim Clinch arrived, fresh from Burgundy, where he has been photographing great wine houses for @LEPANMedia

This week he is coming down a notch and staying at our B&B, where he is running his five night photography course. Food and Travel; portraits, still life, village and landscapes. Platescapes.

Of course we shall be eating and drinking, and we shall also visit 5 Jotas

Here we will see how their exquisite Ibérico hams are produced. The piglets are followed through life; by careful selection, breeding,  and diet. They lead a life spent out in the perfect dehesa landscape of wildflowers, grasses, roots, herbs, autumn mushrooms and acorns.

This is how the dehesa looks in springtime!

Matanza 2016

For those who are interested we aim to hold our matanza over the weekend of 15th January 2016. For an idea of what it involves, have a look at Tim Clinch's gallery from last January's matanza.....skip over the first few bloody images for his great black and white portraits of those who came to help out last year.

Please let me know if you are a chef or charcutier and are interested in joining us over the weekend as we prepare Chorizo, Morcilla, Caña de Lomo, Salchichón, Jamónes and Paletas de Cerdo Ibérico. You can email me directly at to book a place in the house or in one of the cottages. It's a jolly, social and hard-working occasion.

Costs per person for three nights (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) are €450. this includes all food and drink (Welcome dinner, breakfasts, 2 different matanza lunches Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday night's supper).

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness....

......well, give it a few weeks more until autumn weather is really here.  We are now sliding into our Indian summer. Blue skies, the leaves turning, the smell of damp earth and rained-on dry summer grass. The wild mint (menta poleo) is easily spotted in the fields and woods, with its spikes of green - grey leaves and purple flowers glowing out of the yellow sun-dried grass. The tuber-roses are in  bloom, and we have armfuls of them scenting the staircase and hall.

Last night, waking at 4 am to a completely silent world, I went out onto the terrace. The feeling of floating in silence was due to a complete lack of wind. Stars spattered the heavens from horizon to horizon, the milky way bleaching its way from West to East, and Orion and Taurus over my shoulder. Then I heard it, what had presumably woken me; the roaring of a stag from the valley, then further pained groans from surrounding  hills, and yet further away  faint calls muted by the trees and folding landscape. A single bell from the church tower of Fuenteheridos announced the half hour, and it was time to return to bed.

Another joyous week of creativity, walks, good food and meditation with Elaine Kingett. The early autumn weather has been perfect; cooler evenings and warm golden days. Jeannie and I retire to bed after dinner, and listen to the laughter wafting up from the courtyard.

On Tuesday we had the Romeria de la Peña de Alájar

This weekend we say goodbye to our writers, and lurch into the Los Marines Fiesta, with dancing and fireworks....then a fitness week with Sarah Maxwell, and photography with Tim Clinch.

This photograph was taken at our butchery and matanza day last January, when we were about to brand the hams before salting them. We are heating up the FBV (Finca Buenvino) brand so that we know our hams have not been 'got at' by ham rustlers!

Our next matanza (Pig Killing and butchery days) will be held on the weekend of the 15th January 2016. Anyone interested in learning how to make chorizo, salchichón, caña de lomo and jamón is welcome to attend. We have limited availability for those who are truly interested in nose-to-tail charcuterie preparation in Spain. Email me, Sam at for details and prices.

Rabbit, Rabbits, Rabbits!

We were always taught to say "rabbits" three times when waking on the first of every month. Supposedly this will bring luck for the next thirty days or so. 

Today is the second of March, and oh woe is me, I forgot to sing out yesterday, and today doesn't count.

The trouble is that February is such a short month, that it's easy to wake up and find yourself in March without having counted the days through one of the most dismal months of the year, which you are longing to be over and done with.

Now, although it is by no means hot, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the grass is coming up, the flowers  are adding colour under the trees. There is a feeling of optimism, and we have the house full of guests for the week, which makes us realise we are over the winter hump.

Perhaps our failure to mention the rabbits will not bring disaster after all?

The joys of living in a natural park.

It's said that living in a natural park  has it's advantages. Advantages, I suppose, because it attracts grants for the local government to promote tourism and activities and in theory it creates employment.  Most of this  appears to be within the bureaucracy itself; park police, inspectors, pen pushers.

The disadvantages are more obvious to us; the slow paper movement, the rules and the bureaucracy for those who live within its boundaries. For example we could have started to prune and pollard our chestnut trees at the beginning of the month, but first we had to prepare a petition to do so, fill in the forms, and wait for one of the inspectors to roll up at an inconvenient hour. That took about one week. We have the nod, but now we have to wait for the paper permits to arrive. It's usually about three weeks to a month in all. Of course you will say that we should have filled in the application earlier, but all the business of paperwork puts people off and it's not always possible to be thinking of the business of the day, or the month when it is not the season; or else when the person who is going to do the work is not available.

Looking over the landscape it is possible to see areas that are worse administrated than they were before the creation of the park. Bureaucracy discourages smallholders from investing energy and money into the land, when it seems they are consistently banging their heads against a brick wall, being told that no, they cannot plant an olive tree, nor repair a shed.

Gardening is also a problem. Once we had put up a pergola, and the young 'townie' who turned up to ook our place over, informed us that we would not be allowed to plant anything to grow over it which was not native. We had been thinking of wisteria, or vitis cognitae for shade and colour. Whe  I asked what he would advise, he suggested brambles. On the other hand, the ministry of agriculture is giving out grants to remove brambles and to clear scrub....well this is only hearsay as we have never received them.

Grumble grumble.

De Matanza

It’s half past seven; Sunday night, and the mist on the hills has faded into darkness. We’re all up at the house again, and it’s hot baths and showers for everyone; to get rid of the smell of garlic and paprika, pepper, and pig’s blood.

After two days’ of work we have 8 Iberian hams and 8 shoulders  pre-salted and hanging in the shed, along with chorizos, morcilla tonta, salchichón and cañas de lomo.

Thank you all for your hard work, Jeannie, Celeste, Inmaculada, Juan David, Fingal, Ivan, Alex, Cristina, Joanna, and Ted, Jago and Charlie, Eduardo, Alquin and Joris; and thank you Tim for your lovely photos of an often unlovely activity.


Yesterday morning we were up at 8, supping coffee and toast before climbing up the hill to meet those not staying. Eduardo, Celeste and Juan David from Los Marines, and Inmacualada from Cortelazor. Later that morning we were joined by Alfredo from Seville, and Mercedes and Maria Jose from Jerez.

We had the Irish crew: Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen smokehouse, who arrived with one of his wonderful knives  and also Ted Berner and Ivan Whelan and also Cristina and Joanna  (from Dingle and Dublin respectively).

By 9 am the four pigs were slaughtered, and driven down to the workshed in the trailer. By midday the animals were butchered, the vet had passed them as being trichinosis free, and we were able to start separating the various meat cuts, removing excessive fat and sorting them into separate bowls for mincing and marinading for each type of sausage.

Lunch was prepared, with bottled tomatoes from our summer harvest, cooked up with olive oil, garlic, onions, oregano (which we’d picked in the forest and dried last June) and then with the addition of spare ribs of iberian pork, and one of the livers sliced into chunks.  This was cooked by me in a huge pot and took most of the morning. We served it up in ceramic bowls with slices of crusty country bread; cheese to follow; oranges and tangerines, and magdalenas and coffee.

Everyone sat down together and enjoyed the meal, accompanied by mosto wine from the Aljarafe of Seville.

Then back to work until dusk, and a jolly dinner at the main house.

Today we returned to the sheds after a breakfast of fresh Burgos-style black puddings (rice, cumin, onions, blood, salt and pepper) and Scottish black puddings (oatmeal, cloves, nutmeg onions, blood, salt, pepper and a pinch of dark cocoa), bacon and farm eggs.

For lunch we had the typical cocido, (onions and garlic, turmeric, chickpeas previously soaked overnight, peeled potatoes, salted pieces of spine, lung and tongue, boiled up slowly with a tablespoon of sweet páprika and a dash of black pepper and chilli). Otherwise lunch took the same format as yesterday, with a few people less.

By nightfall the bulk of the work was done.

For pictures of the work see Tim's blog:

Iberian Problems will be solved this week!

Well, there I was bragging about my wonderful greenhouse. We were going to have crunchy salads and fresh herbs for the Christmas invasion.
Alas, on the 20th December the Iberian pigs ran amok, broke through the fence into the lemon grove and barged their way into the greenhouse, ploughing through my carefully nurtured rocket, oakleaf lettuce, frilly Portuguese salads, escarole, mustard greens and chard. They knocked over my pots of seedlings and left a terrible mess.

Three days later I had settled the salads back into the ground, but now, almost a month later, they are only just beginning to recuperate, and emerge from a muddy sulk. The greenhouse door will never quite be the same. I have to confess it is not a proper greenhouse, only a metal frame with plastic stretched over the top....oh for something more beautiful!

The chief advantage of the escapade was that the pigs made their way into another part of the oak forest and stuffed themselves on acorns. Eccellent timing, as this is the very week they will meet with the grim reaper.

We have Fingal Ferguson, he of the Gubbeen Smokehouse, putting in a guest appearance, and Ted Berner and Ivan Whelan of Wildside Catering specialists in hog roasts (Here's a photo of some of the wild bunch). They will be helping and learning; making chorizo, salchichón, caña de lomo,  black puddings, and preparing the hams for salting. We are being joined by food blogger and chef Joanna Bourke from Dublin, and her friend Cristina, who both completed the Ballymaloe course last autumn.

There'll be two days of hard work, and the usual feasting: day one, tomato stew (our bottled summer tomatoes, dried oregano from the forest, and offal /organ meats) served with country bread, and manchego cheese and oranges for after. On the second day we make a massive puchero the Spanish version of a pot-au-feu, if you will, which has many versions. Ours is made  with chickpeas (garbanzos) and garlic, and belly fat, and spare ribs and espinazo, and turmeric and potatoes. Tim Clinch will be here to record everything on camera.

I hope to post pictures and will try to keep away from the gore for the more sensitive readers.

2015 an unhappy start to the New Year

The internet brings terrible news of murder from Paris, of chaos in Syria, of violence, of drifting boatloads of refugees in the Eastern Mediterranean, (and  here in the straits of Gibraltar); yet in spite of these horrors and the murmur of xenophobia throughout Europe we have to carry on with optimism and hope. There is no other way.

Truly the image which fills me with sadness is the smiling face of Ahmed Merabet. Let us hope that the mass demonstration of a determination to work towards unity will be of some comfort to the bereaved and will act as a counterbalance to the Pegida marches in Dresden.

It feels 'out of place' to be mentioning all this in our blog from the peaceful Aracena mountains, but it would have been equally wrong to pass through this week without mentioning it.

How to cheer the winter days; mushrooms, gardening, and volunteer helpers.

December is here, almost surprisingly; for the heat of late October transmuted into November and a cool to warm fug, with mists, and rain, dappled days of afternoon sunshine, occasional abrupt winds, which tore the last leaves from the chestnut trees, but real cold? Never.

Now the temperature has begun to drop, and we are promised a first frost, possibly over the coming we must hie us to the forest once more to pick the last of the chanterelles and the saffron milkcaps/rovellons/niscalos, which have been abundant this month, so much so that chanterelles on toast with a poached egg, or chopped finely and fried with niscalos, chopped garlic, a little butter and oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of parsley....even these have begun to pall. I have been cooking them up for the freezer with sour cream and lemon and chicken  stock; ready for some spring Stroganoff of Iberian Pork fillet.

My seedlings are up and I have started to prick them out into pots.  (The first are for pink hollyhock, green aquilegia, white veronica, mixed vintage stocks, and  drifts and spikes of blue and white sages) - ordinary, I know, but perfect for adding to the borderts or for planting amongst the vegetables in the organic garden, to bring some colour and life, and swarms of pollinating bees, I hope.

I have a mass more seedlings to go, but am a little nervous if the frosts do indeed come. The greenhouse was savaged by the pigs a few weeks ago, and the shredded skirts of plastic let in a stiff cold breeze when the night wind blows. I shall have to try and find some more plastic, or some old window frames to fill in the gaps.

The salads are doing beautifully, even though one day last week one of my curly- headed lettuces had gone for a walk overnight, shifting out of its neat row and across the furrow beside it into the neighbouring row of straight ones. Although standing and looking happy, it was only just lodged in the earth and I had to move it back firmly and stamp it in. I don't think it is a walking or 'haunted' lettuce, but there might well be a mole or mouse in the soil, waiting to eat my beets when they are at their juiciest.

We are getting busy with booking requests for cookery courses next spring, and with young international travellers wishing to stop off and help us out from time to time on the farm or in the house. These generally find us through and, and the young people passing through the farm liven up those otherwise quiet winter days.

Moura Market, Beja district, Alentejo

Last Saturday, Jeannie, Charlie and I set off for the Moura market, just over the border in Portugal.

It’s held the first Saturday of every month, unless there is a national holiday to get in the way.

It’s a large agricultural fair, with cowbells, sheepbells and goatbells, leather boots, local sheep, goat, or cow’s milk cheeses and every kind of Portuguese smoked sausage and ham imaginable. There are stalls selling roast chickens with piri-piri sauce, grilled suckling pigs, and wonderful lemon-scented baignets or doughnuts and fritters dusted with sugar. Next to these are truckloads of farm birds, ring-necked doves,homing pigeons, fan tails, ducks of every type, dabbling and quacking, and disgruntled hens in small cages. There are turkeys, and partidges and quail, and rabbits with whiffling noses, and across the walkway, cages and cages of colourful parrots, squeaking and squawking.

Here you can find passion-fruit plants in pots, along with feijoa, figs, apricots, pomegranates and blueberry or goji berry bushes. Some of these, we can of course grow here, but many of them will not put up with our winter frosts. (However, in springtime we might be tempted to pop a passion-fruit vine into our van, and buy some marans for their beautiful speckled plumage and  nut-brown eggs, or a few guinea-fowl to squawk around the hen run!)

It’s a great opportunity for us to enliven the table with different ingredients, and also a chance to buy plants and trees for the orchards. We came back with plugs of leeks, cabbages, purple cauliflower, romanesco and broccoli, as well as onions and beetroot to plant in the huerta for winter and spring. We also bough 1Kg of broad bean seeds which we will sow this month so that we can harvest them in March or April.

I’ve rotavated the small poly-tunnel, which had been dunged with the straw and chicken poo collected when we cleaned out the chicken house last spring. It’s matured now into a calmer fuel for the plants, and in went three kinds of lettuce, escarole, and rocket, so that we will have some good saladings for Christmas and January.

The fridge now holds 4 or 5 different Portuguese cheeses, and painho sausages, gently smoked and essential with cabbage or cooked in a cataplana with seafood and potatoes.

We drove on from Moura market into town and found prize-winning Risca Grande specialty organic olive oil. They produce flavoured oils with their own lemons and mandarins; the first of which is sensational with fish or green beans, and the second will enhance any chocolate mousse, or citrus cake.

We drove north with a roasted chicken from the market, a bottle of local red wine, a freshly made loaf of bread and some small sheeps’ cheeses; picnicked in the last blaze of autumn sunshine on the shore of the lake created by the Alqueva dam, a masterpiece of engineering which has created a many-branched lake around 60 Kms long, perfect for sailing and mucking about in boats.

Back home to greet friends, and prepare for a busy week.

Gubbeen, the story of a working farm and its foods.

Loud hooting on the drive late yesterday afternoon, just before dusk; and it reminds us how life has changed over thirty years. A box of books has arrived thanks to Amazon. It actually comes right up to the kitchen door, imagine that; in rural Andalusia, a part of the country where citizens who live in the middle of the countryside are ignored as far as the postal service is concerned. The internet is miraculous!

Another miracle is the Gubbeen book (3 copies; one for us and 2 for friends), Giana Ferguson's story of family life on the raw edge of the Mizen Peninsula in South West Ireland. Well it's perhaps not so raw as Beara with its rocks rising to the sky, but it's still a place of winter gales and driving rain, and it's where the land has been worked and tamed over the centuries to create pasture from bog.

Reading through the book fills me with admiration. I'm a lover of Gubbeen Cheese, and I love these stories of the hard work, and the commitment to a project (or four!) and of how life has evolved at Gubbeen. I'm instantly pulled back to the place, to the warm and cluttered kitchen, the farmyard, the humungous pig which lay in state last time we were there; and the then newly growing charcuterie business which Fingal, Giana's son had started to build up. He showed us proudly around his new home, where, above his bed a small round window framed the distant view of the Fastnet Rock  like a vignette.

When we were there, Clovisse had just started out on her  project of a garden producing herbs, saladings and vegetables, grown in harmony with flowers, to attract bees for pollinating or flying predators to take care of the pests .

Having just written our own Buenvino Cookbook, which came out in April, I can appreciate the effort which has gone into the lovely Gubbeen book. Lord knows how Giana found the time to do it; at least here, where we live from tourism, rather than from food production (although these things do go on here on a small scale), we have downtime in the winter. It's a time for regeneration (the writing of  a book maybe), and time to touch up the paintwork and give the place a fresh look.


Yesterday morning I was up early to the small poly tunnel where we grow our winter salads and herbs, determined to give the new lettuces a gentle spray before the sun came over and raised the greenhouse temperature to something fierce; even though the door is open.

There was a gallumping sound of pigs' hooves galloping across our attempt at a citrus grove ( we are almost too high for citrus, with hard frosts on  winter nights).

The pigs had wormed their way under the fence separating their  cork oak enclosure from the struggling orange trees, and now one of the pigs had come to investigate, grabbing the rather shredded polythene of the greenhouse between his teeth and tugging hard. I turned the hose to the 'hard squirt' position and gave him one in the snout. Happily he drank and dribbled and then returned to the attack.

The pigs are used to an early morning bucket of grain, and of course they get any leftover greens, surplus quinces and pears, figs, cabbage stalks and so on, to supplement their diet of cork oak acorns. So I made off sharp to the shed and filled the bucket before there could be any more damage done to my precious plastic.

A year of Rush....Rush.....Rush! Now bucolic autumn is here, with fewer guests and time for blogging.

I'm horrified to see that I have not blogged for almost exactly a year, which must make our having a blog something almost entirely useless as far as publicity goes.

 It's good to be back with some time on my hands - enough time to sit and write a little once or twice a week - and it's strange to look at the images of last years' mushroom crop, when we are going through the same thing once more.

The weather pattern may have changed a little from 2013, with our relatively cool summer; but after September downpours and temperatures dropping, we  once again have a scorching October.

It's been almost 30ºC once or twice this week, and although our pool has theoretically been "closed" since September ( we put the sun beds away), and we have had the fires lit, and put the eiderdowns back on the beds (all that three weeks ago, with torrents falling out of the sky, and thunder blasting our telephone to phone), we now have this second burst of gentle summer-like weather; guests swimming in the pool, evening drinks on the terrace until it gets too dark.

The quince trees are heavily laden this year with the branches straining and snapping with the weight of the fruit, so we went down and picked crates and crates of lemon yellow fruit and Jeannie has been making jars of quince jelly,  bowls of carne de membrillo and we have been baking the fruit in sugar syrup and making compotes and 'quince snow'.

We were out mushrooming with Melanie Denny from La Casa Noble in Aracena yesterday, and in a moment of excitement when we were gathering some Caesar's Mushrooms I must have put down my blackthorn stick with the burr handle, and walked on without it.  I see from the link that I could buy a new one, but it's not as beautiful as the old one with the real sharp thorns on it.

I have since walked up and down through the cork forest several times and have not been able to spot my stick. Maddening as it is not just a trusty clambering companion, but a thing of beauty and almost 100 years old.

Mushrooming is a wonderful occupation; almost like meditation. You wander slowly up and down the forested hill, and you observe nature. The bracken has turned to yellow and rust. The new autumn grass is bright green, and the coloured leaves are dropping. The splash and gurgle of the stream tells you that the aquifer is replenishing itself; the rain has washed away the plague of late summer flies, and through the crystalline silence of the forest you can hear the sudden sharp pecking of a woodpecker. Now and then the thud of a chestnut falling, or an acorn dropping from the cork trees reminds you that the pigs have to be out to wander in the woods; but not until the chestnuts have been harvested and taken to the cooperative.

The sheep have started lambing, so we have fenced them into the fallow orchard, where they have plenty of new autumn grass, and windfall apples and pears. We miss the tinkle and clank of their bells as they pass by below the house, crossing the steep forrested slope to get to a warmer hilltop resting place at night, when the temperatures cool down.

Dried Ceps/Porcini/Penny Buns/Tentullos

Once you have cooked and eaten, or sliced and frozen the most perfect small, tight, pale specimens, it's time to deal with the imperfect mushrooms; those ones that have gotten too big, have looser pores and imperfections. 

They are perfect for drying. We place them on racks over the iron range, with the temperature set to low. They will be dry in about 5 hours, or if really soggy,  after rain for instance, allow them to be there overnight.  Once they are completely dry, bottle them into airtight jam jars. They're the perfect Christmas gift for foodie friends.

Amanita Cesaria/Ovuli/Oronges/Caesar's Mushroom/Kaiserpilz

 One of the most delicious mushrooms we find at this time of year is Amanita Cesaria, known locally as La Tana. It bursts through the ground in a white caul, and it's inadvisable to collect it at this stage as it could be confused with other deadly Amanitas which start out in the same way, but do not reveal the brightly coloured head. The mushroom should catch your eye like a piece of discarded tangerine peel, but it often hides cunningly amongst autumn foliage.
 To prepare the mushrooms, wipe the cap with a damp cloth, and peel back the caul from the stem, which is revealed as  lemon yellow. Cut off caul at base.
 When you have your mushrooms cleaned, slice through them thinly. You will see the delicate structure of the yellow gills, and the stems are creamy  white inside.
 One of the ways to enjoy them and their delicate flavour, is simplicity itself. Get a fresh organic lemon.
 Squeeze the juice of half of the lemon over the mushrooms slices.
 Pour on some light virgin olive oil
 Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
 Toss and eat.
Alternatively, fry your slices up in a little olive oil and butter, with 2 cloves of garlic sliced into 4 chunks each. Season to taste when they are cooked, and serve in a small dish for tapas, or on toast.