If you get your timing just right, you’re in a for a very sweet surprise in Centro de Portugal. For a few magical weeks each spring the landscapes around the town of Fundão and into the hills of Serra da Gardunha burst into life and colour with the rich blossoming of the region’s famed cherry orchards. It is here that the famous Portuguese Beira Baixa Cherry is grown. The magical scenes which captivate visitors from far and wide are stunningly breathtaking. Mile after mile of pink flowers carpeting the countryside under clear blue skies. But, according to the gracious José Graça from Fundão’s Escola Hotelaria, “cherries are the black gold of the region” and a staple of the local economy.
Inside the Escola Hotelaria students are milling around a table as they display their culinary creativity using the local sweet fruits. “We are trying to create new products for the tourist and commercial markets, all focused on the Portuguese Beira Baixa Cherry,” José explains. “Everything from cherry juice, cherry beer, cherry vinegar, pickled cherries, cherry bread and ice-cream, to my own favourite, the ‘Special Cherry Daiquiri,” he adds with a mischievous wink.
As I approach something close to ecstasy, José goes on to explain that there are more than 100 varieties of cherry, but one in particular, the Cereja de Saco (Saco being the word for the sack in which the cherries were transported) was the most important due to its firm fruit and its ability to withstand transportation. “We are trying to protect (that word again) the Cereja de Saco as the oldest and most traditional variety. It is important that we try to preserve the tradition, both for cultural and economic reasons,” he explains with pride.
Portuguese Beira Baixa Cherry
The origin of the cherry in Portugal, he explains, was most likely of Roman influence, although this can be said with no real certainty it is the most plausible explanation of the fruits appearance in the region. However, he adds, the most important production areas are around the towns of Alcongosta – the starting point of the Rota de Cereja (the cherry route – a 10km circular hiking route which takes about 3.5hours to complete) and Alpedrinha, and as is widely known throughout the Iberian peninsula names which begin with ‘Al’ are usually of Moorish influence.
The Beira Baixa Cherry harvest, which takes place in May and June, is celebrated right across the region through fairs, festivals and culinary events. The people of the region are very proud of their association with their ‘black gold’, and rightly so. And here, in the Escola Hotelaria, another generation is learning about their agricultural and culinary heritage, one which will hopefully see them form a protective attachment to their sense of home and their ever so sweet sense of place.
This Portuguese Beira Baixa Cherry post is a part of a series of 9 posts I wrote based on my journey to Beira Baixa in March 2016. Please find the links o the other articles bellow:
ThisPortuguese Beira Baixa Cherry post was written by my inspiring friend Brendan Harding as part of my ongoing collaboration with the Centro de Portugal Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Photo credits to my inspiring friend Emanuele Siracusa.