The Local: The Alentejo “Farm Shop” You’ll Want To Get Lost In For Hours
In our regular series The Local, we celebrate the independent shops selling souvenirs worth making space for. This week, we head to Portugal’s wild and unspoilt Alentejo region to explore a store championing fine native produce that, whether you’re in the mood for a farm-to-blanket picnic or seeking a housewarming gift for that hard-to-buy-for someone, delivers
18 May, 2023
The length of time that visitors tend to spend browsing the shelves of this singular "farm shop" is at odds with its diminutive size. Part deli, part design boutique, part community hub, it's the kind of cool, sweet-smelling place it's easy to lose track of time in, as you curate a basket filled with items sure to bring sunshine to your dinner table and beyond.
Set on São Lourenço do Barrocal, a 200-year-old agricultural estate and retreat near the village of Monsaraz in Portugal's Alentejo region, the red-roofed, whitewashed store showcases a thoughtfully sourced collection of the heritage handcrafts, fashion and flavours the country does best.
"We sell great-quality Portuguese products, local products and products that we produce on the grounds," explains shop manager Patricia David, who is showing us around the immaculately arranged space - all dove-grey accents contrasting with terracotta-tiled floor. "It's important to us to have a close relationship with our suppliers. Some of our items are made by artisans that don't even have email, so you have to physically go and find them."
She points out a tower of hand creams - "by one of Portugal's best-known cosmetics brands, Benamôr, which has been operating out of Lisbon for almost 100 years" - and a display of calendula-yellow boxes - "Couto, the toothpaste our grandparents used".
On a central table are salad servers hand-carved in olive wood, contemporary pottery made using age-old techniques, embroidered cotton drawstring bags used for serving bread in and bowls formed from curls of local cork bark ("perfect for fruit," advises David, "but not cheese, because the cork soaks up the fat"). There are rugs and blankets made on ancient handlooms in a restored wool factory in nearby Monsaraz, a rail of boldly printed kaftans hanging above a parade of classic leather flip-flops, soya wax-based botanical-scented candles and covetable artworks and coffee-table books (in Portuguese and English). A bank of old-school wooden desks offers a cornucopia of kid-friendly diversions, from cheerful woven sheep, small enough to fit in a child's fist, to spinning tops, tractors and articulated crocodiles pulled by string, all handcrafted in smooth, tactile wood.
The pièce de résistance, though, for those browsing while hungry, is the shop's second room. Alongside the estate's own products, which include herbal loose leaf teas, jams made with surplus fruit and veg, pepper paste, crackers and craft beer flavoured with pennyroyal, is a roll call of the snacks and comfort foods that the Portuguese have been turning to for generations. Think Regina chocolate umbrellas, Paupério biscuits, Sanzé fried salted almonds and beautifully illustrated José Gourmet tins of sardines and cod.
Those almonds will make you thirsty, which is where the shop's third room comes in - a cave dedicated to the estate's reds, whites and rosés. "We're very, very proud of our wine production," says David. "We don't irrigate the vines, so they grow at their own pace. They give us what they want to give us and the guys in our winery do absolute wonders with what the plants give them."
Can't decide? David and her team have thought of that, too. The Barrocal Favourites selection contains two bottles of white wine Reserve 2017, two of red Reserve 2016, two bottles of organic Galega PDO olive oil and a jar of wildflower honey - and can be shipped direct to your home.
With a picnic in mind, and David with a mountain of mint foliage awaiting drying, we leave carrying a large tote bag featuring Jéronimo, the estate's beloved donkey, laden with rustic breads, local cheeses, cherry tomatoes, herbs, cakes and a cold bottle of rosé, which, unlike much of the shop's stock - quality products that are long-lasting by design - will no doubt be long gone by sunset.
For more on the shop's full range and to order, visit barrocal.pt