You have to be brave to convert Castroverde de Campos, a small town in the middle of Tierra de Campos, a depressed area from Old Castille between Asturias, Burgos and León, into a pilgrimage destination for gourmets. Cecilio Lera is the one to blame, a singular character: cook, hunter, donkey breeder, former member of the parliament and perpetual mayor of Castroverde. Cecilio is a chef with a classical background formed at Switzerland cooking schools. He realized that game could be a good alternative to attract visitors to his village competing with the traditional lechazos (suckling lamb) from Aranda and piglets from Arevalo, the other gastronomical towns in Old Castille.
With the help of his wife, Minica, Cecilio founded the old and charming Meson del Labrador in 1973. The family moved the premises to Lera last November. Lera is a modern hotel where they have excellent facilities, a bright dining room and a few cozy bedrooms if one wants to stay overnight. This was a necessary change in the form, but not in the substance. Most importantly, the hospitality of the family starting with the exemplary maître d’ Ramon Gonzalez and the level of cooking remain intact. Some years ago, Cecilio passed the reins of the restaurant to his son Luis Alberto, also a cook, hunter and greyhound trainer formed at the school of Master Luis Irizar and some others such as Arzak, Abraham Garcia and Hilario Arbelaitz. Luis Alberto has taken the old cooking from Mesón del Labrador to a higher level.
At Lera, the stews have a memorable depth. From the potato chips with garlic, vinegar and paprika served as an appetizer to the magnificent torreznos (fried lardons), everything is handed with delicacy like the veal tongue. The baked beans stewed with hare were on its own one of those dishes that would justify the detour. The same applies to the potatoes with níscalos (milky agaric mushrooms) or the snails. There is a special place at Lera for escabeches, a preparation originating from the Arabic heritage and consisting in cooking the meats and fishes in vinegar to preserve them for a long time. Albacore, partridge, mushrooms in season and rabbit... All of them acquire in Lera’s hands a special dimension.
If this were not enough reason to visit Castroverde, it is in the game dishes where Luis Alberto Lera reaches his benchmark. The braised baby pigeons from Tierra de Campos are particularly worth a mention due to their delicacy and depth. Similarly, dove breast dish served with morels in armagnac and dove rillettes are outstanding. The cerceta (baby duck) with coffee is a masterpiece, as well as the partridge with cabbage stew braised with chestnuts. It is important to note that they cook a special game menu every November for almost 26 years that draws the aficionados from all around the country as it usually includes becasse, grouse or venison. Their desserts, particularly cheesecake or chocolate coulant, culminate a more than memorable meal. The wine list is full of Castillian labels and, if gleaning well, you can find a few bottles with some years well preserved.
Calle de los Conquistadores Zamoranos, s/n, 49110 Castroverde de Campos, Zamora
Tel: 980 664 653