Food in Montrei is an important part of social life. In Montrei, there are no bars which do not serve food along with alcohol (however, clubs tend not to serve food, but only because they are a place for dancing, rather than conversation as bars are perceived to be). The cooking styles of Montreiano cuisine are typically Spanish, and despite immigration from Mejico, shows more Spanish influence than that of Mejico. However, that is not to say that Mejican cuisine has not had an influence.
Montreiano cuisine takes ingredients from many different sources, and each dish of course varies, but there are a few common threads among most dishes and eating habits of Montreianos:
- Olive Oil - the prime source of fat used in Montreiano cooking. Even during the cattle years when tallow was abundant, olive oil remained the prime oil. Olive oil was imported until the padres began to set up the mission church system. A special variety called the Misón in Montrei and Misión in Alta California was grown and spread through the missions and towns along the coast of Montrei and Alta California. This olive is distinct from the Castilian varieties, and the oil produced has a distinct smooth, buttery flavor for late harvests, while early harvest can have a somewhat astringent and grassy taste.
- Sofrito - Like Castilian sofrito, Montreiano sofrito uses onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Each cook will vary what else they add, but sofrito in all of Montrei is made of those three ingredients. Sofrito is the base for most savory dishes.
- Garlic - featured in just about every savory dish, Montreianos make heavy use of it. A common item featured during mereinda (the small meal between lunch and supper) is bread toasted with olive oil and rubbed with raw garlic cloves, enough to make each piece of bread hot. There is also auióleo, a sauce made with garlic, olive oil, and salt pounded until smooth. it is used as a condiment to flavor dishes.
- Bread and rice - rice is the primary carbohydrate consumed with meals for the Montreianos. Almost every meal will feature rice served alongside, usually in the form of Arroç Roxa - rice cooked in chicken broth and sofrito. It is rarely served plain. Bread is also served, but is usually only served when soup is on the menu where it is used to dip into soup. It is also seen as a starter, served with olive oil or auióleo.
- Vegetables - vegetables form an important part of all meals. In a typical meal during most of the year, one will see a salad, and some sort of vegetable dish served. The most popular vegetable is the aucaxofa, the artichoke, which is eaten with auióleo to dip the leaves and the heart. Cabbages, eggplant, summer squash, flor de calabaça, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and carrots are all very popular vegetables. Salads are eaten most often in summer, but seasonal salads are served during the year, especially as most of Montrei's farmland is in mild winter areas. Most salads are simple and made of either lettuce or spinach, and often both. One of the more unusual ingredients in salads are the leaves of nasturtium (Tropaeolum), which lend a spicy, peppery flavor, much like water cress. Herb salads are also popular, with basil as the base, and other leafy herbs added, such as corriander, tarragon, and mint.
- Fruit - fruits are frequently eaten, especially at the end of meals, or made into desserts. The more common fruits are oranges, apples, plums, cherries, peaches, white sapote, bananas, figs, pomegranates, and pears. Pineapple is considered an exotic, and mangoes are shipped in from Mejico. Cherimoyas are considered an expensive luxury fruit (Orchards are increasing each year, and the price continues to drop).
Regional differences in Montrei tend to be focused on what the sources of proteins are. Along the coast, seafood is the most popular, where fish is always fresh caught and never sitting in a fish market counter for more than a day. The one thing that Montreianos along the coast demand is that fish be absolutely fresh, and most fish markets are found at the ports. In more remote areas, if one wants fish, one must fish for it himself. Inland, beef, lamb, and mutton are most popular, but freshwater fish are also important and popular. The best beef, lamb, and mutton stews and roasts come from the inland areas. In the mountains, wild caught game is popular. Venison is a prime meat in the mountain communities, but bear is eaten as well (a delicacy that even coastal Montreianos turn their noses up at).
There are a few delicacies in Montrei which may be considered strange to most foreigners. One example is Elephant Seal and Sea Lion meat. Both have very strong flavors. The meat of both is incredibly dark red, almost black. As they are carnivores, the meat is strong in flavor, and often unappealing or some say "disgusting", but some find it to be delicious. Whale is also eaten in Montrei, with much protesting, particularly from Oregon. Montreiano officials have put a ban on its consumption and sale, although whale meat is sometimes imported from Japan.
Of the seafoods, the most popular delicacy is the sea urchin. The animals are popular along the coast only, and are served opened up with a slice of lemon, and auióleo. Another is the aulón, the abalone. It is popular, although it is somewhat uncommon due to the danger in harvesting them.
Cheese was not an important part of Montreiano cuisine until the late 19th century when settlers from Louisianne and The Two Sicilies settled, bringing their knowledge of cheesemaking with them. That is not to say that Cheese was never made in Montrei or was unknown, but it never had the variety of styles that came with new settlers. Until these settlers came, cheeses were essentially like that found in Mejico.
Montrei did manage to develop its own style of cheese called "queso montreiano", which is produced in a manner similar to cheddar (that is, after the curds are heated, they are cut to drain the whey and then pressed). There are two styles of this cheese:
- Montreiano Fresco - Its rind is rubbed in oil to keep it soft, and aged only one month, it is a rather mild, somewhat bland cheese which melts readily. It is usually served as a table cheese, eaten with olives.
- Montreiano Seco - This is an aged version which has much more flavor. Instead of oil rubbed rinds, the rinds of this style are salted, and left to age for about 6 months. It is hard and dry, with a nutty, delicious flavor. It is usually eaten with fruit at the end of a meal.
As Montreiano Fresco is rather bland, cheese makers have always added herbs and even chiles to make the cheese a little more interesting. Two favorite styles are popular in Montrei, one with jalapeño, and one with rosemary and thyme added.
Cheese from Louisianne
When Louisianne settlers came to Montrei, many started the vinyards in the Napa region. Many also brought knowledge of cheesemaking, and their cheeses, which followed French styles. The cheese aren't too different from those of Louisianne, but in order to differentiate them from true Louisianne cheeses, they were given different names:
- Gruier de Napa - Following the style of Gruyère and Châtelguyon, this cheese is made with cows milk, and produced in the same manner.
- Cavra - Produced in the same manner as French chevre it comes in fresca and madura, with madura having a white rind and stronger flavor.
- Açù Montreiano - This cheese follows the style of Kaskaskian Bleu, and is produced in the same manner.
Cheese from The Italian Peninsula
Most immigrants from the Italian peninsula came from the Two Sicilies, paricularly the island of Sicily. There were immigrants from other areas as well . Many were fisherman, but like Louisianne immigrants, cheese makers immigrated and brought their styles and methods with them. There are several cheese in styles as found in the Sicilian and Neapolitan areas.
- Pecorino de Montrei - As is obvious, this is pecorino cheese, but given the name "pecorino de Montrei" to indicate where the cheese originates. As the cattle industry began to decline, sheep began to increase in importance for wool production, and the immigrants from Sicily found that the milk was not used as much as it was for cows.
- Cañias - Essentially mozzarella, it is a pulled cheese. It was originally made by settlers in Las Cañias.