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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. HAVING LIVED IN SPAIN FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS I HAVE TRULY MANAGED TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN THE LOCAL CULTURE AND FEEL TOTALLY INTEGRATED. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT MY PASSION FOR SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AS WELL AS ITS CULTURE, PEOPLE AND PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.

In February for the Master...
28 January 2020

The Calçot season has arrived (pronounced calsot) and those who don’t know what I’m talking about are in for a mouth-watering and extremely fun surprise! Calçots are a typical dish from the Catalonia region of Tarragona, specifically from the town of Valls however their popularity is spreading all over Spain and is also common in the Valencia rural region. If you have never experienced a “Calçotada”, the name given to the entire lunch ceremony you will now have a new excuse for inviting your friends over, as this is a dish that should be enjoyed in numbers as it can get very messy and first-timers beware, Calçots leave their ‘mark’ in every sense of the word! There is a saying in Catalan that clearly defines the best time to eat Calçots:

“ In January for the peasant farmers, In February for the Master and in March for the servants” so we are clearly entering the right month for trying this fantastic dish.

So what exactly am I talking about? Calçots are a type of onion, something between a spring onion and a leeK, with no bulb. The origin of the variety is disputed, but the most commonly accepted version of its history is that they were developed by Xat de Benaiges, a peasant farmer from Valls at the turn of the 20th century. He is said to have been the first to plant the sprouts of garden onions, covering them with earth so a longer portion of the stems remained white and edible. This technique is known Catalan as calçar, a Catalan agricultural term which means to cover the trunk of a plant or vegetable with soil. As the plant grows, soil is continuously added and replanted until it reaches a certain length, hence the name calçot. 

The Calçots are chargrilled on an open wood fire or a barbecue with a high flame. You can also cook them in the oven but the result is not the same. So I highly recommend this dish as a starter for a barbecue. It may not be ideal weather back home for a barbecue but in Spain, the weather right now isn’t too bad! ( At least in Valencia...today!) In Catalunya, this is a massive family event and many villages celebrate the season’s harvest by organising street barbecues for the inhabitants.

                

It symbolises the renewal of friendships as the entire event is carried out around a bonfire making for a long day of eating and talking. However, the most important part of this dish is the thick sauce that you dip the Calçots in called Salvitxada.

Traditionally Calçots are served on a clay roof tile to keep them warm and are eaten standing up, once the Calçots are ready their outer skin will have hardened and turned black, totally charred. You hold the Calçot by the green leaves and remove with the other hand the charred outer skin, and the tender sweet white onion is revealed. This is dipped in the sauce and then raised up, leaning your head back, you lower the Calçot into your mouth.

 

It can get very messy as the sauce drips and your hands will go black, so be very careful not to scratch your nose! The first time I ended up pushing my hair out of my eyes, rubbing my eyes due to the smoke and I can assure you I wasn’t a pretty sight. I looked as if I had been down a mine all day! It is customary to wear a bib when eating Calçots, yes a bib, even the adults. If you ever go to a restaurant to eat Calçots you will automatically be given a bib and the day you try it you will almost certainly appreciate it!

The star of this recipe is the sauce - Romesco - so I am going to share with you the traditional recipe. As with many Spanish recipes, there are slight changes depending on the region and then every family adds their special touch. The same thing happens with the Paella and Gazpacho and a number of other well-known dishes. However, this is the standard recipe the majority work with. Once again it is greatly dependant on olive oil and local Mediterranean ingredients, so it is very healthy and finger-licking delicious.

If you are a knife and fork person and a prisoner to creature comforts, this dish is not for you!

 

 For the Claçot sauce this is what you will need:

·         150ml Aceite de Olive Extra virgin – Arbequina variety if possible

·         1 whole head of garlic unpeeled

·         100g of peeled almonds

·         100g of peeled hazelnuts

·         4 slices of one-day-old baguette bread

·         1 Ñora pepper or Choricero pepper

·         3 ripe tomatoes

·         Wine vinegar

·         Salt

·         Pepper

·         Paprika

 

If you made the Ali Oli the other day you can go and get out your pestle and mortar again! However, if you are in a rush you can use your blender with this recipe.

The first step is to soak the Ñora pepper in lukewarm water for at least 12 hours. So do this the night before, as they are sold sun-dried. The Ñora pepper is like a cherry red pepper in size and it is not hot but has a very distinct flavour.

They are not easy to find in the UK as they are typically from the Murcia region in Spain. If you can’t find one use a normal red pepper or a choricero pepper.  Once the Ñora had swollen with the water remove it and scrape away the pulp from the skin and keep to one side. We only want to use the pulp, at first sight you might think that there is hardly anything there and that it hasn't really rehydrated but it has, you'll be surprised how much pulp you manage to scrape off the tough skin. Make sure you discard the seeds.

If you are using a barbecue place the 4 tomatoes and the head of garlic on the barbecue covered in tin foil until they are cooked, the last 10 minutes leave them open so they can char slightly. The garlic will take slightly longer. The cloves will be soft inside when they are ready. You should slice the bottom of the head of garlic so the heat can penetrate more quickly and so you can also control when the cloves are ready. When ready remove them from the grill and peel the tomatoes and the garlic cloves and place to one side. If you are not using a barbecue you can grill them or use a hot plate grill to char them. The next step is to brown the almonds and the hazelnuts in a pan with a dash of olive oil, you can buy them already toasted. If you do, you can skip this stage. We don’t want them dark brown, just slightly golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and add a little more olive oil, place the stale bread slices in the pan and toast them slightly until they are golden brown too and then put them to one side. Now we have all our ingredients ready, we can start blending.

 Initially, we will grind the nuts in the pestle and mortar, you can use a blender but we don’t want a powder so be careful not to blend them too finely. They need to be small but not so small as we can’t see them in the sauce. This will help give consistency to the sauce and help it stick to the Calçot. Then we add the peeled tomatoes and at least 3 cloves of grilled garlic along with a healthy dash of extra virgin olive oil. Blend slowly or manually using the pestle and mortar. The next step is to add the Ñora pulp and the fried bread. Break the bread up into little pieces and put it into the blender/mortar. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper, a dash of wine vinegar (white or red) and a small teaspoon of paprika. At this point you can add more cloves of garlic if you feel you would like it to be stronger in flavour, this is a personal question of taste, some like it very strong and even chuck in a raw clove of garlic to spice it up a little, I don’t think it is necessary. Finally, blend it all together in the blender or the mortar and slowly add extra virgin olive oil and extra vinegar if necessary to the mixture until you reach a thick consistency, taste and adjust, as you feel necessary. You may find you want a little more vinegar or little more salt, practice will make perfect. It should have a tangy, nutty flavour to it.

If you don’t have a barbecue you can char the Calçots over a gas flame until they turn black using a grill rack, then quickly wrap them totally in tinfoil and place them in the oven at 200ºC for about 10-15 minutes in an earthenware dish. If you weren’t able to barbecue the tomatoes or the garlic, grill them slightly until they have charred slightly and then place them in the oven until they soften along with Calçots.

Now you are ready to eat your Calçots, just slide off the outer skin, it comes away without any problems then dip the Calçot in the sauce and eat! No knives and forks here! It’s time to get messy! Don’t forget your bib!

If you don't manage to find any Calcots and still want to try this dish it also works well with grilled Bimba broccoli - on a griddle with a little salt and olive oil -  you might want to steam them a little first to soften them up slightly.

If you have decided to use a barbecue then the ceremony doesn’t end here, traditionally the meal would continue with chargrilled sausages and meats all washed down with Cava!

 

 

 

Enjoy your next Calçotada!

 



Like 1        Published at 18:44   Comments (2)


San Pere - El Puig - 29 January
24 January 2020

‘L’arròs amb fesols i naps’ is a well-known Valencian dish also known as “Caldera”, ‘Olla de San Antón’ ò “Olla Pobre” (poor man’s pot). Whichever way you call it, it is a fantastic dish, which is ever so easy to make. Commonly made all around the Valencian Community during village festivities it is on a par with Paella when it comes to feeding large crowds. Traditionally made in tall cauldron pots, it can be just as easily made at home in a large casserole pot.

 

 

In the Valencian village of El Puig de Santa Maria, cooking this rice dish in the town square has become a yearly tradition as it marks one of the highlights of their patron saint festivities - feeding the village. San Pere is a rather unusual festivities with numerous spectacles - apart from enjoying a hot plate of hearty rustic food - they also have the rather unusual tradition of throwing rats around the town square, yes! Rats! Fortunately, it is not on the same day so there is no chance of a stray rodent flying into the cooking pots!

Usually cooked over a log fire made with orange tree wood, it is custom to prepare this on the day of the villages’ patron saint and a plate handed out to anyone who wants one. It is not unusual to see Falleros preparing it during the Fallas festivities too.

In English we would call it ‘Rice with beans and swede’ although it does have some meat in it as well. The basic ingredients include pork (ear, snout, trotters, nowadays some lean pork is included and sometimes bacon), white sausage, onion morcillas, white beans, swedes (also known as yellow turnip), and edible cardoon, round Valencian rice, paprika and salt. As with many dishes born out of poverty, this one is no different, nowadays it isn’t unusual to find versions which substitute some of the cheaper cuts of pork for beef or lamb which also reduces the fat content and calorie count! Additionally, other areas such as L’Horta near the camp de Turia will substitute the white beans for garrafón, the large flat bean used in paellas. However, in all cases the essential ingredient that always characterises the flavour of this dish is swede, which gives a lovely sweet touch to the broth.

This rice broth or ‘arroz caldoso’ as we would call it is without a doubt the most widely established dish in the Valencian Community especially this time of year. It is, after the paella, probably the most popular rice dish for the locals and still greatly unknown by foreigners but the ritual behind this recipe does stir up a lot of curiosity. It is enjoyed througout the L'Horta Nord (northern region of Valencia famous for its vegetable fields)

In Vinalesa, a village in L’horta Nord they prepare their version of this dish on the 13 and 14 of October during their annual festivities. It is a recipe that is traditionally cooked by men, as with paella, in fact in Spain, men normally prepare any recipe that involves firewood. It’s sort of like the caveman syndrome. If it needs fire it’s a man’s job if it needs sweat, it for the women, that’s why the women the day before have to peel all the vegetables and are known as the ‘peladores’ or ‘the peelers’ while the men cut up the meat and prepare the wood. It’s kind of like a barbecue back home; it’s a man’s thing isn’t it? Nonetheless, all are happy and a huge quantity of food is prepared and given out to all the village.

In Godella, the Clavarios de San Antonio prepare this rice dish, en Masalfasar they also make this dish for the day of San Anton which has just past and they call it Poorman’s Pot: ‘Olla Pobre’. In Almàssera they call it ‘Caldera’, en Estivella they prepare it for the day of San Blas, en Alaquas they celebrate ‘El Porrat’ en honour of San Francisco de Paula on the 23rd of March and hand out this dish to anyone who happens to pass by. In Foios, Villarmarxante, Olocao and practically every other village in the community will have a special day for preparing this rice broth. It is unique and well worth trying. After the paella, it doesn’t get much more Valencian.

Here is the basic recipe for 6 people : 

300g Round Rice from Valencia
300g White Beans (soaked in water overnight)
300g Pork pieces (ears & snout)
300g Lean Beef in 3 large pieces
1 Pig’s tail cut into pieces
3 Pigs trotters cut into pieces
200g Pork Pancetta / un-smoked bacon
2 Onion Morcilla
1 Large White sausage – Blanquet
3 Medium-sized swedes
2 sticks of edible cardoon
3 medium-sized Potatoes
2 tsp. Paprika (de la Vera)
Saffron
Salt
           

  

The process is really very simple. Fill a large deep stew pot with 3 litres of water. It should fill the pot to about ¾’s of its maximum volume. Start to heat up the water on a medium heat with a large pinch of salt.

Once the water is hot, add all the meat to the water, cut it up previous into manageable pieces, but not too small so they are easy to remove afterwards if you don’t want to eat them. I am not a great fan of ears, snout or trotters, so I just use them for flavour and separate them afterwards. I prefer the beef and pancetta with the morcillas and the white sausage. It is important to remember to create a cross on either end of the morcillas with toothpicks otherwise they will disintegrate in the broth. Once all the meat is in, let it cook for an hour or so. 

Now you will need to add the swedes and the cardoon. Don’t chop the swedes up too small; they should be in medium-sized chunks/pieces. Let it cook on low heat for another hour. 

Now we will add a pinch of saffron and the paprika. Remember we should always cook the paprika before adding it to any dish, so get a small frying pan and add a little extra virgin olive oil, heat up the oil and add the paprika, stir it and fry it for a few seconds and then add a ladle of stock to the pan from the pot, stir around and pour it all back into the stew pot and mix in. 

Now we need to add the potatoes and the beans. Cut the potatoes into medium-sized chunks. After 10 minutes we will need to add the rice but check for salt before doing so. Once the rice has been added stir in and cook(simmer) for a further 15 minutes and then remove from the heat. If the rice is still a little tough it will continue cooking in the stock so don’t worry.

That’s it. Serve up in a bowl or deep plate with a mixed salad and fresh crusty bread with a glass of red wine. It is also customary to eat this with raw sweet onion cut into pieces and sprinkled onto the plate. Then again if you find this too complicated and happen to be within driving distance of El Puig, why not pop along this Sunday and get a plate from the specialists!

 

ENJOY!

                                               http://www.elpuigturistico.net/puig/Web_php/index.php



Like 1        Published at 09:17   Comments (0)


10 Great Spanish Cheeses
16 January 2020

Of the more than 100 different cheeses produced in Spain, 27 are protected by the "Denominación de Origen Protegida" (D.O.P.) label. In English the most widely used expression which means the same is the description "P.D.O" - Protected Designation of Origin. Several others are still waiting for this status to be granted to them by the Ministry of Agriculture. 

In Spain all varieties of cheeses are made: from fresh to extra cured; coagulated with the help of enzymes, lactic acid or a mixture of both; of diverse sizes and shapes; with rinds of various colours, engraved with splendid designs and patterns, covered with mould, smoked, spiced or rubbed with oil. It really is a world of scent and flavour.

Spanish cheese-makers use three types of milk: from sheep, cows and goats. Blends of these kinds of milk are also used to produce their cheeses. This great variety of cheese comes as a result of climatic and geographical differences and from farming customs steeped in age-old traditions. You will find in this pages all of the most important characteristics of all D.O.P. cheeses, as well as those of the most representative cheeses of each category: sheep's milk cheese, cow's milk cheese and goat's milk cheese in addition to various blends and blue cheese, in a sampling of our enormous cheese heritage, which is a reserve of our culture and traditions and places us among the most important cheese-producing countries in the world. Here are the top 10:

 

Queso Manchego

 

The Manchego is produced in the La Mancha region of Spain, which is also home to Don Quixote. It is made from unpasteurized sheep's milk. It is one of the popular cheeses from Spain, made from sheep's milk. It also comes under the PDO guidelines.

The traditional use of grass moulds leaves a distinctive, characteristic zigzag pattern on the Manchego cheese. Authentic Manchego is only made from the Manchego sheep's milk. Manchego cheese is made from both pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. The farmhouse version is produced from unpasteurized milk while the industrial version is made from pasteurized milk.

The rind is inedible with a distinctive, traditional herringbone basket weave pattern, pressed on it. A typical ear wheat pattern is pressed onto the top and bottom wheels of the cheese. There are specific differences in Manchego cheeses, depending on their ageing period.

Semi Curado - Young Manchego cheese is aged around 3 months are supple and moist. The flavour is fruity, grass, hay with a tangy note.

Curado - Manchego cheese aged for 6 months acquires a caramel and nutty flavour. It has a distinct acidity.

Viejo - Manchego cheese aged for a year becomes crumbly in texture while the interior of the cheese acquires a butterscotch colour. It has a sweet, lingering taste.

Manchego cheeses are best paired with a sherry. Cheeses similar to Manchego are called 'Manchego like cheeses', but the producers cannot legally name the cheese as Manchego.

 

Queso Cabrales

 

Cabrales, also known as Queso Cabrales, Queso de Cabrales or Cabraliego, is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) awarded, Spanish semi-hard, fatty blue cheese, prepared within the administrative region of Cabrales Council and some towns in the Upper Peñamerella region. Both these areas are located at the foot of the Picos de Europa Mountains in Asturias.

The cheese is a mixture of raw cows, goats and sheep's milk aged for between two and four months in naturally formed limestone caves. Chilly and humid conditions in the caves facilitate the growth of bluish-green penicillium mould on this highly prized cheese. Unlike other blue cheeses injected with penicillium, Cabrales cures from the outside of the cheese to the inward.
A finished Cabrales can be characterized by its strong, penetrating aroma and sharp, acidic, slightly salty taste. It pairs well with red wine, fresh figs, salami, sweet sherry and dry sausages. The cheese is treasured as a base for sauces, for melting over grilled or roasted meats and goes well along with baguette slices, crackers, or fruit.

Earlier, a traditional Cabrales was sold wrapped in moist leaves of Acer pseudoplatanus. But today regulation requires the cheese be sold in a dark-green-coloured aluminium foil with the stamp of the PDO Queso de Cabrales. Careful because when you leave the cheese for too long you get small white worms coming out of it, but this doesn't stop some eating it!

 

Queso Torta del Casar

Torta del Casar PDO is a Spanish cheese made from raw sheep’s milk in the Extremadura region, near the Portuguese border. Named after Casar de Cáceres, its city of origin, the shepherds who made the cheese used to call it ‘atortao’ because it was shaped like a cake or ‘torta’. Torta del Casar is a very rare cheese since it is made from milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep that yield very low milk and it takes a herd of sheep to make 1 kg of the cheese.

Torta del Casar is a vegetarian product coagulated with cardoon, a wild thistle which adds a slightly bitter note to the rich and slightly salty tasting cheese. The cheese is aged for at least 60 days upon which it develops a semi-hard, yellow to ochre crust and a soft, spreadable, creamy, almost runnier paste. Its insides are yellowish in colour and the aroma very unique. Torta del Casar should be enjoyed as an appetizer or a dessert, spread on bread with a glass of dry, red wine.

 

Queso de Valdeón

Valdeon is a Spanish blue cheese produced in Valdeon Valley of Castile-Leon region of northwestern Spain. Made all year round with cow or goat’s milk or a mixture of both, the cheese has very dense blue veining and comes wrapped in maple or chestnut leaves. Since leaf wrapping is no more allowed these days, it comes wrapped in leaf printed aluminium foil. Queso di Valdeon has been awarded a status of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to regulate the production, processing and preparation of the cheese. In 2005, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food granted the cheese an award for best Blue Veined Spanish Cheese.

A bold and salty cheese, Valdeon uniqueness lies in its manufacturing process, which includes long and traditional maturing in the cold, damp cellars until the cheese reaches a mature or medium mature age. The pate of Valdeon has a soft, granular texture and pale yellow colour and is full of small cavities filled with blue moulds. Covered by a coarse, inconsistent rind in dark grey shades with little red marks, Valdeon is very strong and spicy in taste similar to Roquefort. A powerful smelling cheese, Valendon's greasy, buttery paste is perfect for preparing any kind of blue cheese sauce. The rich smell of the cheese makes a good companion for fresh fruit and strong red wine or sherry.

 

Queso Gamoneu

Gamoneu or Gamonedo is a Spanish PDO cheese produced from a blend of cows, sheep's and goat's milk. Originating in the high altitude areas of Asturias, there are two varieties of the cheese depending on the location where it is made and seasonal production. Gamoneu made from June to September in the cabins of Los Picos de Europa and Cangas de Onis is called Gamonéu del Puerto. On the other hand, Gamonéu del Valle is made in small dairies in the lower areas of both these councils all year long.

Gamonéu is a fatty cheese with a yellowish-whitish pate and greenish-bluish Penicilliun outcrops on the edges. Its thin rind is a distinctive sienna colour acquired during the smoking process. Texturally, Gamonéu is hard or semi-hard, firm and friable with small, irregular eyes scattered spread throughout the pate. The taste is slightly spicy and smoky with a buttery, nutty persistent aftertaste. Its aroma is clean with soft hints of smoke that intensify with maturation.

 

Queso Idiazábal - smoked 

Idiazabal is a traditional, farmhouse, hard cheese made from raw milk of Latxa or Carranza sheep in the Basque and Navarra regions of northern Spain. Named after the village of Idiazabal, the cheese received Spanish D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) in 1987.

In summer, the sheep migrate to higher pastures to graze on the blossoming, new grass. During this time, the artisanal cheesemakers milk the sheep, make the cheese and leave it in the rafters to mature. At the end of summer when the cheesemakers return back to the lowlands with their sheep, the cheese has ripened and is ready for sale.

Idiazabal is produced in the shape of a cylinder, with a smooth and hard natural rind that is pale yellow to amber in colour. The cheese has a compact texture, with a few pinprick holes. It is dry, but not crumbly, and feels pleasantly oily in the mouth. The rind carries the marks of the wooden moulds in which it was drained. The characteristic, smoky flavour is the result of the cheeses having been stored near the fireplaces. There were no chimneys in the simple mountain huts, so the cheeses absorbed the sweet, aromatic smoke. The taste of the cheese is reminiscent of burnt caramel and bacon. It pairs well with red wine and cider.

 

Queso Tetilla

Tetilla is a typical Galician cheese made from the herd of Friesians, Alpine Browns and Rubia Gallega cows. Since 1992, it has been one of the four kinds of cheese that received DOP recognition. The name Tetilla is Galician for “small breast”, which describes the shape of the cheese – a pear-shaped cone topped by a nipple.

This cheese has a pale yellow, thin, natural rind or sometimes no rind can be seen at all. Its texture is soft, thick and smooth with scatterings of air pockets. Yellowish ivory in colour Tetilla has a creamy mouthfeel with buttery, slightly bitter and tangy flavours surrounding the palate. The maturing, which takes place between 10 and 30 days, happens in the hot and humid climate of Galicia.

Try Tetilla with a dry full-bodied wine, sherry, young whites, manzanilla and especially the Galician whites - albariño or Ribeiro. Spanish love their cheese with quince paste, fruit, crackers, baked dishes and bread.


Queso de La Peral

La Peral is a gently blued pasteurized cow and sheep milk cheese from Asturias in northern Spain. This rare and delicious cheese has been produced for a little over a century. The sheep milk component gives this firm cheese a little olive oil flavour and a pleasantly pungent aroma. Also known as Queso Azul Asturiano, La Peral is made by the Lopez Leon family. The wheels are aged for sixty days just to the point that the blue begins to develop. La Peral resembles an Italian Gorgonzola. It has a slightly crumbly texture that leads to a refreshing finish on the palate. Along with other bigger wines, we recommend that you try pairing this outstanding blue cheese with Tempranillos, Cabernet Sauvignons, Gamays, Ports or Spanish dessert wines.


Queso de Los Beyos

 

Los Beyos is one of our speciality cheeses from Asturias, aged for 2 months and made from pasteurized cow`s milk. Los Beyos is truly an artisanal beauty produced in the mountains of Amieva. It takes its name from "el desfiladero de los Beyos". This place is a beautiful but extremely narrow and curvy mountainous area in Asturias that follows through into Castilla-Leon. There is a constant debate as to which specific area in Asturias is where this cheese originated. Dense and compact. Rustic and artisan. We hope you find the texture and flavour as interesting and as much as a rollercoaster ride as we do. The cheese itself is drier and flakier but still retains a cured and rich flavour with a sharpness that does not linger for very long. And good news! Los Beyos pairs just as nicely with a Martini as it will with Chardonnay and Tempranillo.

 

Queso Zamorano

Zamorano is a famous Spanish sheep’s milk cheese made in the region of Castile-Leon, Zamora. This hard cheese takes almost 6 months to mature fully. It has a pale-yellow colour with a crumbly texture and contains 45% fat.

Zamorano has a buttery and nutty taste, which is served as a table cheese with White, Red as well as Zinfandel wine. It gets characteristic flavour because of the breed of sheep – the small, scruffy Churra and the Castilian sheep.

Due to a distinctive zigzag pattern and cylindrical shape, Zamorano appears similar to Castellano or Manchego.

 

There you have it, 10 fantastic cheeses from Spain that must be savoured if you are a cheese fanatic!



Like 1        Published at 17:01   Comments (3)


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