The region around Essaouira is largely agricultural and is particularly well-known for argan oil, so-called ‘Berber gold’ and famous for its gastronomic, health and beauty benefits. However, the Essaouira region is perhaps less well-known for its wines and cheeses and we recently took a trip to get to know them better.
The vineyard at Val d’Argan was established in 1994 by Charles Melia, an experienced winemaker of the Rhone valley in France. It covers 52 hectares, of which 42 are under cultivation. Val d’Argan is the first – and as yet only – Moroccan vineyard to be run entirely organically. The vineyard produces a selection of ranges and labels featuring red, white, rose and – typical in Morocco – grey (‘vin gris’) wines. The wines of the ranges La Gazelle, Val d’Argan and Le Mogador are common features on restaurant wine lists in Essaouira and Marrakech. Organic olive and argan oils are also available. Tours and tastings can be arranged in French, English or Arabic and there is a restaurant onsite with a panoramic view of the vineyard and olive trees. There is also accommodation on the vineyard, run as Ryad des Vignes and consisting of bungalows arranged among the trees beside a pool.
Val d’Argan is in Ounagha, 35km from Essaouira off the Marrakech road and is easily combined with a trip to Had Dra market on a Sunday or – in the opposite direction – Meskala .
The Kasbah at Meskala was established because of its strategic position along the important camel train route between Fes and Timbuktu and at the interface of Arabic, Berber and Jewish communities at the end of the 18th century. It was inhabited by the local Caïd, who was the representative of the King as well as local law enforcer, arbitrator and tax collector. The El Khoubane family were Caïds at Meskala from 1825 until the function was abolished in 1963. Today, the family runs part of the Kasbah as a guesthouse (Riad Kalamalak) with an artisanal cheese factory, restaurant and horse riding stables. It’s a lovely, peaceful place, with rooms around a large courtyard garden and plenty of patio and salon space for relaxing (and tasting the wide range of goat’s, ewe’s and cow’s milk cheeses). Many of the original artefacts were requisitioned by the King once the Caïd lost his title, but the setting is evocative nonetheless, especially when one learns that in the not-too-distant past, the Kasbah complex included, among other things, a mosque and madrasa (Koranic School), barracks, plus accommodation for around 140 slaves.
Goats cheese can also be purchased in Meskala village from the Cooperative Féminine Ajbane Meskala, which assists local women to find work and generate income from cheese-making. The cheese is light – both in its consistency (almost spreadable) and its taste (not too ‘goaty’!). Tel: +212 (0) 673 23 71 96 for further information.
All of the above sights are easily reachable by car during a day’s trip from Essaouira.
More photos from our Gourmet Day are available on the maroc-o-phile Facebook page.
Update summer 2014: La Fromagerie has now moved nearer to Essaouira, in Douar L’Aarab.