Los Antiguos is one of the lucky regions on Earth. It’s a microclimate, those areas that possess an environment warmer than they deserve given their latitude and altitude. In Los Antiguos’ favor, this means a rich agricultural area for fruit with dozens of profitable farms. Being on Argentina’s largest lake, Lago Buenos Aires, certainly is a plus.
Nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Patagonia, at an altitude of 700 feet, Los Antiguos is the cherry growing center of Argentina. In January, the town celebrates the National Festival of the Cherry, including the crowing of a cherry queen. In October, cherry blossoms blanket this village of 2,500 people. In summer, the lake cottages are opened, and the population swells filling the modest number of hotels in town with visitors from the Americas and Europe. Many visit the farms that operate markets and conduct tours.
Dona Malu Cienfuegos is the fourth generation of the Cienfuegos family to own Chacra Don Neno. She cans, as well, many creations from the fruits and vegetables she and her husband, Walter Treffinger, grow on their 15 acre farm. Chacra Don Neno is one of the few Los Antiguos farms that remains open all year for visitors to purchase products from their store.
Chacra Don Neno looks more like a garden than a working farm. Dona Malu showed off orchards of apple, cherry, apricot and fig trees. Stands of raspberries, as well as Andean varieties that are cousins, were next to flats of strawberries. Tart quince, Andean melons, sweet and hot peppers, almonds, hazelnuts, rose hips, rosemary, basil, wormwood (the herb basic to vermouth), oregano and edible flowers formed a living patchwork quilt. There were plots for tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, onions, garlic, lavender, asparagus, anise, horseradish, grapes, fava beans and thyme. All this, and more, on 15 acres.
When asked about pesticides and chemical fertilizers, Dona Malu’s emphatic answer was, “No!” Pesticides, fungicides and non-organic fertilizers, she explained, were unnecessary, especially in this microclimate, and rarely used by any Argentine farmer. Particularly in this microclimate there are few pests or plant diseases that would require such chemicals. Water for irrigation is provided by the Rio Mayo, that’s fed from the glacier water of Lago Buenos Aires, through a system of irrigation canals. All the plots are protected from any harsh winter winds by towering alumina trees, cousins to the poplar.
The store is small and stocked full of several dozen chutneys, jams, conserves, escabeche, honey and liquors, all made at the farm. Dona Malu cooks and jars her creations in a small, pristine kitchen with modern commercial equipment. Many recipes have been in her family for generations, and everything, down to the herbs that flavor these incredible creations, is grown on the farm. Among items available were an escabache of mushrooms with onions, tomato, garlic, herbs, oil and vinegar, Argentina’s popular olive spread, preserved cherries, Don Neno’s cherry liquor (Dona Malu’s grandfather), calefate berries preserved in gin and a marmalade of tomatoes and walnuts.
Los Antiguos is but one of many agricultural villages set within stunning Argentine scenery that has a tourist infrastructure. For those who think only of beef in connection with Argentine cuisine, traveling beyond the major cities unfolds a surprising culinary abundance and diversity of healthy food. Organic is a word used for tourists. Argentines accept it as the norm.