It’s not every day that one can own an item that’s been listed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (In Need Of Urgent Safeguarding). The Portuguese cowbell is one such item. Millenary fire artists (blacksmiths and coppersmiths) in the Alentejo have been producing cowbells with a singular sound and a main purpose, to help find animals scattered across pastures, for at least 600 years.
Located in the village of Alcáçovas, one of the most important shepherding areas of the country, third-generation Cowbell Masters Guilherme Maia and Francisco Cardoso and their four workers operate the last remaining handmade cowbell factory in Portugal’s cowbell capital, Chocolhas Pardalinho, founded in 1913.
It’s a time-consuming, technically complex craft and it takes several years to master all the artisanal parts to manufacture these pieces. Each cowbell is the result of highly skilled handiwork. The cowbells are made from iron, which is cold-hammered and folded on an anvil until cup-shaped. Small pieces of copper or tin are set around the iron and it’s enveloped in a mixture of clay and straw. The piece is fired at 1300°C for about 45 minutes, removed from the kiln and rolled on the ground to evenly spread the metal then plunged into cold water for rapid cooling. Once cool, the clay cast is broken open, the bell is polished, and the tone of the bell, using either a metal or wood clapper, is fine-tuned to not only sound pleasant but to be heard at a distance.
In the past, shepherds used bells of different sizes, according to the season. The greediest cow would use the “male bell” (chocalho macho–bigger and of more bass sound) so that the shepherd would know when the animal went to eat the neighbor’s grass. Today’s cowbells aren’t just for cows. Chocolhas Pardalhino makes many shapes and sizes for horses, goats, sheep, chickens, and even dogs. They also offer a decorative line, just as musically tuned and beautiful on the wall, in the garden, or at your front door.
Chocolhas Pardalhino welcomes visitors for factory tours and workshops of 10-15 participants. They ship worldwide and you can purchase these fine works of history and tradition at their factory, by phone, and via Facebook. www.chocalhosPardalinho.com
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Chocolhas Pardalinho’s Tomato Soup
2 kg ripe tomatoes
1 dl olive oil
2 large onions, cut into thin moons
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 green pepper (optional), diced
1 bay leaf
5 tbsp tomato paste
1.5 ltrs water
1 tsp oregano
freshly-ground salt/pepper to taste
Slices of Alentejo bread
In a large pan, begin boiling water. Cut a small x on the bottom of each tomato. Once the water’s boiling, turn down to a low simmer and add the tomatoes, allowing them to sit for 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water. Peel the skin, cut in half, remove the seeds, and cut into small pieces.
Place olive oil, onion, garlic, pepper (if using), and the bay leaf into a heavy-bottomed stockpan and sauté until the onion is tender. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, stir, and cook for 5 minutes. Add water and oregano. Stir and cook for 20 minutes. Taste for salt and add a pinch of pepper.
Crack one egg into a small bowl and pour into the pan. Repeat with the other eggs. Cover and cook until eggs are the desired doneness. Place a slice of Alentejo bread on a shallow soup plate, cover with soup and one egg per person.