“Detour Lucre”, shouts the green and white sign in a photo on a blue door under the stone arches of the Portal de Comercio. The arrow leads inside, down a short hall where you are first met with an ice cream cooler and then the space opens up with love seats and leather chairs, then tables, and finally a display of home made pastries. This is a pastelería (pastry shop) called Nevada.
Open for only a few weeks, Nevada is the property of Sonia Malpartida from the nearby town of Lucre whose family runs a well known pastry shop there. For some time they had been looking for a place in Cuzco but did not find something worth while, and then this place opened up when the landlord removed the assortment of travel agencies and tourist services from its inside. Mrs. Malpartida with her gentle eyes and determination snapped it up.
The name Lucre has a lot of resonance among the people of Cuzco. It has a long history as the site of important Pre-Inca Cultures–the Wari (which though centered in distant Ayacucho had its regional governmental center in nearby Pikillacta) and the Killke that was the immediate antecedent of the Incas. It is also a place that produced fine textiles from the time of the colonies through modern times. It also has become known, because of its lakes, as a good place for an outing to eat duck or trout and enjoy the outdoors. Cuzcqueños increasingly take advantage of the short distance (30 kms.) to have an enjoyable outing in Lucre.
As a result of its closeness to Cuzco and the feature that drew people there, Sonia Malpartida’s family opened a pastry shop which soon became known as something people must try while in Lucre. Not only were their pastries considered excellent, but they became known for the charm of their quirky collection of plates, pictures, and other bric a brac with cow motifs, as a means of emphasizing their use of fresh dairy products from nearby farms.
All of this, the Nevada brings to Cuzco and its Plaza de Armas. At a time when multinational fast food chains and large capital from Lima are snapping up venues around the Plaza, Mrs. Malpartida brings a local business with a history and resonance to the Plaza.
When we first went there it was breakfast time. Charly, Mrs. Malpartida’s twentysomething son, was our host. Not only did he provide us with menus and bring our choices of quiche, ham and cheese sandwich on a croissant, and a swiss chard tart as well as coffee latte, he regaled us with the story of the place.
The food was tasty, the quiche had the tanginess of bacon combined with the richness of custard and cheese in a flaky pie crust, while the chard tart brought the flavor of that green together with red pepper and seasonings to make a delightful breakfast offering. The coffee was smooth and good. It did not have the bitterness that American coffee often has, given the preference for a very dark roast, but was rich and flavorful.
Charley told us about their pastries and ice cream. He said they use only fresh milk and other dairy products from Lucre to make them. So we decided we had to return.
A couple of days later, we once again walked up to the photograph of the green detour and took it into the building’s innards. This time we sat at a table in the back next to the well lit pastry display and beneath a framed photograph of a contented dairy cow.
Although the menu lists quite a few pastries, not all of them are available since that depends on what they made and brought from Lucre as well as what has sold. Thsi day they had various three milk cakes (tres leches)–a phenomenon that in the last decade has taken Latin America and the United States by storm, as well as cheesecakes topped with local fruit. They also had an alfajor–a local concoction of various layers of pasty with filling.
Charly told us that they pastries were less traditional cuzqueño, than they were quality developments of his mothers’ and aunts’ baking. Still they fit within the tradition of Cuzco pastries.
We ordered a couple of cheesecakes and the alfajor saywa.
The alfajor was perhaps the most interesting with its dark, flaky pastry combined with rich carmel and chocolate in a series of layers. In common parlance, the alfajor is a simple two layered, white cookie with a caramel filling (the caramel, generally called in Latin America dulce de leche, although in Mexico it is cajeta, is here called manjar). This version should be strongly recommended.
One cheesecake was topped with a conserve of aguaymanto, a delicious fruit from the physalis family that is both tart and sweet, while the other carried a dark purple spread of sauco, the Elderberry. The cheese cake itself was a bit heavy for my North American trained tastes, though it was indeed full flavored and creamy. There was a fine contrast between the richness of the cheesecake, the flaky crust, and the sweet and a bit tart toppings.
As we were leaving, Sonia Malpartida, who was working the cash box, told us all the ice creams are artisanlly made by them from fresh fruit, or other flavorings and cream from Lucre. She offered us a taste. The fruit flavors were solid and good, but in no case overpowering. What was most noticeable was the richness of full cream ice cream. Increasingly this is disappearing from ice creams in the north.
However it immediately transported me to my youth in El Paso, Texas. We would buy bottles of fresh jersey milk from a nearby family, which were one third cream. If we wanted to drink the milk we had to shake the bottles since it was not homogenized. But for making ice cream or butter it was perfect. And the ice cream on a hot El Paso day with that creaminess that cooled the mouth and even seemed to stick to the palate remains for me a measure of high quality ice cream. Nevada has it.
It is tempting to return to Nevada everyday. This is not some rabbit-hole of metaphor like the photograph of the detour seems to suggest. Rather it is a great place to enjoy a bit of Cuzco tradition as well as good, homemade pastries and charm.
Nevada Pastelería, Portal Comercio 121.