He was a systems analyst in banking, she was a nurse. With the retirement approaching they began to plan a well-earned life of rest. But, in an instant, everything was turned on its head. One of their sons, who is an architect, accepted a job offer and moved from Oporto to his mother's hometown, Cabeceiras de Basto (a small town in the Braga District, in Portugal). This was the first step towards a new future. Sometimes plans seem to be made for the sole purpose of coming undone. Maria Beltrão and António Vaz Maia were sure of this when, on the recommendation of their son, they visited the Casa de Encosturas, in Cabeceiras de Basto, for the first time 14 years ago.
«We immediately fell in love with it», recalls António. «When we moved here in 2002, our goal was to take refuge in the quiet of the countryside...», Maria explains. However, the change didn’t actually lead to them getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city of Oporto after all, but rather led to coming closer to the whole world. «Because the house was so big we thought we’d take advantage of it. My wife has always liked making jams and other sweets and our children began to encourage her. The land already had some fruit trees and had enough space to plant new ones», António explains. Maria adds: «And we had enough time to do whatever we wanted». Fertile land, time, dedication and an innovative spirit. This was all the couple needed to start a business without realising it. A kind of a magical blend that took the name Casa de Encosturas beyond Portugal’s borders.
«The secret to the quality of the products lies in research», reveals António. His wife explains the process: «It all begins with an idea. Then I’ll do some research». And this is how the marvellous traditional products such as camellia jelly and liqueur come about. The latter has an interesting aside that deserves to be told. Last year, António received a phone call from France that he didn’t manage to answer. After a few minutes, his daughter called him. She had also received a phone call from France. It was Thierry Hernandez, the director of the Bar Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris, who was going to create a unique drink to be served at cocktail party given by Chanel in Tokyo, Japan. And he wanted to do so using the Camellia liqueur bearing the Encosturas label. The news made the entire family happy and helped to underline, even more, the quality of this company.
Besides this, Maria Beltrão also produces fennel, orchid and tamarillo liqueurs, among others. Warden pear preserve (Doce Extra Codorno) is also one of the specialties that can be found in the Casa de Encosturas online store. «We strive to make different things. And everything we have is done with so much love that it is difficult, even for me who makes them, to say which one is my favourite», Maria says sincerely.
Surrounded by nature, husband and wife dedicate themselves to the farming of the land, producing the herbs and the much appreciated and delicious fruits that serve as raw material for the compotes, liqueurs and jams. Their children and daughter-in-law, Cláudia, Hugo and Mónica, respectively, are left with the tasks related to the management and marketing of the business. Team work that leads to their appearance at the main local and international artisan fairs. It didn’t take long for the quality of the products to be recognised and the orders and awards began to appear. They currently produce about 20 varieties of liqueurs, some of which have appeared as themed editions launched in festive seasons, such as Christmas or Easter. And then there are the wonderful compotes and jams. Truffles are another specialty of the house (these are now made in Matosinhos).
Casa de Encosturas is certified as an ‘Artisan Productive Unit’ by the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture and Institute of Employment and Professional Training, providing the guarantee to consumers that they are consuming handmade products, without colourings or preservatives. But the best certification, in our opinion, is the friendly nature of António and Maria, which is very much in line with the beautiful house from which all the Encosturas delicacies come.