"We milk Margarita once a day," Guadalupe tells the group of four families during the daily morning farm tour at Estancia El Colibri. "And we make it into dulche de leche."
I've been travelling through Argentina with Abercrombie & Kent for a few days now, so it's no surprise to me that cow's milk is used to make the country's favourite dessert.
Argentineans are crazier about dulche de leche than my uncle is about Vegemite … and that's saying something. They eat it for breakfast (at Estancia El Colibri it comes served alongside house-made croissants), they snack on biscuits filled with dulche de leche (called alfarjoes), and they incorporate it into desserts and drinks. There are even shops dedicated to the intensely sweet delicacy.
Guadalupe continues to milk the cow for another 10 minutes, letting the children in the group take turns, too. The families here today have not seen a cow milked before and are fascinated by the process, although frankly it's one of the fathers who finds it the most enthralling, giggling like a schoolgirl when his daughters grasp the cow's teats to squeeze out milk. Twenty minutes later when we are helping Guadalupe feed the sheep and goats, a llama approaches him from behind and surprises him with a slobbery kiss. He jumps in startled surprise and this time it's his daughters who can't help but laugh. I chuckle too, albeit a bit more inconspicuously.
My daughter runs around outside in the fresh air whenever she gets the chance, delighted at the simplest of life's pleasures – kicking a ball, watching goldfish dart around the fish pond, picking up pebbles from one spot and moving them to another. Who needs toys?
On our morning farm visit she can't contain her excitement at meeting the animals she's seen in her picture books. She moos at the cows, clucks at the chickens and neighs at the horses.
We go on a gentle group horse ride later in the day and she once again squeals in delight at being among her picture book animals. Half way into the one-hour trail ride the repetitive up-and-down movement lulls her to sleep, and she dozes on me secure in a baby carrier. If I weren't holding the reigns I'd join her.
Between activities and lazy strolls around the property we eat flavoursome food and drink Argentinean wine. There are no buffets here, instead everything is cooked fresh for guests who can dine when they like within the designated meal hours. We are always first … Argentinians like to eat late and sleep late, but the mornings at Estancia El Colibri are too stunning to stay in bed, thanks to sunrises that begin as glowing pink and purple hazes, then transform into fiery orange explosions.
Local and seasonal is the culinary ethos at Estancia El Colibri, with vegetables picked straight from the garden, and fish, poultry and meat sourced from nearby. Chef Leonardo prepares tender osso bucco on our first night and serves river fish together with a smoky ratatouille (both cooked on the outdoor grill) for lunch the next day. On our last night – which happens to be Italian night – we indulge in crudites served with a tangy garlic and anchovy dip, cheesy eggplant parmigiana and lasagne that makes me think there's an Italian nonna hiding in the kitchen. One of the dessert options on Italian night is tiramisu, but I stay with my personal tried and true – dulche de leche ice-cream. And this time when I devour it I think of Margarita the cow. It tastes even sweeter.
Estancia El Colibri is a Relais & Chateaux property located about one hours' drive from Cordoba. It mimics a real-life Argentinian estancia, with a big dose of luxury thrown in. Families are welcome. See estanciaelcolibri.com
Air New Zealand flies to Buenos Aires from Australia via Auckland three times weekly, with onward connections to Cordoba available on its partner airline, Aerolineas Argentineas. See airnewzealand.com.au
Luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent specialises in private and small-group travel throughout South America. A stay at Estancia El Colibri can be organised as part of the 15-day Treasures of Argentina private journey, which includes luxury accommodation, some meals, expert guiding and transport including domestic flights. See abercrombiekent.com.au
Tatyana Leonov travelled as a guest of Abercrombie & Kent.