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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. HAVING LIVED IN SPAIN FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS I HAVE TRULY MANAGED TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN THE LOCAL CULTURE AND FEEL TOTALLY INTEGRATED. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT MY PASSION FOR SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AS WELL AS ITS CULTURE, PEOPLE AND PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.

Do you like olive oil? ...Are you really buying Extra Virgin?
23 May 2019

 

This is the biggest questions facing the olive oil consumer. When you are in a supermarket looking at 50 different brands or at an olive mill expecting to buy the real thing, how do you know you are not being taken for a ride?

Well, there is no 100% guarantee you won’t be, for reasons I will explain, but having a better idea of what to look for will certainly increase your chances of buying the real deal: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, anything else is a waste of money.

Firstly many people ask if it is better to buy directly from the mill or the “Almazara” as we would say in Spanish. The answer will always be yes, but you must know your Almazara and know when to buy. The olive oil season starts in October and ends around January depending on the type of oil that will be harvested, high-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil tends to be harvested between October and November. This is the best period to visit your mill as the fresher it is the better it is. Let’s not forget that olive oil is essentially a fruit juice as it is the only edible oil that has no chemical manipulation (when it is authentic!). However there are mills and there are mills. Just as there are honest people and crooked people. You are more likely to get the authentic product from a small local mill than a very large one and I highly recommend that you go along and ask them for a tour, especially during the production season. If the mill is receiving the olives and checking them before being washed that is the first step. A responsible mill producing extra virgin will not accept olives picked up from the ground, you may wonder how do they know that? Well it is very obvious as they are soft and wrinkled i.e. too ripe. These should be rejected straight away. The olives should then be separated from the leaves and twigs and then washed. If this is being done correctly you have probably found a decent mill. Next the olive will be crushed within a maximum of 24 hours (the shorter the time the better but being realistic the minimum time is 12 hours) and put in a centrifuge that separates the oil from the pulp, the water and the stone paste. Your chances with a smaller mill are better because they will more than likely sell all of their harvest every year. One needs to have in mind that Spain produces an enormous quantity of olive oil, so much so that it allows large manufacturers to store stock from one year to the next in their olive oil bank. Although there is nothing really wrong with it from a health point of view its organoleptic qualities are obviously not the same. If the harvest has been smaller from one year to next this oil will be used to boost up supply, so you are not getting the fresh olive oil that you were looking for by going to a mill directly. Word of advice, get to know your mill and taste the oil before you buy it.  If they are serious they will be really happy you have shown an interest, as most mills I have seen take pride in their work.

 

   

 

However most people can’t get to a mill, so how do you identify a good olive oil on the supermarket shelf? The first sign is the packaging. Firstly, avoid any large international household brand or white labels in any format of packaging, the volumes they manage are so large they can not maintain the level of quality one should be looking for and they often buy olives from different countries so they are open to being conned as well. Also many Italian brands have been tested in the United States and only 1 out of 5 samples proved to fall into the parameters of Extra Virgin chemically and taste wise many would say none of them. Unfortunately, this problem is not just in the States, but all across Europe too.

 

 

Please remember that any brand that cares the slightest about its quality of olive oil will never use plastic bottles or transparent glass (unless it is packaged in a gift box protecting it's contents). If the oil is packaged in either one of these, walk straight past it, unless the price is your only concern and taste isn’t an issue either. Transparent packaging is olive oil’s worst enemy and plastics are just sinful as it affects the taste very quickly. The light speeds up the oxidation process and I don’t just mean natural sunlight, any light will affect it. The chances are if it was extra virgin when it was packaged  by the time it’s on your kitchen table it will definitely have oxidised far more than necessary due to poor storage in deposits and may even be rancid or have no organoleptic properties worth tasting as you don't know how long it has been exposed to light. This packaging is a perfect excuse for the brands to defend poor quality products  "it must have oxidised due to poor storage conditions”. So why do they use transparent packaging? So you can see the colour.

It has been proven that people are influenced by the colour of olive oil before purchasing, so the brands want you to see the colour to persuade you. I have heard many people saying the greener it is the better it is. This is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever heard and there is no truth to it in the slightest. The colour of olive oil has become a science now. It has been proven that the Americans, Indians, Japanese even the Spanish prefer the colour of the greener olive oils, psychologically they think it looks more natural and earthy. This has brought on a tide of criminals into the industry who deliberately colour their olive oil to match these demands. It is the variety of olive and the pigments it carries that determine the colour of the oil. The greener it is the more chlorophyll it has and this does not affect the taste. The more mature the olive the less chlorophyll it has, as the olive turns reddish and then black. So the only indication that the colour can give is the time it was harvested. The premium olive oils tend to be greener as they are the first olives to be harvested, but these are much more expensive as the earlier you harvest the less oil there is in the olive but the better the quality is. So many brands try to imitate this quality. It is surprisingly easy for any mill to make its oil greener than it should be; they simply leave some leaves in with the olives before crushing them. The chlorophyll from the leaves colours the oil, however, this also damages the oil eventually. So beware if the oil is too green, it is distinctively noticeable, a good friend that advises mills around the country alerted me to the problem.

 Colour is not a deciding factor when choosing olive oil, as it has no influence on the quality or flavour of the oil. I am referring to ordinary extra virgin olive oil here, not premium range olive oil, which does tend to be greener.

 That is why olive oil tasters use blue glasses so as not to be influenced by the colour of the oil when judging it. The correct packaging should be dark coloured glass or steel cans if transparent glass is used it should be packaged in an opaque box for safe keeping. Once you have the oil at home it should be kept in a dark cool place, however, it will last for say 6-8 weeks exposed to normal light (not direct sunlight) without too many problems if the olive oil is good quality. The problem is not so much how you treat it at home (although it is recommended to keep it away from the light), as a 500ml bottle won't last you that long, but more how it has been treated up to the time when you purchase it.

The next step is to then identify the information on the bottle. Obviously, it must say “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” and in the ingredients table only “Extra virgin olive oil” should appear and there will be no ingredients table at all as Extra Virgin Olive Oil is itself a unique ingredient. It should also state that the contents have been produced only by mechanical means. This means no refining and no chemical treatments. You may see “first press” or “first cold press” this is the same, the cold press refers to it being pressed or more commonly now centrifuged at ambient temperature, without applying heat. This may sound obvious but Alcampo/Auchan was caught to be selling “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” as the sticker advertised but also stated in a box beside the ingredients that the oil had been refined and treated. This is illegal, very misleading and blatant fraud. They claimed it to be a mistake. The problem is that 65% of the olive oil market is white label brands and this is where there tend to be more irregularities. The sticker should also state what variety of olive has been used to make the oil. If it is a blend, all varieties should be stated. The harvest date should also be stated on the bottle or at least the month of harvest, unfortunately this is still rare so if you don’t see a harvest date look at the “best by” date, which should be two years after the oil was bottled to give you an indication of when it was bottled. The best find is a brand that bottles on demand, although there aren’t many.

The acidity level on the bottle is disappearing more and more, as contrary to what many people think the acidity of olive oil has nothing to do with taste when we say acidity we are not referring to acidic taste qualities but the amount of free fatty acids. Obviously the lower it is the better, the maximum allowed for Extra Virgin is 0,8%. Brands that want to make their acidity levels stand out may well put it on the bottle, anything around 0,2% or less is a very good acidity level but will not affect the taste.

Other indicators are peroxide levels, if a brand has gone to the trouble of putting these figures on the bottle it is because they generally have a quality product, however, this only means that those were the levels when tested. It doesn’t mean that they are the levels you will receive. Olive oil is a “live” oil and hence deteriorates with time. However it is a guide, the maximum peroxide level allowed for olive oil is 20 milliequivalent O2, the lower it is the less oxidised it was at the time of bottling. Good figures are around 6-8 milliequivalent O2. 

Although it is not a foolproof guarantee try to look for olive oil with a “Denominación de Origin: D.O” or in English PDO: Protected Designation of Origin. These varieties are more closely controlled by local bodies to protect quality and standards. They carry a distinctive sticker on the back of the bottle stating the designated region that is being controlled. This is one from Valencia to give you an idea, but every region has its design, similar to the wine world. It isn’t a total guarantee but it’s one step closer. Blended Oils won’t carry this sticker, which doesn’t mean they aren’t great oils. This the sticker for the region of Priego de Cordoba, the Mecca of Olive Oil in Spain:

Do not be fooled into buying expensive olive oil by silly marketing tricks. However, I would avoid olive oil that costs less than 8 euros a litre. When I say silly marketing tricks I mean things like 1 thousand-year-old olive trees or even 200-year-old olive trees. Olive trees that old produce hardly any fruit and it is no better than an olive tree which is 20 years old. The fruit is only as good as the soil and the weather that year. Age has nothing to do with it. Other funny things I’ve seen are harvesting under the moonlight, well you can imagine what I think of that! 

Another question I am asked frequently is: “is it better to buy Single Estate or Cooperative olive oil?” 

The answer is both can be excellent. What is the difference? Single estates tend to be smaller and have irrigation all year round meaning they maintain the ratio of oil to flesh in the olive year in, year out, making them more consistent and giving them higher productivity of litres per 100kgs of olives and as the estates are smaller they can be more closely controlled. However, this isn’t synonymous to excellent quality but is a good indication that you will get a decent olive oil. It is just another thing to take into consideration. Cooperatives also have irrigated lands, however, the vast majority of olive trees in Spain are what we call “secanos”, they rely on the rain. Have in mind that just Jaen, one region in Spain makes more olive oil than all of Greece on its own and Greece is the third largest producer in the world. To irrigate this land would be extremely expensive. Fortunately, olive trees do not need much water so most years it isn’t a problem. 

Finally, everyone tends to look for olive oils that have won international prizes. This is another misleading factor. Yes, many great olive oils have won prizes but very few understand how these competitions work. The vast majority only require the producer or the brand to send a maximum of 2 litres as a sample to be judged and pay an entry fee of around €150. What does this mean? It means that you can buy 2 litres of premium olive oil, bottle it under your brand, send it off, win a prize and then put the sticker on your bottle for a year. I am not saying that everyone does it, but from the people I know in the industry it is common practice. The oil presented in the competition isn’t necessarily the one that is later bottled, as there are no controlling bodies and it is all based on trust. Now if there is one industry you can’t trust, it is this one.  This is one reason why many great olive oil manufacturers in Spain don’t even bother with international competitions. I am not trying to take prestige away from any olive oil competition, of course the competitions are important and are certainly a sign of quality olive oil especially if all the other factors come into play and of course not everyone is trying to win the prize at any cost but it isn’t the be all and end all.

The only competition that is truly controlled and requires a controlled sample from a minimum 18000-litre batch is the annual olive oil competition carried out by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. As competitions go in terms of quality, experienced judges, batch control and sample controls, this is the Oscars of Olive Oil, hands down.

The winner can only attach the prize sticker to the batch tested and the Ministry of Agriculture controls the bottles manufactured. Only the best olive oil wins this competition so if you can find a winner of this prize or even an olive oil that has received a mention you know you are onto a winner. No other competition in the world comes close in terms of quality control and strictness.

So once you’ve taken all this into consideration, you’ve filtered out the rubbish and finally selected what you believe to be the real thing, your next step is to taste it. The chances are you will have to taste various olive oils until you find the one you like and before you really understand whether it is a great oil or a mediocre oil. Olive oil tasting isn’t that complex, but it does come down to experience. One of the quickest ways to benchmark and create safe parameters is to buy a Ministry of Agriculture Winning Sample which will carry a sticker like one of these. The first shown below is the old design. I’m showing it because some oils show this sticker from the year they won the prize on their packaging, maybe from a  couple of years before....however even though the oil in the bottle wasn’t the winning oil the for the season in question, it is a good guarantee that the producer is responsible and trustworthy and is definitely a safe bet.   

                       

 

 

 

This season's ‘Intense fruity green' winner was Bravoleum by Hacienda El Palo. However past winners such as  ‘Venta Del Barón – Hojiblanca y Picudo’  or  ‘Oro de Bailen Picual Reserva Familiar’  are also great oils and great benchmarks, as well as being more readily available in supermarkets. Then, all you need to do is compare them in smell and taste to your standard supermarket extra virgin olive oil, the one you can buy for 4€ a litre in a plastic bottle. I needn’t say more. From this point on you will automatically know what to look for in terms of fruitiness and flavour. If you would like to know more about olive oil tasting please read my other post.

 

Enjoy!

 

 



Like 1        Published at 13:11   Comments (1)


Something Sweet?
14 May 2019

 

Crema Catalana or 'Catalan cream' was originally consumed in Catalonia and it is without a doubt this region's most typical dessert. With time it spread throughout Spain and is now a standard on most restaurant menus. However, it is not exactly a Crème Brûlée for those who are unfamiliar with it. 

It Catalunya it is a tradition to prepare this dessert on March 19, when Saint Joseph is commemorated, which also happens to be the last day of Lent. Over this period, orthodox Christians would have been following a strict diet so this tasty creamy dessert would have been a well-earned reward for such sacrifice. Saint Joseph's day is also the Spanish equivalent of Father's day. So if your Dad has a sweet tooth you might want to make him some for next Father's Day.

However, if we go back in time to its beginning, it can be traced back to Jewish food. The Hebrews were very appreciative of the many and great combinations of milk and eggs. We have some references for Crema Catalana in medieval archives, as "illet cuita" (cooked milk). Apparently, it didn't always have the caramel coating.

Today, Crema Catalana is without doubt one of the most famous examples of Catalan desserts and is recognised both nationally and internationally thanks to its simple preparation, originality and taste. Within Spain, the town of Sant Bartomeu del Grau celebrates a Crema Catalana cooking competition on the 4th of March, which forms part of the town's Craft and Commercial fair.

It's a simple recipe with common ingredients, however, its difficulty lies in the sugar that coats it, which is heated on a steel plate or with a cooking blowtorch until it melts leaving a crunchy layer. Originally this was done with a heated rod or a branding iron, however, it is now much more common for this process to be done using a gas burner.

  

The most similar dessert is Crème Brûlée, and they are often confused. The main difference is that crema catalana is made from milk and is then thickened with corn starch and egg, and the French dessert made with thick cream and eggs and cooked in the oven in a water bath, and it has a texture more similar to flan. If you want to watch your calorie intake, you can use skimmed cream, however, it does not produce quite the same results as it does with whole milk.

The taste of crema catalana is so distinctive that it has been used as the basis of many other products in Spain. You can find crema catalana ice cream as well as a nougat-like sweet which is called 'torró'. The flavour has also been copied in several liquors and liqueurs across the country.

If you ever happen to go to Barcelona be sure to try crema catalana, it will be served in most restaurants. But if you can't wait to get to Spain, you could always have a go at making this Spanish dessert at home by following this simple recipe:

1. Bring the milk to the boil with the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
2. Beat the egg yolk with the sugar in a bowl.
3. Dissolve the cornflour in the milk and add the egg mixture.
4. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately.
5. Pour into bowls or individual earthenware dishes and refrigerate.
6. Before serving, sprinkle with sugar and place under a hot grill as close as possible until caramelised, unless you happen to have a blow torch or a branding iron lying around!

Variations:
You can use wheat flour or any other kind of starch, and add it to the egg yolk mixture.
The crema catalana can be eaten without the sugar crust. If this is the case, place a piece of brown paper over the top to prevent a skin forming.
The crema can be eaten with biscuits or carquinyolis (a type of Catalan biscotti).

Eggs - 8 yolks

Milk - 1 l.

Cinnamon - 1 stick

Lemon - 1 piece of lemon peel

Sugar - 200 g.

Cornflour - 40 g.

 

Enjoy!



Like 1        Published at 09:42   Comments (0)


My Wine Recommendation Nº 12 - For under €10
09 May 2019

Today I would like to share with you Spain's most sold white wine and it isn't the cheapest either! However, as far as white wines go it is very good value for money, coming in at €3,75. The wine I am talking about is Barbadillo Castillo de San Diego. Barbadillo is one of the great wine producers of Andalucia and is located in Cadiz, San Lucar de Barrameda. It does, however, have vineyards in other areas of Spain but the grapes used for this wine are entirely from their home region. I say home region, as this family-owned wine cellar is over 200 years old and is an institution in Andalucia, especially for its Manzanilla wine "Solear" which is the most consumed wine during the Feria de Abril in Sevilla. This is mainly because it is the main ingredient of their favourite cocktail "Rebujito". Barbadillo also boasts Spain's most prized wine cellar named "La Catedral" - the cathedral, which if you ever get the opportunity to visit is a must. But if you don't here is a link to a virtual tour.

 

Anyway, back to "Castillo San Diego".  This wine is an icon for the winery and a benchmark wine at a national level.   It is floral, fruity, harmonious and light, making it an ideal wine for the summer months and especially good with fish, seafood and rice dishes.

According to the winery’s history books, the name of “Vino Blanco del Castillo”  (white wine from the castle) dates back to 1883, however it wasn’t until 1975 that the wine was bottled commercially by vintage.  It soon became Andalusia´s top white wine and is currently considered to be one of the most important and best-selling white wines in Spain. having won many international prizes and being recognised by an entire nation as a great white, you really can't go wrong. It is available in Mercadona and most other supermarkets.

https://tienda.mercadona.es/product/66672



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Spanish Cured Ham- What you need to know.
01 May 2019

 

Apart from extra virgin olive oil another of my favourites from the Spanish culinary world is cured ham, in particular, Iberian Acorn Ham (Jamon de Bellota Iberica). Which is very different from Serrano Ham or the Italian Prosciutto and is unique to Spain. It is an absolute delicacy and one of the most moreish foods you will encounter! 

 

 

Fresh meat has been preserved throughout history and the pig has always played a particularly important role in this practice. This is partly because of its high reproductive capacity, and also due to the varying uses that can be made of its meat and the ease of storing and processing it. The great Mediterranean tradition for cured hams and cold meat products is believed to have originated with the Romans and Greeks as reflected in names such as "longaniza" (cured pork sausage) and "salchicha" (sausage) that come from the Roman lucanica and salsicius. The Mediterranean Diet is more than simply a sum of particular ingredients or recipes and makes better sense when associated with the climate, geography, customs and lifestyles in Mediterranean areas. Iberian Bellota Ham plays a key role in this kind of diet. Not only is it tasty and succulent, but it also has specific properties that make it a unique food product and thus stands out from the other cured hams available throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

 

 

 

 

Iberian Bellota Ham is a low-calorie food, which is rich in vitamins and contains 50% more protein than fresh meat. A particularly surprising fact! Due to the natural and traditional curing process, Iberian acorn ham is a pure and aseptic food and the meat is free from any kind of manipulation. Iberian acorn ham is not just a food product, but also a delicacy with numerous other qualities. As well as being a pleasure for the palate, it also offers great health benefits.  Iberian ham is full of antioxidants and is high in vitamin E. It is especially beneficial when eaten with tomatoes. Iberian bellota ham contains excellent quality fat, with increased levels of oleic acid (over 50%), as found in olive oil. This facilitates the production of HDL ("good cholesterol") in the body, while reducing LDL ("bad cholesterol"). So when you start to combine extra virgin olive oil, Bellota Ham and other ingredients you can see suddenly how the Spanish diet is in particular so healthy, take a look at my post on “Pan Catalana”, so simple yet so healthy! For these reasons moderate consumption of the product helps to maintain cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular diseases as with extra virgin olive oil.

 

It provides a generous dosage of B group vitamins, especially B1 and B2. Just 100 grams of Iberian acorn ham provides 24% of the recommended daily allowance of this vitamin. It is also rich in iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium and above all phosphorus, providing 30% of the recommended daily allowance. 

 

 

 

It is a recommended food for hypo-calorific diets as 50 grams of our Iberian Bellota Ham has only 150 calories. So is Iberian Bellota ham the same as Jamon de Pata Negra( black hoof ham)? And how does it differ to Serrano Ham? This term “Pata Negra” refers exclusively to races of pigs with black hoofs and does not necessarily refer to Iberian pigs or those of a specific quality as commonly thought. In fact, there are Iberian pigs with different colourings. Serrano ham comes from a white pig which is fed mainly on fodder and is cured for a period of between 7 and 16 months. Gastronomically, serrano jamón is considered inferior to Iberian ham and is dried in a cold dry climate in the hills or mountains.

 

And Jabugo Ham? Where does this come in? Well, it is a high-quality Iberian Ham which comes from the mountainous region of Huelva. Jabugo is the best known of the mountainous villages. The name comes from the town not the type of ham. Many think cured ham should be salty, and normally find it dry but really if it is fresh and well made it should be juicy and not salty. With regard to the firmness, the ham should be cured to an optimum point, though never too much (this point will vary depending on the part of the ham being cured). One of the differences between a serrano ham and an Iberian ham is the fluidity of the fat. An Iberian ham should always be moister than a serrano and a lot shinier.  It is common to see white dots in Iberian hams that may look like imperfections in the product. However, these dots are produced by the crystallisation of the thyroxine, an amino acid derivative of the proteins that experts consider a sure mark of quality and indicative of a long and unhurried maturing process and a sign of the pig having exercised well while in the pasture, as all pigs raised for Iberian acorn ham are free range and feed on acorns.

 

 

 

 

The main parts of a cured ham are the maza, the contramaza and the babilla. The maza is the part with the most meat and is the richest and most succulent. The babilla has less jamón as it is confined by the femur and coxal bone. This part is less succulent than the maza so it is recommendable to start cutting here if the cured ham is going to be consumed over a period of time. The part known as the jarrete and the caña are usually diced into cubes of cured ham as the meat has a firmer texture and a different taste. Ham must always be eaten at room temperature in order to enjoy all of its sensual nuances. If the ham has been cut and stored in the refrigerator or comes sliced in a packet, take it out of the refrigerator an hour before eating, to allow it to reach the correct temperature. 

 

 

I highly recommend it, as it is a delicacy you will find hard to live without once tasted!

 



Like 0        Published at 14:45   Comments (1)


Manchego Cheese - what you need to know
26 April 2019

                                        

Over 12000 years ago in Europe and the Middle East the first herds of Aurochs (ancestor to the cow) started to roam the plains. Leather bags were filled with the milk from these extinct bovines and placed over heated stones. Occasionally, the milk became a paste that separated from the liquid residue and was found to be edible. Slowly but surely, this accidental 'discovery' was mastered in order to produce the paste in a controlled manner, improving its quality . The most important archaeological discovery in "dairy history" may be the Sumerian Frieze (about 5000 years old) in Baghdad’s National Museum, which represents the phases of animal milking and milk curing. However in 2003 it was announced that a chemical analysis of 6000-year-old pottery shards showed ancient Britons also had a taste for cow's milk and goat's cheese, becoming the oldest proof yet of cheese consumption.

 

 

Cheese became later became popular in Greece and Rome and cheese production expanded throughout Europe and by the Middle Ages its consumption was widespread, mostly in monasteries, where the production of some of the best known cheeses of today began. 

 

Of the 100 different cheeses produced in Spain, 12 are protected by the a Denomination of Origin (D.O.P.) label. Manchego cheese is the most important and well-known sheep’s milk cheese in Spain. The shape and aspect of this cheese is very characteristic thanks to the traditional use of 'esparto' grass molds which imprints a zigzag pattern around the cheese. The small wooden boards used for pressing the cheese also imprints the typical 'wheat ear' pattern on the top and bottom.

    

These rustic molds are used outside of La Mancha as well. Thus, there are other Spanish sheep's milk cheese with similar shape and markings, known commonly as "Manchego style" cheese. However, the true Manchego cheese, is made only from whole milk produced by the "Manchega" sheep raised in the "La Mancha" region. This region is a vast high plateau, more than 600 meters above sea level, which extends from east to west and north to south, adjoining the provinces of Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Albacete. Manchego cheese has a long historic and literary tradition, as it was mentioned by Cervantes in the legendary "Don Quixote of La Mancha". Today, there are two types of Manchego cheese: the farmhouse type, made with unpasteurized sheep's milk and the industrial type, made with pasteurized milk. In both cases, however, milk from Manchega sheep is the only type used. The climate is extreme continental with cold winters and very hot dry summers.

 

La Mancha is a region with a long live-stock breeding tradition. Wool and animal bones have been found in some archeological sites, as well as different utensils used to produce cheese as early as II century BC.

 

In the late XIX and beginning of XX centuries the first studies on Manchego Cheese were published. During this century the increased specialization of the farms has made La Mancha the base of a powerful cheese industry. Manchego Cheese producers have artisanal techniques while still managing to have intense production. Manchego Cheese has been protected by the Denomination of Origin since 1984. The D.O. stipulates the exclusive use of milk from manchega sheep, as well as an aging period of a minimum of 60 days.

 

 

Manchego is an aged cheese, from semi-cured to cured, unpasteurized or pasteurized. It is produced through an enzymatic coagulation. The paste is pressed and uncooked. The base milk has to have a minimum of 6% fat. The milk coagulates at 28 to 32 º C (82 a 89 ºF) after adding animal curd. Occasionally lactic ferments and calcium salts are also added. This results in a compact curdle within 45 to 60 minutes. The curdle must then be cut to obtain lumps of 5 to 10 mm. The resulting lumpy paste is then slowly reheated to about 40ºC (104ºF). The liquid is removed and the dried paste put into molds where it is pressed for several hours. The salting is external, and it is achieved either by rubbing with dry salt, by immersing the cheese in highly salted water, or by a combination of both methods. The percentage of the salt in the weight of the cheese can not be higher than 2.3% after two months of aging. The aging process must be done in fresh areas, with a humidity level of 75 to 85%, for at least 60 days.

 

The wax rind is closed,with a yellow to a brownish beige color. The interior is firm and compact, with only a few small air pockets unevenly spread out. The color should be ivory to pale yellow. The taste is very characteristic, well developed, but not too strong, buttery and slightly piquant, with a sheep milk aftertaste.

 

The intense taste and crumbly texture make it perfect to eat as it is, with just a slice of bread. A technique which is very popular in the Mancha is to cut the cheese up into thick slices and then place them in a glass jar, you then fill up the jar with extra virgin olive oil, picual is fantastic for this, and this not only preserves the cheese even longer but intensifies the flavour over time and increases the piquant of the cheese. Quite a delicacy.

 

It is also great as the focal point of a starter, Manchego can be served with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, serrano ham, crusty bread and a robust red wine or a dry sherry. It is also unbeatable with a bit of Branston's!

 

It is equally enjoyable as a snack or dessert with fruit, fruit tarts or jams. The aromatic intensity of a Manzanilla wine makes it an excellent choice for this cheese. 

 

If you are looking to try a great Manchego Cheese, one of my favorites, which is also available in large supermarkets is  Dehesa de Los LLanos, one of the best Manchegos around and voted best cheese in the world in 2012. It is a Manchego Viejo as it is cured for a minimum of 9 months, so it is a strong cheese but it is absolutely phenomenal.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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My Wine Recommendation Nº 11 - For under €10
11 April 2019

Bodegas Latúe is a Spanish family-owned cellar dedicated to the elaboration, ageing and bottling of musts and wines, but specialising in vegan-organic wines.

Founded in 1954 by 131 families of wine growers from Villanueva de Alcardete (Toledo), they have lasted for several generations. With their work and dedication, they contribute to the economic and social sustainability of the municipality and to the maintenance of the population in the rural area, avoiding the desertification and the abandonment of their community. A fate which many rural villages have suffered.

Thanks to a highly qualified team, and their modern facilities equipped with the most advanced winemaking technologies, Bodegas Latúe work closely with our clients to produce wines of excellent quality which allows them to be leaders in an increasingly competitive market.

Located in the centre of Spain, at a maximum distance of 15 kilometres from the winery, their vineyards enjoy a genuine and characteristic landscape typical of La Mancha.

With an average altitude of 725 meters above the sea level, sheltered by the banks of the Gigüela River and influenced by an extreme continental Mediterranean climate with warm summers and cold winters, the natural enclave of 4,300 hectares of vineyards is one of the largest ecological wineries in Europe.

The unique conditions for the cultivation of the grape, provided by the scarcity of rain and a stony brown-copper soil on limestone, provide  Bodegas Latúe’s wines with exceptional quality and an incomparable personality.

This year's prize-winning white "Pingorote - Sauvignon Blanc" at just over €4 is the one I would like to recommend. A very fresh fruity white with a light citric hint. A wonderfully medium bodied flavour with a nose of flowers, peach, tropical fruit and lemon zest. Ideally coupled with fish, sushi, seafood, poultry or as an aperitif. Of course, drink well chilled. It is not the easiest wine to find, but if you happen to come across it, please give it a try. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

https://www.labarricavinos.com/producto/pingorote-sauvignon-blanc/



Like 1        Published at 11:55   Comments (6)


Tuna Casserole - Marmitako
04 April 2019

 

Marmitako is another great fish dish from the Basque Country, whose cuisine is celebrated throughout Spain and the world as being one of the best. Marmitako is a tuna fish stew with potatoes that is not too difficult to make but is extremely tasty and filling.

The name Marmitako comes from the Basque word 'marmita' which means 'pot' or 'casserole' in the Basque language. This is combined with the suffix of the genitive case 'ko' to give Marmitako which literally means 'from the pot'. And that is precisely what this Spanish recipe is, a stew made in a pot. Of course, many dishes in Basque gastronomy are made in pots but clearly someone decided that this dish was deserving of the title.

Marmitako stew originally began life on board the local fishing boats off the Spanish coast, and in many cases, still is. However, it has also been a staple dish of many Basque restaurants, something which you will see when you visit Spain, especially in Summer which is the fishing season for tuna.

There are a number of variations of the dish, which mainly vary due to the type of fish used in the recipe. One of the most popular varieties is the one that uses salmon instead of the traditional salmon. However, tuna tends to be the favoured ingredient as it delicious, widely available and not that expensive!

 

 

This tuna fish stew is like a thick soup, which is in mostly due to the potatoes. The traditional method of 'cracking' the potatoes is done as it makes the potatoes release more starch into the stew. This also means that the fish soup is filling and a relatively small amount of ingredients can go a long way - perfect for those lovers of Spanish gastronomy on a budget!

Another great thing about Marmitako is that the main body of the stew can be prepared up to the point when you are about to add the tuna and will keep in a fridge overnight. You can then heat up the stew the next day and add the tuna then. This is what you will need:


Marmitako | Fresh Tuna and Potato Stew


Ingredients:
2 dried choriceros or ancho chilli peppers
1 lb fresh tuna fillet
Coarse salt
2 lbs of russet potatoes (around 4 potatoes)
⅓ cup Olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ green bell pepper, seeded and cut into long, thin strips
1 tbsp sweet pimetón or paprika
Serves 6 when eaten as a main course


Preparation:

Put the dried chilli peppers into a heatproof dish and cover with boiling water and leave to stand for about 30 minutes, or until the peppers are soft.

Then drain the chilli peppers, slit them open and scrape out the flesh and put to one side. Get rid of the seeds, skins and stems.

Cut the tuna fillet into small pieces and sprinkle them with the coarse salt and leave to one side.

Peel the potatoes and then 'crack' them by cutting a little way into each potato and then breaking it open the rest of the way. The pieces should be the same size as chestnuts. Leave the pieces of the potatoes to one side.

In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat then add the onion, garlic, bell pepper strips and the chilli pepper flesh. Stir the mixture well and cook for about 5 minutes or until both the onion and green pepper have begun to go soft and all the ingredients are mixed together nicely.

To this mixture, add the potatoes and pimetón and mix well. Season with some salt and add water to cover the ingredients by about 5 centimetres (2 inches). Bring to a boil and then cover. Once covered, reduce the heat to a medium-low heat and then cook for another 30 minutes or until the potatoes feel soft when prodded with a fork.

Add the tuna to the pan and then simmer until the tuna is opaque, around 5 minutes. Remove the stew from the heat and then allow to stand for half an hour before serving.

When you come to serve the stew, reheat it over a low flame to a sufficiently hot temperature. Ladle out into warm bowls and serve straight away.

Enjoy!



Like 0        Published at 21:47   Comments (1)


My Wine Recommendation Nº 10 - For under €10
29 March 2019

 

Today I bring you another great wine. One of those wines that are always a guaranteed hit. A safe bet which everyone will enjoy. Cune Crianza is a wine I have been drinking for over 20 years, it was the wine I served at my wedding reception many years ago and I still enjoy it to this very day. It is readily available in Mercdona and Consum for around €6,50 and it is worth every penny.

 

 

The history of the company CVNE (Compañia Vinicula del Norte) begins in the winery located in Haro in the neighbourhood of the railway station - Barrio de la Estacion -  which dates back to 1879. The railway tracks, for a time, led straight into the cellar so the oak barrels and then the bottles could be easily transported.

The winery is composed of 22 buildings, which include the original 1879 premises, as well as the warehouse designed and built by the Eiffel architectural studio in 1909 and later refurbished.

 

 

This winery combines tradition, quality and innovation. In 1940 it was a pioneer with the construction of the first concrete fermentation cellar in Spain. In the 80´s it was a pioneer with the first non-aggressive vinification plant, using gravity instead.

CUNE Crianza is aged in cask for 12 months and then in bottle for a further 6 months. It goes through regular rackings to develop its finesse before it is bottled and released.

 


It is bright-cherry in colour with some violet nuances. In the nose, it offers red berry aromas. In the mouth, it has a very balanced acidity and is smooth and easy to drink with medium tannins.

 

Here you can buy it:

https://tienda.mercadona.es/product/66314



Like 1        Published at 20:52   Comments (13)


Spain's other Sangria
22 March 2019

 
                                  
 
A Calimocho (also spelt Kalimotxo) is a 50/50 mixture of red wine and Coca-Cola — yes I know what you are thinking, I thought exactly the same thing when I saw it for the first time. Favoured by Spanish youth looking for a sweet, cheap buzz, teenagers will sometimes mix the wine and Coke by swishing them in a plastic grocery bag for distributing at "botellones", makeshift parties held in parks and other public spaces.
 
The drink was supposedly created — or at least named — at a festival in Algorta (Basque Country) in 1972 when some young entrepreneurs discovered that the wine they had planned to sell tasted not just bad but toxic and added Coca-Cola-and ice to mask the flavour. It was an improbable hit. Automatically people see wine and Coke together and they think, ooh, that’s going to taste bad. However, it doesn’t, though the taste is one that could be considered “acquired”. Like the teenage years themselves, it’s simple-minded but mystifying.
 
It’s an affront to the wine only if you’re using the wrong wine. Actually, it's no different than making a whisky with coke, you wouldn't use a Single Malt, would you? Wine used for Calimocho should be “strong and dry”  or, if you wish to follow botellón tradition, the cheaper the better. The kind of wine that begs for a little helping hand.
 
One measure of a cocktail’s drinkability is its universality, and here the Calimocho scores big. In Chile and Argentina, a red-wine-and-Coke combination is known as a Jote; in Croatia, it’s a Bambus; in Germany, a Kora or Korea. Go ahead and grimace, if you like. But the world will keep on drinking.
 
In New York, they have given it a sophisticated touch by adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and a slice to garnish the glass. They are not that sophisticated here.. the chances are you will only be able to buy a Calimocho in a bar in Spain served in a 1 or 2-liter plastic cup to share. As a refreshment, it isn't that different to sangria and a lot less hassle but if you do use a cheap wine don't drink too much because it won't let you forget it that easily. Nonetheless, it is an easy drink to jazz up and create your own version. Some add a dash of rum or a dash of lime and if you don't like Coke, try 7up! 
 
 


Like 1        Published at 20:46   Comments (2)


'Allioli'- How to make it...and how to cheat!
14 March 2019

‘All-i-Oli’ or ‘Ajo Aceite’ in Castillian Spanish, is probably the simplest and one of the hardest recipes you will ever try to make. Simple, because traditionally it only has three ingredients and hard because it will make you break out in a sweat, especially if you make it in summer! All-i-Oli is often translated and served as garlic mayonnaise but in fact, it is not mayonnaise at all, it's not far off mayonnaise but it isn’t mayonnaise.

This is probably the recipe where your choice of olive oil is most important as it is the main ingredient and is pretty much 90% of the final product. So if you want to make it you need to find a very good quality extra virgin olive oil, which is fruity but not too bitter and not very pungent. The variety Arbequina is by far the best due to its high quantity of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) that favours the cohesion of emulsions and sauces. However, any good extra virgin will do. Cornicabra is very popular as is Serrana de Espadán here in Valencia. But if you can’t find these varieties look for an Extra Virgin ‘Suave’. I have read many recipes throughout the net suggesting sunflower oil and refined oils for this recipe. Please do not use these types of oils as they will definitely not give you the same result and are far less healthy.

The recipe I am going to share with you is the authentic one, the one passed on from generation to generation, not the popular garlic mayonnaises being offered around most of Spain (However I will also tell you how to make that towards the end of the post). It is a recipe that dates back thousands of years and has spread all over the Mediterranean so I can assure you it was never made with refined olive oil or sunflower oil. Basically, All-i-Oli is an emulsion of olive oil, garlic and salt, nothing else. The secret to the recipe is in the technique, which does take a bit of practice. This is not mayonnaise, a traditional recipe that originated from Mahon in Menorca, as it does not use egg yolk or lemon.  In the case of mayonnaise, it is the egg that acts as the emulsifying agent and with All-i-Oli, it is the garlic that has the emulsion-producing properties.

 

Ingredients

 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic

& Rock Salt

 

How do we make it the tradicional way?

To start with we need a pestle and mortar, not a blender or a mixer, this is a traditional recipe and must be done by hand to achieve the best results.

For this recipe, we will use 100ml of olive oil and 3-4 large cloves of garlic. Depending on how strong you like it you can add more or fewer cloves to the recipe. As this involves a substantial amount of garlic it is a good idea to remove the roots of the cloves before starting. This means slicing it down the middle, lengthways and taking out the core of the garlic, this will help reduce the characteristic bad breath and the taste of garlic coming back up throughout the day. It the root of the garlic that our stomach finds so hard to digest and it just seems to linger around for most of the day!

 Once the garlic is peeled and the cores removed place them in the mortar with a pinch of rock salt and start grinding them. Once we have a lumpy paste we need to start adding the olive oil. It is very important not to add too much or too quickly. Patience is a virtue with this recipe. Start by adding the oil drop by drop and move the pestle in a circular action from left to right following the hands of the clock. Once you have started this action you should not stop until the Ali Oli is ready.

This is when it gets a bit tiring, as you need to apply force as well and keep the pestle moving at a constant speed to draw out the juice from the garlic. Slowly you start adding more olive oil, little by little but always waiting until the previous dose has blended with the emulsion. This continues until you end up with a thick sauce/paste or find the consistency that you prefer. The whole process can take up to 15 minutes. You will probably have problems along the way to achieve an emulsion, it takes practice and isn’t as easy as it sounds but it is really worth the effort! Here is a video that might help ...

 

 

 

For those of you who find it too difficult there are a couple of tricks that help to keep the garlic moist and facilitate the cohesion of the emulsion, one is adding 3 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the mortar at the same time you add the garlic and the salt. This will help you keep the emulsion stable and also reduce a little bit more the pungency of the garlic.

 

GARLIC MAYONNAISE.....and cheating

Finally, if you prefer a garlic mayonnaise, which isn't as strong, the only thing you have to add is an egg yolk (no egg white) to the garlic with the lemon juice before you start adding the olive oil. Another trick which works with either recipe is making a little ball of dough from a loaf of sliced bread and wetting it with water. You add this dough ball when you add the egg or just before adding the oil and grind it into the mixture, this will help create the emulsion and stop it from separating!

 

No time? Don't mind cheating a little?....

Although this may be cheating I know dozens of restaurants on the Balearic islands which use this quick method for their popular 'Pan y All-i-Oli' (one of them told me about it) and it goes down a treat, I use it too and to be honest and I have grown to love it!. Sometimes I just find All-i-Oli too strong and this is just perfect. All you will need is the following:

   

1. Tub of fresh All-i-Oli from the supermarket

2. Hellman's Mayonnaise (Do not substitute for a different mayonnaise)

3. Finely ground Black Pepper

Quite simply add equal parts of Allioli and Hellman's mayonnaise to a bowl and sprinkle in some black pepper. Mix well until completely blended, sprinkle a little chopped parsley on top and serve with some crispy bread.

 

In Valencia, it is particularly common to eat All-i-Oli with anything from fried potatoes seasoned with paprika or Black rice which is a dish which uses the ink from squids. It is very versatile and fantastic with vegetables, fish and meats so use it to accompany anything you want.

A very traditional dish is simply Potato All-i-Oli, which is a boiled potato salad eaten cold but made with All-i-Oli (normally with egg yolk), absolutely delicious with cold meats and salads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Like 1        Published at 14:29   Comments (4)


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