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If you haven't tried this cheese, you must!
31 December 2019

Spain is one of the countries in the world where better quality cheese is produced. The World Cheese Awards last year were held in Bergen (Norway) and more than 3,400 cheeses from 41 different countries participated with Spain managing to place two cheeses among the Top 15 in the world. If I am not mistaken this year they have had similar results.

However, You may think that this wasn't that special but I want to bring to light 13th place which was taken by a new contender and one of the great surprises of the contest since it is an extremely accessible product that is marketed exclusively in Spain through one of the most popular supermarket chains, Mercadona.

A wedge of 390 grams of this cheese, which in Mercadona can be found as "Entrepinares Viejo Tostado", can be purchased for around 3.98 euros. The kilo comes in at 10.20 euros. Unfortunately, when you go to the cheese section you will often find it empty since it literally flies off the shelf as soon as it is restocked. Whenever I see some I always grab a few as I know I may not see it for a few weeks because supply is rather limited due to its extended ripening period - I guess I am not the only one doing this!

This cheese, classified as "old toasted", has been made from the mixture of pasteurized cow, sheep and goat's milk. So, what characteristics does a cheese have to meet to be labelled as "old" (viejo)?

The cheeses that we usually find in the supermarket can be classified in many different ways: by the type of milk used (cow, sheep, goat or mixture), by its fat content (fatty, semi-fat, skimmed, etc.), by the milk treatment (raw, microfiltered, heated ...) and even by the producer who makes them. However, the most common is to find the cheese classified according to the ripening time. The six most common categories are fresh, tender, semi-cured, cured, old and aged. The old toasted Mercadona cheese, according to its name, is a cheese that goes a little further than the cured cheese and has been matured for more than seven months. The ripening time of this cheese, together with the mixture of different kinds of milk, influences its flavour in a decisive way and makes it much more intense. Its water content is also much lower than that of a semi-cured cheese or a tender cheese resulting in a surface that is harder. I was told that the ripening time was a minimum of 10 months.



Similarly, the longer the ripening time of a cheese, the greater its fat content. As you can read on the label, it is a product that provides 39 grams of fat per 100 grams (27 grams are saturated fat), 26 grams of protein and just a few grams of carbohydrates. Like other dairy products, this cheese is also rich in calcium, potassium and vitamin D. While it is true that it is an exquisite snack, try and reserve it for special occasions or your calorie count will go through the roof!

That said, it is a must and if you haven't tried this cheese before, you really must go out and buy it. Coupled with some red wine, serrano ham, bread and olives and you really can't go wrong!

Like 4        Published at 12:14   Comments (5)

A little extra luck this New Year...
27 December 2019

At this time of year, there is nothing more warming and hearty than a hot plate of lentils with chorizo. In Italy, on New Year's Eve, it is a traditional meal with pigs trotters where they consider it to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. So if that isn't a good enough reason to try this dish I don't know what is! Even if you aren't in Italy, luck is luck and prosperity is prosperity!

This is one of my favourite winter dishes accompanied with some crusty bread and butter (that’s the British influence in me) and it is much easier to make than you might think. If you make a little extra it will last in the fridge for a few days, however, they don’t freeze well so it is always best to make them fresh.

‘Lentejas con Chorizo’ is a traditional dish which has spanned the Iberian peninsula, it is a dish that allows for some flexibility when it comes to ingredients as recipes vary slightly from region to region where different vegetables are added but chorizo is always the reigning ingredient for flavour. Rich in proteins, minerals and carbohydrates, lentils have been a part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. 

This legume fuelled roman legions and it’s not surprising given that about 30% of their calories come from proteins. Lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They also contain dietary fibre, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. The low levels of Readily Digestible Starch (RDS) 5%, and high levels of Slowly Digested Starch (SDS) 30%, make lentils of great food for people with diabetes but more so they are a good source of iron, having over half of a person's daily iron allowance in a 100g serving.            

To make this dish we will need the following ingredients for 6 people :

500gr Pardina Lentils “Extra” (a Spanish variety but readily available)
1 Green pepper - diced
4 large carrots – chopped into slices (not too thin)
2 large cloves of garlic – finely chopped
2 large onions - diced
2 bay leaves
1 Tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper – to taste
4 Tbsp.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large mature tomatoes – peeled and diced

3/4 chorizos – approx. 250g 
180g of diced Serrano ham (optional)
1 morcilla (optional)
1 piece of Serrano ham bone (optional)
1 piece of beef marrow bone(optional)






If you include all the ingredients you are in for a feast but you may not have all those ingredients readily available so if you can only get chorizo that will be sufficient to get a good result, the rest of the meat ingredients are optional. If you can’t find ham or bones, you could substitute them for 200g of Pancetta (unsmoked bacon) cut into large thick pieces, which is more readily available in the UK and actually more traditional than the chopped ham, it's just, I find that the pancetta adds, even more, fat to the dish whereas the ham doesn't. 

The first thing you need to take into consideration is the class of lentil. Pardina lentils are used for this recipe and it is best to use the ones classed as “extra” as they don’t need to be soaked in water before cooking them. However, if you can’t find these you will need to soak the lentils in water for about 6-8 hours, so best to do it before going to bed and in the morning they’ll be perfect. You can, however, soak the “extra” lentils too and it will reduce the cooking by 30 minutes. That is up to you. I normally do it anyway and in the morning you will see that some lentils are floating on top of the water, these need to be scooped up and thrown away as they are not suitable for cooking. Whatever you decide, the lentils must be washed before using to remove any impurities. Once we have our lentils ready, put them aside until we need them. This recipe contemplates the lentils being soaked.

 Get a stew pot and add the extra virgin olive oil and heat it up. Then add the onions and garlic and fry for about 10 minutes. Then add the green pepper, tomatoes, carrots and bay leaves and fry for a further 3 minutes.

Add the bones to the pot and a generous teaspoon of paprika. Quickly stir the paprika and then add the lentils and the Serrano ham. Be careful not to burn the paprika, this will make the dish go bitter, a few seconds is sufficient before adding the lentils. Stir in the lentils and the ham so all the ingredients are well mixed in and then add the cold water straight away. For 500g of lentils, you will need 1,5L of water approx. The water should comfortably cover all the ingredients, as there are still ingredients to add. Depending on how you prefer your lentils you can adjust the water to have more stock or less stock at the end. If you see your lentils are running out of water before they are ready you can add more boiling water during the cooking process if necessary but it must be boiling so not to interrupt the cooking process. Slowly bring to the boil, when it is boiling some foam will appear on the surface of the water, scoop it off. These are impurities from the bones and we don’t want it in the stock. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and taste for salt and pepper. You may not need to add any as the ham does add salt to the stock.

Now add the chorizo, you can either add it whole or chopped up into large pieces, I prefer it chopped up as it releases more flavour.  You can now also add the whole morcilla if you have decided to use it (don’t chop it up otherwise it will disintegrate). Reduce to a medium heat for another 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Now you can remove the bones. For another 15-30 minutes cook on a low heat checking the texture of the lentils until they are perfectly cooked. Be careful not to cook them for too long or get distracted otherwise they will turn to mush. Once ready, remove from the heat and serve in a bowl with a side of crusty bread and butter. A little trick to jazz them up and give them a little kick from time to time is to dress the bowl with a couple of Basque chillis in vinegar, alternatively if you don't like chilli a little squirt of white wine vinegar gives it a great aftertaste, this was my father in law's favourite way of eating lentils.

If you are in a rush you can always use a pressure cooker, which will reduce the cooking time to about 25 minutes depending on your cooker. If you are looking for a slightly healthier version of this dish you can remove the meat ingredients and add potatoes and leeks to the stock resulting in a fantastic vegetarian dish. 

I really hope you give this a go, it well works the effort and to be honest once you have chopped up all the ingredients it cooks on its own. 




Like 2        Published at 18:33   Comments (0)

Taking the Nativity Scene to another level
20 December 2019

The Monumental Nativity scene in Xátiva has been declared the largest in Spain. When Christmas arrives, this Valencian city really takes the tradition to another level.

Each year the ‘Monumental Nativity’ grows a little more to show and interpret all the scenes from the Birth of the Messiah. This year it covers an area of 1600m2, it is approximately 70m long and 20m wide.

It is such wonderful creation and even if you are not particularly religious it is still a worthy way to spend the afternoon or the evening. If you have children in the family they are sure to love it. This unique spectacle in Spain has become a tourist attraction of the first order bringing tens of thousands of visitors every year.

However, if you do decide to visit there is some important information about this particular Nativity scene that makes it rather special, and you should know:

• Ecological: Throughout the year, City Council workers collect materials that will later be used to assemble the nativity scene. In addition, some of the tools used are of an ethnological character and are yielded by the locals to build the necessary scenes.

• Live animals: One of the great attractions is that in the scene there are live animals: ducks, geese, bulls, sheep, donkeys and turkeys among others. These animals are under veterinary control that care, at all times, for their welfare.


• Solidarity: The fruits and vegetables used and which are usually donated by local businesses are later donated on to charities that work with the needy in the local area. Visitors also throw coins in the fountains and once the event is over, all is collected and allocated to local NGOs.

Falleros Artists: The majority of the figures are life-size and have been elaborated by traditional Fallas artists, making this nativity scene a genuinely Valencian one. At nightfall, the nativity acquires a special magic with bespoke lighting throughout.

If you happen to be in or near Xativa this Christmas, visiting the nativity scene is really a must.


Like 1        Published at 09:50   Comments (4)

Roasted Milk-Fed Lamb - Ideal for Christmas
19 December 2019

When I first arrived in Spain, it wasn’t long before some good friends of mine insisted on taking me to a restaurant on the outskirts of Madrid to enjoy a regional classic; Lechazo de Churra roasted in a clay oven with wood. I have to admit that that meal made an impression on me and has become one of my favourite dishes, the crispiness of the skin and the tender juicy meat was just out of this world. It is such a simple dish and one wonders how it could have so much flavour. Originally used to the typical roast lamb and mint sauce back in the UK, this was a completely different approach and an unforgettable experience. For those who have tried this, know what I am talking about. This nationwide dish which originated in the region of  “Castilla y Leon”, has become a classic especially at Christmas in Spain. Many households around the country will be celebrating the seasonal festivities this year with lamb on the dining room table.

The region of Castilla-Leon was also the place that gave birth to this breed of Sheep. The "Churra" breed of sheep goes as far back as the Celtic invasion of Spain starting around 1000BC when the Celts crossbred their sheep with the local breed. Since then this breed has been the predominant breed in Spain and was also the breed that the Spanish introduced to the Americas. Nowadays it is considered the breed of choice for traditional “Lechazo Asado” (also know as Lechal) or roasted suckling or milk-fed lamb. However, there are certain parameters that need to be addressed to get the perfect result. The main one is the age of the lamb, as it names suggest it must still be a lamb that is being fed only on breast milk which means it must not be older than 6 weeks when slaughtered or weigh more than 12kg. Specialist chefs in the field consider 3 weeks to be the maximum age, that way you achieve the maximum succulence possible and the meat is even richer in proteins, iron, phosphorous, Zinc and Sodium as well as vitamins B2 and B12. This makes for a very healthy meal, particularly low in fat. As this young animal has still very little fat on it special considerations need to be taken when cooking it too, which I will go into very shortly.

This dish although it is at its best cooked slowly in a clay oven with wood, it can still be enjoyed at home using a conventional oven, clearly, the taste of wood is not present but we can simulate that rustic country taste with fresh herbs. Most importantly you need to buy good quality suckling lamb, any breed will do but if you can find “Churra” that is better. I am going to explain the few easy steps to create a perfect Spanish suckling lamb roast and it is as easy as 1,2,3. You can either buy the meat fresh or frozen, although fresh is always better but is you do buy frozen make sure it is slowly defrosted in the fridge beforehand.

For 4 people you will need the following:

2 front-quarters of Suckling Lamb (my favourite cut - paletilla - shoulder blade)
2 garlic cloves unpeeled
200g of lard or 100ml of Extra Virgin Olive Oil if you want to avoid adding animal fat.
1-2 glasses of water (around 150-200ml)
1 large sprig of fresh Rosemary
1 large sprig of fresh thyme
Rock Salt
4 potatoes for the garnish

Traditionally this dish is cooked in a clay dish however you can obviously use a baking tray but it does taste better in a clay dish, still not sure why though. Simply place the hindquarters skin side down in the baking dish pop in the two garlic cloves and the herb sprigs and roughly spread the lard over the top of the lamb. Add the water to the bottom of the dish (don’t pour it over the meat) and season all over with a sprinkle of rock salt.  As the lamb has very little fat we need the lard, not only to enhance the flavour but also to maintain the stock while roasting, so you can also use olive oil but for the authentic taste I recommend lard. This one of the few times I would actually recommend lard over Olive Oil!  The oven should be pre-heated to 165ºC and then pop it in the oven for 1 hour. After an hour take it out of the oven and turn the lamb over and baste with the juices. Season with a little more rock salt and place it back in the oven for another 45 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the meat. What we want is the skin to go nice and crispy with a golden to brown colour. This roast takes it time; if you rush it by bumping up the heat it will dry out.


We need to make sure that there is always some water in the bottom of the dish, this is to provide constant humidity to the meat and keeps it succulent, so check on it from time to time and if there is no water, add some more. You might be thinking, when do I add the potatoes or can I add the potatoes to the same dish as the meat and cook everything at once? The answer is no. The potatoes will need to be cooked separately. There are two reasons for this, one that the potatoes will give the meat a slightly different taste if cooked in the same oven and two they will steal part of the humidity from the meat meaning the lamb with dry up quicker. So traditionally the potatoes are always cut into thin slices and fry for a few minutes in extra virgin olive oil until they are half cooked. They are then removed and dried on a kitchen towel.

Next, place them in a baking tray on top of some tinfoil or in a different clay dish if you happen to have one. Once the lamb is ready, remove the lamb and quickly pop in the potatoes for about 5 minutes at 200ºC just to crisp them and finish them off. Serve together and there you have it. There are other variations using white wine and vinegar and so on, which are great, but the traditional Lechazo de Castilla-Leon is as simple as that, let the quality of the meat and the oven do the work. An ideal wine would be a Crianza from the Castilla y Leon region such as "Yllera", a fantastic and reasonably priced wine which I highly recommend, but make sure it is at room temperature before drinking it.

There you have it. If you fancy a more Spanish Christmas this year why not give it a go!


Like 0        Published at 18:44   Comments (1)

Traditional Christmas Stew in Valencia
12 December 2019

Although Christmas Eve is probably the most lavish meal of the Christmas holidays in Spain, originally it was Christmas day, much as it is in the UK. It was a day for bringing together the entire family including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and any other family member that you may not have seen throughout the year. Depending on the family, each year it would move house and thus the hosting of this enormous event would be shared amongst the family members. Nowadays, still very much a family event though, Christmas Eve and Christmas day is now normally split between the parents and the in-laws, one day with each.  

Each region of Spain has its own tradition for the Christmas menu, which is determined mainly by local cuisine, for example on the coast seafood or fish is common and inland, meat plays a more important role such as roasted suckling lamb, however nowadays most regions tend to combine both, especially on Christmas Eve. However, Christmas day in the Valencian community is a day for enjoying a rather special typical dish called ‘Puchero de Nadal’ ó ‘Cocido Navideño’.  Effectively it is a stew with giant meatballs but it is enjoyed in two stages. It may seem very simple and rustic but it is a very long meal and takes time to digest. It contains almost everything you could possibly imagine putting in a stew. What makes this stew different from the rest of the stews in Spain is the use of local sausages and local vegetables. The Valencian community is well known for its vegetables and this is well portrayed in the Valencian ‘Puchero’.

As with most traditional recipes, there is nothing written in stone, except using a giant cauldron!  So grab the biggest pot you can find otherwise there is no way all the ingredients will fit in. Remember the stock, the meat and the vegetables can all be frozen afterwards so if you have a lot left over, which you will, ration it out in Tupperware and freeze it for another day or use it for another recipe as mentioned later on.

For the stew you will need the following :

½ medium sized Chicken (approx. 1,25kg of meat)
2 large meatballs (recipe as follows)
1 piece of bone marrow
1 piece of knee bone
150 grams of beef 
1 Blanquet sausage 
1 Onion Morcilla sausage 
100 grams of pork fat
300 grams of chickpeas (soaked in water overnight)
1 stick of Celery, 1 stick of Cardoon, 1 sweet potato, 1 white turnip, 1 yellow turnip, 1 parsnip, 3 potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 leek, 5 runner beans and ¼ cabbage. (As far as the vegetables go, you can chuck in whatever you have at hand, but this is the standard recipe in Valencia)

So, to make the stew it is as easy as cleaning and peeling the vegetables and placing them all in the pot with the meat and the meatballs, except for the carrots, potatoes, runner beans and the morcilla. These need to be held back for later as they cook more quickly. Cover with water and slowly bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes. Remember to skim off the foam that rises to the top. After 90 minutes pop in the rest of the ingredients that were held back and then simmer for another 90 minutes. To make the meatballs all you will need are the following ingredients:

2 eggs.
150g lean minced beef
150g minced pork.
1 sausage (with skin removed)
200g Breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley 
50g Pine nuts
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon powder
10ml fresh Lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Stew net for binding
Cabbage leaves for wrapping up the meatballs.   



If you feel like saving some time you can always make the balls the day before. Mix the meat, salt, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, eggs and pine nuts to taste. Pour the breadcrumbs in and knead it all together until it forms a thick mass. Add the lemon juice and knead it all together again. Separate the meat mass into two parts and then roll into two large balls. Once you have made the balls wrap each ball in cabbage leaves and then place inside the stewing net and tie up tight and add to the rest of the meat for the stew.

Once the stew is ready it is customary to first enjoy a bowl of soup from the stock cooked either with rice or noodles. Some may add a piece of the meatball to the soup and others may add a bit of everything and then move onto the rest of the meat and vegetables, the choice is yours. It would also be customary to make 'oven-baked rice' (arroz al horno) the following day with the leftovers. So there you have it, a very hearty meal from the heart of Valencia and ideal for this time of year, it may not look very sophisticated but it tastes incredible! 






Like 2        Published at 12:01   Comments (2)

Meat Cuts in Spain
03 December 2019

Recently I posted on beef cuts in Spain, as getting by at the meat counter can be a bit of an ordeal in a foreign country when trying to work out which cut you are actually buying! But obviously beef isn't the only meat out there and I was asked to post more diagrams of other meats. So I have put together in one post, the cuts from the three main types of meat: Pork, Lamb and Beef.

Hope this will be useful the next time you pass by your butcher's!










Like 0        Published at 13:26   Comments (7)

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