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Who doesn’t love to try out new flavours and foods while travelling? indulging in the local cuisine is a huge part of the holiday experience, and never more so than in Spain where you can have the whole foodie world on a plate.
Here is our pick of some of the best local gourmet delights you can try while on holiday in Andalucia:
The world famous pre-dinner drink originates from Jerez de la Frontera (the city is European Wine Capital 2014), home to household names such as Domecq and Harveys, and from a few other places inside the “Sherry Triangle” in Andalucia.
Sherry comes in several different varieties that pair beautifully with different kinds of food and is enjoying a real renaissance among wine circles lately. Here is a quick guide on what to try:
Fino: light-coloured and very dry, this sherry comes from Jerez itself. Served cold and drunk as you would a good white wine, it goes perfectly with shellfish, jamí³n ibérico (see below) and mild cheeses.
Manzanilla: similar in colour and taste to fino, it too is served cold and best accompanies fish and shellfish. Fino and manzanilla are the least alcoholic of the sherry types and should not be kept once opened.
Amontillado: amber-coloured and smooth and rich in taste, amontillado goes well with white meats, oily fish and cured cheese.
Oloroso: dark and with a strong scent, this is also a dry sherry but with a more intense taste than fino. The intensity suits red meats and strong cheeses.
Palo seco: also dark, palo seco is strongly scented and flavoured. Good with game, foie gras and strong cheeses.
Pedro Ximenez: dark and sweet with a rich syrupy texture, Pedro Ximenez has a strong and intense flavour that pairs well with strong cheeses and desserts
Goats’ cheese from Ronda
The mountains that surround Ronda are some of the most beautiful in Andalusia. They’re also home to numerous goat herds who live at high attitude in wet conditions (the village of Grazalema near Ronda has the country’s highest rainfall) meaning excellent pasture and by extension, delicious cheese.
Most goats’ cheese from Ronda is made using traditional methods and brands to look out for are Flor de Ronda and Queso Payoyo.
Queso fresco: This ‘fresh cheese’ is a lowest-fat version, pure white and has a creamy, texture. It’s ideal in salads and on canapés with quince jelly or anchovies.
Rulo de cabra: You buy a slice of this from a roll with a thick white rind. This version combines superbly with apple and caramel in a green salad or an accompaniment to foie gras.
Queso semi-curado o curado: A harder type of cheese, semi-cured and cured goats’ cheese has a stronger taste than the fresh and usually has a dark yellow rind. This is best cut into small slices and eaten as a tapa, perhaps with cured ham (see below).
Queso Payoyo: Unique to this part of Andalusia, this strong cheese is fast gaining popularity in gourmet bars where it’s often served as a tapa.
Jamí³n ibérico de bellota
Andalusian cured ham is a highly prized gourmet treat especially when it comes to jamí³n ibérico de bellota. This creamier version than the regular cured ham comes from black pigs bred in the western area of Andalusia around Huelva. The pigs roam free around large oak-filled pastures all year and in the autumn, their diet consists almost entirely of acorns – look for the “Pata Negra” black label around the hoof.
The legs of ham are cured for 24-48 months and the end result is an intensely-flavoured meat that’s dark red in colour. Served in wafer-thin slices as a tapa, it’s a great accompaniment to a glass of fino sherry or intense red wine.
You can buy a whole leg (if kept in dry conditions, it will last for as long as it takes you to eat it!), although cutting ham is a fine art and probably best left to those in the know; pre-packed slices – open the packet a while before you plan to eat it to allow the ham to breathe; and off the leg in all good food stores – they slice off the amount you need.
As a general guide, the more expensive per kilo, the better quality the ham.
The backbone of all Mediterranean cooking, olive oil is one of Andalusia’s main exports and olive groves cover hectares of the region, particularly in the provinces of Cordoba and Jaen. Olive oil features at every meal in Andalusia – from the breakfast drizzle of toast to the evening salad dressing via biscuits and pastries.
Not only does olive oil taste good, its monounsaturated fat content make it a healthier substitute for butter and margarine. The best olive oil is unrefined and known as ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’, and almost green in colour with an intense flavour. Indeed, the strongest extra virgin brands taste so strong they’re almost bitter.
When buying olive oil, go for the very best. Perhaps a good virgin oil for general use and a more expensive extra virgin for salad dressings and an occasional drop on pasta and rice dishes. You’ll find the best brands in good supermarkets and specialist shops such as D’Oliva in Marbella
Convent cakes and pastries
In many convents in Andalusia, the nuns who live there are famed for their cake and pastry-making skills. They offer a range of homemade wares, known as dulces de convento, from simple magdalenas (plain sponge cupcakes) and almond biscuits to elaborate marzipan sweets and traditional Christmas delicacies.
At the entrance to the convent, there’s usually a list of produce, prices and opening times, a bell and a small sliding or revolving tray. You place your money on the tray, ring the bell and your purchases are delivered back on the tray. But don’t expect to see or hear the nun behind the convent walls!
We would love to hear about your own gourmet tips for Spain, so leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve tried and what you loved!