Eventually I will stop talking about Spain, but today is not that day. Spain is not exactly known for its wondrous cheeses, but it is known for Manchego. And while I love me some gooey French cheeses, I was glad to swap them for some cured, sharp Spanish products for a few days.
Make all efforts to wrap your cheese better before flying out of Spain.
Manchego, a sheep’s cheese.
Made by: I don’t have the wrapper! I fail. Purchased at Mulas in Salamanca.
Hails from: Manchego is famously from La Mancha, but this one was from Castille.
Background: Manchego is often a softer cheese. This one was cured for slightly longer (around 6 months), giving it a firmer texture and a slight bite.
Can I eat the rind? Sorry, not a good plan.
Serve it with: olives, sausages, Spanish membrillo (quince paste) as appetizers or part of dinner. It would also be amazing on salads, or on small sandwiches. I’m not sure I’d try to throw it in any cooked cheese dishes.
Ham and cheese shop extraordinaire, Salamanca.
I’m back in France, and glad to be home! However, I’ve noticed that I acquired a few new addictions in Spain. I’ve already had two cups of strong coffee (though I now wish I owned a hand-operated milk frother), I bought Special K at the store, and I have a strange desire for a post-lunch augardente.
One of my two hosts in Salamanca is a native of Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain that a lot of people would compare to France’s Bretagne: it’s like a mini Scotland with Spanish flavor, and known for its green landscape, seafood, white wine, and augardente, or “firewater.”
Homemade, unlabeled, and gorgeous.
Galacian augardentes are liqueurs made from the remains of grapes, usually the skins and pulp left after making wine. It is then further distilled into one of several variations all based on Augardente de Orujo, the clear, nearly 50 percent alcohol that will knock you off your feet.
The herbas variation is pale yellow and refreshing, made with flowery herbs. I think it tastes more powerful because of the light flavor, but that means it also went well with most meals. Licor cafe, dark brown and thicker, is made with sugar and coffee and was my favorite after late, long lunches. It would be the one I would buy for guests if I had to choose.
Crema, Herbas, Cafe.
My all-time favorite was probably crema, which is made with milk and tastes like Irish liquer without the sickening sweetness. Great for an after-dinner dessert drink. And crema and licor cafe together…me gusta!
I’m not sure that homemade augardente like these are entirely legal. So not only have I been spoiled with the good stuff, I’m not sure where one can buy the equivalent! Come Christmas I might be purchasing something fromElige Tu Vino, which looks like it has real augardente made in Galicia. Yum!
Last night we had a conversation over dinner about France being the classic, revered old-world haute cuisine, but no longer the top of the heap. The new giant, in my (Spanish) host’s opinion, is Spain. Clearly there’s some bias there, but I have to say that I am wowed, and am learning a lot in a very short time.
Last night’s dinner was at home, and simple. Rioja, salad, sliced bread, cheeses and dried meats. This was referred to as “cold cuts,” though I’ve never seen anything less like a cold cut in my life. And they key ingredient is the ham.
I’m in Salamanca, the Castille region, which is known for producing the very best ham in a ham country. In the market of about 20 booths, 12 to 15 sell dried meats, and all of those sell the iconic jamón ibérico legs that look about like a caveman club, and can cost up to 300 euros. The reason for the price? First of all, it lasts for months. Second of all, these black pigs are carefully raised, fed almost exclusively the acorns that grow in the region, and they run around happily in a field until killing time. The jam is then dried and cured for months or years.
It’s amazing. Not salty, not honey ham or slimy, not dry like sausage or chewy like jerky. It’s tender and has a robust flavor, and would pair as well with a fancy tapas dish as it did with our coffee table picnic. I don’t even EAT ham in the United States. This ham is so good that you can sign up for classes to learn how to cut it properly, but you’ll have to shell out 400 euros to do it.
Sadly, I cannot transport this magical treat to all my friends in the States. What I DO suggest is having a ham party worth spending $200 to ship some ham for a bunch of people. Or if you’re in New York, you can buy it at shops like Murray’s Real Salami and try it at the table at tapas joints like Pata Negra, another name for jamon iberico. Full rumor list here.
Posted in Basic Ingredients, Cooking, Entrees, Spain, Travel
Tagged castille, friends, ham, iberico, meat, salamanca, spain