A century of tradition: Seville’s olive oil biscuits go global

Ines Rosales, tortas de aceite

Sweet and savoury: from top left, cinnamon, almond (the latest), orange, and rosemary and thyme hand-made tortas de aceite (olive oil biscuits), individually wrapped in greaseproof paper with original design from the early 20th century.

The new foil packaging, used for the new flavours which are exported abroad, gives the tortas a longer shelf life, protecting them from damaging bright light.

The new foil packaging, used for the flavours which are exported abroad, such as Seville orange, gives the tortas a longer shelf life, protecting them from damaging bright light. It also features a full visual run-down of exactly what goes into your torta: olive oil, orange, sesame seed, aniseed, and wheat flour. That is all (except the sugar – oops).

Ines Rosales (far left) founded the company in 1910 in a town near Seville.

Ines Rosales (far left) sells her wares – the writing behind her reads “OTRA MARAVILLA DE SEVILLA” (another marvel from Seville). Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

Over 100 years ago, a young woman in a town near Seville started making and selling snacks called tortas de aceite, using an old family recipe. Made from nothing more than flour, water, sugar and olive oil, with a little aniseed and sesame for flavouring, these thin, round biscuits were individually wrapped in greaseproof paper, printed with their inventor’s distinctive logo, to protect them.

The tortas soon became popular and gained fame beyond Seville to the rest of Spain. Over a century later, the olive oil biscuits are still produced nearby under the founder’s name: Ines Rosales. These days the company sells 12 million packets a year all around the world.

Delivery Ines Rosales tortas in the the early days. The transport has changed, but the recipe's still the same.

Delivering Ines Rosales tortas in the the early days. The transport may have changed, but the recipe’s still the same. Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

The fact that a woman managed to start a business in 1910 is cause for astonishment, and celebration, in itself. Sadly, Ines Rosales died too soon, aged just 42. The business stayed in the family until her son sold up in 1982.

The tortas de aceite from Castilleja de la Cuesta have become a global success story. Adapting to more modern, international tastes, in 2009 flavoured versions were introduced, in both sweet (orange is my favourite) and savoury (rosemary and thyme). The “sweet olive oil tortas”, as they’re known in English, are a hit from Japan to the US, the biggest export market, where they’ve been sold since 1999; cinnamon flavour is the top seller (you can buy them at Whole Foods Market). China offers a set of up-and-coming new customers eager to sample these unusual snacks.

Working the super-glam factory visit look.

Working the super-glam factory visit look – no photos allowed inside, so this is the closest my camera got.

I was curious to see how they’re made, and since the Ines Rosales factory is very near my home, last summer I went to visit. The factory outgrew its high street location nearly two decades ago, and is now located in a town about 20km west of Castilleja, though the company’s official headquarters is still in the town. (Interesting facts about Castilleja de la Cuesta, which is in the Aljarafe region to the west of Seville: it was the home town of Rita Hayworth’s father; and conquistador Hernan Cortes, who conquered Mexico, died here.)

It is always intriguing to learn about a company which is expanding, despite the crippling economic crisis which has been affecting Spain for nearly five years. Each day 350,000 tortas are made by the nimble hands of local women, working on a production line behind a window. Men don’t make the grade for manual dexterity, when it comes to flattening the tortas, as with Carmen’s 18th-century cigarette factory in Seville.

torta de aceite, Ines Rosales

These women each make more than 20 tortas per minute. Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

These Sevillanas deftly transform the little balls of dough into flat pancake-type rounds so fast you can barely see them doing it. You have to watch very carefully – blink and you’ll miss it.

Fresh out of the oven.

Tortas fresh out of the oven. Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

Then they sprinkle sugar on and the tortas are baked, so the sugar melts and goes crispy. Oh yes. And since each torta is hand-made, they all look different. This is one of the main selling points of these traditional snacks – they’re not made in a mould – a cookie-cutter, literally. They’re shaped by human hands into individual biscuits.

Original ads decorate the walls at Ines Rosales.

Original ads decorate the walls at Ines Rosales -  see how little the packaging has changed?

I had a go at making tortas de aceite in a cooking class last year. Mine were passable, but I only made about 20, and had plenty of time to make a hash of it. These ladies are on a production line and make 21 tortas per minute each. Quality control is strict, with photos being taken of the tortas to ensure they meet exacting standards of size and shape. Those which don’t make the grade – purely for aesthetic reasons – are donated to an NGO to distribute, while 100kg a week are given away to the most in-need families.

Enjoying a torta in the Ines Rosales canteen, after my factory visit. Well, it would be rude no to.

Enjoying a torta in the Ines Rosales canteen, after my factory visit. Well, it would be rude not to.

The company is unusually forward-thinking for Spain, in that some years ago they introduced a sugar-free torta, while other traditional biscuits, normally laden with manteca (lard), come in non-animal product varieties.

The mark of a traditional product.

The mark of a traditional product.

Last year the tortas de aceite of Seville province were officially registered by the European Union as an Especialidad Tradicional Guarantizada - which translates as Traditional Speciality Guaranteed. This tells consumers that it’s a product made from traditional raw materials, produced using a traditional method. Basically, the tortas  have been made the same way for a very long time – on a larger scale now, but using the same ingredients and hand-made process.

The orange tortas are one of my family’s top merienda (tea) choices, while the rosemary and thyme ones are a fab accompaniment to that well-earned Friday evening glass of wine. Or put some grated cheese on top and grill gently for an instant, super-tasty pizza. Ines Rosales have loads of recipe suggestions on their website, suggesting the savoury ones (sesame and sea salt is the other non-sweet variety) as ideal summer-time outdoor nibbles. A little piece of Andalucia to impress your guests.

While the classic tortas are widely available, as Spanish like them with their coffee (I don’t like aniseed, which is why the new flavours are more to my taste), not all the other varieties are easy to find, even a few km from their home-base where I live. For this reason I was very excited to hear that the first-ever Ines Rosales shop is opening soon in the centre of Seville – in Calle Hernando Colon, near Plaza San Francisco to be exact. Be sure to visit when you’re here.

My perfect day

Warm autumn days are perfect for family walks - no need for jumpers or sunhats.

Sunny, warm autumn days are perfect for family outings.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

The other night I was at the Taller de Habilidades Sociales para Padres – a local parents’ group run by a psychologist where we vent our frustrations, fears and anxieties about raising children.

One of the recent exercises was asking your partner (another parent in the group, or your other half at home) to “interview” you about what you think your most important skills are – self-esteem is a big part of this series of sessions. I am hopeless at these things, as they always make me think more about what I want/would like/hope to do, rather than what I can/already do. “I wish I was more xxxx”, “Why can’t I be more yyyy”, and so on.

All this day-dreaming got me thinking about how my perfect day would be, and I thought it seemed like a fun idea for a spontaneous blog post – rather than the anally over-planned ones I normally produce.

My ideal day would go something like this:

Weekday: Get up when the alarm goes off (rather than hitting the snooze button seven times and getting up stupidly late); shower, wash and blow-dry hair before husband, so there’s enough hot water; get dressed and prepare fresh, delicious, healthy snacks for school rather than the standard dinosaur biscuits. Children are already awake and pleasant-tempered. They get dressed in suggested clothes (three-year-old must dress herself, to astonishment of other mothers at swim class), or choose their own, without objecting vociferously to lack of favourite pants/socks/dress/T-shirt etc, or insisting on princess/fairy outfit/bikini/sandals. They eat breakfast provided without rejecting, spilling or knocking over anything; brush teeth unassisted, find and put on coat/gloves/scarf/hat, each remembers to pick up their bag and any extra items needed for today, get in car. At no point do I get impatient, lose my temper or shout.

While they’re at school, I do the usual food shopping, house cleaning, clothes washing, work at the computer, receiving emails accepting my pitches for articles and offering well-paid, interesting work for prestigious publication(s) with reasonable deadlines, with no hours wasted faffing about on Social Media; perhaps have a coffee with a friend, who tells me about an amazing new potential client.

I'm all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

I’m all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

Collect children, take to activities, park, birthday parties. Older child does homework without need for prompting, chiding or removal of distracting toys (explaining and helping are acceptable). The two children play nicely together, doing creative, constructive play – building, drawing, dressing up. Their father takes part too (now we’re solidly into the realms of fantasy).

The Knights of Flores.

The Knights of Flores – I adore Lola’s princess/lady-knight set, complete with scabbard.

Make healthy dinner – featuring our own home-grow veg* and other local, organic ingredients – which is eaten in its entirety and praised roundly. Older child reads story (in English) fluently to younger child. They have their baths amicably, clean teeth unaided and go to bed when asked first time.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Weekend: Children sleep in till 10am, then get into parental bed for stories and games. Husband makes breakfast for everyone, having already been out to get the papers - scrambled eggs on toast, fresh orange juice, cereal, hot chocolate (there’s a first time for everything). We go for a long family walk in mild sunshine with dog (woods, beach, hills). Identify plants, trees, flowers, animals; learn about history, nature, animals. Father teaches children about local crafts, environment, which berries they can eat (as in the lean Franco years), how to weave esparto grass etc. Getting messy, jumping in muddly puddles and splashing in streams all to be encouraged (waterproof suits, wellington boots and change of clothes advisable). Everyone has a roaringly good time.

Walking the dog is one of Lola's favourite occupations.

Walking the dog is one of Lola’s favourite occupations.

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Post-prandial rest.

Post-prandial rest.

Have picnic in bucolic spot with healthy, tasty, home-made food, which children eat in its entirety without complaining or requesting alternatives. Then everyone has a siesta in the shade. Go home (with no squabbling on the back seat), play in garden, have dinner outside (barbeque if it’s warm enough), bath and bed as above. Remember to ask them what the best bit was, what we’ve learned.

Husband and I share a bottle of wine and mull over our lives. It’s been a screen-free experience: no TV whatsoever, for anyone, at any point; and I don’t look at my beloved but dangerously addictive iPhone or computer once. An active, fun, outdoor family – finished off with a decent dash of alcohol.

What’s your perfect day like?

 

*Our huerta (kitchen garden) is currently a work in progress – we’re still at seedling stage. Watch this space.

Want: 9 things I’d quite like, er, please

I’m not that active in the mummy blogging sphere, although there are a few Spanish or travel-themed ones which I read regularly.

So when I saw that fellow ex-Londoner, adoptive-Andalucian Bibsey Mama had tagged me in a meme, under her section heading of “Arse Posts”, I rubbed my hands with glee – her memes are always good, clean(ish), self-indulgent fun. Like a big slice of chocolate cake.

However she’s also one of the funniest bloggers I know, if not as appreciated as she should be (in my opinion), so while I cackled with delight when reading her “Wants”, I knew I she had set the bar high, as always. Bibsey’s a hard act to follow.

Anyway, here goes with my own Wants, jotted down earlier today in the bath on my iPhone straight after I read hers - it’s either do it on the spot, or forget about it for the next month.

1. World Peace – let’s start with the little things. A safe future for our children, etc.

2. Patience, especially with my children. By 8.30pm I’m usually at breaking point, especially if my angelic-looking-diabolical-personality three-year-old has yet again refused to eat her dinner. Gah. I’ve signed up for a parenting course (in Spanish) in our local town, so that’ll be interesting. If I can understand it.

3. An iPad. I coveted an iPhone for some years, before finally being offered a free one. If I do ever get one of these beauties (I had a taste with my Mum’s over the summer), prizing it out of the diabolical one’s iron grip while she’s watching Peppa Pig for the 89th time will be fun. I can’t count the number of times my son’s asked me to buy him an iPad. “I’m getting one before you, mate.” is my usual response. Also, I’ve spent the last few months writing about iPad cases and stands made of eco-gorgeous leather offcuts, reclaimed wood and recycled wetsuits, all the while drooling helplessly over the damn things.

4. Green fingers. We’re finally planting our huerta - vegetable patch – and I’ve never had much luck with plants, so I’m hoping that will change and we’ll have rows and rows of lovely organic carrots which the kids dig up themselves. I’ll be looking to Andalucian kitchen garden expert Chica Andaluza for tips.

5. Housepride. I’m not one of those people whose house looks like something from the pages of an interiors magazine. At all. To give you an idea, one friend who came to visit said, looking aghast at my bedroom with its heaps of children’s clothes on every surface, “But how can you live like this?”. I’m not remotely bothered about paint colours or fabrics either, but I can’t help feeling I should be. My house looks like a cross between a student pad and a garage sale where a gang of out-of-control children has been running rampage, scattering toys in their wake. (Er, the last bit’s true.)

6. A magic wand to tidy up all my unfiled, but terribly important, piles of paper which will be essential research material for an article one day, and cannot possibly be thrown away (as I tell me husband when he brandishes the bin in a threatening fashion, again). But getting around to sorting them out myself, well…

7. More controllable hair - curly hair is a curse – unstyleable, an impossible challenge for Spanish hairdressers, and please don’t mention straighteners. I’ve tried a couple of times and my son is still traumatized. “Mum, you’re never going to have straight hair again, are you?” he asks me, with trepidation, nearly a year later.

8.  Home-delivery sushi I love raw fish nearly as much as I love my own children, but as we live down a dirt track, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to be nipping along on their moped with some nigiri in a chiller bag from the hippest Japanese restaurant in town. Arse.

9. A brilliant business plan/money-making idea – I’m sure there are loads out there, just waiting to be grabbed. Still waiting for my lightbulb moment. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m going to be somewhat unoriginal with my tags for this meme – my much-tagged Sevillana friend, who will hopefully have some truly weird desires (please don’t let me down, Em!) Digamama, and Quiero Milk, a Seville-based Anglo-Spanish blog (it means “I want milk” – that’s the first one sorted, then). Go guys!

Friday’s main event (sadly, not the BIBS)

As I mentioned in a recent post (recent in terms of my characteristically unprolific output, rather than time-wise ), I’m a finalist in the BIB awards, organised by Brit Mums, a wonderful website which brings British (and Britain-dwelling) blogging mums together to give them a voice, offer inspiration, and provide support and a sense of community.

I am incredibly happy to have made it into the final of the travel section, along with seven other brilliant mummy travel bloggers (I’m not bigging myself up here – BIB stands for brilliance in blogging). The awards are being given out this very Friday – cleverly timed to avoid any England Euro 2012 matches.

However since I live here in Spain, and the Brit Mums Live event, which includes the award ceremony, is in London, I can’t go. We’ve just been over for the Jubilee, and will be back again in a month for our long summer visit, so it wasn’t feasible to hop on yet another super-luxe, all-the-hand-luggage-you-can-carry budget flight to London, much as I’d have loved to.

So this is my I-hope-I-win-but-won’t-be-surprised-if-I-don’t blog post. I wasn’t even going to do one, but a Spanish friend and blog-reader insisted that I acknowledge/reiterate that the awards are in a few days, I can’t attend, etc etc. They’re all for blowing your own trumpet out here. I think it’s an English trait, avoiding that. An English travel blogger friend recently “confessed” to being listed as Essential Reading in a respected travel magazine. I bet she didn’t feel guilty.

Getting nominated, and then shortlisted, and then becoming a finalist, for a blogging award was a very pleasant experience. I have to admit, my heart was racing as I clicked on the link to the finalists and scrolled down the lists of blog names - and yelped when I saw mine.

Sneak preview of son’s “graduation” T shirt, to be worn at tomorrow’s ceremony.

I’ll be following Twitter very closely this Friday, though I will have to be discreet, since the other reason I can’t go is because it’s my son’s end of school year (and educational era) show and party - he’s moving up from Infantil (3-5 years) to Primaria (6-12 years). Tomorrow is his year’s graduation ceremony, complete with outfits and two special songs. It’s a big week when you’re a five-year-old in Spain.

Not to mention the fact that his class is performing the Beatles’ Twist and Shout on Friday. Much more fun for me when I know all the words – at last, an advantage to being the only freak English mum. My anglo-andaluz boy hates dressing up, although it’s an easy outfit, so as a bribe, he’s been allowed to play the keyboard (yes, I know there wasn’t one. Artistic licence). And I have to be there to remind him not to sing in Eeeengleesh: “Tweeest and shout! (Tweeest and shout!)”. The three-year-old has it taped too now. And, of course, to immortalise the event for posterity and grandparents – between myself and my husband, we’ll shooting video and still images. I couldn’t rely on him to do it, could I?

Good luck to all the BIBS finalists for this Friday – I’ll be with you in spirit, if not in body. At least I get to wear a nice frock for the show; you’re not allowed to dress down at your child’s end-of-term performance in Spain. All the mums look super-guapa, so you have to make the effort. Time to start browsing in the wardrobe…

11 Questions: my answers

Many moons ago, one of my favourite bloggers, Bibsey Mama, a fellow mummy expat here in Spain for those who don’t yet know her fab blog, tagged me on an 11 questions meme. As I explained in a previous post, my blog has a split personality between travel, expat and mummy, three categories which can have a certain degree of crossover.

I was recently nominated, then shortlisted, now a finalist (yipee!), for the Brit Mums awards (see badge to the right) in the travel section (my mum content is probably less than my travel content, but as a mum I qualify). Anyway, I was invited to the awards ceremony, but unfortunately I won’t be able to attend due to a prior engagement: my son’s end of term show. They’re doing the Beatles. He’s got a guitar. He gets VERY nervous before hand and is not a natural performer. Missing it isn’t an option.

Anyway, Bibsey’s observations as mum of a toddler always make me chortle (how she didn’t get shortlisted for a BIB, god only knows – I haven’t read a funnier blog about motherhood), so answering questions from her is a delight: the blogger’s equivalent of eating a large bar of Green&Blacks dark chocolate with orange bits in, slowly and extreeemely indulgently.

I used to wonder what the point was of these questionnaire type posts, until I read more of them and realised they are totally fascinating, as they let you find out all sorts of juicy background dirt information on your fellow bloggers. So I hope this won’t be too dull – I don’t like writing about myself very much.

Here are her 11 questions and my answers:

1. If you can bear to, describe a mistake that you have made in the past and what you learned from it.

Just after I got married, my husband did a job for a friend. They fell out over money, and it cost me the friendship; I was pregnant at the time, and it was a very unpleasant experience for all concerned. I will never again mix business and friends. Big mistake. (Sorry, bit serious that one. This is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?)

2. I often wake up feeling like an old lady who’s been playing musical beds with a toddler all night. Strange I know. How old would you be if you woke up one morning not knowing how old you were and had to hazard a guess?

Either 25 or 55, depending on how (and where) I and my children have slept. We tend to play musical beds. If we all end up in mine, as often happens, child 1 has 50% of the bed, child 2 45% and me 5% (father gets relegated to the sofa).

3. And how old would you be if you woke up one morning having chosen how old you would be the night before? And why?

35 – I had met my husband, but we weren’t married and didn’t have children yet – we were living life to the full, in a nice flat in a cool barrio, travelling and going out. Not that I regret having kids, for one second, but that part of my life was pretty fun.

4. I have utter shoe envy where Claudia Winkleman is concerned. If you could walk in some one else’s shoes for one week, whose shoes would they be and why? (alive or dead, famous or not)

I don’t look much like her. Cate, I covet your shapely ankles.

Anyone with thin ankles, I’m not fussy – I have cankles which look especially horrible with dainty sandals. Cate Blanchett has nice pins and wears a frock well (and is a damn fine actress to boot. Ha).

5. Is there one particular blog post you have written that makes you most proud?  Tell us why and drop the link here.

My post about things I’ve learned since I’ve been living in Spain elicited a strong response, with lots of people getting hot under the collar – always nice for a blogger to see their writing provoke a debate. *Rubs hands together in glee.*

6. Going back to the Amazing Matron’s questions. You are the leader of a political party that has just won the general election, what would your first act as prime minister be?

Make all childcare free for working mothers. Women who have children and want to return to the work place (or never left it in the first place) are a hugely undervalued resource. Having subsidised nursery places for my kids has saved my career, and my sanity.

7. As a kid I used to wish that I went to school at Grange Hill – more than anything I wanted Trisha Yates’ hair. If you had to live as a fictional character, who would it be and from what book/film/play etc?

What a fabulous question – I love being sent off into realms of fantasy and make-believe. After much pondering, I’ve decided it would have to be Jennifer Beals’ character in Flashdance. Perhaps not to live as, but talking of school days, she made such an impact on an impressionable, terminally uncool teenager with curly red hair and glasses (not forgetting the cankles). Alex had the biggest and coolest apartment I’d ever seen, a job where she was equal to men, she got her dream, and she was utterly gorgeous – a face and body to die for. Never been remotely interested in dancing, but that audition sequence is one of my favourite movie scenes e-vah.

Watch it here - kicks off at 1:55 (sorry, no embedding).

8. The papers have a story on you, what would that headline be?

British expat journalist gets exclusive warts’n'all book deal with the Duchess of Alba.

9. I used to be able to down bottles of beer in one go via a thing called a beer bong (length of tube and a funnel). Did you have a ‘party trick’ in your twenties and do you still perform it now?

Blowbacks, and no.

10. It was quite a surprise when I conceived Bibsey and I am often to be heard saying to her things like “how did mummy and daddy make something as gorgeous as you?” and “what did we do to deserve you?”. Anyone might think that I didn’t know how babies are made. How are babies made? Where do they come from?

Babies are made of love and they come from the land of dreams.
11. I’m running dry here… erm, I promised seriously silly didn’t I? Perhaps, to end on a really silly note, you would like to share the silliest joke that you know (or can find on the internet).
An all-time favourite is: Why are there no aspirins in the jungle?
Because the parrots ate ‘em all (no? paracetamol!).
That’s it.
So now what happens? I come up with 11 questions for some poor, unsuspecting blog victims. Watch out!