Another odd-yeared September, another highly enjoyable few days spent sampling the latest gastronomic innovations from around Andalucia – and meeting the minds behind them.
The biannual food exhibition, Andalucia Sabor, held its sixth edition in Seville last month, with as wide a gamut of novel and delicious goodies as ever.
From pearls of wine to olive oil spread, this show excels at showing clever (often just starting out) producers who take the finest Andalucian ingredients, from the vine to the field, and present them in a new form, flavour or texture.
One of my firm favourites this year was Bochas. Indeed these little explosions of delight – pearls of golden muscatel, ruby port or dusky Pedro Ximenez which burst in the mouth – were so popular that producer Guillermo Boto, from San Fernando in Cadiz (near sherry capital, Jerez), had run out of business cards and was being besieged by TV crews.
Luckily I managed to squeeze in a quick tasting, and I can confirm that his pearls pair magnificently with cheese, the rich flavours of, for example, blue cheese and PX, making a heavenly combination. The membrane is made of algae, which means it resistant to both heat and cold. You can buy Bochas in food stores around western Andalucia, especially in its home province of Cadiz – see the website for stockists.
Another thrilling discovery was Jaleaolive, an EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) spread with a pure, fruity smell and a smooth, honey-like consistency. The taste is distinctively strong, as it’s made using peppery picual, the variety of olive most widely grown in Jaen. Jaleaove is great for spreading as it doesn’t soak into bread or toast in the same way as olive oil. This won’t be to everyone’s taste, as you have to love your EVOO to appreciate it, and especially since the jar needs to be finished within seven days – this is 100% pure and natural, with no preservatives.
This product is made by family company Mermeladas Santa Claudia, set up in 2013, and is so new that at the show they didn’t have the packaging ready, so it was marketed under the Desgusta Jaen (Taste Jaen) umbrella. Jaleaove will shortly be available to buy online from SAnta Claudia’s website.
My hot tips for Christmas and New Year’s 2017 party hors d’oeuvres: mini-toasts with some Andalucian goat or sheep’s cheese, such as Payoyo, perfectly complemented by either Jaleaove or Bochas. I’m reserving space for both in my Andalucian food package to take to England for the festive season.
And what better to accompany, indeed complement, your amuse bouches than an aromatic G&T? Craft gin is still all the rage, but not my thing since I detest the stuff. However, when I tried a fruit punch made with new Gin Zari, it was an effort to stop myself from knocking back the whole glass – the concoction was that good (torture with so many tantalisingly tempting alcoholic treats on offer; sadly, one has to resist when driving). None of that nasty quinine-y tonic water; instead they had mixed it with fresh herbs and juice.
The gin is distilled from agave, with juniper, ginger, coriander, cardamom, orange, and lime, among other ingredients. It has a clean, fiery but also floral and citrusy taste. I’m a sucker for good design, and this clear bottle with its light, elegant lettering in eye-catching shades of blue with a Moorish tile-ish logo and herb motif, grabbed my attention. Like most small-batch brews, Gin Zari doesn’t come cheap, but I’d rate it up there with one of my favourites, London distiller Sipsmith. You can order it from their website.
I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do like sherry, so I was keen to sample the world’s first beer made with sherry, Xela. Again, the design is striking, with that same turquoise, alluding to grapes and hops on the label, while the name comes from the Phoenician word for Jerez de la Frontera, Xera (the Moors called the city Xeres, pronounced “Sheresh”, which is where we get “sherry”).
The taste itself had subtle traces of fino (dry sherry), nothing too overpowering in taste (and only 4.6%). The Xela team, as natives of Jerez, are lovers of both drinks, and wanted to combine their passions into a single product – in Mexico you can get beer with tequila, so why not with sherry in Jerez? As well as bars in the Jerez and Cadiz areas, you can find Xela in Madrid.
Returning to one of Andalucia’s most important exports, olive oil (the region is one of the biggest producers in the world), I discovered OliveClub, billed as the Club for Lovers of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. On their website you can order an amazing range of EVOOs. Every month, premium members are sent two packs of 10 little taster bottles of EVOO from a different country and olive variety, so you can try the oil out on your toast, salad, or in cooked dishes.
Their global range of EVOOs includes Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy, with varieties including the well-known Spanish staples of arbequina, picual, cornicual and lechin, as well as morisca and carrasqueño, and moraiolo from Italy and koroneiki from Greece. You can also get
World or Mediterranean tasting boxes, or an EVOOLEUM selection pack with 10 award-winning oils – the world’s best, apparently, including the superb and highly-regarded Castillo de Canena from Jaen.
Moving onto sweet things, as a dedicated fruit lover with a penchant for nursery food like jam sandwiches, I was thrilled to find some superb fruity spreads. New Spanish-Italian company Lo Russo, based in Almeria, uses 80% organic fruit plus cane sugar, and the result is rich and, well, fruity, with a perfect consistency. These jams are very pricey, but so pure and unadulterated, and with catchy names (who can resist “Raspberry Kiss”? Not me) plus classy, award/winning design, that I’d recommend them if you’re a sucker for a fruity start to your day.
Which of these tasty Andalucian treats tickles your fancy? In each case, you’re supporting small producers who put considerable time, effort and passion into their delicious new delicacy. Andalucia is tastier than ever.