Paprika has changed my life. Well that's quite a bold statement, but I have to admit that this magical spice (most commonly known through Hungary, Portugal, Serbia and Spain) is one of my greatest passion points about Spanish food culture.
What would a pulpo a la gallega be without a dashing of pimentón on top, and my beloved lentils and scrambled eggs without such culinary game-changers as chorizo and chistorra? Did you know Spanish charcuterie happens to be filled with paprika? Lest we forget the patatas bravas of Madrid and the Fabada Asturiana.
The story goes that monks returning from the Americas brought a whole lot of peppers back with them in the 1500s, and began (metaphorically speaking) spreading their seeds around the Iberian peninsula and beyond throughout Europe; beginning with the monasteries along the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James). Sometime after all this pepper growing, famine, droughts, etc., they found a way to preserve the peppers by creating a new food stuff.
In Spain there are 3 kinds of paprika exported from and consumed within Spain:
pimentón dulce - sweet, made from Bola and Jaranda peppers
pimentón agridulce - bittersweet; a mixture of the two other paprikas
pimentón picante - spicy, hot, made from Jeromín and Jariza peppers
Pimentón de La Vera D.O. (appellation of origin) is distinct from the other varieties, as the peppers are hand harvested in early fall, and then smoked over an oak wood fire where they will spend 10-15 days being carefully watched and turned until the perfect dehydration point has been reached. Speed of the milling process, pepper, and temperature all have to do with its aroma, flavor and color, and are listed as the most important facets of the final product.
The micro-climate of Caceres (Cáceres as it is spelled in Spanish), Extremadura proves to be a prosperous growing grounds for paprika and they have been carrying on the tradition originally practiced by the Order of Saint Jerome since the 16th century; where inside the walls of the Monastery of Yuste they discovered the possibility of drying and smoking these red peppers (capsicum annuum) of the Ocales group, then grinding them into a fine powder, finalizing in that discerning smoky taste.
On the other side of Spain, the pimentón de Murcia (Guadalentin Valley), also another D.O., is bright red in color and produced from the bola peppers; which were traditionally sun dried - although mass drying rooms are becoming more common.
With pimentón dulce, a rust like color and subtle flavor is given off. This variety is also quite commonly used as a colorant for paellas. Photo is of "La Odalisca" brand from Murcia, Spain.