Hump Day | Popular Foods from Spain: Spanish Cheese, Almonds, Sardines and more

Let's talk about cheese baby, and some other stuff that makes my mouth water.  

I always find it interesting what brands of certain domestic products have been adapted by marketers for exportation to another culture or population. On my recent trip to California I was blown away by the amount of Spanish items on display for the public, much more than I remembered three years ago. Apparently, while I've been off becoming a Jedi Master in Spain's culinary offerings here in Spain, something struck a chord and now Spain is positioned to become the next big international push in the States; just take for example the new 11 week course with curriculum by dean of the Spanish Culinary Arts program and undoubtedly America's most famous Spanish Chef José Andrés. According to the New York Times, Americans will see an even greater influx and will request more Spanish wine and products to be imported in the coming years. This first class of 24 students is scheduled to begin in February 2013 at the International Culinary Center in Manhattan, and the price will come at the tune of $26,500. If you're short on cash, or time, hang around Sobremesa In Spain a bit, you just might learn a thing or two. Then again, they could always ask me to be a guest lecturer??

Queso | Cheese 

This is a slice of queso Leonora, which had been cut from its original loaf shape, colloquially called a pata de mulo (mule's leg). It is made from pasteurized Alpine goats' milk from León in the autonomous community of Castile & Leon, northwestern Spain. The interior is firm and creamy, while the areas just under the molded rind are runnier and leave a spicy almost peppery feeling on the tongue. A young cheese - sharp and tangy yet buttery, with nutty notes. Pairs well with a crisp white wine like the Albariño wines of Galicia, Spain and acts as a lovely compliment to membrillo (quince paste) and/or dried fruit and nuts.

This variety has developed out of a renaissance of Spanish artisan food creation, folks going back to their roots as cheese makers. You can purchase it in the States at Cowgirl Creamery locations, like that of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, California.

Almendras Marcona | Marcona Almonds

The Marcona is known to be one of the most coveted almonds around. Almost all of the production of the Marcona comes from Spain, due in part to the climate and careful care of the almond trees. They are sweeter, rounder and fatter than their pointy California cousins. High in B2 and phosphorus.

They can be eaten raw, however in Spain it is typical that the raw almonds be used in confection and pastries while for day to day consumption they are blanched, fried and served with sea salt (like the photo). Trader Joe's sells them seasoned with salt and rosemary, but with the Spanofile mindset sweeping the nation, I've heard through the grapevine that Costco and Whole Foods now also carry them, although I recommend piling up when in Spain as prices per kilo for Marcona almonds are much more affordable.

Spanish Marcona Almonds. Fried, lightly salted and gone!

 Sardinas | Sardines 

I have never eaten so many damn Spanish sardines in my life, and I'm very glad I've had the chance to do so. In Spain, sardines are consumed year round, in all of the communities of the country, although they are known to be chubbier, and therefore yummier in the summer. Sold fresh at the market, they are a popular choice for frying or grilling, or sold in cans - with/in lemon, tomato, vinegar (escabeche), or olive oil -  for consumption as an aperitivo, salad topper or just eaten plain. My two personal favorite means of being served sardines are: smoked, or grilled like the espetos regional to Malagueño cuisine and found in all of the chiringuitos (summer beach bars) along the Mediterranean coast of Andalusia.

Malaga restaurants on the beach known as chiringuitos bulk up on firewood and fresh sardines to grill al fresco. 

Espetos, a traditional grilled sardine technique typical to Malaga, Spain. Served with sea salt and lemon if you like. Simple and delicious! 

The 'Matiz Gallego' brand, sardines from the Atlantic waters of Galicia, can be purchased in the US. 

At your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or gourmet shop, find the canned food aisle and turn the cans around for "Producto de España" "Product of Spain." A natural source of omega-3 oils and many minerals. Could this be the secret to the long and happy life of Spaniards? 

Arroz | Rice

There are over two thousand types of rice, and it's cultivated in over five continents. Besides from serving paella... did you know that Spain grows and cultivates rice? Another important lesson I learned about Spain upon my arrival to the country. In fact, they were the first European zone to have this species, brought initially by the Muslims to the Iberian Peninsula during their reign beginning in 711. All along the east coast of the country, from a small pocket in Girona, through a large delta area in Tarragona and running past Valencia are "hidden" rice paddies, or I suppose you just have to know what to look for. Within this region there are two national parks and various wetlands, the Delta de l'Ebre (in Catalan, and Delta del Ebro in Castilian) and l'Albufera. Even further south towards Murcia and Albacete exists arroz de Calasparra, the third region with a domination of origin in Spain. Besides being an enormous production area for the country - on average a Spaniard will consume 7 kilos of rice per year - they act as home to a beautiful symphony of nature, as thousands of storks and birds come to take part in the rice harvest and feed off of the life created there.

It's not as simple as white or brown rice. Spanish rice includes many different varietals and there are hundreds of recipes, maybe thousands from around the basin. While the word paella will stick easily, Spaniards, Catalans, Valencianos, etc. know that really the rice, el arroz is the star, and therefore label many dishes arroces.

Catalunya : Arros del Delta l'Ebre

Bahía, Senia, Montsianell, Bomba, Tebre

Rice dishes of the region: Rossejat, arroz Parellada, arros amb fesols i naps (white beans and turnips), arroz a la Catalana, arroz a la ampurdanesa, arros amb sobrassada

Comunitat de Valencia : Arroz de Valencia DOP de la Abufera 

Bomba, Senia, Bahía

Rice dishes of the region: Paella Valenciana, arroz a banda, arroz negro, arroz al horno, arroz del senyoret

Murcia : DO Arroz de Calasparra

Bomba, Balilla x Sollana

Rice dishes of the region: Arroz con conejo y caracoles (rabbit and snails), arroz a la piedra, arroz con bogavante, arroz y verduras

And many more, including 'arroces caldosos' which remain rather wet with broth in comparison to paellas and other rice recipes. Essentially you could write a book on the diversity of the rice just in Spain! You may find this "rice tree" helpful in understanding and differentiating the rice family, redondo, bomba, largo, and the likes.

I loved this packaging. Arroz de Valencia, Valencian rice by Arroz Sivaris Mediterranaeo. This one in particular increases 4x its size and requires roughly a 20 minute cooking time. 

Look for the D.O., Demonación de origen Valencia, Calasparra or Delta de l'Ebre rice (oryza sativa)

Every Sunday Antonio's mom cooks up a rice dish, a paella for the whole family to enjoy. This time it was squid rings, artichokes, green beans, red peppers and shrimp, we paired it with a fabulous Rioja wine. 

*I would also like to include Spanish Iberian cured ham, known as jamón ibérico on this list, however due to USDA health regulations and other red tape, the best ham nor the brands I trust and love haven't yet been able to make their mark. 

**Another post for Spanish beverages is on my to-do list

Do you have any favorite Spanish foods or products already available in your market or local shopping areas? 

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