Andalusian delicacies:
first up – Jamon Iberico

There are times when other things are more important than
relishing Andalusian delicacies

When we first started over after our emigration, I had no palate for wine and Andalusian delicacies. My mind was almost solely preoccupied with our Cortijo and the “Adventure Bed and Breakfast“.

After closing my wine shop in Germany and migrating to Spain, I hadn’t exactly lost interest in fine wines. I just couldn’t set my wits to what I was drinking. The motivation had gone somehow.

As with most of our guests, the rating of “tastes good” was all it needed for a wine to indulge in – preferably accompanied by nice food.

How our “Andalusian Tasting Night” came about

We have a pair of regulars, that loved going to wine and Tapas tastings at a local wine shop whenever they came to stay. They’re great fans of every kind of Andalusian delicacies. When they returned for their next holiday, the wine shop was still there, but no longer offered its tastings.

So the next morning they asked me whether they could buy their delicacies at the shop and whether I could present our wines for tasting. There was so much enthusiasm from the other guests present, that I didn’t really have any time for consideration. In the blink of an eye, it was decided who would play which role in the evening activities. The expenses would be split equally between us.

That settled, the “epicurean couple” went off shopping, I set out to sort the wines and Carsten went to get some seasonal vegetables. In the evening we arranged everything on the table… It’s an absolute miracle that the table didn’t collapse under the weight of the plethora of delights and delicacies. Well, I guess that’s what happens when you’re spoilt for choice – the eyes were bigger than the belly yet again 🙂 .

There’s more to Andalusian delicacies than Tapas

  • various types of cheese
  • of all maturity degrees, made from a blend of milk as well as pure sheep’s and goat’s milk
  • Jamón de Bellota 100%
    (the only Iberian ham made from free-range pigs mainly fed naturally on acorns and grass)
  • and, of course, the sumptuous charcuterie
  • and cold cuts from Iberian pigs: Lomo, Chorizo and Salcchichon and many other different varieties
  • olives, pimientos and tomatoes
  • complemented the feast and also soothed the conscience by ticking off the “healthy food” box from the list
  • and we just couldn’t resist having Cranberry Crackers
  • with liver paté and fig jam, too. That’s where my epicurean heart resurfaced again 🙂

What goes hand in hand with Andalusian delicacies: wine

We passed plates around and tasted everything:

While relishing this absolute feast of culinary treats, we also managed to taste six different wines. And I realised how much I had actually missed tastings and how much our guests were enjoying themselves. Tasting wines, discovering and developing one’s own preferences, who prefers which food to which wine … And after all, the enthusiasm for tastings was huge.

The feast was closed with a fig covered with dark chocolate accompanied by a dessert wine from Shiraz which is produced in our province.

The evening did not only score 100 points on a culinary level. Now that everybody had learnt so much about winemaking and the production of cheese, ham and sausages, it was also highly interesting.

Well, this is the story behind our “Jamon-y-Queso-Tasting-Nights”. …and our wine list saw a sudden rise of additions to up to 40 different wines. So our wine list may well be the most comprehensive wine list of a “simple” bed and breakfast 🙂 .

Iberico ham and Manchego cheese the Spanish can’t do without them

For all of those who want to appear as a “connoisseur” at your next visit to Andalusia, here’s a little background information on “Jamón & Queso”.

“Jamón y Queso” could be translated quite literally as ham and cheese. But that wouldn’t do these traditional Spanish delicacies justice at all …

“Jamón y Queso” is part of the Spanish way of life, and believe us: the Spanish know what tastes good! 🙂 . Fresh bread, a drizzle of olive oil, a few thin slices of Serrano ham, a little Manchego, a handful of olives and almonds … that’s all it takes to know the true promise of Spanish cuisine!

And as with so many things in life, the right ingredients make all the difference, as one ham is not like another, of course.

Serrano and Ibérico ham
… so what exactly are they and what are the differences?

Serrano ham (Jamón Serrano) probably is the most common and most popular of all Spanish hams and is made of the back leg of pigs. The name “Serrano” comes from “Sierra”, the Spanish word for mountains. Here, after salting, the Serrano is dry-cured for nine to 24 months. It is delightfully mild and has a slightly nutty flavour. Because of its mild aroma, it is also the Serrano ham that is usually served on a tostada for elevenses.
(If you’d like to find out more about the eating habits of the Spaniards, our book might be just the right read 🙂 )

The most important difference between Serrano and Iberian ham is the breed of the pig used for the ham. Serrano ham comes from white pigs and is cured for 6 to 18 months.

Iberian ham is the top tier among Spanish hams

Jamon Iberico is a very special, dry-cured ham. The meat comes solely from Iberian pigs, a black-skinned and black-footed breed. The colour of the hoof is the reason why this ham is also called “Pata Negra”. However, this does not refer to the quality, but simply to the colour of the hoof 🙂

The hams undergo a curing period of 12 to 38 months and are characterised by their unique taste.

The different quality levels of Iberian ham

Jamón Ibérico often ranks in the top-price segment but is also considered as the best ham in the world. Gourmets particularly appreciate the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (Bellota ham), which is yielded from pigs that are traditionally fed on acorns.

Jamón Ibérico de Cebo

This is a ham made of pigs that are at least 75% Iberian and whose diet consists of grain. Since no acorn fattening is prescribed for this kind of ham, it’s considered the lowest quality level of Iberian ham.

Jamón Ibérico de Cebo de campo

A ham made of pigs that are at least 75% Iberian. These pigs owe 30% of their weight gain to acorn fattening. In the end, their diet may consist of grain again.

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

The pigs for this ham must be at least 75% Iberian and should owe 40% of their live weight to a diet consisting of acorns and herbs. Bellotas (acorns) are the fruit from the holm oak. This ham is classified by its intense, nutty aroma and is the absolute top tier among Spanish hams.

As with wine, and meanwhile luckily with many other foods as well, there are additional protected designations of origin aimed at protecting the products, their origin and traditional production methods.

There are currently two different protected designations of origin in Andalusia (D.O.P. meaning Denominación de Origen Protegida):

Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Jamón Jabugo: this D.O.P. is for ham produced in the province of Huelva

Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Los Pedroches: this D.O.P. is for ham produced in the province of Córdoba

There are further protected designations of origin. Particularly important is the Jamón Ibérico D.O.P. Dehesa de Extremadura: the production area stretches from the province of Cáceres to the province of Badajoz.

Apart from the Iberian ham produced in Andalusia, this ham plays the most important role in Spain. Further designations of origin are more known locally.

No less extensive are the regulations in terms of protected and traditional production when it comes to the most important cheese of Spain.

Manchego cheese
and why the reality and our understanding are two completely different ball games

You know what, guys? This is actually the biggest misconception among us Northerners (by the way: Andalusians consider every European who doesn’t happen to live in Andalusia as a Northener – it figures, ey?).

If a cheese is round and has a diameter of approx. 22 cm and a height of approx. 12 cm, it must be a Manchego cheese as far as we are concerned. There you have it! I’m pointing my finger right at the biggest fallacy.

Manchego cheese was named after the La Mancha region and is always and solely made from sheep’s milk. It is aged between 14 days and two years.

Queso Manchego Fresco

This cheese is only aged for about two weeks and has a very delicate flavour. As it’s only produced in very small quantities, it’s hardly found outside Spain.

Queso Manchego Semicurado

This is a semifirm cheese, that is aged between three weeks and three months. It has a firmer texture than the queso fresco and naturally has a more intense flavour.

Queso Manchego Curado

This cheese, too, is semifirm. It ages between three to six months and has a more intensive, nutty and sometimes even subtly sweet flavour.

Queso Manchego Viejo

This cheese is aged for at least a year and has a slight piquancy – the longer the ageing process, the more pungent the note. As with its Italian brother, Parmigiano Reggiano, it can be grated or eaten entirely on its own. Served with a little drizzle of olive oil, it is a classic and very popular Tapas dish.

How does the Manchego cheese get its distinctive, ribbed rind?

The typical, zig-zag pattern on the rind is achieved by the moulds in which the Manchego cheese is pressed. The moulds are made from woven esparto grass which imparts a distinctive appearance to the cheese while maturing in the moulds.

How to recognise a genuine Manchego cheese?

All loaves of the “genuine” Manchego cheese carry a serial number and are branded with a flower in the middle of the cheese.

All cheeses that do not show the above-mentioned information on their label aren’t Manchego. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious and of high quality as well.

What it does mean is that many kinds of cheese that are available on the cheap and looking just like Manchego cheese in the supermarkets, simply aren’t proper Manchego. On closer inspection, a semicurado product often sold in Spanish supermarkets only has one legal requirement. It states that the milk has to come from Spain– whether it is made from sheep’s, cow’s or goat’s milk is completely irrelevant.

Cheese from Andalusia – the province Almería

Cheese from Andalusia, or rather from our province Almeria, is our favourite subject. Since writing about all Spanish cheese varieties and their differences would take weeks and the blog post would probably become quite lengthy, which means nobody would ever bother to read it.

Having said this, I wouldn’t like to miss the opportunity to introduce you to the typical kinds of cheese from our region:

Queso Fresco de Cabra

Just as our region is known for its tender goat meat and lamb, goat’s milk is obviously also used for making cheese. Goat’s cheese is mainly eaten as cream cheese, which is just about firm enough that it can be cut with a knife. It is often served with olive oil or membrillo, a firm quince jelly.

Queso de Ovejo

Since our province is home to almost as many sheep as it is to goats, the sheep’s milk is naturally also used for the production of cheese. A very good “curado” is produced not far from us in Uleila del Campo, since in our region sheeps’ cheese is not typically eaten as cream cheese as is the custom in Greece.

In terms of Queso de Cabra (goat’s cheese), I cannot resist introducing a very special producer, Seronés Artesano, to you. A young, extremely pioneering firm specialising in the production of exceptional goat’s cheese. Made from the best goat’s milk, it is refined with wine, spices, truffles or whatever the epicurean heart desires. As the manufactory is located in the Sierra de Los Filabres and the cheese is a product of the “Sabores Almeria”, you can always taste this cheese at our “Andalusian Tasting Night”.

You can also sneak a peek at the cheese here …

And now there’s nothing left for us to do but to look forward to savouring these delicious Andalusian delicacies – together with you and in good company 

The blog of Cortijo El Sarmiento will be written and maintained mostly by me; I’m Yvonne, taking care of your reservations, as well as being your attendant on-site.

Der Blog von Cortijo El Sarmiento wird hauptsächlich von mir geschrieben und gepflegt, ich bin Yvonne und kümmere mich um deine Reservierungen und bin auch deine Ansprechpartnerin vor Ort.

Als Weinliebhaber und Sonnenanbeter hat es mich – zusammen mit Carsten – im Jahr 2014 nach Andalusien verschlagen. Natürlich haben wir uns schon vorher in die Region verliebt, aber aus der Leidenschaft für die Provinz Almería und Andalusien im Allgemeinen ist irgendwann dieser Blog entstanden.

Ich bin weder professionelle Journalistin noch Schriftstellerin. Alles, was hier entsteht, kommt von Herzen, ist immer meine persönliche Meinung und erhebt keinen Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit. :-)

Profis sind wir in unserem Job. Wir sind Gastgeber in unserem wunderschönen Refugium in Mojácar. Wenn ihr uns kennenlernen wollt, freuen wir uns auf euren Besuch und organisieren gerne alle Ausflüge, über die ich hier berichte. Bitte habt Verständnis dafür, dass wir diesen Service nur für Gäste anbieten können, die bei uns wohnen.

Zu unseren wunderschönen Zimmern geht es hier…

Andalusian delicacies

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