Spanish Culinary Favorites Still Rule the Salón de Gourmets
International trade fair Salón de Gourmets descended on Madrid this week, and while it sated professional visitors from near and far on many levels, its role as a showcase for Spanish gastronomic jewels was once again where this prestigious event truly shines.
Text: Adrienne Smith/@ICEX.
As much as the Salón de Gourmets is the place to go year after year to see the latest innovations in Spanish agri-food products and their culinary applications, its real strength is built on what many consider to be the pillars of Spanish gastronomy. Where else could you go to taste literally hundreds of different extra virgin olive oils one after another, all from different olive varieties and regions of Spain? Or as many diverse types of cheeses, wines, Spanish hams and sausages and this country’s huge variety of fish and shellfish preserves? These products – in addition to being some of the best known items from the Spanish pantry on an international scale – are also true gems of Spain’s gastronomy, and the Salón de Gourmet is nothing less than their world expo.
This year – the 32nd anniversary of this venerated trade fair, which was held from May 7–10, 2018, at Madrid’s IFEMA convention center – was no different, with more than 1,600 exhibitors at the Salón de Gourmets, 16.4% of which (the second highest amount), were olive oil producers. The next largest representation came from the “preserves” industry, at 14.8%, referring to canned and bottled fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish. Cheeses followed at 13.4%. Spanish cured ham and charcuterie producers accounted for 11.5 and 8.5% of exhibitors, respectively, while the largest representation at the fair came from wineries, which represented 34.9% of exhibitors – the vast majority of them Spanish. Over the course of four days, visitors to this professional event were not only able to learn about, taste, compare and contrast these excellent products, but also got to “see them in action,” through a range of special activities. Let's take a look at these beloved Spanish foods within the framework of this year’s Salón de Gourmets.
Olive oil: worth its weight in gold
In addition to the seemingly endless sea of olive oil stands found throughout the fair – especially numerous for regionally-themed areas like Andalusia, Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha – the 2018 Salón de Gourmets was made even more complete with the new addition of the so-called “Olive Oil Tunnel,” a tasting event promoted by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment (MAPAMA). This special area provided a sensory tour through Spain’s Designation of Origin extra virgin olive oils (EVOO’s), highlighting their aromas, flavors, varieties, unique characteristics, production methods, origins and more; while also featuring 100% organic EVOO’s from Spain.
While the Olive Oil Tunnel gave visitors a look at the essence of these products, events like the “Jaén Paraíso Interior” olive oil cooking competition sponsored by the Diputación Provincial de Jaén and now in its 15th year, gave chefs from all over the world a chance to create top-notch gastronomy using EVOO’s made in this Andalusian province. This year's winner, Daniel Rosado of Víctor Trochi restaurant in Palafolls (Barcelona), did just that with his dessert entitled, “Under the olive tree,” made using olive oil from Castillo de Canena. Other events, some of which were hosted by Aceites de Oliva de España, included a range of workshops about Spanish olive oils and even a cocktail demonstration by renowned bartender Héctor Henche of drinks made with different textures of extra virgin olive oil. Additionally, the association’s annual “Oleoteca” area boasted a record number of 400 extra virgin olive oils from Spain this year, which were sampled en masse by eager visitors.
Fish and shellfish preserves: the essence of the Spanish seas
Although Spanish fruit and vegetable preserves are outstanding products in their own right, international visitors to the Salón de Gourmets are typically bowled over by the huge variety and exceptional quality of this country’s canned and bottled fish and shellfish. Here the greatest selection is found in the areas of the fair dedicated to northern Spanish regions like Galicia, Cantabria and the Basque Country, with some exceptions like the excellent almadraba tuna of Andalusia. And while these products might seem overtly simple, visitors are routinely astounded by the effort that goes into their harvest and preparation, as well as the outstanding quality of the raw materials themselves. Another surprise comes in the form of the culinary creations presented at cooking exhibitions by Spanish chefs, such as the "Pura Lata" (pure cans) demonstration held on May 8th, centering on different and avant-garde ways to convert canned foods into culinary masterpieces.
Cheeses as far as the eye can see
Spain may be known as the “Land of 100 Cheeses,” but a visit to the Salón de Gourmets will make you wonder if perhaps that number shouldn’t be a thousand. The selection of Spanish cheeses at the fair is seemingly never-ending, and quality designation-of-origin cheeses associated with specific regions share the limelight with specialty, artisanal cheeses made in different corners of the country, sometimes with surprising added ingredients like truffle, rosemary, olive oil, pimentón or even chocolate. One measure of the excellence and variety of Spanish cheeses is the Gourmetquesos, Campeonato de los Mejores Quesos de España (Best Cheeses in Spain Championship), held for the past nine years within the framework of the fair. This year, the jury of fifty cheese experts narrowed the list of entries down from more than 725 cheeses to seventy-two finalists, divided into twelve different categories comprising sheep, goat, cow and mixed milk cheeses of different styles and aging times.
This year’s all around winner was Olavidia (Quesos y Besos) from Lácteos Romero Peláez, a soft paste cheese from Jaén (Andalusia) made from the milk of mountain-grazing Malagueña goats.
Spanish ham and sausages galore
The best way to find the top Ibérico ham producers at the Salón de Gourmets is to look for the biggest crowds. Visitors from Spain and abroad flock to these stands like bees to honey, eager for a taste (and then another and another) of Spain’s famous cured hams – particularly the 100% Ibérico bellota varieties. As these exquisite products can vary slightly from region to region in terms of aromas and flavors, this fair provides the unique opportunity to taste a wide variety of these spectacular and uniquely Spanish products. One thing they all have in common, however, is their extremely high quality.
Fans of Spanish hams know that the way the meat is carved is essential to its enjoyment, as well as the fact that carving it correctly is no easy task. This is why, for the past twenty-five years, the Salón de Gourmets has been the site of the Protected Designation of Origin Dehesa de Extremadura Concurso de Cortadores de Jamón ham carving competition. Six finalists have an hour and a half to carve a leg of ham before a panel of prestigious judges, who rate their work based on style and technique, as well as cleanliness, speed, size and width of the slices, yield and presentation; and the ability to estimate a 100-gram portion of ham, among other things. This year, the winner of the prestigious title of "Best Ham Carver in Spain 2018", was Francisco José Castro Navarro of Córdoba. How he managed not to stop carving and eat the products of his labor I'll never know.
And while Spanish ham has a tendency to steal the show, excellent charcuterie including different types of chorizo – morcilla, salchichón, fuet, cecina, butifarra – were also at the fair in full force, enticing visitors with their regional variations and excellent quality.
Wine, the perfect pairing for all of the above
Accounting for more than a third of all exhibitors at the Salón de Gourmets, Spanish wineries are always a huge draw for visitors from all over the world. For reds, whites, rosados, Cavas, dessert wines, Sherries, and even fortified wines like vermouths, this is one of the very best places to come to taste your way through Spain’s wine cellars. Furthermore, for an unbeatable tour of the country's more than seventy wine designations of origin and numerous native grape varieties, there is no better place than the popular Tunél de Vino, or wine tunnel, which has been staged by MAPAMA for the past 23 years, attracting some 30,000 visitors last year alone.
For the 2018 edition of the fair, the Túnel de Vino featured 355 single-variety wines from 279 Spanish wineries found all over the country and organized by grape variety, allowing visitors to compare the characteristics of wines from different regions that were made using the same grape – a truly fascinating and palate-pleasing visit for even the novice wine lover.
Additionally, visitors interested in zooming in on a specific area or winery, can attend any of the numerous tastings set up by the wineries themselves over the course of this four-day event, or by different Spanish regions showcasing a range of their products.
Accounting for more than a third of all exhibitors at the Salón de Gourmets, Spanish wineries are always a huge draw for visitors from all over the world.