If there's one time of the year when we have more time than usual, it's Christmas. And it's the perfect time of year to linger around the table after the meal is over.
In Spain, mealtime is truly a celebration of gastronomy. It has to do not only with the food that appears on (and disappears from) the table, but with everything that around it. Among the most authentically Spanish customs is the sobremesa.
What's the sobremesa? It's an indeterminate period of time, ranging from half an hour to two hours, after a meal has ended. It's the perfect moment to enjoy a coffee, some sweets, or a drink while the conversation flows. Christmas is an ideal time of the year to turn the sobremesa into an art. Aside from a cup of coffee with turrón or other Christmas sweets, which is the tradition during these holidays, there are a series of specialties to turn any sobremesa into an unforgettable moment.
To drink: brandy, PGI gin, pacharán…
If, during the meal, we have been lucky enough to sip on sherry wine—from fino to palo cortado—brandy de Jerez is a perfect drink to enjoy at this moment. This noble drink, distilled from wine made with Airén and Palomino grapes, can be enjoyed on its own, on the rocks, or even in cocktails, to which it adds a sophisticated vinous air.
In Spain, there's also a notable fondness for gin and tonics. In recent years, it has become the most fashionable cocktail around. Wondering how to drink it like they do in Spain? Make it using Mahón gin, which boasts Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. Made in the Balearic Islands, it adds a subtle Mediterranean flavor. Combining it with tonic and a slice of citrus fruit is very refreshing; it's perfect after a hearty Christmas meal.
Pacharán, a drink from Navarre with an unmistakable amber color obtained by macerating sloes in ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin, also has a PGI. The tradition with pacharán is to drink it neat or with an ice stone in a glass that's wider than it is taller. Like brandy, pacharán has become a great alternative as a base liqueur for creations made in a cocktail shaker. A mojito with pacharán? Why not!
Sweet delicacies: from mantecadas to tejas and cigarillos
At a good sobremesa, sweets must be served alongside the drinks. As we mention before, the most obvious are the Christmas classics: marzipan, turrón, and polvorones. However, there are more possibilities beyond these... And products that are available all year round.
One example is the mantecadas (not to be confused with the Christmas mantecados) from Astorga (León), which are protected by a PGI and made from wheat flour, egg, cow's butter, lard, and sugar; they are similar to muffins. The Tarta de Santiago also has a PGI. The cake has a spongy texture and one of the main ingredients is almonds. Remember to look for the imprint of the signature cross stencil on top. And it is a naturally gluten-free cake, which is always a plus!
Other PGI sweets can liven up the sobremesa. One of them is ensaimada from Mallorca, which can be filled with cabello de ángel, a preparation made from pumpkin, cider, sugar, and lemon. It's also available without filling. Another traditional sweet in which butter plays an important role is the sobao pasiego from Cantabria. It's irresistible due to the amount of butter used to make it (26% minimum). Warning: it can be too big for one person: this is a perfect one to share with your loved ones.
More sweets that can turn the sobremesa into the perfect moment are the traditional, very famous Inés Rosales tortas de aceite. This sweet has been made with extra virgin olive oil, using traditional methods, in Seville since 1910. It can even be used for creating savory snacks: try them with cheese, sobrasada or any other ingredient you want. And from a sweet made with EVOO to one in which butter is the main ingredient... and almonds: the traditional tejas and cigarillos from Tolosa (in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa), which are crunchy and perfect for a lengthy sobremesa, when pleasure should be the one and only priority.