Blanca Valencia’s Top 10 Spanish Luxury Products
Spanish Food Expert and Chef Blanca Valencia selects her 10 favorite Spanish Gourmet Products, from Amontillado Olive Oil and Saffron DOP to Marcona Almonds or Torta del Casar DOP cheese.
by Blanca Valencia - @blancsvalencia
In Spain luxury comes in many guises: from supporting artisanal producers, to hand-picked flowers and solitary coastal towns. Luxury is not only about rarity but also about simplicity. Here are ten luxury Spanish gourmet products destined to create a conversation.
Amontillado Olive Oil by Castillo de Canena. Only Castillo de Canena, one of Spain’s best premium extra virgin olive oil producers, is able to combine two iconic Spanish products: sherry and olive oil in a successful and surprising combination. Their amontillado oil, launched in April 2021 in collaboration with Lustau, combines particularly well with cheeses and conservas. Castillo were the pioneers of giving our world-class olive varietals a new lease on life, not only by smoking and flavoring oils, but also by bottling them in one-of-a-kind designer bottles.
Saffron PDO by La Melguiza. La Melguiza has repurposed saffron into beauty products and chocolates but ultimately it is their saffron PDO from La Mancha that continues to hold the limelight. The pistils of the crocus sativus flower simultaneously add a golden tone and a majestic flavor to your cooking. Their saffron comes directly from La Mancha, where it is hand-picked and carefully packaged. In order to produce one pound of saffron you need 70,000 flowers.
Torta del Casar PDO. A torta cheese has a liquefied center with a mildly bitter and rich flavor reminiscent of artichoke and herbs. This sought-after cheese from Extremadura is made exclusively from the milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep using thistle rennet and matured for sixty days, and it is part of the Jewish legacy of the Iberian peninsula in its use of vegetarian rennet. The low milk yields of these breeds mean that to make five liters of milk you need fifteen sheep. It is no surprise then that tortas command some of the highest prices in the Spanish cheese market. To enjoy this cheese you need nothing but a handful of mild picos.
Clam conservas from the Galician Rias. The clam is undoubtedly the queen of Spain’s conservas, especially the ones from the Galician Rias or estuaries. Their scarcity and high price is a result of their seasonality; the best specimens are artisanally harvested with rakes from October to February. The succulent clam packed in water and salt is a favorite for its toothy yet luscious texture and incomparable clean flavor. Try it with a wine from Rías Baixas.
100% Ibérico Ham. Ham made from the native Ibérico breed of pigs is a food experience that has no parallels and needs no adornments. The 100% Ibérico pigs roam free and eat acorns during the montanera, the season for acorn foraging in the autumn. The meltingly soft, hand cut wafer-thin slices of ham taste of nuts with a pleasant hint of gaminess. Ibérico ham pairs well with fino and manzanilla sherry, which serve as a foil for the richness. Each part of the leg of ham can elicit different sensations; no wonder cortadores (or cutters) of ham have become stars in their own right.
Gran Reserva Sherry Vinegar PDO. Spain’s unique and characterful vinegar is in the toolbox of the world’s most famous chefs due to its complex notes of spices and nuts and its versatility. Its acidity and complexity helps balance and bring out the flavor of dishes from the humblest salmorejo to elaborated game ones. To classify as Gran Reserva, a sherry vinegar needs to be aged for at least 10 years in American oak barrels.
Sibarita Oloroso VORS by Osborne. The only style of dry sherry not aged under a layer of yeast, these older versions (VORS) are aged for 30 years or more. The solera or mix of many wine vintages was originally started in 1792 and it has been sold off to different bodegas through the years. This sherry has hints of toffee and roasted nuts with a well-balanced acidity and sweetness. Wide pairing opportunities include a Michelin star Indian meal, anything cooked in sherry, and Marcona almonds.
Organic Caviar from Riofrío. This aquaculture sturgeon farm nestled in the mountains of Loja in Granada and founded in 1963 is the first organic certified caviar in the world. Using an almost extinct species the Acipenser naccarii, which are reared in captivity, the organic caviar is extracted after18 years of rearing. It is a pearly grey caviar with a fresh flavor and no preservatives or salt which makes it a great entry level caviar with full traceability. Eat on its own with a mother of pearl spoon.
Anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea. Santoña, a coastal town in the region of Cantabria, produces the best quality anchovies in Spain. The cycle starts by choosing the highest grade anchovies which are processed artisanally in the spring and matured in barrels for a year. The anchovy is a semi-preserve, which means they have not been heat treated. They are the key ingredient to a sophisticated aperitivo hour. Paired with boquerones to make a matrimonio, or in gilda (piparra, olive and anchovy) but also on their own. They pair well with Albariño and Cava.
Marcona Almonds. The sweetest and most prized almond in the world of nut connoisseurs. It is used in sweet confectionery like turrón or nougat and is the star of high-end snacks and aperitivos. The Marcona almond tree is lower yielding than other varieties and the fruit's shape is round and flat with a crumblier texture that is softer to the bite. They have a higher oil content which makes them more flavorful but also more delicate.