Brindisa and Monika Linton: Thirty Years of Spanish Gastronomy in Great Britain
Monika Linton has transformed her love of Spanish gastronomy into a booming business whose name has become synonymous with top-quality Spanish products and cuisine in her native Great Britain.
For the past thirty years, Brindisa has been tantalizing British palates with the very best products from the Spanish pantry — importing this country’s gastronomy to the delight of longstanding Spanish food lovers in the United Kingdom, while also winning over new fans of its cuisine. During this time, Brindisa has become a diverse enterprise that represents: a wholesale purveyor of top-quality Spanish products to restaurants; a bustling retail outlet at the famous Borough Market in London; a Spanish cheese and charcuterie delicatessen in Balham, South London; five tapas bars in Central London; Spanish ham carving schools; an online store; and a modern warehouse and distribution center that includes cheese-ageing rooms and other state-of-the-art food storage facilities.
Despite the continual growth and evolution of this company, Brindisa relies on a constant, driving force that shapes its dedication and commitment to bringing the best of Spanish gastronomy to Great Britain: its founder, Monika Linton. Foods and Wines from Spain spoke to this tremendous Spanish culinary ambassador about the past, present and future of Brindisa and her love for Spanish gastronomy. This is what she had to say:
When and how did you first become captivated by Spain and Spanish cuisine?
My father had a great love of Spain and visited much of the country in the 1950s, after completing his degree at Oxford. Dad’s fascination rubbed off on me and, after finishing my degree in Spanish, Iberian and Latin American studies, I moved to Catalonia. Not only was I surrounded by amazing cheeses, dried sausages, anchovies and other wonderful foods, but I was also blown away by people’s intrinsic understanding of them; the housewives who knew which were the best dried beans, the freshest fish or the sweetest tomatoes. This was something completely alien to the British culture I had come from.
How did the idea for Brindisa come about?
The specific moment when I knew that this was what I wanted to do was at a dinner one evening with my sister, brother and a box of cheeses that my brother had brought back from Spain. We devoured all of them and were thrilled by their quality, and that was when I determined to have a go at bringing these cheeses to the UK.
What kinds of challenges did you first encounter when breaking into the market in the UK with Spanish foods?
Ignorance of what Spain was capable of producing was the biggest issue. They exported little of the artisan products produced there and most UK consumer’s knowledge of Spanish food was limited to what was offered on cheap package holidays. Persuading chefs and retailers to even see me was difficult and it required persistence, stubbornness, and a few wonderful products that I had been lucky enough to source.
How has the market changed for these products over the past 30 years?
The market has changed beyond recognition over that time; the quality of the products that I had experienced thirty years ago is now widely recognized, not just by high-end chefs and shops, but by the public in general. Spanish restaurants are now acknowledged as some of the best and most innovative in the world and many people visit Spain specifically for the food, not just the sun!
What are the most recent Spanish products to break into the UK market? And the most popular?
Over the last few years fresh Ibérico meat has become much better known and can now be found on menus throughout the UK, including at many Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese restaurants. We began importing octopus from Galicia a few years ago and this is now amongst our best sellers.
What are a few of your absolute favorite Spanish products and why?
To me cheese is, and always will be, what I am always drawn to. Partly this is due to its part in the creation of Brindisa, but also because of the sheer variety, and how it can be a true expression of the land, animals and people who produce it. Monte Enebro, a goats’ milk cheese from Ávila, which was created in the same year as Brindisa was founded; the amazing Payoyo goats’ milk cheese made in the Sierra de Grazalema mountains in the far south-west of Andalusia from the milk of the endangered indigenous breed; or the intensely flavored cows’ milk blue, Cabrales, still matured in the limestone caves of the Picos de Europa mountains as it has been for more than a thousand years.
Do you think that the Spanish tapas culture has changed or influenced the way that people dine out in the UK overall?
Completely, from our imitation of the small dishes so common in Spain to the relaxed conversational environment which it creates, and even the time at which we eat. It’s nice to think we had a part to play in this cultural shift!
Text: Adrienne Smith /@ICEX
Photos and video: Brindisa