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I might be slightly biased when I say that Spanish cuisine is world class but it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
These are some of the most popular Spanish delicacies. If you’re not lucky enough to live in Spain they’re all available on Amazon for home delivery – perfect for putting together a hamper, either for yourself or as a gift.
Jamon Iberico is the gold standard of Spanish cured ham, and in pretty much every bar and restaurant throughout the country you’ll find huge legs of ham hanging from the ceiling. The best jamon is ‘de belotta’ which comes from pigs that have feasted on acorns as they roam the oak forests. As you’d expect this affects the flavour of the meat giving it a nutty flavour.
Jamon Serrano is the cheaper alternative but, whichever option you choose, there’s a definite skill to slicing the ham from the leg and the Spanish take it very seriously, with slicing competitions held throughout the country.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a whole leg of ham it’s possible to buy it already sliced and sealed in a vacuum pack. Look for Pata Negra ham to be sure you’re buying the very best.
Chorizo is another Spanish favourite – a pork sausage seasoned with garlic, salt and pimenton (the paprika which gives it its distinctive colour). Depending on the type of pimento used, the chorizo will either be picante (spicy) or dulce (sweet).
Mention Spanish cheese in conversation and most people think of Manchego. A hard cheese, it’s made with sheep’s milk and matured for anything from 60 days to two years and a staple of tapas bars around the country.
If you’ve ever holidayed in Menorca you’ve probably tried the cow’s milk cheese of Mahon – another one that’s definitely worth a look (and a taste!).
With coastlines on both the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean it should come as no surprise that seafood in various forms is popular in Spain. If you’re preparing a gift hamper you obviously can’t use fresh seafood but the tinned seafood you find in most supermarkets is worth trying.
Boquerones (anchovies) marinated in vinegar or cured in sea salt are classic choices and my personal favourites.
One of the most expensive spices in the world, saffron is used in a lot of Spanish dishes including, of course, paella. Often said to be pricier per weight than gold, saffron is a lot cheaper to buy in Spain as it’s grown here mainly around La Mancha.
Saffron is the stigma of the crocus flower and commands its high value due to the short picking period, the fact that the picking is done by hand and, more importantly, that it takes around 200 crocus flowers to produce a single gram of saffron.
Olives tend to be a love ‘em or hate ‘em food – given that Spain has over 250 million olive trees it should come as no surprise that olives are everywhere here. Go to a bar for a drink and, chances are, you’ll be given a small bowl of olives alongside your beer.
When I’m wandering around some of the amazing local weekend markets I’m always amazed at the variety of olives – luckily the stall holders are only too happy to offer free samples.
If you don’t have the luxury of try before you buy, go for the Spanish classic olive – the manzanilla.
Naturally, where there are olives there’s olive oil. Spain is the world’s biggest producer of olive oil and no meal is complete without a generous glug or two either during its preparation or when it’s brought to the table. Even a simple Spanish breakfast of pan con tomate is elevated to new heights with a slosh of oil.
Originating from the Andalucian city of Jerez, sherry is so much more than the Harvey’s Bristol cream that used to be passed between families at Christmas back in the 70s and 80s. Whether it’s a dry manzanilla for an aperitif, a rich amontillado or a sweet oloroso dessert wine you should be able to find the perfect sherry for even the most discerning palates.
What are your favourite Spanish foodstuffs?