August 19th, 2013
I make a beeline for the La Boqueria (Barcelona’s beautiful and historical market) almost as soon as my plane lands.
Aside from general food shopping, I love the smell of Jamón Serrano, possibly even more than the taste if that’s possible. In Spain it’s normal to buy a whole ham and have it sitting in the kitchen on a purpose built support. You slice off what you need when required.
When I get to my final day (each visit) I go and buy my favourite Spanish foods to take home. Above is Ramos (stall 235), who specialise in cured meat and sausages. I always visit them to buy a large Chorizo de Bellota (which comes vacuum packed). Chorizo de Bellota is made from Jamón Ibérico (Iberian pigs that have been allowed to roam free in oak forests, eating acorns – bellota) and smoked pimentón. Bellota signifies that it is the highest quality Spanish ham and pork. In acorn fed pigs, the fat contains a considerable amount of oleic acid, the constituent in olive oil that helps lower cholesterol levels.
The one above is almost 2 feet long – this size just fits into my suitcase diagonally. After removing the vacuum packaging, the chorizo needs to be hung up in a cool place to dry out. It can be eaten straight away, but it’s best if left for a week or so. Chorizo and Jamon Serrano are cured and will keep for years (ideally in an old fashioned larder) – that’s the point of curing. Once sliced, the end can be covered with clean muslin or kitchen paper and it can be left hanging. It keeps and tastes best out of the fridge.
I’ve tried just about all the chorizo in the Boqueria and this one is my favourite. I can’t find anything as good in England and certainly not for 27€.
You can buy Manchego in Britain from most supermarkets, but generally its quite young, rubbery and processed, you won’t find the kind of variety in raw milk or aged cheeses that you get in Spain. Some aged Manchego can have a very similar taste and texture to Parmesan and Grana Padano.
The Cheese Lady is happy to let me taste the ones that take my fancy and I normally come away with roughly half a cheese – about a kilo. The one I chose, centre above, is an artesanal cheese, made from pur ovella (pure, raw sheep’s milk) and aged for 24 months.
It has a strong, sharp, peppery taste with a crumbly texture. Manchego is defined as a sheep’s milk cheese, produced by Manchega sheep, in the La Mancha region. However, there are a lot of Manchego style cheeses produced in other parts of Spain. The real thing is labeled Denominación de Origen Protegida (D.O.P.).
I consider the Chorizo and Manchego to be essential purchases, but if I’m still flush by the end of my stay, I visit the Brandada Lady (stall 728).
Avinova – Aviram Ous i Caça (stall 703) is also worth a visit for foie gras and croquetas. My London butcher tells me that because of the high fat content, foie gras will keep for a long time – years if frozen.
All the above stalls can be found on the Boqueria Map.
A visit to La Boquería is certainly worth while; it is the best showcase of ingredients in the city, with its fish products which arrive at the market from 7 pm, and fresh fish from the port of Rosas, as well as salt fish, poultry, fruit, meat and offal. Here one can find things that are impossible to find anywhere else in Barcelona.
Writer and gastronome.