Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Turrón, More Spanish Christmas Treats

This quite magnificent almond based sweetmeat is found all over Mediterranean Europe and reaches its peak of perfection in Spain. The word comes from the Latin torrere (to toast) and the product has a very long history, possibly back to 4th century BC Rome. In Spain the oldest references come from the XV century in the town of Jijona near Alicante in the East of the country. King Felipe II decreed in 1595 that turrón and pan de higos (lit. fig bread, a compressed bar of chopped dried figs with or without a drop of anis) should be given at Christmas time, and they have been ever since.

During late January and February the countryside is lit up spectacularly with the beautiful pinky-white almond blossom, and the harvest takes place mid-August to late September. The nuts are dried in the sun for a day or two so they can be ground if necessary. After the USA, Spain is the world’s largest producer of almonds.

Turrón is simply made from toasted almonds (occasionally other nuts), egg white and cooked sugar and honey (usually rosemary or thyme) in a variety of ways. The Alicante style is stiff and resembles nougat with whole almonds in it, while the Jijona style (often referred to as “blando” or soft) uses ground almonds and is comparatively soft. It is essentially simple, but over time an enormous number of variations have appeared which contain for example chocolate, coconut, liqueur, egg yolk or toasted rice. They are nearly always sold in 250 or 300 gram bars.

Turron de Jijona (foto IGP)
Nowadays there is an Indicación Geográfica Protegida (like a Denominación de Origen) “Jijona y Turrón de Alicante” which protects, promotes and supervises their good name. Nevertheless, the producers here also make a huge range of other sweetmeats such as marzipan and various other “dulces” (sweetmeats) which originate elsewhere like Pán de Cádiz and Polvorones (Estepa). Equally, of course, turrón is produced elsewhere in Spain, but without the IGP.

Turron de Alicante (foto IGP)
In November the Spanish food shops and supermarkets begin to positively bristle with Turrón in every imaginable flavour, along with all the other dulces, often in beautifully arranged selection boxes. They are utterly irresistible, but don’t worry, they are very nutritious. There is very little saturated fat but lots of protein and vitamins. And of course they are only available in the Christmas period, which is an incredible pity - but probably just as well!

The ideal wine to accompany turrón is a richer style of Sherry like an off-dry oloroso or light cream.

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