Sunday, 10 April 2016

Los Montañeses

Strictly speaking these “people from the mountains” came from La Montaña or the Sierra Cantabria, but the term soon came to imply people from all over the north of Spain who came to the south when there was little future for them at home but mere subsistence, yet great possibilities in the south. The exodus began after the re-conquest of western Andalucía from the Moors by King Fernando III in the XIII century and the consequent need to repopulate the area, organised by his son Alfonso X “The Wise”. After the expulsion of the Jews in the XV century and the Moriscos (converted Moors) in the next, this was needed all the more.

With the discovery of the Americas, trade and wealth grew rapidly in both Cádiz and Sevilla and there were great opportunities for these incomers from the north in both Andalucía and the Americas. During the XVII to the XIX centuries and peaking in the XVIII large numbers of Montañeses arrived in search of their fortune. Being of an enterprising nature, a great many opened grocery shops, where possible on busy street corners, and once old enough and having saved a little money, their assistants, also montañeses, would start their own business. They sold all kinds of food and dispensed wine on draught from little barrels. The shops normally had two doors so that women could do their shopping without being annoyed by the drinkers in what were becoming taverns.

A typical tienda (shop) montanes about 1900

Important developments took place in these “shops”. Here is almost certainly the origin of the tapa: a bite of dried cod or a slice of cured pork being served on a piece of paper on top of a glass of wine. It was not till the early XX century that little plates began to be used. Here also was the birth of the tabanco and probably even the solera system, as the little barrels were regularly topped up with younger wine for consistency and freshness. This principle would make Manzanilla famous and revolutionise Sherry production.

Tabanco El Pasaje 1920s

The montañeses were hard workers and careful with money, and some invested in vineyards and bodegas, becoming famous. Many of their names are still remembered today: Juan Moreno de Mora, León de Argüeso, Manuel Fernández de Bobadilla, Manuel Misa y Bertemati (now Diez Mérito), Luis Caballero, Iñigo Ruiz de Villegas y Sánchez de Tagle (Ruiz Hermanos), Domingo Pérez Marín (La Guita) and Tomás Abad among others.

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