On every Wine-Knows trip one of the most common questions posed by clients is “What souvenirs should I bring home for my food-loving friends?” Below is a list of items that will please any gourmand. They are listed in the order of their ease of packing in a suitcase for the flight back to the US.
These delicate threads are used in one of Spain’s signature dishes, paella. Plucked from the flowers of crocus, the miniscule stamens are then dried. Top quality saffron is the most expensive food product on earth---more than caviar and truffles. And, no worries if your friends don’t make paella as saffron is used in many classical risottos, curries, bouillabaisse, and even in baking.
But, buyer beware. There are many grades of saffron so it is necessary to buy it from a trusted source. If the price is too good to be true, don’t buy it. It can be old (and therefore have lost all of its aromatic properties); it can be an inferior grade (with inferior flavors & aromas); it can even be a knockoff and not even saffron. I usually buy mine at the Corte Ingles department store (Spain’s Macys). If you aren’t near a big city, ask one of the restaurants in which we’ll be dining where it can be procured locally. (BTW…saffron in Spanish is azafran).
You haven’t tasted paprika until you’ve tasted Spain’s smoky paprika which can turn even the most mundane dish into a culinary masterpiece. The best pimenton (paprika) is from area of La Vera where the mild red peppers are roasted over an oak wood fire. This pimenton is killer with deep layers of woodsy flavor. While pimenton de La Vera is used in the best paellas of Spain, like saffron, it can be utilized in many international dishes to add complexity.
I still remember my first bite of Membrillo and that’s saying something because it was nearly 15 years ago. Membrillo is a thick fruit paste (think of a very thick jam) made from quince. It’s one of the yummiest things I’ve tasted and most everyone who eats it falls in love. (I was so enamored with membrillo that I had a quince tree planted at my home so that I can have home-made membrillo on hand at all times). Typically paired with a cheese, it makes a perfect appetizer, or an ethereal dessert. And, it is classically Spanish. Ole!
These mild red peppers are very popular in the Rioja wine district of Northern Spain. In the autumn it’s not unusual to see them being roasted over embers in the back alleys, or to see the women sitting out on front porches peeling their charred skin. Sold in jars, these bites of heaven can be addictive. They can be stuffed, added to a dish in lieu of red bell peppers, or can be eaten directly out of the jar by themselves. Love them…and most likely so will you.