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Exploring the Cuisine of the Sierra de Cadiz

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine zopa

A few weeks ago I spent three days in the Sierra de Cadiz and my taste buds have not recovered. This mountainous region in the south of Spain is most famous for the “Pueblos Blancos,” whitewashed towns that seem pinned to steep inclines. But while the physical and architectural beauty of the Sierra de Cadiz cannot be refuted, I fell in love with a different form of aesthetics – the traditional cuisine the region offers. Queso payoyo, anyone?

The breakfast standard in the Sierra is mollete, a typical Andalusian way to start the morning. This round white bread roll is toasted and served with tomato spread and olive oil on the side.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine molllete

The Sierra de Cadiz is full of green slopes and open pastures. These spaces and the cooler temperatures of the Sierra are perfect for raising goats. The payoyo goat provides one of the stars of the local cuisine: queso payoyo. I had been anxiously awaiting my first piece of this cheese and the aged queso payoyo below did not disappoint – quite smooth while delivering layers of savory flavors.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine queso payoyo

With the ocean a short drive from the Sierra, fresh tuna is easily available and made for a nice salad component.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine tuna

One of my favorite discoveries was carne mechada, or carne mechá in local parlance. This pork loin is rubbed with a mixture of garlic and diced vegetables then cooked in wine and water. Thinly sliced, carne mechá rivals jamón serrano in terms of a tapa. In the middle of the carne mechá is a pile of chicharrones, addicting pork cracklings.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine carne mechada mecha

Rack of lamb is another famed dish of the Sierra de Cadiz. I had to shoot quickly to capture the plate before the ones below disappeared.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine cordero lamb

Wine from a nearby vineyard always seems to pair best with local food, doesn’t it? I’d already tasted Barbazul while in Seville, so I was pleased to have it accompany the food above. Each red I’ve tried from their line has been light with subtle fruits, making them an excellent choice for a large meal.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine barbazul wine vino

Of all the food I sampled in the Sierra de Cadiz, the most memorable was the zopa de tomate. Although its name sounds like it, “zopa” is definitely not a soup – bread is its primary ingredient. I was very fortunate to attend an outdoor cooking demonstration by Antonio Orozco, a local chef and culinary instructor, near the town of Villamartín. Antonio narrated as he fried garlic in what was at least a liter of olive oil, added in a green pepper and then ripe tomatoes. The chunks of day-old white bread soaked up the mixture and were then patted and formed, with the result looking like a tortilla de patatas. This filling dish was typically eaten by field workers mid-morning to keep them sustained through the afternoon. Traditionally, everyone grabs a large fork and takes their turn digging in to the zopa.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine garlic ajo

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine zopa

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine zopa

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine zopa chorizo

What to drink at a mid-day feast like this? A few local options were present. Homemade sweet wine flowed freely, and if a beverage is served from a re-purposed plastic bottle, I’m usually game. Manzanilla sherry is my preferred aperitif when in the south, though. The crisp finish is tough to beat and leaves the palate neutral for the food to dominate. Cruzcampo’s lagers are omnipresent at Andalusian gatherings.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine sweet wine

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine sherry manzanilla

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine cruzcampo cruz sur

For dessert, I enjoyed the Andalusian classic of gachas, a milky creation with a touch of anise, and leche frita (“fried milk”), a texturally pleasing treat from the north that is crunchy on the outside and creamy inside. An ideal, sweet finale to my culinary adventure.

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine gachas

Sierra de Cadiz gastronomia cuisine leche frita

Have you tried any of these dishes or drinks? If not, is there a food from Spain that you love?

Many thanks to the Grupo de Desarrollo Rural de la Sierra de Cádiz for hosting me and for providing me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the region’s food and drink.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Eileen February 20, 2015, 6:16 pm

    This brought me down memory lane. When living in Seville I’d start everyday with some pan con tomate! Everything prepared looks divine!

    • Dave February 20, 2015, 8:29 pm

      Hi Eileen – They know how to do things right in the south of Spain! I ordered an extra helping of the molletes after I tried them the first time – a happy way to get things going.

  • Charles McCool February 20, 2015, 6:20 pm

    Spain has some wonderful food and I would like to try more, more, more. The oranges in Valencia are the best I have tasted in the world.
    Charles McCool recently posted…5 Minutes With Jane Canapini, Grown Up TravelsMy Profile

    • Dave February 20, 2015, 8:31 pm

      I spent several months in Valencia in college, so I share your sentiments on their produce. Hard to beat!

  • concha flores vay February 20, 2015, 7:48 pm

    I really like to hear good things about Spain, I know it is a beautiful country but I am Spanish…..I also know that we have very good and healthy food. So………enjoy it!!!.

    • Dave February 20, 2015, 8:32 pm

      Thanks, Concha! I am an unabashed fanatic about Spanish cuisine, so this really was the perfect experience for me.

  • Chanel | Cultural Xplorer February 20, 2015, 7:49 pm

    Dave, seriously, this looks so delicious – and eating outdoors? That must have been a great experience 😀
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer recently posted…A Cultural Exploration of Fried ChickenMy Profile

    • Dave February 20, 2015, 8:34 pm

      Hi Chanel – A sunny day in late January meant temperatures in the low 60’s…absolutely unbeatable for some outdoor dining!

  • Susan Moore February 20, 2015, 9:01 pm

    It all looks so tasty! When I travel around Spain I plan to spend a few months in Andalusia region – thanks for introducing me to some of the wine and cuisine. In Spain, I have only visited Barcelona so far – loved trying the tapas and the cava :)
    Susan Moore recently posted…Going Nomadic – Pros and Cons – Should I Go Nomadic?My Profile

    • Dave February 23, 2015, 1:24 pm

      Barcelona is a great intro to the region’s cuisine. I have a difficult time not packing on a kilo or two whenever I’m in Spain.

  • travelFREAK February 21, 2015, 1:05 pm

    Those dishes look delicious! The olive oil in that region is fantastic. There’s definitely something special about Sierra de Cadiz!
    travelFREAK recently posted…11 Tips from Seasoned Pros to Make Planning Your Travels a Million Times EasierMy Profile

    • Dave February 23, 2015, 1:25 pm

      Enjoying the local specialties really strengthens the connection when you travel – good olive oil definitely helps!

  • Corinne February 22, 2015, 1:38 pm

    Dave, It all looks amazing. I’d never heard of the zopa before, and now I’m going to have to seek it out.
    Corinne recently posted…Weekend Travel Inspiration – Carew PapritzMy Profile

    • Dave February 23, 2015, 1:28 pm

      Hi Corinne – The zopa is a fun, communal experience. You guys would love it!

  • Rachael@safari254 February 25, 2015, 12:02 pm

    Everything looks delicious. I would have had a hard time pacing myself. I think my favourite would have been the lamb
    Rachael@safari254 recently posted…Kapsimotwa Gardens – Serene & SublimeMy Profile

  • Katie February 25, 2015, 5:52 pm

    Wow! I have heard of almost none of these foods, but my mouth is drooling and my stomach is grumbling (why I read food posts whilst hungry is beyond me!). The gachas dessert looks and sounds super intriguing and delicious!

  • Michael (Caribbean Travel Blog) February 26, 2015, 6:56 pm

    Yum! We loved our time in Spain. It is often overlooked and underrated by foodies, due to the close by France and Italy. Well… it shouldn’t be!
    Michael (Caribbean Travel Blog) recently posted…Windhaven Beach Villas, Turks and Caicos – Staying in ParadiseMy Profile

  • Annemarie March 2, 2015, 4:45 pm

    Wow, this looks so delicious! Getting really hungry now. Spain really has a great cuisine and whenever I think back to my time in Barcelona, I think tapas and tomato bread. Seeing your photos brings back some memories.
    Annemarie recently posted…Uncovering the Secret of the Blue Mountains with Colourful TripsMy Profile

  • Lauren Aloise March 16, 2015, 12:12 pm

    That looks like my dream day! Cadiz is an amazing place and so few people get to know its countryside.
    Lauren Aloise recently posted…Perfect Boiled Shrimp Recipe (Gambas Cocidas)My Profile

  • Elena March 27, 2015, 6:55 pm

    Your post brought back great memories about our time in Andalucia. I loved the local wines that sometimes were poured for free just as a compliment to the dish, but tasted comparable or even better than Californian wines.
    Elena recently posted…Biking Along the Rambla of MontevideoMy Profile

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