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