Category Archives: Jamón

Seville | Ham and Sherry, the Whys and Wheres

Anybody taking a short holiday in a new place is faced with the problem of prioritising their time, making sure that they see the things that are genuine “unmissables”, and foregoing some of the less important, while still having the opportunity to relax a bit (it’s a holiday after all). A lot of this will revolve around the sights and monuments, but these days experiencing the best of local culture and customs is high on many people’s list of things to do. For these people I have one very important piece of advice. Do not, on any account, leave Seville without doing the ham and sherry thing.

There are lots of reasons for this. First of all, of course, is that it’s a pleasurable culinary experience, regardless of the social and cultural stuff that comes with it, but I’m going to take that as read and concentrate on the other aspects, the ones that make it an essential part of coming to Spain.

jamon sherryjamón Ibérico with Amontillado

So let’s begin. With more than 3,000 tapas bars to choose from in Seville, and ham and sherry available in almost all of them, where should you go for the most authentically Sevillano experience? Personally, my top choices are the more traditional bars, places with hams hanging from the ceilings, Semana Santa and Spring Fair posters on the walls, and all the other paraphernalia that give a bar a special atmosphere. Favourites include Bar Las Teresas in the Santa Cruz, Casa Morales in the Arenal neighbourhood, and Taberna Manolo Cateca in the city centre.

Why sherry, and what exactly should you be ordering? As an aperitif to accompany ham and other starters you should be choosing a dry white sherry. Fino, Manzanilla or Amontillado are all suitable companions to your plate of jamón. But what’s so special about sherry? Sherry is possibly the world’s most misunderstood wine. Many people outside Spain still think of it as a dark, sweet wine (and there are sherries like that), but dry pale sherries are a totally different thing. The grapes are grown, and the wine aged, in southwest Spain, making it a genuine local product that has developed over the centuries into a perfect pairing for the food, and it should be sipped while you eat (it changes the flavour of both wine and food), not drunk beforehand.

 jamones at Las Teresas

It’s traditionally taken with cured meat and cheese, first and foremost with the famous Jamón Iberico Bellota. This is made only from the Spanish black-footed (Ibérico) pig, which is unique to Spain and Portugal (no pig-smuggling allowed!), raised free-range on a predominantly acorn (bellota) diet, salt cured and then aged in the air in special warehouses that maintain “cellar” temperatures for a minimum of two years. Also have caña de lomo, prepared the same way, but from the back of the pig, chorizo (sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), and an aged cheese such as a Payoyo, all very typical of southern Spain.

sherry tour (1)cured sheep cheese, caña de lomo & jamón Ibérico with Manzanilla

There are few things that can compare to ham and sherry, consumed in its natural home in an old tavern in Spanish Spain. So book your apartment and get out here and enjoy it.

And there’s lots of other good stuff too, from the sunshine to magnificent palaces….

Seville | 10 Typical Tapas

People often ask me questions like “What is your favourite tapa?”, to which I usually answer “what’s your favourite song?”. Obviously it’s impossible to choose just one, but I can tell you about the most typical/popular tapas (or foods in general) that people eat here. And so, in response to popular demand, this is a list of 10 very typical – and delicious – Spanish tapas. It’s not definitive. It has a regional bias towards Andalucia (no Pulpo a la Gallega, no Paella, no Fideuá), and some personal biases too (no Ensaladilla Rusa or Callos a la Madrileña). And there’s plenty of common dishes not included because this is a top ten, not a top fifty.

jamonjamón Ibérico de Bellota

Cured ham Jamón is close to being a national obsession in Spain. Hams can be seen hanging from the rafters in all the best bars, and every tapeo should begin with a plate of it served in those wafer thin slices. The best quality is Iberico, made from the Spanish black-footed pig (pata negra), but Serrano is good too.

Fresh Anchovies (boquerones) The Spanish and Portuguese are said to eat more fish and seafood than any other people on earth, except the Japanese and Icelanders. One of the most popular fish is boquerones, which are either fried in batter al limón, or marinated in vinegar. Delicious either way and nothing like the tinned variety you may be used to.

Tortilla de Patatas I was in two minds whether to include this as it’s so not exotic, but it’s so typical I felt I had to. A traditional thick potato omelette, though it can be made with other vegetables too, cooked to a firmer texture than a typical English omelette (although some people prefer a more runny centre) and cut into slices. Comfort food goodness.

tortillatortilla de patatas

Croquettes These really don’t need much explanation, except to say that they are unlike the French variety, with bechamel instead of potato, and various fillings (ham, mushroom, cheese etc), rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The best are satisfyingly crunchy.

Pavia de Bacalao  Bacalao (cod), usually salted, is one of the staples of Spanish cooking. Pavia is a traditional battered cod (a bit like the fish in fish and chips), crispy and crunchy on the outside and flaky on the inside, but bacalao can be served in dozens of different forms.

Solomillo al Whisky Pork sirloin grilled and served with a whisky and garlic sauce. Can be served with other sauces, but this is the best.

Gazpacho is the best known of the Spanish cold soups that are so refreshing on a hot summer’s day, although I’m making it do duty here for cold soups in general. The majority of these are tomato based (my favourite is actually salmorejo, served with a garnish of chopped boiled egg and jamón), but you should also try ajo blanco, the white garlic and almond soup that’s the oldest known cold soup variety.

gazpachoa cold cup of gazpacho

Gambas al Ajillo Prawns in sizzling hot oil and garlic, with the odd red chili pepper thrown in for a bit of bite. Prawns are ubiquitous in the tapas bars, and come in all shapes, sizes and methods of preparation, but I think this is the most “Spanish”.

Meatballs (albondigas) Usually pork, sometimes beef, and quite often (albondigas being broader in meaning than meat balls) seafood, especially chocos (cuttlefish), served in a thick sauce, either gravy or tomato based. Like a lot of traditional dishes it was originally an economical filler- and nothing wrong with that.

Pork cheeks (Carrillada or Carrillera) Possibly my favourite tapa (though it’s a close call), pork cheeks are braissed on low heat for three hours or more until they’re super tender, and served in a sauce made from their own juices, garlic, and whatever else the bar’s secret recipe calls for. Miss this one and you’ll regret it forever.

Find out more about tapas and the art of the tapeo over here.

Seville | How to Tapear in Seville

Considering how interested most of us are in food, and in particular good food at reasonable prices, and considering how often we’ve mentioned the subject in passing, or to direct visitors to suitable eating establishments, it came as something of a surprise to discover that we have no blogpost on the noble art of the tapeo.

What is it?

tapaTapa literally means a lid or cover. In this case a small dish of food, or even just a piece of bread that you could put over your glass of wine to keep out the dust and flies, which would then be topped with a piece of jamón or cheese. To tapear (verb) is to go from bar to bar having tapas. Tapeo (noun) is the journey that results – a kind of civilised pub-crawl, with food. Both the cuisine and the custom are thought to have developed in the taverns of Seville and other parts of Andalucia in the 18th and 19th centuries. In recent years the concept of the tapa has been spreading abroad, and the cuisine gaining increasing international recognition.

Why do it?

Well, firstly, because you’re in Seville, the home of the tapa, and there are few better ways of getting to know about another culture than through its food and eating customs. Secondly, because it’s fun. It’s a social event with family or a group of friends, sharing food, taking your time, talking, meeting people. It’s informal, often noisy, and often done standing up at the bar. The best bars are usually crowded and busy, and to the uninitiated can seem chaotic and intimidating, but don’t let that put you off – the natives are friendly.

Some tips

tapasIt’s a good idea to have a list of recommended places, so that you don’t end up wandering aimlessly around, wondering which bars to go into. There are said to be around 3,000 in the city, and though many are very good, there are also plenty that are mediocre. You should also have a few things that you know you want to try, but be flexible.

In some bars you can only get tapas at the bar – at the tables or on the terrace you may have to buy raciones (big plates), but there’s no set rule. If in doubt ask (“hay tapas en las mesas/la terraza?” “Are there tapas at the tables/on the terrace?”) There’s usually waiter service outside, and often at tables, but watch what other people are doing. You may have to go to the bar to order.

Don’t order everything at once. There won’t be room on the table, the food will go cold, and you may find you’ve ordered more than you want (the size of a tapa can vary). As a rule of thumb order one tapas per person per round. If you’re still hungry order more. There’s no rush. If you see something you like go past, you can add it to your order. When you’ve had enough, stop. The bill is La Cuenta. There’s no rule for tipping, but I generally leave around 10%.


The Cuisine

For practical reasons most of the dishes have a short “final preparation” time, so lots of fried or lightly grilled fish and seafood and lean meat cuts, and marinated or cured meat and fish. Must sample tapas include the famous Jamon Iberico de Bellota (cured free range ham from the black foot pig), carrillera (slow-cooked stewed pork cheeks), and marinated anchovies. What you won’t find is much in the way of spicy food. Patatas bravas is about as hot as it gets.

Sleeping it off

You are, of course, going to need somewhere to sleep it off afterwards. Veoapartment has a great range of holiday apartments in Seville where you can get your head down, ready to do it again the next day, or even the evening following a serious lunchtime tapeo.


Seville | The Sherry Triangle

Deep in the southwest of the magical kingdom of Spain lies a mysterious region known to its intrepid explorers as the Sherry Triangle. Unlike its Bermudan namesake, however, it is not most famous for things that disappear (though people venturing in have been known to never emerge again), but for what comes out of it.

Different layers of barrels are used for blending older and younger wines

Different layers of barrels are used for blending older and younger wines

Now, right now you may be thinking – Sherry? That’s that dark, overly sweet stuff that Grandma serves up on Christmas day, isn’t it? Well, yes… and then again, no. Sherry is actually any wine made in the Sherry region (officially the area regulated by the commission that oversees the production and quality control of wines labelled Jerez-Xeres-Sherry), a roughly triangular area between the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria, that produces some of the world’s most complex and unique wines.

Wine has been produced here at least since Roman times, and has seen many ups and downs in its quality and popularity since then, but it’s currently having something of a renaissance, not only in Spain, but also in other European markets. The English, in particular, have had a long love affair with sherry that dates back to Elizabethan times, when it was known as sack (probably from the Spanish verb sacar, meaning “to take out”) and was referred to by Shakespeare in several of his plays.

Almost all sherries are made from the palomino variety of grape, which is particularly well suited to the triangle’s light chalky soil, the albariza, though sweet dessert sherries may be made wholly or partly from Pedro Ximenez or Muscatel. After fermentation, the wine is fortified, and then may be aged under a layer of yeasts, called flor (making fino or manzanilla sherries), or exposed to the air (oloroso sherry), or both (amontillado and palo cortado sherries), in a system of barrels known as a solera, in which wines of different ages are blended together.

Different types of sherry from dry (left) to sweet (right)

Different types of sherry from dry (left) to sweet (right)

Most sherries are exceptionally dry, and are an excellent accompaniment to the famous Spanish hams and cheeses (and almost anything else!), and there is no gastronomic experience more quintessentially Spanish than sitting in a traditional style bar somewhere in southern Spain, eating jamon with a manzanillo or fino sherry. If you haven’t tried it yet, put it on your to-do list immediately.

If you’re already an aficionado, or just interested in wines, you might like to take a day trip to Jerez, and tour one of sherry bodegas, where you can learn more about how it’s made and some of the traditions that have grown up around it. You can find a list of bodegas that give tours through the Jerez Tourism board.

The Secret of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

If you’ve ever been to Spain, and been out for tapas, you have probably already sampled the delights of genuine Spanish Iberico ham for yourself, and discovered its unique slightly nutty, slightly sweet taste (and if you haven’t it’s almost worth making the trip for this alone). Either way, though, you may have asked some “meaning of life” style questions, such as, What’s the difference between Iberico and Serrano? What’s the significance of bellota (pronounced bayota)? How do they make this wonderful stuff? And Can I have some more, please? Well we’re going to answer these questions for you. Except the last one – you can ask the barman.

The Pig, The Whole Pig, and Nothing but the Pig

While both Iberico and Serrano (literally mountain ham) are both free range cured pork, Iberico refers exclusively to products made from the native Spanish black pig (also known as pata negra), which has been around in Spain at least since the stone age, while Serrano is usually made from the  European white pig. The Iberico is considered superior for cured meats because its higher fat content, especially on the outside of the ham, allows for longer curing and a richer flavour.

Bellota and the Dehesa

Bellota is Spanish for acorn, and the appearance of this term in the name tells you that this came from a free-range pig fattened on acorns, which is the key factor in giving the fat in the meat its melt-in-the-mouth quality. It also makes it very healthy, as it’s rich in oleic acid, the oil that you find in olives. The Dehesa is the open hillside pasture land, studded with oak trees, mostly holm oak and cork, where the pigs are turned out to forage and fatten about six months before slaughter. To ensure room to roam and plenty of acorns, pig populations are limited to just two per hectare. This also limits supply, and helps keep prices, as well as pigs, healthy. Maintaining this high quality through all the stages of production is the responsibility of the controlling bodies of the four Denominaciones de Origen (D.O.s). The main production areas are in Extramadura, Huelva and Seville in the southwest of Spain, and in recent years tours of the farms and the Dehesa to see the pigs have become increasingly popular.


After the slaughter, or matanza, in January or February, the parts of the pig that are to be cured – the legs, of course, but also other cuts, including those used to make caña de lomo – are separated and buried in salt for two to three weeks, and then hung up to dry in the mountain air in special warehouses. The curing process lasts for around two years, and sometimes longer. The hams may lose up to half their weight as the fat sweats out of them (which is why you often see those little cups under the hams hanging up in bars), while the salt prevents bacteria from attacking the meat. Natural antioxidants in the meat also help to break down the fats, giving it its unique texture and rich medley of flavours that increases with the length of the curing process. And there you have it!

Where you can find it

You can find it in almost any bar, and it’s actually a good idea to try a tapa or ración of Jamón Iberico de Bellota at several different establishments as every jamón experience is a little bit different. Not only does the quality vary from place to place, but so does the cutting technique (there are actually competitions) and, of course, you will be getting meat cut from different parts of the leg. The meat should be eaten at room temperature and accompanied by a fino or manzanilla sherry. Que aproveche.