Saturday, 25 March 2017

Carrilleras de cerdo en Pedro Ximénez - Iberico pork sheeks braised in Pedro Ximénez sherry (gluten-free)

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Iberico pork cheeks braised in Pedro Ximénez sherry take a little time but they are a delicacy that will melt in your mouth!

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This recipe is from my new book. 

Sure, it is so very yummydeliciously übergood, too, but it became one of my favourites because it was one of the recipes we tried, tested, styled, shot and devoured together with my beloved Gothenburger.

This gives him a legitimate claim to fame and reason to brag about his contribution to the book - not only has he been giving his opinion on the recipe, he's also been holding the styling props (and listening to the endless stream of profanities sprouting out of the author, frustrated with the ever-changing light and swiftly approaching deadlines...)

Andalusia has traditionally been one of EU's poorest regions, which reflects on its cuinary traditions, too. Every single part of the animal is used; also the not-so-appealing ones.

Iberico pork cheeks aren't much to look at and they do take a little time, but trust me - they're quite possibly the best part of the whole pig.

Perhaps a little surprisingly the sherries most often used for braising meat are the
dulces; sweet sherries such as Pedro Ximénez. Firts time I encountered this dish at one of my favourite tapas bars and boy, it was love from the first time.

Such a cheeky treat!

Serves 4-6 as a main, up to 10 as tapas

Carrilleras de cerdo en Pedro Ximénez - Iberico pork cheeks braised in Pedro
Ximénez sherry:

12 (Iberico) pork cheeks (total weight 1,2 - 1,6 kg)
2 celerys, finely diced
1 large carrot (or 2 medium ones), finely diced
1 large onion (or 2 small ones), finely diced
1 whole head of garlic, cut in half
5 dl stock
5 dl Pedro Ximénez sherry (or Cream sherry, like one from Valdespino)
salt, pepper

For frying: oil

Pre-heat the oven to 150°c.

Trim the pork cheeks from excess membranes if needed. Pat them dry and season. Sear in a pot in a couple of tbsp of oil in batches and transfer aside.

Add more oil into the pot and sauté the finely diced celery, carrot and onion until soft. Then add the garlic the cut side down and continue cooking for a couple of more minutes.

Add pork cheeks, sherry and stock. Bring to boil and transfer to the oven. Cook, covered, for 4,5 hours.

Using a slotted spoon lift the pork cheeks out of the pot. Cover with foil to keep them warm. Squeeze the liquid in the pot through a sieve (don't forget to scrape in the mash underneath the sieve!).

Skim off the fat on top.

Kitchen supply stores sell particular separator jugs for this, but another easy way of doing this is freezing it quickly (in the winter you can chill the liquid by placing the container into the snow - provided you live in equally unfortunately Arctic climate as I do...).

As a result of freezing the fat forms a clear layer on top of the stock, making it weasy to spot and skim.

Return the stock into the pot and reduce, over high heat, for about 10 minutes until it's reached a desired thickness. Add pork cheeks into the pot and continue cooking until they are piping hot all the way through.

Check the taste and season as needed.

Cut to pieces and serve as tapas or serve as a main with boiled rice or mashed potatos.

For my favourite mash; one that will make you cry, check the recipe on the blog over here.

How about you guys? Tried and fallen for pork cheeks yet?



Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_matkablogi_viiniblogi_sherrymatkalla Andalusiassa_Jerez_Valdespino_Grupo Estevez_         


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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Sherry bodegas of Andalusia: Valdespino/ Grupo Estevez, Jerez de la Frontera

Valdespino's sherry house is one of  most traditional ones in the region. Tour of the bodega is an amazing experience and something definitely not to be missed when in Jerez!

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”Yes, it is... rather special, isn't it", Ignacio Lopez de Carrizosa smiles and looks around amidst the endless rows of barrels in a dimly lit cellar of Grupo Estevez, the sherry bodega behind Valdespino sherries. 

Oh, it sure is. 

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The damp air is thick with the dark scent of sherry. High on the ceiling a silvery web, known as angel's breath sways slowly in the breeze that runs through the bodega. 

The ambiance is strangely religious - almost as if I'd stepped into a church.

A meter-long crucifix hanging on the wall only adds to this, as as does the peculiar organ music quietly echoing on the background.

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The music isn't just any old music - it is genome music which mimics the particular genetic sequence of micro organisms. 

"Flor, the yeast layer that protects the biologically aged sherries from oxidation is a living, breathing thing", Ignacio explains. "This particular music helps its grow". 

"So José's reearch has convinced him, anyway" he adds with a slightly awkward smile as his eyes turn to his shoes. 

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José is no other than José Estevez, a man who's dedicated his whole life to sherries and preserving the traditions of Grupo Estevez. 

Controlled by Estevez family since 1984 the roots of this bodega lie in a company specialized in sherry and brandy, founded in 1809.

In 1989 it merged with Marques de Real Tesoro. In 1999 they also acquired Valdespino and in 2007 another legend was added to the mix: La Guita - the market leader of Manzanillas. 

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Valdespino is Grupo Estevez's crown jewel.

House itself is one of the oldest in Andalusian Sherry country and one of the most traditional ones, too. 

Its story started already in 1264, when Don Alfonso Valdespino, one of the 24 Christian knights to fight alongside King Alfonso in a bid to reclaim Jerez back from the Moors, started cultivating wines in the region. 

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Though there are documents detailing commercial activities as early as  the 15th century, Valdespino wasn't registered as its own brand until 1875.

In 1883 it was granted the royal warrant for the Spanish Royal Family and in 1932 Swedish Royal House followed suite. 

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Visit to the bodegas, with their thousands and thousands of barrels is an impressive experience and a must-see for anyone travelling to Jerez (let's face it: why else would you travel here if not for sherry?)

"Being located inland, Jerez has its own particular climate", Ignacio ponders as he compares it to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, home of Manzanilla. 

"Winters, for instance, are colder and drier here". 

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Winds that the bodegas are exposed to, play a pivotal role in the process of sherry making, too and they are taken into consideration when deciding which direction a bodega should face. 

Particularly Levant, which blows from Eastern Mediterranean and dry and warm Western/ Southwestern Poniente wind are crucial. 

So is adequate humidity and there are sprinklers to water the bodegas' floors to maintain the optimal levels. 

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The right circumstances in bodegas are crucial as sherry is a wine that's made here and not in the wineyards.

The mostly used grape here, too, is Palomino.

"Thick-skinned and not particularly aromatic" is how Ignacio characterizes the grape. 

"Wines made from it are really nothing to write home about, but for this purpose it is ideal. The right circumstances allow it to age beautifully and produce incredible wines!"

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Valdespino is in many ways a very particular sherry house. 

Fino Inocente for instance is the only single wineyard sherry and the only sherry in the market that is still fermented in oak casks as opposed to steel tanks. 

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Another thing that makes it exceptional is the number of criaderas: whereas normally there might only be 2 or 3 of them, this one has a whopping 10.

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Oh, and in case you've ever wondered sherry houses' strage way of naming their sherries Tios (Tio Mateo, Tio Pepe, Tio Diego...) the explanation can be found in the history of sherry houses themselves. 

They have traditionally been family-owned businesses passed on for generations. The world "tio" refers to uncle and is thus a tribute to the patriarchs of the families. 

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Another peculiar thing that only serves to make a visit to the bodegas seem even more church-like is the way the part of a bodega storing all the most prized and rares of sherries is called Sacristia - a sacrasty.

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Valdespino was the first one to register the use of that word in 1910, but these days other bodegas have (illegally) adopted the word as well.

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Last decades have seen sherry's popularity decline in the world and Spain is no exception. 

"Demand creates more demand", Ignacio reminds and continues to explain that when the popularity was at its peak in 1960's, , 1970's and 1980's the bodegas tried to meet the demand with poor quality sherry.

"It is also one of the most misunderstood wines", Ignacio points out. "It is most definitely not just an apero - it is the perfect accompaniment to variety of foods!"

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For him the future of sherry lies in the marriage of sherry and food.

"Owing to its dry and aromatic nature Fino, for example, pairs well with dishes which would kill white wine. Oysters for instance are a classic combination. "

He also encourages people to try sherry with other cuisines than just Spanish. 

"Fino and Manzanilla have a wonderful umami-like notes that pair well with sushi and Oloroso you could try with duck. Or reindeer!"

Cream sherry is something he'd pair with blue cheese, Medium Dry with foie gras and Amontillado, he says, works well with artichoke and green asparagus - soon in season again!

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"Sure, sherry is not the easiest of wines, he admits, pointing out it does require knowledge and training.

"It will never be the go-to drink for the youth", he laughs. Instead he puts his faith in the more discerning consumers and believes the wine will find a new generation of sherry aficionados in the foodies. 

Early 2000's marked the beginning of the global revival as far as sherry is concerned and Ignacio has welcomed the change with great optimism. 

He tells excitedly about sherry bars opened in places like New York and London and the newly-found appreciation the wine now enjoys, also as a base for cocktails.

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Ignacio's own favourite is Palo Cortado (for more on sherry and the different types please see my previous blog post over here).

The part of a bodega visit I'd been looking forward to the most is also the most enjoyable one: I'm in for a treat after another.

La Guita spoils with oceany, briny notes typical for Manzanilla. 

Inocente is, without a doubt, one of the finest Finos out there. The aroma of this 10-year-old individual has developed and reached spicier notes with hints of toasted bread.

Tio Diego Amontillado on the other hand has butterscotch-like notes to offset the gentle spiciness.   

25-year-old Palo Cortado Viejo CP's complexity makes me start to understand what the fuss with this wine is all about. Mineral aromatics mingle with toffee-like toastiness and fruity notes.

Don Gonzales Oloroso VOS (20 years) charms with dried fruits, complexity, nuttines and long finish that ends with smoky notes.

Solera de su Majestad Oloroso VORS is minimun 30 years of age and as such a mature delight with warmth and varnished wood. Taste is more concentrated than the previous and also features a more pronounced fruitiness. Oh, my.

Contrabandista on the other hand is medium dry Amontillado blend with a hint (4%) of Pedro Ximénez. On the nose its chocolateyness, toastiness and notes of dried fruit promise a decidedly sweeter taste, but it surprises with its dryness and oakiness.

Isabela Cream is a 15-year-old Oloroso Blend (25% PX) which is blended already before fermentation. On the nose this, too, promises more sweetness than it delivers: with notes of walnut and burnt sugar the after taste is surprisingly dry.

Moscatel Promesa is a 100% Moscatel and seduces a lover of sweet sherries with its beautifully concentrated toastiness and chocolatey taste, but also surprisingly sharp notes of orange peel. A grrrreat combination. 

Pedro Ximénez El Candado is one of my all time favourites. It gets its name (El Candado = padlock) from the tiny padlock each bottle comes with. Raisins and other dried fruits. Dark, divine drink.

Niños Pedro Ximénez VORS is another PX beauty which Robert Parker awarded with impressive 98 points. Everything you'd expect from PX: toastiness, chocolate, coffee and dried fruit but even more intense than the previous. Price tag for this one is in the couple of hundreds region and no wonder. Uhhhhhh.

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All this talk about food and wine got my stomach roaring - right on time for lunch. As Ignacio studied my reactions to the sherry tasting, his face lit up and our lunch plans got a makeover.

Instead of La Carboná, a Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurant set in an old renovated sherry bodega Ignacio announces he's going to take me somewhere else; to a restaurant that he remembers has just purchased "a bottle of sherry I absolutely need to have".

And sure enough, this is no place for false modesty - the sherry he's talking about is none other than Valdespino Moscatel Toneles which scored a full 100 points in Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

Just so it happens it's also the oldest Moscatel on the market and one of the rarest. 

On average the wine is about 100 years old and only approximately 100 demibottles are bottled each year. 

No wonder then, that the moment I post a photo of it onto my Twitter feed I'm inundadted with questions as to where on Earth I even got my hands on a bottle. 

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Its incredibly intense flavour has liquorice-like spiciness, dried fuits such as fig and orange peel.

Each sip takes you on a journey like you've never been on before, introducing one to something new with every turn. A glorious, glorious wine. And without a doubt, worth every penny of its princely price tag  (at its cheapest the price for a bottle starts at €150).

The terrace of El Bichero is basking in a glorious sunshine. The shellfish platters we've been feasting on will be etched on my memory for ever. Whole day has been nothing short of incredible - I'm so moved I'm practically in tears of disbelief.

The things I get to experience!

As Ignacio is looking the other way, I reach for the bottle and pour myself another glass.

I mean - what's better than once in a lifetime? Twice in an afternoon.

Oh, how life is good.

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* * * 

Grupo Estevez

open for visitors Mon- Fri 10:00-14:00

tel. +34 956 321 004


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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sherry - the unsung hero of wines

Sherry enjoys a bad reputation for absolutely no reason - it is one of the manliest and most versatile wines out there. Here's everything you've ever wanted to know about this noble  drink!

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Just hearing the name makes you think thimble-like glasses, English grannies and tiny shots poured in strictly for medicinal purposes.

"Dear, me! How very dreadful! Well, perhaps just a little sherry. You know, just to calm my  poor little nerves."

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The image is as unfortunate as it is wrong. Sherry is by far one of the most intriguing specimens of the wine world and in its versatility one of the most misunderstood ones as well.

It's also one of the manliest tipples out there - until 1970's women had absolutely no business entering tabancos, local sherry bars.

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_viiniblogi_sherry_viinimaailman vaarinymmarretty suuruus

History of sherry

Located in Southwestern corner of Andalusia Marco de Jerez, Andalusia's Sherry country comprises of the region among the towns of  Jerez de la Fronteran, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Jerez in itself had been a significant centre of viticulture ever since the Phoenicians brough wine-making to Spain back in the 11th century BC.

Perhaps surprisinglu though sherry, named after its birthplace Jerez, is something we have the Arab conquerors to thank for. 

The Moorish invaders that took over the Iberian peninsula in 8th century AD, brought with them the art of distillery which was required in perfume-making - something they were famous for. The Andalusians (bless them)  refined this skill into making fortified wine and rest, as they say, is history.

These days it would be impossible to imagine Jerez without sherry, the bodegas and all the tourism it brings to the region.  

Andalusian auringossa_ruokablogi_viiniblogi_sherry_viinimaailman vaarinymmarretty suuruus

Islamic Arab rulers' own attitude to alcohol was decidedly different from that of the hilarious Hispaniards (Haram, haram! It's a sin!), but viticulture continued even under their rule for several centuries. 

It wasn't until 966 when Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Córdba of the time decreed all wineries should be destroyed. The Jerezis, however, managed to save one third of theirs by appealing to the fact that the grapes they produced were also needed to make raisins eaten by the soldiers of the Arab empire (!)

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After Reconquista, the Christian takeover of the peninsula wine grew exponentially in popularity and by 16th century sherry enjoyed reputation as the finest wine in the whole of Europe. 

When Columbus set sail to Americas, his ship was loaded with sherry as the quality of drinking water was deemed so poor. When Magellan set to sail around the world, he reputedly spent more money on stocking his ship with sherry than he did on weapons. 

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Though sherry's popularity has diminished over the past decades, it's still something no-one travelling in Spain can avoid. 

I have a feeling that especially during the fería season, festivals held in celebration of the patron saints of each village and town, you, much like I, have made some seriously solemn promises of never touching that potent potion ever again. 

(And I also have a sneaky suspicion that your resolution was every bit as short-lived as mine...?)

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Sherry - wine made in bodegas

Sherry marks a very drastic departure of most of the wine. Soil, year and other factors usually crucial in wine-making process have very little to do with the making of this noble tipple. 

Instead of vineyards, sherry is a wine that is made in the bodegas, cellaries of the wineries. 

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Circumstances in them (location, height from the sea, direction of the wind, distance from the sea...), however, are all taken so seriously that for an outsider it begins to seem a bit esoteric. 

The primary grape used for making sherry is Palomino; others, used for sweet sherries, are Pedro Ximénez (PX) and Moscatel. 

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Out of these grapes Palomino is grown mainly in soil called albariza, which is pale (almost white), reflects sunlight well and is known for its high chalk content. 

The remaining two grapes are usually grown in darker soil called barros and arena, known for their high clay content (barros) or sandiness (arenas).

First the juice pressed out of the grapes goes through fermentation in steel tanks, after this the wine is fortified with distillate. 

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Biological aging vs. oxidation

Sherries can be divided into two types: those aged biologically and those that are aged through oxidation. 

The lightest and driest sherries; Fino and Manzanilla, fall into the first category.

These age in the barrels under flor, a layer of yeast that is spontaneously created in the process. Flor protects the sherry from coming into contact with air. The alcohol contect of these sherries remains lower than those aged biologically as flor dies if the alcohol content exceeds 15%.

It is flor that lends Fino and Manzanilla the almond-like notes that characterize these two. 

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Different types of sherry

Fino and Manzanilla, both biologically aged, are characterized by their pale colour, drier taste and slightly yeastier aroma. 

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Amontillado on the other hand is partially aged with oxidation and as a result has notably darker colour. In its nuttiness its richer and more aromatic than Fino, but still lighter than Oloroso. 

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Oloroso is again even darker, more aromatic and more alcoholic than the previous. They are by nature, dry, though sometimes they are blended with PX and sold as Oloroso Blends or Cream Sherries. 

PX and Moscatel serve as the base for dessert sherries, characterized by their treacle-like density and sweetness echoing dried fruit, though surprisingly these sherries are Andalusians' go-to-choices for cooking, such as stewing meats. 

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Palo Cortado - the great mystery

Palo Cortado is the rarest and least known sherry there is. Its flavour sits somewhere in between Amontillado and Oloroso and the whole process is a bit of a mystery.

These days it originates from Amontillado, which for some inexplicable reason (most likely unexpected death of the flor) has decided to start evolving into a completely different direction. These make up the smallest segment in sherries. 

Eagle-eyed cellar masters follow the evolution of each sherry and mark those barrels with Palo Cortado potential in order to monitor them even more carefully - a process that can take years.

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Solera method  - guarantee of quality year after year

One of the factors that make sherry so special from regular wines is the Solera method employed by the bodegas. The result of this is that the vintages play virtually no role in the wine-making. This results in one of the key strengths of sherry: its even quality year after year.

In practice this means that each harvest ages separately in its own layer of the barrels known as criadera. Depending on the bodega and sherry in question there can be anywhere between 3 to 10 criaderas. 

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Sherries are bottled from the oldest and lowest criadera called solera. The space freed in this barrel is then refilled with sherry from the previous criadera, which in turn is filled from the criadera before that.

Marco de Jerez was one of the first areas to became its own wine region (DO) in Spain in 1933. These days the same method is used to make sherries both in Australia and in Canada, though officially they can't of course be called sherries - instead they're known as apera.

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The real deal (if you ask me, anyway) comes from my beloved Andalusia.

And now that I've got your heads spinning from all the useless sherry nerd facts (hey - anyone up for some Trivial Pursuit?) , we'll move on to the fun part: visits to the bodegas!

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Our first stop is one of my all time favourites and one of key reasons to stop by in Jerez: Grupo Estevez and Valdespinos sublime sherries!

¡Vamos, mis corazones!



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