The Curious Case of Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil

“Passion and quality are at the heart of this venture. It’s that simple.”

I sneezed, a clear sign that spring was about to settle onto Andalucía for a brief period of time before melting into summer. The breeze picked up, and I wrinkled my nose, lest any more oliva pollen enter my system. For as andaluza as I sometimes feel and act, my allergies gave me up as an utter fraud, calling attention to me in a group of nearly 50.

Bodeguero puppy

Isaac Martín, event coordinator for Basilippo, an award-winning olive oil producer internationally recognized for its quality, kicked off a tasting event that was punctuated by my sniffles. Set at an old hacienda buried within acres of olive trees, an internet search for foodie experiences brought me to one of western Andalucía’s foremost producers of liquid gold, extra virgin olive oil.

Teetering on winter and spring, I was willing to risk puffy eyes to learn how to properly taste olive oil and look out for its quality and properties. As a staple of the Mediterranean diet, its health properties have long been touted, but not all aceite de olivo virgen extra is created equal: supermarket buyers often have to pick between an entire shopping aisle’s worth of brands and varying quality.

Arbequina olive oil from Andalucía

And the good stuff doesn’t come cheap.

The Basilippo brand, made with the manzanilla and arbequina varieties of olives, has been my go-to brand when bringing home a nice bottle for foodie friends, but I shamefully catalogued what I used to cook with or a dress a salad with at home: whatever came cheapest and in a plastic bottle. I had a lot to learn, and creative packaging could not longer be a barometer for quality.

And for a small-batch, family-run brand, passion for the ripest fruit and top-tier production practices, only the best would do.

Inside Hacienda Merrha’s lofty tasting room, several round tables sat armed with jewel blue tasting cups, a brasero disguised underneath by heavy cloaks. Diego Vergara, responsible for the company’s marketing, held up two sherry glasses full of orange juice as we sat. 

Properly tasting olive oil

His explanation of how to distinguish extra virgin olive oil was simple: one was an orange juice squeezed from ripe oranges. The second was a bastardization of orange pulp, colorants, chemicals and mass production. In other words, it was a soft drink meant to mimic the flavor of orange juice. If the product was bruised or off, the taste and aromas would be off. Perfection is this business, amidst mass production and knocks offs, truly came down to passion for the cleanest, most natural product.

The scents naturally found in olive oil – grass, banana and traces  of fruit – laced the air as the heater next to our legs in turn heated the smooth, rounded tasting capsules for optimum olfactory pleasure.

Flavors present in EVOO

Oil exists in dozens of varieties, and olives have been picked, pressed and packaged into olive oil for nearly eight millennia. Extra virgin – considered the healthiest and ripest state of the olive – occurs when no heat treatments have been applied to the product and is made from 100% olives of the same type. All other oils wane in quality, thus driving down the price. Packaging can also make a difference, as olive oil loses its properties with exposure to light or heat.

Again, I fully admit to being ashamed of the marca blanca I have stocked at the back of my pantry.

The three blue cups sat before us. Two contained about a tablespoon of product and were covered with a plastic condiment lid. The third, sitting at 7 o’clock, was filled and quickly covered. Blue cups are typically used in blind tasting as, unlike wine, color is not a factor in determining an oil’s quality. Smell and taste take all the credit here.

como degustar aceite de oliva

Olive oil’s properties are strongest when it’s as close to harvest as possible. The generous pours came from a bottle only a few weeks old, and Diego generated a bit of heat to release its intoxicating smell by cupping the glass in his hand and rotating it back and forth as if opening a bottle of pickles for about 15 seconds. Next came a quick whiff and recapping the jar.

We’d all come for the tasting portion of course, and sloshing it around your mouth like Adolfo of Plus Vino showed me to do wouldn’t cut it:

Olive oil has different tastes on your tongue and taste buds. Sucking in air as it travels towards the back of the throat makes it taste more viscous and potent. And I wasn’t the only one who got a burn in the back of the throat – slurps were followed by gags, coughs and grunts, the sign of a quality harvest.

Moving on, we paired a vanilla-infused organic oil with both regañá crackers and a crisp, hard cheese, as well as a pineapple ice cream drizzled in olive oil. Though most of Basilippo’s bottles come with recommendations for consumption, the kitchen serves more innovative dishes.

The man immediately on my left seemed to be some sort of aficionado and asked the white elephant question: How did Basilippo feel about the “adulteration” of Spanish olive oil? 

Brought up as extended family of the Rubinellis and the Dell’Alpe dynasty – a Chicago-based import company known for its quality Italian products – olive oil has always been a staple in my family’s kitchen. And until moving to Spain, I was convinced that Italy produced the highest quality product. But European olive oil is on par with organized crime – even though Spain produces roughly 40% of the world’s olive oil, most is shipped in bulk to Italy before being bottled, giving the impression that most olive oil is coming straight from the Boot.

How to do an olive oil tasting

This has been going on since the Roman occupation of Spain, when olive oil was used in commerce and called liquid gold (and in all fairness, my Italian relatives have a soft spot for Spanish cuisine). I’ve long felt that Spain is only beginning to embrace competing on an international market with its food products, and I’d likely consumed them as they paraded as Italian. 

But Basilippo’s product was meant to stay with the connoisseurs, a thead that runs thorughout its four generations of olivareros. International consumption is definitely on the table – they’ve won numerous awards worldwide and run a quality assurance program attended by visitors abroad – and they’ve got a strong local following. I thought back to Isaac’s powerful speech in which his love for his business reach my consciousness despite the sneezing and nose blowing. Passion isn’t so much an ingredient, but a habit at Merrha.

Diego explained that close to 10 pounds of olives are necessary to produce a single liter of olive oil of any quality, hence the small batches coming out of Basilippo (the production comes from just 20 hectacres of olivos). By the time our group of nearly 50 hit the gift shop, we’d depleted a large portion of stock. I introduced myself to Isaac, chuffed that so many phenomenal gastronomic treats now formed an important base in my diet.

fried olives from Andalucía

Unsatisfied with a few morsels of bread for mopping up oil in the gift shop, I sneezed my way back to the car and we struck out towards El Viso del Alcor. Craddled between Mairena and El Viso, this privileged land was believed to have been inhabited as Tartessos. It’s also home to one of the zone’s most innovative tapas bars, MasQueTapas.

All of the dishes on the two-paged menu are made with products from down the road at Basilippo and the place was packed on a rainy Saturday. As the waiter brought out drinks, he laid down a small dish of fried olives.

“But heating the olives changes their properties,” Kelly said, popping one into her mouth. “So these are probably the rejects.”

Low quality or not, they were exquisite, proof that a small sliver of land in my backyard, with its rolling groves of olive trees (and toxins for my system) is producing what could be the world’s most perfect crop.

a tasting at Basilippo

I’m on a mission to do something new every week of 2016 – from visiting a new village to trying a new bar or restaurant. Have suggestions for in or around Andalucía? Please share them, and take a tour of Basilippo‘s immaculate grounds, just 30 minutes from Seville (they’ll even pick you up if you use public transportation!). You can buy their products in small gourmet shops like Oleo-lé in central Seville.

Have you ever attended a strange food tasting?

Tapa Thursday: 10 Winter Fruits and Vegetables You Should Be Eating in Spain

My stand-alone freezer is currently stocked with enough stews to get me through the long winter days. Even when the sun is shining midday, my cavernous house feels like a tundra, and I usually need a warm bowl of fabada or a crema de verduras to warm me up before ultimately peeling off layers of clothing to bike to work.

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Venturing to my local market once a week, I beeline right to Antonio’s fruit stand. My frutero will carve off a piece of fruit – often from his own orchard – and hand me a piece of his breakfast. Though seasons don’t change often in Seville, the fruit and vegetable products at Antonio’s stand (or in any market) do, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a carton of strawberries past June or watermelon in December.

While stews and legume-heavy dishes are king during the first few months of the year, your local supermarket will have incredible options that you shouldn’t pass up (they’ll be gone before you know it!)

Citrus Fruits like oranges, clementines and lemons

Winter fruits in Spain oranges and clementines

One of the first indications that winter is coming is visible right outside of your window: orange and lemons trees bend under the weight of branches full of fruit. Winter is high season for naranjas, no doubt.

Sweet Valencia oranges and clementines are even sold on the street by people who have orange trees, and for next to nothing. No excuse to not start the day with orange juice!

Persimmons

Like a try fruit and vegetable hybrid, persimmons – called kaki most commonly in Andalucía – weird me out a bit. It looks like a tomato or bell pepper, but has an extremely sweet taste. My frutero swears it adds years to your life, but I’ll stick to apples.

Quince

Winter fruit in Spain quince membillo and mangoes

Squash and Leeks

If you’re into soups and stews, leeks and squash, in addition to green onions, should be your go-to produce buy. 

Gold star for you if you make leek croquetas.

Green Onions

I grew up in a household full of green onions, and they laced and graced nearly everything my dad cooked. I’ve been buying puños from Antonio once a week and slipping them into my acelgas, on top of fried potatoes and even in to ramen! 

This is also the time of year when their catalán cousin, calçots, take center stage at onion grilling parties. Check out Barcelona Blonde’s post on the calçotada to learn more about an experience at the top of my footed bucket list! 

Avocados

Superfruit lovers can find avocados from late October until the springtime, and they’re used in several Spanish salads. Aguacates are still a bit too far out for Spanish cuisine and even my frutero couldn’t come up with any recipes, but at least there’s guacamole as a back up. 

Sweet Potatoes

Winter Fruit in Spain batatas asadas

Sweet potatoes, like chestnuts, are common street food offerings, cooked over charcoal. Though it’s not a common (or cheap!) staple for Spanish kitchens, many fruterías will sell them already cooked and thus softened.

Mushrooms

Winter food in Spain mushrooms and setas

A popular weekend pastime for Spaniards once the temperatures begin to dip is to forage for mushrooms. In the sierras, nearly two dozen types of shrooms, called setas, grow, and you can find them in sauces, tortillas and croquetas.

As someone who doesn’t love how they feel once I bite into them, I do love anything mushroom flavored! You can find nearly every variety in the produce section, the most popular being the boletus: look for a light brown bulb with a fleshy white stalk.

Artichokes

winter food in Spain artichokes

One of the very first Spanish dishes I ever tried was roasted artichokes christened with small pieces of Iberian ham and olive oil. But it wasn’t the large, leafy bulbs you see in winter time, and it turned me off to the vegetable.

Spain is one of the world’s top three producers of alcachofas, meaning prices are reasonable and artichokes pop up often on restaurant menus.

Nuts like chestnuts, almonds, walnuts

Winter fruit in Spain nuts

Spain literally gives another meaning to chestnuts roasting on an open fire when the castaños trucks hit the streets around November. You can also find a number of other nuts, most notably almonds and enormous, pungent walnuts.

Foreign fruits and veggies like papayas, mangoes and cherimoya

Strange winter fruits in Spain

Although it comes with a higher price tag, winter is prime time for a number of warm-weather fruits from south of the equator. If you’re in Seville, check the special produce stand, El Frutero de Nila, at the Mercado de Triana (stand 4, next to the restrooms).

On my last trip to the market, Antonio split open a clementine and handed it to me. “Toma, guapa. Una frutita tan dulce como tú.” The flesh was sweet, recalling memories of finding California oranges at the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning. 

And then he pulled out a carton of strawberries, the forbidden fruit that usually doesn’t show up until late February. A sign of global warming, surely, but shopping and eating seasonally makes me feel more fully immersed – and it’s cheap!

WINTER

What fruits and vegetables do you consume in wintertime Spain? Do you like eating seasonally?

Tapa Thursday: Tasting Jerez de la Frontera

I’ll admit it – I have a big ol’ crush on Jerez de la Frontera.

While Seville swoons, Jerez pokes and teases, yet always entices. It moves slower. It seems to stay for just one more round of ‘la penúltima.’ Jerez knows how to party, but it also knows how to stop and smell the sherry.

And at just an hour car ride south of La Hispalense, it’s easy to cheat on Seville with Jeré.

Tasting

No stranger to Spanish wine culture, Jerez – along with El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – make up the Sherry Triangle and produce white wine of the same name. I discovered the Feria de la Vendimia thanks to Devour Spain‘s monthly newsletter, and though we’d missed the grape stomping and the sherry cooking classes, there was still one lingering activity on a sunny Saturday late in the summer: the Feria Gastronómica.

Feria de la Vendimia Jerez

Set in a shady plaza sandwiched between the Alcázar fortress and world-famous González Byass Wineries, nearly two dozen tents offered special tapas and a drink for 3.50€ under caseta tents. Rather than do a lap, we beelined straight to a brightly colored bar at the west end of the square. Being hangry is a good enough excuse for me to follow my nose and tummy into a tent.

Jerezano cuisine is similar to that of Seville, but because the province of Cádiz boasts both sea and fertile terrain, there is more fresh fish and seafood, plus heartier meats. The Bahía de Cádiz is famed for Almendraba tuna and bull meat, called retinto. While it would have been easy to choose croquetas and solomillo, I was determined to choose tapas that were more regional.

Here’s what we devoured:

Pepe Limon Sherry Spritzer

While I’ve become a sherry convert thanks to the Feria de Sevilla, my friends find it too bitter. Pepelimón is the newest product from the makers of a fino variety called Tío Pepe that is half fino, half 100% lemon juice. Like rebujito, it’s sweet and potent (and don’t fret, I had a glass of sherry after we’d eaten).

Destraperlo beer Jerez

Craft beer is on the rise in Spain (admit you just did a fist pump), and Jerez has a new kid on the block, Destraperlo. Irene invited us in for free samples of their pilsner and red brands. La birra más burra es muy buena – it’s got more body than local favorite Cruzcampo, but with less bite than an IPA, making it just right for the Spanish palate. 

Ensaladilla de Pulpo

Thirst quenched, we stuck around in the Guardia de Ángel tent for ensaladilla del pulpo. Octopus is one of those Spanish foods that I would have never thought I’d like, but mixed with mayonnaise and paprika, the salty taste was too overwhelming.

Albondigas de Atun

Sticking with seafood, I nabbed some albóndigas de atún con queso payoyo with homemade tomato sauce. Both alemndraba tuna and Payoyo cheese are native to Cádiz, and this was indeed the star dish of the day.

eggplant tapa in Spain

The berenjena con queso de cabra carmelizada en Pedro Ximénez came recommended at Bar Papanata’s tent. Washed down with sherry, of course!

Sampling sherry in Jerez de la Frontera

Realizing we’d only been on one side of the food fair, we got one more drink at Restaurante Bar Gula. I wanted to try the hamburguesa de retinto, a bull’s meat burger, but we opted for croquetas de tomate y albahaca con jamón and a chicken satay (hey, when you find international food in Andalucía, you order it!). 

After five tapas a piece, we were stuffed!

Croquetas in Jerez

That day was one of those typical Andalusian Saturdays where you look at your watch and ask, wait! Where did the time go? Between catching up on our summers, sampling tapas and ordering another round, it was suddenly after 5pm and time for merienda.

Spanish desserts and I broke up a long time ago, and Jerez’s dessert game seemed a little off (we were so desperate we hiked to a Foster’s Hollywood, the most jankity Friday’s you can imagine, to find it closed). We settled on cakes from a pastelería.

oreo cake

While Jerez’s food culture isn’t terribly different from Seville’s, I can never resist a decent food festival, especially when all of the bars are clumped together.

While Jerez may not be the food mecca, I have a feeling that Sevill’s kid brother might soon have its swan song.

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I visited Jerez’s Feria de la Vendimia with Caser Expat Insurance’s Typical NonSpanish project. All opinions and extra calories are my own.

Have you ever been to a Food Festival in Spain?

Tapa Thursdays: Five Must-Eat Canarian Dishes

I knew that my travel style had changed when H and I planned our trip to Croatia and Montenegro. After staking out a place to stay, we focused on the most important aspect of our weeklong vacation in the Balkans: what and where to eat.

From celebrated pizza joints to non-descript roadside eateries to a bar with THE BEST VIEW (according to them, and…they weren’t wrong), we spent most of our money on food and drinks. The same happened in La Rioja, India and our business meetings in Seville.

eating cevapi sandwich balkans

My name is Cat, and I’m a culinary travel addict.

I can’t say for sure when it happened, but several of my most treasured memories from travel have been around a dinner table, tucked into the corner of a grubby pub or trying new foods.

Even when I’m in Spain, cuisine becomes a central part of my travels. On recent holidays and breaks to Tenerife, my friends Julie and Forrest made sure that I saw – and tasted – the island’s highlights, starting with a local Tropical beer. And there is more to Canarian cuisine than their pygmy bananas.

Five Must-Eats on the

Mojo Picón

Pronounced moe-hoe, this red sauce is the star of Canarian cuisine and its best-loved sauce. In fact, mojo is a bastardization of the word molho, meaning sauce in Portuguese. My first meal in the Canaries included two mojo varieties on the table instead of the standard garlic and oil. 

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Slather the sauce, which is made of olive oil, salt, water, garlic, peppers and many spices, on meat or wrinkly boiled jacket potatoes called papas arrugás. For a Spaniard, the sauce is spicy. For anyone else, it’s a small kick. Green mojo, however, has an earthy, minty aftertaste and is usually reserved for fish.

Flor de Guía Cheese

Julie met me at the airport and took me promptly around Santa Cruz’s main sites, ending up at a street full of typical bars. We split a cheese plate with typical varieties from around the islands, including the award-winning Flor de Guía cheese (and that’s why it was so costly!).

produce and cheese on Canary Islands

Surprisingly enough, this particular queso is made from both sheep’s and cow’s milk, and juice from thistle blooms help to curdle the milk. The cheese is semi-hard and makes an excellent dessert (or, if you’re me, an excellent anytime eat).

Ropa Vieja

When Julie and Forrest took me to a guachince, I was immediately in love with the makeshift restaurants on family-run wineries. We found our way to La Salud and ordered one of everything.

typical food at a guachinche

In the absence of ropa vieja – a mixed plate of garbanzo beans, meat, potatoes and vegetables – we had a garbanzá. Like puchero or cocido, a plate of ropa veja makes use of whatever is lying around in the kitchen, so recipes vary greatly from one household to the next. I’d liken it to a weekend paella or rice on the mainland.

Gofio

pella-de-gofio-1024x609

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Gofios are a thing of pride for the canarios, as it forms a large part of their diet and has been eaten on the islands for centuries. Gofio is the word for a flour made from roasted grans and starchy plants, most often wheat or corn plus beans. With a pinch of salt, gofios are usually turned into bread and eaten with seemingly all meals.

Arehucas

I learned about the wonder that is Arehucas honey rum on my first trip to Gran Canaria in 2008. While at a wedding somewhere in the foothills, I pointed at bottles, blissfully unaware of what I was consuming. A yellow-labeled rum stuck out, an entire bottle was consumed with coke as a mixer, and a short-lived love affair was born (I hated that stuff the next day).

Bodas, beach and the boy!

pre-Arehucas buzz in 2008

Spiced rum production is not native to Europe, but Arehucas is distilled in Arucas, Gran Canaria and produces the largest output of rum on the continent. There’s a touch of honey, so the rum can be drunk on the rocks or as an after dinner digestif if you’re hardcore.

Now that I’m happily at home in Chicago, eating my fill of all of my Midwestern favorites and feeling heavier than ever, my next gastronomic adventure will take me to some of America’s best-loved food cities – Memphis, Louisville and New Orleans.

What are your favorite foods from the Islas Canarias? Have you ever been to and eaten in the South? Please share your must-chows!

Desafío Eterno: Learning to Cook Spanish Food at the Mercado de Triana

I may have mastered the art of midday siestas, long lunches and dropping syllables, but Spanish cooking has always alluded me.

A Spanish Cooking Course

Ask me to make a full turkey dinner or a kick ass pad thai? I’m all over it, but I’ve mangled even the simplest of Spanish dishes and count gazpacho and frying potatoes (or just bringing the wine) as my contribution to meals.

Resolute to prove to the Novio that I’m only good for eating and occasionally clearing up the dishes, I visited my local market for a crash-course in slow-cooking with Foodies&Tours.

Housed in the mythical Mercado de Triana, once an open-air market built in the 19th Century, Víctor and Marta set up a state-of-the-art kitchen overlooking ruins of the Castillo de San Jorge just seven months ago. I was delighted to see that they still believed in buying fresh ingredients at the market, making chicken stock from bones and leek and – gasp! – using butane tanks.

el mercado de triana

María led us through the market that mid-week morning on a day where there were more tourists than locals snapping photos of ham legs and fins-and-all swordfish. Summer fruits were beginning to slowly engulf the avocados and pomegranates. I kept my mouth shut when María pointed out tripe and the different legumes on offer, but I couldn’t help piping up that it takes three years to adequately cure the hind leg of an acorn-fed pig (blame my pork-loving in-laws for that!).

Spanish food has recently become the darling of international cuisine thanks to innovative chefs putting a spin on age-old traditions. After all, the wealth of fresh ingredients from the Mediterranean diet and a dedication to simplistic yet layered flavors have made this gastronomy healthy, comforting and delicious – and this means that food tours and gastronomic experiences are booming all over Spain.

Taller Andaluz de Cocina in the Triana market

I was joined by another American woman, a group of Filipina friends on a big Euro trip, a curious couple from Singapore and newlyweds hailing from Australia. It was just right for everyone to put their manos a la obra.

Back at the kitchen, chef Víctor was washing metal bowls and our ingredients were put on display. I may not cook myself, but I do make most of the grocery store runs and can recite dishes based on their ingredients! From the ripe vine tomatoes and day-old bread, I knew we’d be making salmorejo and assumed that crowd-favorite paella would be on offer. A large bowl of raw spinach meant espinacas con garbanzos.

modern kitchen of Taller Andaluz de Cocina

I found a cutting board and apron between Denise from New York and the cooking surface as Víctor laid out the menu. We began with the creamy tomato-based salmorejo: coarsely chopping tomatoes, peeling thin skin off of the purple garlic bulbs and learning not to be stingy with extra virgin olive oil. Apart from turning on a blender and liquifying its contents, I let my classmates take over.

I once again stepped aside to allow other guests to learn how to steam the raw spinach and make a sofrito, preferring to sip on wine and do some more chopping – I have the Novio at home to show me how to quarter a chicken for stock. Instead, I probed Víctor on his background, his favorite places to eat in Seville and the Spanish brands he is loyal to.

learning to make salmorejo

Many of my classmates were used to the flash cooking styles of Asian cuisine, so turning down the heat and turning up the flavor combinations was a welcome departure as we dipped small tasting spoons into everything we’d created. A fan of Asian food himself, Víctor stressed the important of low heat and long wait times.

I’ve always said that my biggest hurdle to learning to make Spanish dishes is patience. A Spanish chef confirmed it. So we waited, slowly stirring the chicken stock and sofritos.

salmorejo cordobés

Three hours later, the paella had finished soaking up chicken stock, the beer has been poured and we were ready to eat. While the sobremesa – mealtime chat – wasn’t as lively as my finca experience in Málaga, the workshop was more hands on. In fact, there was little more chatter than ‘mmmmm’ as we tucked in and Víctor prepared us a palate cleanser.

The cumin in the spinach with chickpeas, the laced leek in the paella and a tinge of garlic translated through the other tastes, a clear sign that we’d done something right under watchful eyes.

[yumprint-recipe id=’2′] Did I personally learn any new kitchen tricks? I suppose, but a blast of Saharan heat has had me out of the kitchen and even skipping dinner these last few weeks. The one thing that still rings true is my devotion to Spanish food and everything that goes into it – fresh ingredients, bursts of flavor and the sobremesa chatter.

Have you ever done a cooking course or food tour? Read about A Cooking Day, Devour Barcelona and Devour Seville food experiences. 

Tapa Thursday: Vermouth

vermouth in Spain

My biggest ambition in life is to become a Spanish abuelo. Who wouldn’t want to spend the days leisurely reading a paper in the bar down the street, sucking down a vermouth while looking adorable? I’ve already got the vermouth obsession down, after all.

My first taste of vermouth was actually on a food tour. I didn’t think I’d learn anything I didn’t know about Spanish cuisine, but an early stop at the Mercado de San Miguel’s vermouth bar proved that I had a lot to learn, and a new favorite beverage.

Vermouth Bar Madrid

Vermouth is making a comeback hard in Spain, much like G&Ts not so long ago. Pop-up bars called vermuterías, tastings and pairings and even the Adrià brothers of El Bullí fame are spearheading a sort of vermouth renaissance. While this beverage never really disappeared, it’s become the drink of choice for hipsters and for me anytime I’m in Madrid or Barcelona.

On my last trip to the Ciudad Condal, I happened upon a small bottega, or local watering hole, where vermouth was poured from a tap in the wall. No frills, no sky-high price tag, despite being a mere 150 meters from tourist hell. The girl behind the bar filled my glass, shoved a few mussels and a toothpick my way and charged me 1,85€. Other patrons trickled in, drinking the sweet wine by the glass or simply asking the bar keep to fill up old water bottles. 

The Novio even came back from the capital with a gift from my soon-to-be familia política recently: a bottle of vermouth with its flavorless soda water.

Vermouth at Cafe Comercial

What it is:  Fortified wine has been drunk for more than three millennia, often for medicinal purposes. Its name comes from the German ‘wermut,’ or wormwood,  

At its most basic, vermouth is a young fortified wine brewed with aromatic herbs like cardamom and and cinnamon and occasionally its namesake, wormwood. Sweet varieties also contain a fair amount of sugar – around 20% – whereas dry vermouths contain less than 4%.

Goes great with: Vermouths come in sweet and dry varieties, but salty snacks like potato chips, cured meats, olives or mussels in azabeche sauce are tart and will offset the sweetness or bring out the dry flavors. Typically, vermouth is consumed much like fino sherry wine in the South – as a before-meal drink, and most often at the weekend.

Where to find it in Seville: I have yet to find vermouth anywhere but the grocery store, and even then, it’s commercially branded martini mixes. I’ve yet to try smaller specialty shops, though sherry seems to be preferred to vermouth in these parts. You can find it for sale in 2.5 liter jugs at Bodegas Salado in nearby Umbrete for 7,20€.

 Are you a vermouth drinker? Any preferred watering holes, whether in Seville or further afield?

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