Lately the foodie spotlight has been firmly focussed on Spain, more specifically the north - Catalonia and Pais Vasco, where three of the world's top 10 restaurants are located. They are: El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (No 1), and Mugaritz (No 4) and Arzak (No 8), both in San Sebastian.
In a less global fashion, but exciting on a regional scale, one Andalucian food was recently awarded a Guaranteed Traditional Speciality, recognising the quality and geographical origin of Europe's finest products. These are similar to Denominacion de Origen (DO), the Spanish classification system which includes wine, olive oil and olives, fish, jamon , some fruit and vegetables and (sherry) vinegar. The traditional food product which has been awarded the Especialidad Tradicional Protegida (Guaranteed Traditional Speciality) by the EC in Brussels, originated very close to where I live: tortas de aceite (olive oil tortas) of Castilleja de la Cuesta, the foremost producers of which is a century-old company called Ines Rosales.
These are thin, flat, round, crispy biscuits which are eaten as a snack, with cheese or jam - they have an unusual savoury-sweet flavour. Still made to the same traditional recipe, and relatively simple to produce (I know, because I've done it), they have basic ingredients: flour, extra virgin olive oil, yeast, salt, sugar and sesame seeds. Known officially in English as "Sweet Olive Oil Tortas", the biscuits are sold in transparent packets, and each individual torta is wrapped in greaseproof paper.
Ines Rosales is the woman who put her name to the tortas back in 1910, and the company has moved with the times much more effectively than some Andalucian food producers, coming up with five flavoured versions: rosemary and thyme, sesame and sea salt, almond, cinnamon, and orange, using the famous bitter Seville oranges which are so loved by Brits in their marmalade. The company manages to be are traditional and innovative at the same time.
Some of these are sold in Leon, the super-healthy food chain in the UK, as well as in gourmet stores around Europe and even as far afield as the US, where jamon and sherry are enjoying a new boom, helped by the recent World Sherry Day. Ines Rosales is an internationally-focussed company, with 20% of its sales abroad (for example, in Leon, the UK healthy fast food chain), and many agree that exports are where the future lies for the ailing Spanish economy. The company is now based in Huevar, a town not far from here.
The other foodie news is the launch later today of the new Casa de Alba brand. This is the family of the Duchess of Alba, Spain's best-loved aristocrat, who are now producing their own extra virgin olive oil, and fresh beef. Cayetano Martinez de Irujo, the Duquesa's second son, will be hosting the event at the Palacio de Liria, the Duquesa's Madrid residence. In these troubled economic times, everyone is diversifying - even the most titled family in the land. What I'd have given to be a fly on the wall when this idea was first mooted at a family get-together.