Traditional Spaniards place a great value on leisure time with their families — an attitude toward life that extends throughout the year, not just at vacation time. When our family lived in Andalucia, all the shopkeepers in our seaside town would close their shops in the early afternoon to enjoy a siesta — a time set aside for refreshment and rest with the family. Then, after re-opening in late afternoon for two or three hours, the shops would close for the day and the owners would retire to their favorite cafes to enjoy tapas with close friends and family members. Perhaps they would savor a caña of beer with some manchego cheese, thinly sliced jamón iberico, or a sizzling cazuela of garlic shrimp.

Later in the evening some would head home to join their families to stroll about town — the traditional paseo. On a warm summer evening it seems as if the whole town is out on the streets walking about. I find nothing more affirming than to see three generations of a family walking together: a proud young couple with a baby in the stroller, “Grandma” holding the hand of her grandchild, and three generations in warm, pleasant conversation. This has been the traditional way of living for hundreds of years.

The long life-expectancy experienced by Spaniards more than olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. It is a life where conviviality is a virtue, not a luxury. It is a traditional life where the seemingly trivial human events of everyday living — chatting at the market, dining with your family, visiting with your friends — are given the respect they deserve.

In modern Spain and America we find ourselves part of a culture with competing values — those of convenience and individual autonomy. The slow ritual of personal interactions is thought to be “wasting time.” Today we can slip in our credit cards, pump our gas, and be on our way — sometimes even when the station is closed! We enjoy the same type of efficiency with ATM banking, airport check-ins! We hardly need to see a person.

In many ways this automation is a wonderful advance. But, if we are not careful, we can allow electronic efficiency to replace the human interactions that make the traditional Spanish way of living so healthy. At La Tienda we make an effort to keep the traditional and technological cultures in a dynamic balance so that we can draw from the best of both. We are always improving our technology so that you will enjoy the convenience of our on-line site, yet we will always make time for you should you like to give us a call and talk together about Spanish products.

Why Use Special Rice for your Paella?

Callasparra Rice

After all is said and done, paella is essentially a rice dish. Flavorful broth-laden rice is the foundation of your paella – the fresh shellfish, chicken, and chorizo are the garnish for a simple rice dish with complex flavors. Therefore the rice you choose is the fundamental ingredient of your paella.

The world has hundreds of varieties of rice. You may have several in your kitchen now – each one suited for a particular occasion. Long grain American rice works well with New Orleans gumbo. Basmati rice from India is the perfect base for curry. So it makes sense to turn to Spain for the rice you need for authentic paella.

Calasparra

Valencia produces virtually all of the rice in Spain. Growing in still water by the Mediterranean Sea, the rice commonly used for paella stretches out for miles in enormous fields. Certain strains of short-grained rice grown in Spain have a unique capacity to absorb large amounts of broth while remaining firm.

Each year a precious amount of the very best rice in Spain is cultivated in the village of Calasparra in the neighboring region of Murcia. The producers grow two historic varieties – Sollana (called Calasparra rice), and the coveted Bomba, which was nearly extinct until gourmet chefs recently recognized its superior qualities for producing the perfect paella.

Both types of rice are cultivated by hand in rice paddies along the banks of the Segura River. With little more than 1,700 acres a year, Calasparra produces just one half of 1% of Spain’s rice production. The townspeople protect its quality by obeying rigorous Denominaci�n de Origen standards. Their Bomba and Sollana rice are the only ones in Spain awarded this distinction.

Unique to the cultivation of Calasparra rice is an irrigation system employing ancient aqueducts built by the Romans and maintained by the Moors. Bubbling river water flows in channels from one family plot to the next before continuing down the mountain. At 1300 feet above sea level, the constant flow of cold fresh mountain water means that the rice matures more slowly than it would in the still flats along the Valencian shore. It produces a harder grain, which carries less moisture, thereby absorbing one third more broth while retaining its integrity.

Another distinction that enriches the nutritional value of Calasparra rice is that the farmers alternate the rice crops with other grains, or just let the fields lie fallow for a season. When it is time to plant rice, the land is ploughed in early spring. In the first few days of May the fields are flooded and men, shoulder to shoulder, scatter the seed by hand. When the young shoots appear in two to three weeks, they are thinned. For the rest of the summer the farmers have to weed the field by hand in ankle-deep water.

At the end of September when the green of the grass becomes golden with the mature grain, the fields are drained and the rice harvested. After being prepared for market, both the Bomba and the Sollana are hand packed. About six women in blue uniforms and hairnets sew shut the individual white cloth sacks.

From beginning to end, Calasparra rice is tended caringly by the villagers. The result is the finest, most authentic rice for your paella.

Jamón Ibérico in a Healthy Diet

Antonio Gazquez Ortiz

This is the second of a series of articles by ANTONIO GAZQUEZ ORTIZ, scientist and epicure. Translated & adapted by Esther Gómez-Babín.

From the dawn of civilization, man has been aware that food provides not only immediate sustenance for life, but also it has good properties for maintaining healthy life. Thus, in classic Greece meat was the main protein, and Hippocratic philosophers considered that ‘pork gave the body more strength than other meats’.

This idea was passed on to other Western cultures. It arose because the pig was the only animal domesticated for its meat, and in this sense people believed that the environment and the life situation of the animal were essential for the nutritional quality of the pork.

This concept is still accepted today. Nowadays people are convinced that the system of handling, breeding and raising the pig directly influences the quality of its meat. For centuries people have known that the meat from animals grazing in the forests and fields and getting exercise in the open air, is more appetizing than meat from animals produced intensively in captivity. In sum, the animal’s well-being has direct repercussions on the taste of its meat.

The general dietetic concept of meat, and particularly pork, has remained practically the same from Greek and Roman times to the late nineteenth century – a time when cook books and home economics manuals began to consider meat in a modern context. In the middle of the nineteenth century, these authors had introduced criteria that evaluated the quality of meat, the proportion that is fat, and its nutritional value. This nutritional emphasis continued for a good portion of the 20th century.

However, during the second half of the 20th century, new factors came to the forefront. In terms of cardiovascular health, there is a greater appreciation of cultural factors, the Mediterranean diet, and specifically the meat of the Iberian pigs. The fact that in today’s world some 40.5% of deaths are due to heart disease has increased interest in this area. It can be said that cardiopathology increases in an opulent society.

With this piqued interest in diets that lead to healthy hearts, pork from Iberian pigs, and therefore Jamón Ibérico, has attracted great interest because of a unique factor in its composition that makes it quite different from ordinary white pork.

The important factor of all ham, whether produced from white or Iberian pigs, is its intramuscular fat, which is different to the one on the surface. Intramuscular fat directly influences the texture, palate and aroma of the ham. This fat located among the muscle fibers in jamón ibérico is of bromatologic, culinary and gastronomic importance and contributes to the juiciness of the meat and its digestibility, both in the mouth and in the stomach, when consumed.

Jamón Ibérico contains a high percentage of oleic acid (which is why it is sometimes called ‘a four-legged olive tree’) and, in contrast, the levels of saturated fatty acids are low. It is just the opposite of white pork. Jamón´s intramuscular fat has a low percentage of saturated fat and cholesterol, and this is why it is a food that can and must be present in heart healthy diets.

Regarding other Iberian pig products, such as chorizo, salchichón, lomo (loin) and paleta (shoulder) they all have the same properties as does the jamón. Therefore, the Iberian pig, due to (a) its zootechnical behavior, living in the free-range Spanish pastures, (b) its unique genetics of being an animal with a high percentage of non-saturated fatty acids and (c) the method used to cure its products, particularly jamón, makes it a food that enjoys very favorable dietetic qualities.