The Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain is one of the country’s most visited tourist destinations. There are beautiful beaches, enchanting coves, and exceptional sunsets. Plenty to offer visitors.
But perhaps one of the most special things about the islands is their incredible culinary tradition, based on innovation and the heritage of the people who settled there.
Euronews travelled to the islands of Majorca and Minorca to discover some of the best products to be found in this Mediterranean archipelago where, over time, many different cultures have made their mark on the local cuisine.
A gift from nature
The Flor de Sal d'Es Trenc, a natural sea salt harvested by hand in the Es Trenc nature reserve in the south of Majorca, is one of the most famous natural premium salts in Europe.
As the sun and wind evaporates the sea water during the summer months, a thin layer of salt crystals forms on the surface of the salt pools. This is then hand harvested by skimming off the crust using traditional rakes.
The crystals, which resemble white flowers, hence the name, Flower of Salt, are transported to a drying area in natural jute baskets which filter out the excess water. It then takes long hours of sun, breezes off the sea, and low humidity for the product to dry out.
‘Our salt is certified as organic. And this artisanal method guarantees that it has zero emissions. We use clean solar energy, which renewable, sustainable, local, and unlimited, hence the quality of this product,’ said Laura Calvo, director of the company of Salinas d’Es Trenc.
So, nature has created and tradition has fine-tuned this gourmet salt which has a unique texture and flavour, adding a perfect touch to any dish, including desserts. It also contains less sodium chloride and higher levels of magnesium that ordinary salt.
Modern twist to a traditional sausage
Towards the north of Majorca, the Can Company, produces another speciality from the islands, the sobrasada, or spreadable sausage. It is made from the meat of a rather special animal.
The black Majorcan pigs are native to the Balearic Islands. They are believed to be a cross between the Iberian and Celtic pigs, and have black hair and large ears that fall over their eyes, protecting them from the sun.
They are raised freely on the farm and the family-run company cultivates its own grain to feed the animals.
‘The added value with these animals is that we control production from the beginning to the end. And with this type of breeding, we get an excellent product that is different from anything else on the market,’ said Javier Irazusta, manager of Can Company.
Cured products are handmade at the factory using meat from their animals and the best of local ingredients, combining traditional methods, innovation, and new technology, to produce a top-quality product.
The natural drying process in a special room gives the sausage its unique aroma, flavour, and texture. and taste, and its reddish colour comes from the local spice, paprika. The sausage is a standard ingredient in countless popular recipes, but it can also be eaten on its own.
Today, producers add a modern twist to the traditional version.
‘We produce sobrasada with curry, blue cheese, and even Mahón cheese,’ said Javier Irazusta.
A touch of salt
A farm on the island of Minorca, produces an exceptional cheese that takes full advantage of its proximity to the sea.
At ‘Son Mercer de Baix’, the cows roam freely in the fields. As the sea winds blow across the pastures where they graze, it adds a touch of saltiness to their milk. The Mahón cheese they produced is made using very old practices that have been handed down across the generations.
Cheese artisan, Magdalena Begur, said the use of fresh milk and artisanal methods, plus the homegrown feed, are part of the secret that make this cheese so special.
‘We grown our own feed for the cows. We’ve always done it this way. And that’s how we get a very good quality cheese,’ she said.
Working together with other artisans, the traditional method produces no waste, and is not as easy at it looks. In the drying and maturing cellars, the rind is rubbed with butter or olive oil mixed with paprika to give it a reddish colour.
‘Every cheese is different. Every piece goes through different hands, so every cheese is unique. It’s like eating a piece of Minorca,’ said Begur.
The Mahón cheese is sold at different ages ranging from two to ten months. Produced only on the island, it is protected by Spain’s Designation of Origin Regulatory Council.