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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


Con-queso-dores: A Ham & Cheese Adventure in the Conquistador Villages of Western Spain, Castilla y León & The Mountains of Asturias

Con-queso-dores: A Ham & Cheese Journey in the Columbine and Conquistador Villages of Western Spain; the highlands of Castilla y León & The Mountains of Asturias

Text & photographs copyright by Gerry Dawes

One of the most rewarding trips in Spain for lover's of Spain's great cheeses, hams, historic sites and stunning scenery, is a trip through western Spain--ranging from Huelva on the Atlantic Ocean in the south; traversing the superb jamón Ibérico, exceptional queso and conquistador country of Extremadura; Salamanca and its Guijuelo ham country; Zamora for Zamorano cheese and Toro wine; León and its magficent stained-glass cathedral, Bierzo wine and Valdeón cheesese; and ending up back up in the north, again on the Atlantic, in the Asturias, land of cidra (cider) and Spain's Parque Naciónal de Quesos (National Park of Cheeses).

A couple of years ago, I embarked on an ambitious trip to Spain designed to accomplish several missions: My journey would begin in warm, southern Andalucía on the Atlantic Ocean and end in the cool northern coastal regions of the Cantabrian Sea and along the way I would visit some of Spain’s best cheese-producing regions in Extremadura and Castilla y León and end the trip in the so-called Parque Nacional de Quesos (National Park of Cheeses) in the northern provinces of Asturias and Cantabria. Along the way, I planned to sample Ibérico hams and embutidos (cured meats), which were recently approved for eventual importation into the United States.

Driving southeast from Sevilla to Mazagón (Huelva), I arrived at the beautiful Parador de Turismo, which sits on a cliff above a long stretch of Atlantic beach. From Mazagón, I explored Palos de la Frontera, the village where Christopher Columbus recruited his crews and set sail on his first voyage, and the monastery of La Rábida, where Franciscan monks had sheltered and encouraged Columbus, then helped him get his plan before Queen Isabela. Near Huelva, the provincial capital, a huge monument commemorating the discovery of the New World stands at the mouth of the rust red Río Tinto, from which Columbus sailed into the open sea on his way to immortality.

 The next morning I drove north into Huelva’s Sierra de Aracena mountains to Jabugo, famous for its jamones Ibéricos de bellota made from Iberian pata negra (black foot) pigs, which roam free in the autumn months fattening up on acorns foraged beneath the cork oaks. I spent the morning visiting the Consorcio de Jabugo, a producer of the first-rate jamones. Julio Revilla, the firm’s President, showed me around his impressive production facility, where hundreds of the world’s best hams were aging under ideal conditions. Revilla explained that because of aging requirements (2½ years for hams), the jamones will not be available in the U.S. until 2008. In the plant’s dining room, Revilla invited me to lunch (salad, the Consorcio’s own Castilian cheese from Valladolid, plenty of their first-rate ham, chorizo and lomo (cured Ibérico loin), plus cuts of grilled, fresh Ibérico pork, for which a big demand is developing in Japan.

After a stop at Aracena to pick up a Monte Robledo torta de cabra, a rare local small goats' milk cheese (tortas are usually made with sheeps' milk), I explored several little-known hill villages before reaching the intriguing Extremaduran town of Jerez de los Caballeros (Badajoz), hometown to both Hernando de Soto, discoverer of the Mississippi River, and Vasco Nuñez de Balbao, the first Western explorer to report seeing the Pacific Ocean. That evening, arriving in the lovely small city of Zafra, I stayed in the 15th-century fortified Dukes of Feria palace, now the Parador de Turismo. At dinner, served in the soaring, two-story Renaissance patio, I sampled the assertive and delicious Aracena goat torta, an intriguing cheese with hints of mushroom or truffle flavors.

The following day took me through stark, hilly terrain to the remote de la Serena region (Badajoz) to seek out the legendary Torta de la Serena. With much the same characteristics as Torta del Casar, this exceptional, expensive cheese is ~ in springtime and early summer versions ~ creamy, buttery, and spreadable like Brie, but with more intriguing, rustic flavors. I visited two excellent producers making cheeses from the de la Serena Denominación de Origen Protegida (D.O.P.) A D.O.P. operates under rules similar to those governing wine regions and guarantees the origins and production methods of a cheese.

Francisco Murillo, the D.O.P.’s technical director, took me to the Sánchez Ruíz (Toril del Cardo brand) cheese factory near the rocky, hillside town of Benquerencia. Murillo showed me a small artisan plant surrounded by well-trod grounds where scores of merino sheep, the approved breed, rested beneath the shade of oak trees. Murillo explained that D.O.P. Tortas de la Serena are made only with leche cruda de oveja, raw sheeps' milk, and he also pointed out the cardo silvestre (Cynara cardunculus; wild thistle flowers) that produce the vegetable rennet used to coagulate the milk. Cheeses made from this rennet ~ a practice rooted in ancient Moorish and Jewish dietary laws ~ often have a Vacherin Mont d’Or-like creaminess and a pleasant bitter almond finish. Murillo also gave me a tour of Lácteos de Castuera, a modern production plant that still requires careful daily hand-turning of the cheeses and cleaning the planks they rest on while aging. He gave me three tortas de la Serena, each with a lace band around its rind and packaged in a small brown cazuela, a reusable ceramic baking dish.

After stopping in Medellín, where an imposing statue of explorer Hernan Cortés stands in the town square, I drove to the great monumental Roman city of Mérida and checked into the Parador, this one ensconced in a renovated convent on a charming plaza. After touring Mérida’s splendid Roman theater and amphitheater, fine Roman Museum (designed by Rafael Moneo) and awesome Roman bridge over the Guadiana River, I dined at the Parador. The simpática server offered me jamón Ibérico from the D.O. Dehesa de Extremadura, followed by a local cheese selection that included a Manchego-type sheeps' cheese; a creamy, log-shaped Doña Inés goats' cheese; an exceptional Torta de Barros (from south of Mérida; winner of the 2003 Salón Internacional Club de Gourmets Torta cheese competition); and several goat cheeses from Berrocales Trujillanos, including an excellent Ibores from Trujillo.

The next day, my itinerary included the little-known hilltop town of Montánchez. Also famous for its hams, Montánchez soars above the Extremaduran plain and has superb views from the hermitage below the castle ruins that crown the hill. After enjoying a picnic lunch of some Ibérico ham and chorizo, local cured olives, wine and fresh figs, and a Serena Torta, I drove to Trujillo, one of Spain’s most striking and history-steeped towns.

Trujillo was the hometown of Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, and Francisco Orellana, a kinsman of Pizarro who discovered the Amazon River. The town is filled with photographic opportunities including Pizarro’s great equestrian statue, the towering San Martín church on the storybook town square, a number of palaces including Pizarro’s, a castle on the hill and many distinguished buildings along steep, winding streets that offer dramatic vistas.

Previous paradores were good places to sample local cheeses. Trujillo was no exception, with good reason: The D.O.P. Ibores offices are located here and Trujillo is host to the most highly esteemed cheese competition in Spain, the annual Feria del Queso, where, in the Plaza Mayor on the first weekend in May, some 350 cheeses are available for judging, sampling and sale. At the parador, I was served a smooth, delicious Ibores goat cheese and a soft, rich tortita de Barros – cut in half and surrounded by toast rounds.

After a restful night, I set out for Cáceres to visit a Torta del Casar producer who came highly recommended by Toño Pérez, chef-owner of Átrio, a Michelin one-star restaurant that serves the best modern cuisine in Extremadura. Just southeast of Cáceres is EXLAJA, a modest, artisan quesería that produces a first-rate Torta del Casar ("Tiana"), a famous non-D.O.P. torta (El Castúo), a flavorful semi-curado and a characterful curado (aged one year). Now a D.O.P. recognized by the EU, Torta del Casar is a raw milk Merino sheep cheese that is also coagulated with wild thistle rennet. Similar in style to the French Vacherin Mont d’Or o Epoisses(both cows' milk cheeses), Torta del Casar can be semi-soft or ripened to the point that it becomes molten and can be scooped out with a piece of crusty country bread. Torta del Casar, which gets its name from its torta-shape (like a Spanish potato omelette, or tortilla), is quite expensive since it takes several sheep (two milkings a day) to get the gallon of milk required just to make a two-pound cheese.

I tasted several cheeses at EXLAJA, photographed some charmingly picturesque young lambs and the purple cardo silvestre flowers growing on the property, then drove into Cáceres, enjoying a superb lunch at Átrio – with Torta del Casar ice cream with membrillo strips and vanilla oil for dessert! After lunch I explored the historic old quarter of Cáceres, then drove north, stopping briefly in the town of Casar, from whence the cheese gets its name, to photograph a wonderful scene – the bell tower of the town church crowned with storks in their nests with a herd of sheep in the foreground. Further north, I stopped briefly in late evening at Guijuelo, a town south of Salamanca filled with Ibérico jamon and embutido processing plants, including those of Joselito, the most sought-after in Spain. I spent the night in Salamanca, a city famous for its historic university, its plateresque architecture and the most beautiful Plaza Mayor in Spain. Taking a temporary respite from cheese and ham sampling, I dined that evening on grilled shrimp and the region’s famous tostón, roast suckling pig.

The next day I drove to León, the last stop before continuing into the majestic, but challenging high mountains of the Picos de Europa and the National Park of Cheeses. On the way, I passed through Zamora, where the excellent D.O.P. Zamorano cheese is made from pasteurized milk from churra and castellano sheep. North of Zamora I stopped to visit the ruins of the once magnificent 12th-century Romanesque Cistercian monastery at Granja de Moreruela. Flanking the ruins, standing like soldiers at attention, were thousands of wild thistles, now dried and glowing golden in the rays of the evening sun.

Upon reaching León, I found it in the midst of fiesta, and its restaurants and bars packed. Volunteers worked steadily to create a huge carpet of flowers in front of León’s magnificent Gothic cathedral, but even the flower carpet was upstaged by the sight of the church’s superb stained glass windows lit from inside and glowing like iridescent jewels against the night sky.

The following morning, I headed north to another majestic cathedral, this time a natural one, the mighty Picos de Europa mountains. I had an appointment with Marino González, President of COASA ~ a group of some 40 artisan producers, including González, who is the prime mover behind promoting artisanal food products from the bounteous Asturian cornucopia. Marino led me to Posado de León, a small village in northeastern León province nestled in a valley beneath awesome mountains, which still had pockets of snow in early July. Here the Alonso brothers make Queso de Valdeón, one of the great blue cheeses of Europe. Made principally with cows milk (sometimes laced with a bit of sheeps and/or goats milk), the cheeses are injected with pencillum mold, aged under humid conditions, then wrapped in sycamore leaves before being sold. Valdeón is a wonderfully smooth and creamy cheese with all the character of a classic blue cheese, without the more aggressive traits of other blue cheeses.

After visiting Valdeón, I followed Marino González through the dramatic 14-kilometer canyon, the Desfiladero de Los Beyos, and up into the hills to visit his family home, where his sister produces the highly regarded artisan cheese, Beyos. A historic cheese that was nearly extinct, this dense, compact, "peasant"-style, cows milk queso has a unique flinty texture and flavor. The firmness at first bite melts into a buttery, creamy, chalky paste, which makes it a cheese par excellence with cider or wine. I sampled the Beyos with Asturian cider that Marino poured from a height into wide-mouthed glasses. Versions of Beyos are also made with goats milk and mixed cow and goats milk.

For two days I stayed in the Cangas de Onís, an important Asturian tourist and market town in the foothills, visiting a number of cheese producers who work with Marino González, sampling Cabrales, Spain’s most famous D. O. P. blue cheese, a semi-soft blue (made mostly from raw cows milk) with a strong, spicy flavor, and Gamoneu, one of the few remaining naturally bluing blue cheeses. This is made from raw cows' milk (with some goats or sheeps milk mixed in) and has a creamy, pungent flavor. I watched a Gamoneu producer’s wife work the coagulating curds and whey up to her elbows, after which she stoked the apple wood fire that provides the smoky flavor to rows of aging cheese wheels.

At Arenas de Cabrales, I visited Marino González’s own artisan cheese plant and the dark, humid caves on the hill where hundreds of Cabrales cheeses were maturing. I also tasted such cheeses as Afuega L’Pitu, Peñamellera and Ovín, but recounting my cheese adventures in this National Park of Cheeses is alone the subject for another article.

As I was driving towards Cantabria, the thought occurred to me to attempt to reach Tresviso, a town hidden at the end of a corkscrew road up in the highest peaks of these mountains, where a powerful D.O.P. blue cheese, Picón Bejes-Tresviso, is made. But the road was too difficult in my rental car, and I soon retraced my route and headed for the Parador de Turismo Gil Blas at Santillana del Mar, a Medieval village near the sea, southwest of Santander. As luck would have it, the selection of cheeses that final night at the parador included several Cantabrian cheeses including a pungent, grey-blue cheese from Tresviso. It reminded me that on my next trip to Spain’s National Park of Cheeses, Tresviso will be high on my list of places to visit.


Remembrances of Times Past: CIA-Worlds of Flavor General Session Flavors of Spain 2006: Espherification Videos with Ferran Adrià & José Andrés

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Here are two excellent videos in English and in Spanish from the Culinary Institute of America's historic Flavors of Spain Conference in 2006.  

Ferran Adrià demonstrates his revolutionary espherification and reverse espherification tecniques and José Andrés translates and embellishes the descriptions.

Ferran Adrià. Photo copyright 2007 by Gerry Dawes.

José Andrés at the CIA-Flavors of Spain 2006. Photo copyright 2006 by Gerry Dawes.

About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television

series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):

Gerry Dawes: Credits & Biographical Information

Gerry Dawes
Suffern, New York
(914) 414-6982

Credits & Biographical Information

Gerry Dawes is a New York-based gastronomy, wine and travel writer-photographer who specializes in Spain. He lived in Spain for eight years, has been traveling there for thirty years and visits the country as many as eight times per year. In the past decade, he has made more than sixty extensive food and wine trips to Spain and leads gastronomic and wines tours to Spain.

Gerry Dawes was awarded the prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía Marqués de Busianos 2003 (Spanish National Gastronomy Prize) from the Spanish Academy of Gastronomy for writing, photography, and lectures about Spanish gastronomy and wines and is also the only non-Spaniard to receive the prestigious Premio Cena de Los 11 Vinos, an award created to honor those who have made significant lifetime contribution to enhancing the image and culture of Spanish wines. According to Food Arts magazine, Dawes is known, "for good reasons in wine and periodical circles as Mr. Spain."

The Rosengarten Report says "Gerry Dawes--has emerged as the leading American speaker, consultant, and writer on the subject of Spanish wine. . . suffice to say that everyone from The New York Times to the James Beard Foundation, from 60 Minutes to CNN, has sought Gerry's wisdom on the subject of Spanish wine, food and culture."

Dawes has published hundreds of articles and photographs on Spanish food and wine for numerous publications and he lectures frequently both in the U.S. and in Spain on Spanish gastronomy, wine and culture, often using colorful PowerPoint presentations illustrated with his photographs.

— Finalist, 2001 James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards: Magazine Writing on Spirits, Wine and Beer.

— James Beard Foundation Restaurant Awards Judge (1998 - present)

— Amigo de Madrid (Presented by the Mayor of Madrid.)

— Chairman, 17th Annual James Beard Foundation Auction Dinner, Essex House Hotel, New York, Nov. 16, 2003 The Flavors of Spain Honoring Juan Mari Arzak & Ferran Adriá (Broke all existing records by $100,000.)

Video clip (interview in Spanish):,2956,35582_39233338_39231713_131324_0,00.html

Audio clips: A radio interview in English with Restaurant Guys.


— Food Arts (Contributing Authority on Spain)
— The Wine News
— Spain Gourmetour (Madrid)
— Santé
— Foods From Spain News
- Wines From Spain News

Articles and/or photographs published in:

— Wine International (Great Britain)
— Decanter
— Food & Wine
— Restauradores (Madrid; Spanish language) - American correspondent
— Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar
— La Prensa del Rioja
— El Diario de La Rioja
— Sobremesa (Madrid, a publication now more than 25 years old)
— Wine Enthusiast
— The New York Times
— Martha Stewart Living
— The Chicago Tribune
— Saveur
— James Beard Foundation Magazine
— Fine Wine Folio
— Playboy (America's Best Restaurants; America's Best Bars)
— The Wine Spectator (photos only).
— Berlitz Travellers Guide to Spain
— Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course
— The World of Wine by Frank E. Johnson (45 photographs)
— Pamplona by Ray Mouton (photographs)

Current Articles:

— Santé, Extensive article with tasting notes and photos on a range of wines from around Spain. (Oct., 2006)

— Food Arts, Silver Spoon profile of Spanish gastronomy figure Clara Maria de Amézua. (Oct., 2006)

— Spain Gourmetour (new consumer edition). Travel article on the Ribera del Duero and its wines. 400,000 copies distributed with The New York Times. (Oct., 2006)

— Wine News, 3,000-word article on Ribera del Duero with photographs. (Oct. - Nov., 2006).

— Wines From Spain News, cover story on the wines of Bierzo. (Autumn issue, 2006)

— Foods From Spain News, Gerry's View, (Autumn edition).

— Spain-US Chamber of Commerce magazine, Long article on Cava, gala issue (Oct. 2006)

— Food Arts, 3,000-word article with photographs on Valencian gastronomy. Scheduled for March 2007)

— Spain Gourmetour, 3,000-word article with photographs on Valencian wines pending publication.

Public Speaking Experience

Gerry Dawes has been a featured speaker on Spain, Spanish wines, gastronomy, culture and travel at:

— The Smithsonian Institution
— Macy's De Gustibus
— Executive Wine Seminars, New York
— Tasters Guild International
— International Wine Center
— Boston Wine Expo
— Centro Riojano (Madrid)
— Culinary Institute of America (Greystone & Hyde Park)
— Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust International Leadership Symposium (Barcelona, at EXPO '92, in Sevilla, and in Madrid)

Conferences, Benefits, Speaking Engagements:

— Conference on Spanish Regional Gastronomy II International Congress on the Mediterranean Diet (Held in Barcelona and Córdoba, Spain; March 1998)

— Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY) 1998 Winter Dining Series

— The James Beard Foundation's Mediterranean Festival (New York; October, 1999) - A Photographic Tour of Spain's Regional Cuisines & Wines

— First International Symposium on Tempranillo (Logroño, Spain; April, 2000)

— The 10th Annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta (Santa Fe, New Mexico; Sept. 2000)

— Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (Austin, Texas; April, 2001) A Culinary Slide Lecture Tour of Spain's Regional Cuisines & Wines

— Fiesta de España, Two Rivers Theater Company benefit, Food & Wine Co-ordinator; Speaker VIP Tasting (Oceanport, NJ; June 2002)

— Guest speaker on Rias Baixas wines, The Great Match, The Regent Wall Street Hotel, NYC (Oct., 2002)

— Guest speaker on Ribero del Duero wines, The Great Match, Scottsdale Culinary Institute, Scottsdale, Arizona (Oct., 2002)

— Guest speaker, Food & Wine Co-ordinator, A Fresh Taste of Spain Dinner, Union Square Cafe (Nov. 2002)

— Faculty Lecturer, Artisanal Cheese Center, classes on Spanish cheeses and wines. (May 2003 - Present).

— Guest speaker on the wines of the Spanish Levante, The Great Match, New York City (Sept., 2003)

— Featured Speaker & Panelist (four seminars on Spanish gastronomy & wines), Worlds of Flavor: Mediterranean Flavors, American Menus--Tasting the Future, Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley, (November 6-8, 2003)

— Guest Speaker, Celebration of the Gastronomy of Spain Dinner, Rainbow Room,
New York City (Feb. 2004)

— Guest Speaker, A Taste of Spain Dinner, Cindy's Supper Club, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, California (June, 2004)

— Guest speaker on the wines of the Spanish Levante, The Great Match Miami, Florida (Oct., 2004)

— Seminar on Spanish Wines & Cheeses, Macy's De Gustibus, New York City (Oct., 2004)

— Guest Speaker on Rare Spanish Wines, Christie's New York Spanish Wine Dinner/Tasting at Aquavit Restaurant, New York City (Dec., 2004)

— Inaugural Speaker on the Wines of Spain & Wines of the Spanish Levante, Encuentro Verema IV, Valencia, Spain (in Spanish). (Feb., 2005)

— Featured Speaker, Menu and Wine Co-ordinator for a series of six dinners on Spanish-related themes during the Salvador Dalí Exhibition, Philadelphia Museum of Art Museum Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA. ( Feb. - May, 2005)

— Featured Panelist on Spanish Cheeses & Wines, More than Manchego, Arbequina and Rioja: Exploring Spanish Denominacion of Origen Cheeses, Olive Oils and Wines, International Association of Culinary Professionals, 27th Annual Conference, Wyndham Anatole Hotel, Dallas, Texas (April, 2005)Demand for seminar required moving it a room with double the capacity.

— Guest Speaker on Valencian culture, gastronomy and wine, at a dinner in honor of Francisco Camps, President of La Generalitat de La Comunitat Valenciana, at Thomas Keller’s Per Se Restaurant, New York City (April, 2005) (Talk given in Spanish.)

— Guest speaker, CRDO Ribera del Duero Special Selecion Wine Tasting Tour of the U.S. 2005, eight events in Chicago, Culinary Institute of America-Greystone (Napa Valley), Berkeley, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

— Guest speaker, Worlds of Flavor Conference, Culinary Institute of America-Greystone (Napa Valley). Power Point seminars with own photography on Spanish cheeses and wines and on Spanish regional cuisine and wines made from indigenous grape varities. (November, 2005)

— Panelist (on Petit Verdot in the Iberian Peninsula) with Carlos Falcó (Marqués de Griñon), José Peñin (one of Spain's top wine writers) and Jésus Flores (Author and Master Sommelier), IberWine, Madrid Spain. (Dec., 2005)

— Panelist (on world-wide wine trends), Madrid Fusión 2006 (one of the world's most prestigious gastronomic conferences). Madrid (Jan., 2006)

— Panelist on the future of Spanish cuisine, Congreso de Hosteleria, Valencia, Spain, (March, 2006)— Panelist on Catalan cuisine, Turisme de Barcelona round table on the future of Catalan food, Barcelona (March, 2006)

— Panelist on Marketing Navarra Food and Wine Products in the United States, Camara Navarra, Pamplona (March, 2006)

— Panelist on Palo Cortado, Palacio del Marques de Domecq, Vinoble, Jerez de la Frontera (June, 2006)

— Judge, Concurso de Quesos (Grupo Gourmets National Cheese Competition), Salón Internacional de Gourmets 2004 & 2006, Madrid. (The most prestigious cheese competition in Spain.)

— Holland America Cruise Lines Food & Wine Magazine Enrichment Program (July, 2006): Lectured on the tourist attractions and gastronomy of Cataluña. Power Point presentation on the cheeses and wines of Cataluña, followed by a tasting of six wines and six cheeses.

— Silver Seas Cruise Line Wine Lecture Series (Oct. 3 - 9): Lecture and tasting of Spanish Mediterranean Cheeses and Wines; Lecture on the cuisines and wines of Cadiz, Malaga, Valencia, Barcelona and the Balearic Islands.

— Spains Ten Conference (New York City, Oct. 13, 14, & 15): Emcee & presenter of chefs at a day-long event featuring ten of Spain’s greatest chefs and the most important Spanish gastronomic event ever held in New York.

— Commonwealth Club of San Francisco (Oct. 19-30): Led 24 members of the West Coast's most prestigious public forum society on a gastronomic and wine tour of northern Spain (Madrid, Ribera del Duero, Burgos, La Rioja, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Navarra and Barcelona).

— CIA-Greystone, Napa Valley (Nov. 1-4): Five seminars with Power Point presentations on Spanish regional gastronomy, cheeses, wines, etc. at the most important Spanish gastronomy conference ever held in the United States.

General Session I: The Spanish Market Basket: Iconic Elements of Tradition, Exchange, and Invention
A culinary exploration of six foods—olive oil, salt, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and wine—that have shaped the Spanish table and its contribution to world cooking
Moderator/presenter: José Andrés Presenters/guest chefs and experts: Miguel Palomo, Mª Carmen Velez, Karen MacNeil, Dani García, Gerry Dawes, Enric Canut, Colman Andrews, Rafael Vidal, María José San Román, Llorenç Petràs, Carles Gaig

General Session III: Rice Traditions of Spain: Preserving, Adapting, and Re-imagining
Moderator: Gerry Dawes Presenters: Chefs María Muria Lloret, Carles Gaig, MªCarmen Vélez, and a live feed from our "PaellaCam" with Rafael Vidal in our outdoor rice kitchen

Seminar I B Ecolab Theater
Tasting Valencia: Of Gardens, Groves, and Vineyards
Moderator/presenter: Gerry Dawes Presenters: Chefs María Muria Lloret, MªCarmen Vélez, Rafael Vidal

Seminar V A Phelps Room
Spanish Cheeses, American Menus—and the Wines that Match
Moderator: Gerry Dawes Presenters: Cheese Experts & Authors Max McCalman, Enric Canut

Seminar IV Williams Center for Flavor Discovery
Tasting the Best of Traditional and Modern Spain: A Visual Feast of Markets, Tapas Bars, and Classic (and "Modern Classic") Kitchens
Moderator/presenter: Gerry Dawes Presenter: Chef Jesús Ramiro, Mushroom Expert Llorenç Petràs

— San Antonio New World Wine & Food Festival (Nov. 6-12, 2006; dedicated to Spain ). Resident scholar, Spanish co-ordinator, emcee & guest speaker at gala auction dinner.

— Wines of Murcia, Power Point presentation and tasting of the Wines of Murcia at Morrell & Company, followed by a Wines of Murcia dinner speaking engagement at Solera restaurant, New York City. Nov. 20, 2006


The Emerging Wines of Valencia:

by Gerry Dawes copyright2006

(First appeared in Spain Gourmetour magazine [consumer edition, 400,000 copies of which were circulated as an insert in The New York Times in Fall, 2006)

The exotic, once Moorish-dominated Comunitat Valenciana–which encompasses the provinces of Valencia, Alicante and Castellón de la Plana–and its capital, the ancient, but suddenly ultra-modern and rapidly growing Mediterranean port city, Valencia, has long been known for its wild end-of-winter Fiesta called Las Fallas and sunny beaches that have become nirvana for northern Europeans who flock to Valencia like Americans do to Florida. Gastro-nomically, Valencia is known world-wide for paella–in reality a wide variety of rice dishes made with local bomba or senia arroces–and nationally for its, Mediterranean seafood, Valencia oranges and clementines from Castellón, almonds and almond turrón candy from Jijona and dates from the largest date palm forest in Europe in Elche (both in Alicante province). Until recently, except for the large quantities of bulk wines shipped most to northern Europe, the only vinos la Comunitat Valenciana was known for were a strange, but exotic and wonderful vino rancio from Alicante called Fondillón and sweet dessert mistelas made from luscious moscatel grapes from the vineyards of Valencia and Alicante. (see more)


Sherry’s Image Gets a Makeover

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To meet the challenge of making their classical fortified wines attractive to an increasingly younger demographic group that is much more in tune to sexy new age table wines, sherry producers, while almost always quite hospitable and charming to visitors, have had to reconsider the aristocratic, often arrogant image that they projected to the world and wrestle with the significant problem of putting a new face on the stodgy image of their wines. In today’s market, classicism seems anachronistic to many consumers, especially with the new wave wine crowd that has emerged in the past decade.

Javier Hidalgo believes that sherry’s old-fashioned image was created because the sherry producers have been making wines specifically for export markets and he disagrees with this approach. Hidalgo says, “These sherries are very different from the kind of sherries we drink in Spain. I think we were wrong to export product that were not of the type we consume in Spain.”

Javier Hidalgo drinking his Bodegas Hidalgo Napoleon Amontillado.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010 / Contact

Stephen Olson (aka The Wine Geek), a New York-based wine professional and drinks consultant, who was contracted by the Commercial Office of Spain to promote several high-profile brands and to find ways to make new converts to joys of drinking good sherry, also admits that overcoming sherry’s “stodgy” image is a formidable task.

Olson also knows that the chances are slim that Americans will learn to love sherry if they are introduced to it in most American bars and restaurants, the majority of which offer a couple of standard brands in bottle long since opened and kept unrefrigerated behind the bar. Olson says, “Most bartenders don’t know what sherry is, have never been taught how sherries sound be served, and they don’t have the proper glasses for it.”

There are signs though that sherries are not condemned forever to conjure up images of antiquated “dinosaur” wines favored by elitist wine aficionados (duty bound to cover all the classical wine bases) or of cooking sherry consigned to the back of a cupboard and eventually pilfered by puberal grandkids foraging for something naughty to drink or of sweet wines with English names that are drunk on the rocks.

Steve Olson conducts sherry seminars for consumers, but also for sommeliers, chefs, bartendars, and restaurant staffs. He says wine and food professionals quickly become converts once they have been taught about sherries and get a chance to taste them served properly (finos and manzanillas, and some amontillados chilled; palo cortados, olorosos, Pedro Ximénez, creams and dessert sherries cool) in a tulip-shaped sherry glass or small tulip-shaped wine glass. “Many professionals who are served these wines in a good glass become sherry aficionados,” Olson says. “If you pour them a fresh manzanilla, fino or amontillado and serve a bite of food with it, they love it.”

Olson likes to point to number of success stories in top-end American restaurants. At Ilo in New York, the highly-regarded chef Rick Lakonnen liked sherries so much with some of his dishes that he now offers 8 to 10 sherries by the glass. Joseph Scalice, co-owner and wine director of March, which has been one of Manhattan’s top dining establishments for more that a decade, has long been a sherry lover and even has his own selections under the Dios Baco label. Rob Bigelow, the Master Sommelier who runs the wine programs at Il Circo and Le Cirque in Las Vegas, also offers a number of sherries by the glass and sommelier Jorge Liloy of Nuevo Latino restaurant Patria in New York has a list of 25 to 30 sherries by the glass.

Max McCalman—author of The Cheese Table, mâitre fromager at New York’s Picholine and Artisanal, and one of America’s top cheese gurus—often pairs sherries with some of the 225 cheeses he offers in the two restaurants. “Most dry sherries, because of their crispness, acidity, and pungency are excellent foils for cheeses. Stronger, more assertive, full-flavored palo cortados, olorosos, Pedro Ximénez and creams are fine companions to powerful flavors of aged and blue cheeses.”

Olson also points out that dry manzanilla, fino, and amontillado sherries have a particular afinity for seafood dishes, especially shellfish, which is not surprising since they are often the wines of preference with Spain’s superb crustaceans, which are some of the best in the world.

Olson also points out that “One of the classic matches for sherries, especially amontillados, is soup.” Many restaurants that offer black bean soup either lace it with sherry or offer a glass alongside, but dry sherries are also excellent partners to seafood soups and consommes and the “brown” sherries such as lightly sweetened amontillados and olorosos are perfect foils for thick autumn and winter soups, chowders, etc.

There are signs that a foundation is being laid for turning a new generation on to sherries. The ubiquitous Spanish habit of having tapas with a drink - - call it hors d’ouevres noshing - - is growing in popularity in the United States and tapas bars are popping up like mushrooms. Most, if not all of them, offer a range of sherries by the glass. A recent survey showed that there are now more than fifty Spanish restaurants serving tapas in Manhattan alone. That doesn’t include dozens more in the surrounding burroughs and in nearby communties in New Jersey and Connecticut, nor the Latino cuisine restaurants that serve tapas and the scores of non-Spanish restaurants that now offer a selection of small dishes and call them tapas.

One of the most pleasant surprises Steve Olson encountered in finding food matches for sherry is its afinity for Asian food, especially Japanese food. Sushi Samba in New York’s Flatiron district matches dry sherries with sushi and sashimi.

Sherry’s staid image is getting a makeover.
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