Food Shopping in Madrid

Maxence and I spent just spent a lovely week-end in Madrid, visiting friends of ours who live just outside of the city with their two little girls. We were lucky enough to arrive just as the weather was changing from drab to splendid, making it possible to enjoy the big garden, the pool (okay, the sight of the pool, the water was far too cold for me), and the barbecue.

On Saturday, after a long walk around the city center and a delicious turron ice-cream, we stopped at a little ham store called Paraíso del Jamón. This area of Madrid was full of these old-fashioned little stores (including a Palacio del Jamón and a Museo del Jamón), a little dark and mysterious, with row upon row of ham, hanging from the walls and ceiling to dry and age, each with its little upside down umbrella to catch the dripping juices — a thoughtful precaution to keep the customers’ hair clean.

Most of them seemed to double up as tapas bar too, with an open kitchen area and high stools, and the one we went to had intriguing and very appetizing dishes on display. Next time, I’d love to try and have lunch in one of these places.

A long display case contained a large array of different sausages and hams. Some names were familiar, some weren’t, and we bought a piece of Chorizo Iberico (17 €/kg), a dry and spicy sausage, orange in color, which I’ve sometimes seen included in paella. (Update : According to Su-Lin, chorizo in paella is heresy to true Valencians. But still, I’ve seen it done.)

In another smaller display case were several big rounds of cheese : there were a few foreign cheeses (brie, something that resembled gruyère but was called “sandwich cheese”, blue cheese), but most of them were Manchego, the famous sheep’s milk cheese produced in La Mancha. Some were very fresh, some more aged, and we got a hunk of the second to oldest, labelled Queso Puro Curado (literally “pure cured cheese”, at 14.45 €/kg). The interesting thing was that none of these cheeses explicitly called themselves manchego, just “cheese”, as if it there was no other kind.

There were three different kinds of ham hanging above the counter, one of which was the world famous Bellota, a jamón produced according to strict rules and with immense care in the South-West of Spain, from pigs fed exclusively with acorns (bellota in Spanish). I had to have some of this of course, but at 72 €/kg we asked for a reasonable 100g, tapas-style, which means cut in slivers. The guy behind the counter solemnly unhooked the leg of ham, lay it cautiously on the cutting board, removed the plastic wrap that protected the cut side of the ham, moved the plastic to the other side of the ham so it wouldn’t rub on the board while he cut it, took out a very long knife with a narrow blade, sliced off a little fat from the sides to expose the meat, and started to cut thin slices expertly, moving the knife towards him with a look of concentration. He wrapped the slices, like the rest of our purchases, in a thick sheet of wax paper which he rolled up in a cylinder and adroitly folded at the ends, so it would remain closed without the use of sticky tape.

A pile of soft orange blocks wrapped in plastic caught my attention, sitting at the end of the counter : a sign read Crema de Membrillo, and after a brief exchange with the counter guy who had each of us taste a little piece, we understood that this was a quince paste, which they serve with extra fresh cheese. Always a big fan of condiments, especially if they promise to be good with cheese, I got a block of that too, for 1.4 €.

And then on Sunday night, as we hopped out of the plane and home, starving from the non-dinner we were served on board (better than nothing but definitely not the gastronomic highlight of our trip), we had ourselves a little Spanish picnic and tasted all of our goodies. The chorizo was excellent, not as spicy as some I’ve had before, but very tasty nonetheless. I liked the manchego very much, and it reminded me a little of the French cantal : same off-white color, a little peppery and piquant, with a soft texture that has a tendency to flake.

But the grand prize, as Maxence said, goes to the Bellota ham. Each bite-size slice, deeply red and shiny with a ribbon of fat (which you should eat to get the full taste experience), is a unique combination of softness and character : it practically melts in your mouth, but at the same time you can feel the pleasant texture of the meat fibers as you chew. The taste is strong and powerful, almost smoky, but very well rounded, with just the right amount of salt. Needless to say, we polished it off right then and there. It is well worth the price, but you should resist the urge to get more than you can quickly consume, because the slices are said to lose their intense flavor and moisture after 24 hours.

Stay tuned for the second installment of The Travelling Gourmande in Madrid!

  • It is great to know that you guys had a wonderful weekend in Madrid! And that Jamon Iberico… I have had Jamon Serrano before but not Ibeico yet. Everyone says that’s devine… it sure is available in tokyo but usually a lot more expensive than in Spain, for sure.
    I am also curious about Chorizo Iberico which I have not heard of. If you still have some left and are going to use it in cooking, be sure to report how it turns out!

  • Oooh, don’t let my boyfriend hear about chorizo in paella! That’s heresy! A true paella Valenciana has only chicken and/or rabbit and vegetables. And perhaps some snails. Yum! From the conversations I’ve had over this subject, I’ve ascertained that paella is a religion!

    I’m glad you had a lovely time in Madrid! Mmmm…..jamon….

  • Adele

    Sounds like a perfect weekend, Clotilde. Manchego and membrillo makes a wonderful combination! Try putting a slice of each on a piece of good bread and running it under the broiler.

  • christoph

    Bonjour Clotilde,
    thank you very for that real mouthwatering report from Madrid.
    When I was in Valencia I tasted for the first time the Jambon Iberico, and I have to agree it is the best ham I’ve ever tasted. My brother gave me last christmas as a present a 500 g piece of Lomo Iberico from the same pigs and it was quite as good as the Jambon and it is much more affordable. We had the slices with some drops of argan oil, a truly delicious combination.

  • jennifer

    Bonjour. Wow was your report transporting. I’m feeling the warmth of nostalgia and a fierce hankering for jamon and a slice of turrone. Can’t wait for your next installment!

  • Josie

    Oh, “the pleasant texture of the meat fibres”… I have to be honest with you and say that that phrase nicely summed up and reminded me of exactly why I’m a vegetarian… ;-)

  • Jennifer

    “The Pleasant texture of meat fibres”…Josie beat me on commenting on that particular sentence…but I was going to say the exact opposite…mmmmmm. Reminds me of why I reverted back to being a carnivore after six years of being a vegetarian…Yum.
    (Sorry, Josie!)

  • Sounds like a fabulous weekend, Clotilde!! Membrillo is fantastic in desserts as well as with Manchego cheese – you can squish a layer of it on a circle of puff pastry and top with apples to make a quick tart or you can make an absolutely gorgeous Membrillo and Praline (almond) ice-cream. I have the recipe knocking around somewhere if you want it…

  • I’m so glad I found your blog. Your writing is awesome and it’s great to find someone who loves food as much as I do. I will be back frequently.

  • I have pictures of myself in front of the Palace of Ham and the Museum of Ham. We didn’t spend much time in Madrid, but the names of these two places set me to giggling uncontrollably.

  • kitten

    Just as an FYI to those US readers craving what Clotilde so aptly desribes-if you live in Seattle, Santa Fe or near Berkeley, CA, you have access to a store called The Spanish Table which has been the biggest discovery in our house in soothing the homesickness for Espana…they not only have the cheese and hams, but the mixes for churros y chocolate caliente, which if I was going to choose a food obsession to represent my religon-never mind the paella! ( I think they are online for those of you not in those three cities…)

  • Goodness, this post makes me miss Spain. I, too, passed by the Palacio del Jamon and Museo del Jamon in Madrid. We ate Jamon Iberico almost constantly and the cheese is Spain is fantastic. I’m so envious, Clotilde, it’s too expensive being in the US to get to go to Espana just for the weekend ;)

  • Marvellous! really. I love Spain, I travelled so many times in the past 15 years. One of my best dishes is “pulpo a la galiega”. Thanks for this declicious post.

  • Kellie MacAloon

    Hi clotilde – this was a great post – lots of great information. Love the whole travelling Gourmet thing….I want some of that Bellota ham…i am drooling.

  • Marina

    Lol – Jennifer and Josie, I HAD to reply. You guys cracked me up! I’m a vegetarian but when I go on vacation with my husband, I’ll share a bite or two of his steak – to get in touch with my inner monkey, as I call it, because of the monkeys (or is it Chimps?) who are mostly vegetarian but kill once in a while out of some kind of uncontrolable fervor and then eat the spoils of their passion. It’s primitive to be sure, but hey, we’re human after all! Sorry Clotilde, for the prolonged intrusion. If I may be so bold, you’ve attracted a pleasantly colorful audience. I love C&Z! Best wishes to you people (and any other chimps like me) :-)

  • Josie

    Well, thankfully we’re all different… and I have to confess I do sometiemes crave a slice of salami. And a burger. Oh, burgers. :-)

  • r

    Clotilde, next time you go to Madrid, be sure to stop in at Casa Mingo for the evening meal (located on the city’s west side of the city, a five minute walk north of la estación Príncipe Pio, next to el Panteon de Goya). It’s an old, perenially popular place, with simple, robust food in the style of Asturias, one of Spain’s northwest provinces. The menu is basic, and what they do, they do superbly — the roast chicken is excellent, the house sidra (hard cider) is delicious, and they have the best chorizo I’ve ever eaten.

    Easily worth the trip to that part of the city.

  • Chika – I have just used the rest of the chorizo in a recipe which I’ll post about in a couple of days!

    Su-Lin – I have updated the post to reflect your comment about chorizo in paella. It may be heretic, it is very good that way too! :)

    Adele – Thanks for the manchego/membrillo tip, I’ll definitely try this!

    Christoph – Funny how well our families know us : ham as a Christmas present may sound weird to some, but I certainly understand your joy! :)

    Jennifer, Gimmy, Barrett, Ninds, Comidademama, Kellie – Delighted you enjoyed that post. I certainly enjoyed the shopping, the eating and the writing parts!

    Josie, Jennifer and Marina – Interesting to see how some things sound and taste incredibly pleasant to some but not so appetizing to others… I say, more jamon for me! :)

    Angela – As usual, thanks for the wonderful advice! And I would love that recipe if you can find it…

    Kitten – That sounds like a great store! I’m curious about the churros y chocolate caliente mix, what’s in it?

    R – Thanks a lot for the recommendation, that restaurant sounds great, and I’ll try to visit it next time.

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.