Meet the Artisans
Whenever possible, we work with artisan producers and small family-run businesses in Spain, many of whom are continuing food-making traditions that go back generations. Their traditonal methods often use sustainable and ethical practices that protect the land, respect their animals, and help them stay connected to the land. We support them in effort to maintain the traditions of Spain, and hope that our enjoyment of the fruits of their labors inspires us all to a greater dedication to these practices in our own land. We invite you to meet some of these artisans...
Alfonso Alvarez - Cheesemaker
We drove into the driveway of Alfonso’s dairy which was guarded by a great old dog with the wisdom of the ages. Alfonso’s children were playing among the furrows of the farm, and in the background we could see the sheepfold full of ewes who produced the milk for the beautifully handcrafted cheese that Alfonso produces. Among the most interesting were cheeses which had been blended with red wine, others with rosemary. When we met his mother at her home, which served as a small cheese store, she proudly showed us a room full of trophies – it seemed that Alfonso was a champion long-distance runner!
See our artisan cheeses ►
Jesús Blasco - Bota Wineskin Maker
Not far from Madrid is Sigüenza, a hill-town topped with a fairytale castle. In this ancient village, Jesus Blasco works with his brother and son to cut and stitch bota wineskins by hand, as they have been made for thousands of years. His small workshop is not much different than that of his father and grandfather, both of whom practiced this ancient trade.
Jesús greeted us at his door and proudly showed us the painstaking process of cutting a goat hide, stitching it together, then sealing it with pine pitch to make it waterproof. Jesús and his son are proud of their skills, and are innovating to help preserve this craft for generations to come.
Antonio Villajos - Cheesemaker
One recent Easter week, we visited the Villajos family in the tiny village of Porzuna deep in the meseta of La Mancha, where Antonio creates one of Spain's finest Manchego cheeses. When we visited last, Antonio's son was just finishing high school, and his daughter was working at one of the desks in their modest office. He took us for a brief tour of his cheese making operation, and we learned that Antonio knows each of the local shepherds, so that the fresh sheep's milk often arrives at the dairy only 15 minutes after it is milked! It is hard to describe the warmth and hospitality extended by Antonio and his wife. We have never tasted a Manchego cheese that compares to the ones he and his cheese master Bernardo produce.
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Belén de la Cal Hidalgo - Ceramic Artist
Master artisan Augustín partners with his daughter Belén to continue the ceramic tradition, which stretches back to the medieval days of Moorish Toledo. They chose to locate their studio in El Puente del Arzobispo, a small town with abundant top quality clay, and a very strong artistic temperament. We find it a joy to work with Belén, a bright woman, who is adapting ancient traditions to the modern world. She is now able to produce hand-painted plates to make them dishwasher proof (not a problem in Moorish times!)
See our artisan ceramics ►
Bernát Fiol - Olive Wood Carver
Our friends Bernát and his son of the same name work together in a modest workshop in a village on the island of Mallorca. They are a vanishing breed of craftsmen who create olive wood bowls, plates, mortars and pestles and other utilitarian objects from whole pieces of olive wood – nothing is laminated or glued together. The search for large pieces of fallen olives trees is a daunting task, but once the olive wood enters their workshop, father and son transform it to a thing of beauty. Standing next to them amidst the sawdust and the lathes is a magical event.
See our artisan olive wood ►
Fermín Rodríguez - Olive Oil Taster
We first got to know Fermín Rodríguez when he invited us to tour his family olive groves in Priego de Córdoba. He told us of how, as a child, he would hide in the hollows of the ancient olive trees at the foot of the rolling Vizcántar Hills. Clearly, this is his life and his passion. As a professional taster, and producer of Señorío de Vizcántar Extra Virgin Olive Oil, he introduced us to the complex world of true extra virgin olive oil. A few years ago he married a delightful Berber woman named Aixa and we enjoy visiting their little girl Sofía during our visits. Maybe she will join the olive oil business with her father some day!
See our artisan extra virgin olive oils ►
Hans de Roos - Olive Farmer
Hans de Roos is a perfectionist Dutchmen who was very successful in international trade. In his retirement he and his half-Catalan wife, Daida, decided to produce the perfect extra virgin olive oil. So they bought a 12th century farm in Catalonia (the birthplace of some of her family) and planted arbequina olive. As he continues to seek perfection, his Can Solivera olive oil is the result of personal scrutiny from nursery to mill. His organic wild olive oil is produced in a tiny windswept town in the Pyrenees following a process which has not changed since medieval times. At home Daida makes 100% extra virgin olive oil soap, and wraps each bar by hand. Everything they do is small scale and artisan, in the true sense of the word.
See our artisan extra virgin olive oils ►
José María Hernández - Paprika Miller
After driving through the bountiful Vera valley dotted with fruit trees and modest farms, Tim and i were greeted heartily by two millers, José María Hernández and his son, Alvaro. I always appreciate the "down to earth" quality of people whose livelihood is tied to the soil. Soon Alvaro proudly showed us group pictures of the three generations who pioneered the production of pimentón de la vera, the famous smoked paprika of Spain. He identified each member of their family, one by one!
Eva came down from Madrid especially to greet us. Speaking in flawless English she guided us through their warehouse, which was a virtual working museum of paprika mills dating back to the early twentieth century. The mills were engineering works of art and José María was particularly proud that La Dalia paprika was still produced using the original granite millstones. The unique properties of granite assure the amazing fineness of the rich red powder that came from the little smoked peppers the farmer brought from the field.
See our artisan smoked paprika ►
Lola León Gallego - Soup Maker
Our friend Lola mobilized the ladies in her village to make truly handmade sauces, soups and preserves, and we visited them in their kitchen at Despensa La Nuestra recently to see how they work. They get up early in the morning so that they will be done in time to pick up their children from school for the midday family meal. This is their way of preserving a family way of life in the face of factory layoffs in the area. To this day they continue to produce handmade soups and sauces, such as gazpacho and tomate frito, from family recipes. Their mission was to create homemade quality food so that working women could serve healthy traditional food to their families. We are proud to offer their fine products to our customers.
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María Angeles and Juan Antonio - Saffron Farmers
We asked María Angeles to provide La Tienda’s saffron, because within gourmet circles her family has an impeccable reputation. Their saffron is certified as D.O.P. La Mancha, guaranteeing quality in an industry rife with counterfeit products. We visited her in their modest farmhouse on the plains of La Mancha. There her husband, Juan Antonio, explained how they carefully maintain the highest standards of this precious spice – as a matter of personal pride. Along with their children, David and Paloma, the family continues the tradition of planting, hand harvesting and toasting saffron with an inimitable artistry that comes from generations of experience. They only produce a few kilos of saffron per year. Our partnership with them has helped resurrect the saffron tradition within their village of Minaya, where they have recruited neighbors to help harvest this labor intensive crop.
See our artisan saffron ►
Pepe Ruíz - Rice Farmer
Our friend Pepe Ruíz provides our Calasparra paella rice, and we always enjoy visiting the tiny town of Calasparra to visit with him. The rice grown in fresh water, high in the mountains along the Mundo and Segura rivers. Why grow rice in the mountains? One story is that centuries ago malaria affected the low lands near Valencia, and as an accident of history, they blamed the disease on the location of the rice fields. When they moved the rice crop to the mountains of Calasparra, the mosquitoes were left behind. In the new climate the grains of rice took longer to mature, and so are able to absorb an amazing amount of rich broth – the secret of good paella! Calasparra rice is the only DOP protected rice growing region in Spain, and it is still artisan grown with no insecticides or herbicides.
See our artisan paella rice ►