Sunday, 20 August 2017

Productos del Marco: Bringing the best produce from Jerez, Spain, to the UK

One of my favourite things about going on holiday is being able to pick up food, and of course alcohol, that I know I’d never be able to find anywhere in the UK.

I usually bring things home in my suitcase, and then hold on to them for ages as I know it’ll be highly unlikely that I’ll get my hands on the products again.

However, a new online business, Productos del Marco, set up by Cardiffian Graeme Hooper, could change that, at least if you’re looking for products from El Marco del Jerez, Spain.

Graeme first visited Jerez de la Frontera in Spain around a decade ago. He saw a Lipizzaner horse display in Cardiff, and traced it back to the pure-bred Andalucian horse. This led him to Jerez, which is home to the Real Escuela de Arte Equestrian (Royal School for Equestrian Art), and he fell in love with the place. He now visits four or five times a year.

During his many visits over the years, he met plenty of local people, and discovered more about the amazing food and drink culture in Jerez. Of course, that included sherry.

“I didn’t know Jerez existed ten years ago, and now I don’t really go anywhere else. It’s a very undiscovered area,” Graeme said.

Having wanted to start an e-commerce business for a while, and now having a new passion, the mix seemed obvious. Graeme met with two friends in Jerez – Antonio and Joanna – who had previously owned a boutique hotel in the town, and they were keen to get on board, along with his friend David Mitchell back in Cardiff.

“I bumped into Antonio and told him I’d had a few ideas about importing products into the UK… next thing he’s parked outside my door and we’re driving around the countryside finding amazing products,” Graeme said.

Graeme speaks candidly about the products he is selling, and the potential difficulties. “While sherry is fairly well developed in London now, I think it’ll take a while to get into the provinces.”

Productos del Marco

All the products sold on Productos del Marco come from the sherry triangle called El Marco de Jerez, between Jerez de la Frontera, SanlĂșcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The company currently sells sherry, brandy, sherry vinegar, wines, oils, charcuterie, cured cheeses, cured fish products from Barbate, chocolates from Cadiz, salt (which comes from a hole in the ground and is used by many of Spain’s top restaurants), and hand crafted Andalucian pottery.

And they’re not stopping there. Graeme is looking to expand Productos del Marco’s offering in the next few months with rare breed Retinto beef, Iberian pork, organic honey, and orange dessert wines. “It’s slightly further west of the area, but they make wine from oranges. It’s very unusual.”

The business in purely online, and sells to the public, and to delis and restaurants across the UK.

Sherry – so much more than Harvey’s Bristol Cream

If you have no idea where to start with sherry, our post takes you through each of the different types of sherry, and how it's produced.

I’ve asked a few people recently whether they like sherry, and most people referenced their grandmas at some point in the conversation.

Graeme said, “With sherry, it’s almost trying to get people to ignore what their brain is telling them. They think it’s super creamy and sweet, and are surprised when it’s bone dry. Unless it’s Pedro Ximenez of course.

“If people get through that first sip, and stick with it, within two or three glasses, their whole opinion will change.

“It’s an extremely good value product when you think about the work that goes into it. If you’re buying three bottles of wine for a tenner, you’re basically getting the wine for free and all you’re paying is duty and taxes… what are you drinking when it’s £3.20 a bottle?”

For someone that hasn’t got into sherry before, Graeme recommends starting with Manzanilla. “The lightest, coldest one you can get your hands on. Bowl of olives. Summer evening. Ease yourself in.”

Graeme changes his sherries with the seasons: Fino and Manzanilla in summer, Amontillado in autumn, and Oloroso in winter. “Those flavours and conditions go with what you’re tasting.” I would add that you have to add a Pedro Ximenez to your Christmas booze list, as it tastes like the best Christmas pudding ever!

And if you’re looking for an ideal sherry and food pairing, keep it simple. “On a sunny evening, you can’t beat sitting there with a glass of Fino eating some cured pork,” Graeme suggested.

The products

Graeme sent me a range of his products to try from Productos del Marco. Fortunately we had some nice weather in which to enjoy them too. Just like being in Jerez right? 

Unfortunately I don’t currently have a garden (the joys of renting down south), so took the Alhocen Chardonnay down to the park like the classy girl I am. The wine is fermented and aged for four months in French oak barrels, and a further four months in the bottle before being sold. I thought it was perfect for summer. You get a bit of the oak on the nose, along with grapefruit and apricot, and that stays in the mouth, too. Some people seem to still be a bit funny about Chardonnay at the moment (after it had its big moment a few years ago), but I think it’s completely rubbish and they’d likely really love this.
And of course, the sherry. I got into sherry a good few years ago, but like Graeme said, it took me a few attempts.

I roasted some almonds with sea salt and smoked paprika, and fried some padron peppers with sea salt, and drizzled with olive oil. I had these alongside the anchovy fillets, and tuna Graeme had sent, and the delicious cheese. Graeme said the majority of the region makes cured goats’ cheese, which is a slightly acquired taste. I loved it, and my friend who hates goats’ cheese tucked in (it might have been that I said it was sheep cheese... sorry). It’s very tangy, but neither the cheese or the sherry struggles to stand up to the other. The Fino went especially well with the queso semicurado pasteurizado, and the spicier one (which is coated with pimento) with the Amontillado.

And I finished all that off with a snifter of Fernando de Castilla solera gran reserva brandy de Jerez. It's a very, very good quality Spanish brandy made using the traditional method. It's matured in oak barrels previously used to make sherry, too. You get that hint of oak on the nose, but it's also very clean and elegant. It's not harsh at all, very fruity, and elegant, with a long finish.

Unless I get myself over to Jerez, or to one of a handful of very good Spanish restaurants in London, I know I won't be able to get hold of products like these, so it's great to see that Graeme has got my back. Although after trying all this, and reading about Tim's recent trip to the sherry triangle, I'm already looking at flights...

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