GINThousands of British troops were stationed in Menorca during the 18th century and, unable to find their favourite tipple in the local taverns, there was no alternative but to teach the Menorcans how to make it. Using juniper berries imported from mainland Europe and grape (rather than grain) alcohol, distilleries sprung up producing local gin. In the early part of the 20th century the Pons family turned their enterprise into a commercial venture, bottling and selling the gin further afield. The Xoriguer distillery, located on Maó harbour, continues to distil gin using traditional methods, wood-fired copper stills and the ancient recipe plus a secret blend of aromatic herbs that lend it its distinctive flavour. Xoriguer gin can be drunk straight up or mixed with bitter lemon to make a pomada –the “fiesta drink”.
SHOESPrior to the arrival of international tourism, the footwear manufacturing industry was one of the mainstays of the island’s economy. Shoemaking was introduced in the 19th century by a Menorquin businessman who had learned leather tanning and manufacturing techniques while in Cuba. Even now, some 2 million pairs of shoes are produced annually with over 90% exported to Europe. Jaime Mascaró, Pons Quintana and Patricia are some of the internationally recognised designers, renowned for the high quality of their work, who produce fashion footwear on the islands.
AVARCASWherever you go in Menorca you are likely to see locals and residents wearing a curious type of shoe, with a flat sole, a wide strip of leather across the toes and a thin strap around the heel. These are the timeless, ever-popular avarcas. Originally considered “peasant” shoes, the traditional avarca was literally made from old car tyres for the sole and calfskin for the upper. Traditional-style avarcas remain some of the most durable and comfortable shoes one can find. Nowadays avarcas have become much more refined and lightweight, with the uppers being produced in various types of leather and a full range of colours and patterns, and are perfectly acceptable footwear for anyone, at just about any social occasion.
CHEESEHistorical evidence points to cheese being produced on Menorca in Roman times, and archaeological remains suggest it may have been produced long before. During the British occupation, Governor Kane introduced the black and white Friesian cows still commonly seen today and cheese makers switched from sheep’s to cow’s milk, producing a cheese that is now exported internationally. In 1985 Mahón cheese was awarded its own Denominación de Origen, in recognition of its quality. A regulatory council ensures that every cheese produced exhibits the characteristic flavour and aroma of Mahón Cheese, with tones of butter and hazelnuts. Look for the individual farm’s number stamped on to each cheese to be sure you are buying authentic Queso de Mahón.
A pressed cheese, made from cow’s milk, Queso de Mahón is matured in cellars, where it is turned regularly, spread with oil and pepper and is sold at varying stages of maturity. The younger cheese is soft and elastic, yellowish white in colour with a sharp flavour. The semi-cured cheese has a yellow rind, is harder but slices easily. The mature cheese is hard and brittle, dark yellow-orange in colour with deep, strong flavours and a hint of pepper. Various farms producing cheese welcome visitors to tour the premises and taste their products.
SAUSAGESAlthough nowadays it is quite rare to find the traditional pig-slaughter taking place in the countryside, a number of cured sausages are still made locally according to ancient recipes handed down through generations. Sobrassada is perhaps the best known and is delicious spread on toast with a drizzle of honey. Made from minced pork with lots of paprika, it has a rich red colour and a paste-like consistency. Also look out for cuixot, a black pudding-type sausage flavoured with fennel.
PASTRIESAt the airport you are bound to see a number of locals travelling with hexagonal shaped boxes, containing ensaimadas (spiral shaped pastries dusted with icing sugar). It is customary to take ensaimadas from your favourite bakery as a gift when travelling. Other pastries to try are crespells (jam filled biscuits) and pastissets (similar to shortbread) as well as the savoury tarts (coques) similar to pizzas but without the cheese.
LICOR DE HIERBASA liqueur made from a secret blend of local aromatic herbs, this potent drink is usually very green in colour and has a strong aniseed flavour. It is rough and fiery on the way down but is firmly believed to aid digestion.
LA TROPICALA Mercadal based enterprise, La Tropical produces a range of sweet foods including powdered chocolate, cooking chocolate and membrillo - a quince jelly typically eaten with cheese.
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