Written by Leska Tomash – Firstly, what is pimentón? Also known as paprika, pimentón is made by grinding dried bell peppers with a variety of dried cherry peppers or long peppers that were discovered by explorers visiting the Incas. Now pimentón comes from two regions in Spain: La Vera, which is up in the mountains, and Murcia in the south of Spain. Pimentón from Murcia is made from peppers that are sundried, while pimentón from La Vera is made from peppers that are smoked.
Pimentón, or paprika, can be pretty uninspired, losing its signature smoky taste and vibrant red color over time–something sprinkled on deviled eggs for appearance’s sake but not offering much in the way of unique flavor.
And then, it can sometimes be grown and milled with such integrity and care you end up with something truly amazing.
Well, Gualtaminos Cooperative is doing just that!
Here’s a quick nuts-and-bolts breakdown about Gualtaminos. They are a really special collaborative organization. The collective comprises many producer members with small landholdings. The majority of members produce one hectare of peppers, equaling about 3,000 kg of dried peppers. Gualtaminos produces three types of Spanish paprika in the valley of La Vera in Extremadura, Spain. The three varieties are dulce (sweet), picante (hot) and agridulce (bittersweet). Each pepper holds a unique quality to add a distinct flavor to the pimentón: dulce pimentón is smooth on the palate; agridulce pimentón holds bittersweet and sharp notes; and picante pimentón is unmistakably and delightfully hot on the palate–assuming you like heat! The peppers cannot be grown in the same fields because of cross pollination. Each farm grows a specific pepper for the cooperative.
Gualtaminos also takes great care to implement the traditional milling and grinding methods of the Vera region (more on that later!) while also adding new technology and processing systems to meet the quality regulations of the EU.
But the Cooperative did not stop there! Gualtaminos also hired a laboratory for the Denomination of Origin “Pimentón de la Vera” paprika which provides and controls the seals that guarantee its purity. This pimentón is protected and endorsed with this seal of authenticity and quality.
So, now that we know this business is serious business–it is member-run, operated with traditional milling methods and adheres to the highest quality and standards–let’s talk about that really cool traditional milling process.
I may geek out here for a minute about how cool these age-old methods are.
The entire production of the pepper for the paprika–as in 100%–is achieved with the traditional methods of the Vera region. The distinction of Pimentón de la Vera comes from the drying system used in traditional sun-dried earth or rock drying houses. These drying houses are generally located on the same agricultural land.
Now, this is where–I think–it gets a little mind-blowing. In an era of shortcuts and time constraints, these time-honored drying house customs take 12 to 15 days of a slow-burn to ensure a robust, smoky infusion of the peppers.
So, the drying house has two floors. The ground floor holds wood-burning stoves which burn holm oak or oak. The stoves are monitored closely with attention and dedication to make sure combustion exclusively produces smoke rather than flames. The fires require round-the-clock supervision throughout the entire process or the whole crop is lost.
Now, the first floor is home to the guests of honor–the peppers!– which lay across lattices on the floor in a way that the smoke from the ground floor penetrates the wood latticing between the floors and dries the peppers with vertical currents of smoke. Again, this process takes 12 to 15 days! This guarantees a maximum moisture content of 15%. The result are delicious peppers permeated with light smokiness, distinctive aroma and rich, strong color which will hold for a long time without losing those properties.
So, if you’re looking to make any meal or hors d’oeuvres (during this holiday season or anytime) a little spicier, a little sweeter–or a little spicy and sweet–Gualtaminos Pimentón is your product!