It’s the time of year when our resolutions of a beach figure and a new bikini are distant dreams. The nights are drawing in and getting colder. A sweet treat no longer feels like a sin. Chocolates are all over the supermarkets in readiness for the start of the Christmas season. Why not try something different though. How about a bit of turrón.
Not just nougat
Visitors to Spain generally think turrón is just nougat, and that is definitely not to everyone’s taste. Think again! There are many varieties and nougat is only one of them. A personal favourite is rich dark chocolate with crisped rice hiding inside. Look out for turrón chocolate crujiente if you want to give it a try. Alternatively, make your own at home with this recipe.
The history of turrón is not certain. There are two trains of thought about where the name came from. In Catalonia it is claimed that a Barcelona cook whose name was Turró invented it. In the Alicante region this is fervently denied. They claim the recipe was invented in Jijona (also called Xixona) and the name comes from an old Spanish word for a mixture of honey, dried fruits and nuts which have been cooked together.
Visit the factory
If you want to find out more about turrón then why not visit the Museo del Turrón, located on an industrial estate just outside the town of Jijona, half an hour’s drive inland from Alicante. Low season is New Years Day through to mid-July with high season consisting of the rest of the year running up to Christmas. Guided visits can be made throughout the year on Monday to Saturday. In the mornings you can go at any of these times: 10:00, 10:45, 11:30, 12:15, 13:00. In the afternoons there are opportunities to visit between 16:00 and 17:30 but the factory floor won’t be open so you won’t get to see quite as much. A word of warning though, the guides don’t speak English and there is precious little information available throughout the museum in English either. It’s all quite self-explanatory so even if you can’t cope with Spanish you’ll still have a good time.
After waiting in the lounge area surrounded by pictures showing the history of the company, you are escorted onto the top floor where photography is not allowed. There the process of making turrón is explained in great detail. From the description of how it is made, the smell on the factory floor must be quite something. Honey and ground almonds are mashed into a paste with eggs and sugar then roasted at high temperatures. This produces the brittle Alicante variant. The addition of oil makes the soft, chewy Jijona version. Other ingredients like dried of jellied fruit are added depending on which confectionary product they are making. Everything is carefully quality controlled including stringent adhesion to the weights required in each box of products.
Your next stop will be the museum itself. Three floors of exhibits show you the complete history of the company and its two flagship brands – Lobo and 1880. The former has a smiling wolf as its logo whilst the latter is the premium brand with higher quality and, of course, higher prices. Of particular interest is the development through the ages of the tools used to make turrón. You are taken from heavy manual mixers, through ox-driven machines to modern electric rotors all making the entire process increasingly easy. As you make your way downstairs you’ll be mesmerised by the product packaging and its colourful designs over the ages. Look for the old Rolls-Royce, a symbol of how successful the company as always been.
Finally you get to the shop. There you can taste a variety of products. It is well worth asking to try to the difference between the hard and the soft turrón. If a previous tour have eaten all of the samples, don’t be shy in asking for more. As this is the shop, they even speak English! Plenty of temptation will be placed before you so why not reciprocate that generosity by buying something to take home. The chocolate bonbons filled with dulce de leche are divine!!