Fresh and Natural

April 2004

Spring is the season to celebrate rebirth, whether your spirit resonates with the celebration of Easter or Passover, or solely with the beautiful flowers bursting into bloom. Our family wishes you and your loved ones a sense of peace as together we anticipate the renewal of life around us.

As you may remember, last month my wife Ruth and I were in Barcelona for the Alimentaria food show. After checking in to the hotel, we joined friends for a wonderful evening at their favorite tapas bar. We all knew that we were in for a treat because in Spain the food that is served is fresh and unprocessed. At the tapas bar we enjoyed shellfish that were actually swimming in the Mediterranean the night before!

A couple of days later while I was drinking a chocolate a la taza at a lunch counter in the centuries old La Boqueria Market, I noticed that in the display case in front of me the langostinas were still moving their little claws -- very much alive! Fresh and unprocessed food is a special treat our family looks forward to when we travel to Spain.

In the United States, we have such a vast country "from sea to shining sea" that of necessity national manufacturers seek efficiency of scale to keep the distribution costs down -- and often that involves artificial processing. The premium bread on the shelves of our supermarkets may have been baked 1,000 miles away. The strawberries I select can't be vine-ripened, because the berries would spoil before they finished their journey from California to Virginia.

Technology can produce a loaf of bread which imitates freshness and stays mold-free for over a week. I prefer bread from a home-town bakery where the loaf is as fresh as it would be on my table in Spain -- even though it won't keep very long. I select ice cream made of cream, milk and eggs, rather than buying other brands that appear to be creamier because of artificial additives. To put it simply, at home I have to make a concerted effort to find fresh and all-natural ingredients, whereas in Spain they are much more available.

Our quest at the Alimentaria was to find for you authentic all-natural products prepared the traditional, pre-industrial way. What a satisfying task! We stopped at one booth where our new friend Eleuterio was showing us his organic olives (which had no flavor enhancers). Soon he introduced us to his lifetime friend Jordi whose family makes marmalades that are 75% fruit, and the rest is just sugar -- no pectin and no citric acid to maintain a certain color. Before I met this man I thought 50% was the standard of quality "a cup for a cup -- fruit to sugar." Of course the fruit preserves were not as solid without the additives -- but what delicious strawberry, fig, and even tomato jam! And the quince membrillo was the best I had ever tasted.

Olive oil is another example of freshness and simplicity -- not the cheaper "pure" oil which has been distilled with caustic chemicals -- but true extra virgin cold pressed oil. Actually, there is nothing more authentic: it is really nothing more than fruit juice from freshly squeezed olives. We have two unfiltered olive oils that are the ultimate expression of this -- they resemble "high pulp" orange juice -- so fragrant and fruity.

We just received new organic oil Olivalle which is an example of complete purity. Not only is it fresh, it was grown without chemicals. It is the product of the labor of a cooperative north of Córdoba. There are about 500 different small farms working together to produce this unique oil pressed from Sierra Blanca olives. We heard about it from a Tienda customer whose local church in Arizona gives money to support a community in Andalucía where the young members raise olives organically as part of their recovery program. I first read about this wonderfully pungent peppery oil in glowing article in Time Magazine International. The robust taste of Olivalle is remarkable.

These are but two in a long list of all-natural products we have at La Tienda. Our fig cakes are prepared by two brothers in Valencia using crisp almonds and figs -- nothing more. On a larger scale, our Palacios chorizos from La Rioja contain only pork, paprika, garlic and salt. The sausages are hung up to cure just as they are -- with no preservatives.

For many of you "all-natural" is an important factor as you choose the food you eat. For some of you it is essential. So to help you in your selection we are reviewing our on-line catalog and placing a symbol by each all-natural product.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the many heartfelt letters we received concerning the terrorist bombing in Madrid. I forwarded excerpts of your comments to colleagues in Spain. Some are associated with the Spanish government and welcomed your comments so that they might sense the response of people in America. The overwhelming majority of the messages reflected the strong ties of affection Tienda community members have for the Spanish people. Understandably, there were a few who were impatient with the election results. Thank you again for your many personal notes.

Tu amigo,