Coming from central Portugal, the Gold Rush always found the Algarve a remote, faraway, exotic location. Travelling there recently there to look for products and suppliers, a drive through the mountains revealed a few hidden gems, far away – in feeling if not in distance – from the busy tourist beaches.
Because of its unusal location, not far from the Mediterranean but not quite exposed to the Atlantic, the Algarve has a particular climate and culture which has produced some confectionery quite unlike anything else in country. Where else does one find carob cake, or fig and chocolate ‘cheese’?
Today, however, we will focus on the use of almonds in Algarvian confectionery. Unsuprisingly, given the amount of almond the region grows, almond-based sweets are ubiquitous, and even when almond is not the main ingredient, it is likely that some is in there, giving texture and consistency, or at least decoration. But the more elevated use of almonds is in the production of marzipan. Algarvian marzipan doesn’t have the tanginess of Northern European (say Lübecker) marzipan, and it isn’t as sweet as Sicilian marzipan, in our modest opinion. In fact, it is actually not that sweet, which is surprising, given the Portuguese (and our!) proclivity for sweetness.
So delicate is marzipan in the Algarve that it is used to prepare Doce Fino, loosely translated as Delicate Sweet, marzipan shaped like animals or fruits, or even plain, filled with egg yolk string. The filling seems to be a uniquely Algarvian twist, in line with the Portuguese habit of using egg yolk in confectionery (as discussed in a previous blog entry).
The origin of marzipan and its dispersion throughout Europe is disputed. But the Arabs are believed to have brought it to the Iberian Peninsula with the name ‘mautaban’ (container of sweets), which over time evolved into the Italian marzapane, the Spanish mazapán and the Portuguese maçapão (Cristina Castro, A Doçaria Portuguesa – Sul).
The Gold Rush first learned to like marzipan eating the Lübecker variety, then acquired a taste for Frutta Martorana during an extended stay in Palermo in 2001. The discovery of the Algarvian variety is very recent, and came when we stumbled across our Almond Coins, which we introduced in November 2019 and proved an immediate hit with our customers, and are now a personal favourite. And as our Brazilian mother says: ‘once you acquire a taste, you can’t unacquire it’.