Sunday, November 15, 2009
If you love Spanish food and are living in the LA area, then a trip to La Espanola, one of only four Spanish cured meat producers in the United States should definitely be on your to do list. La Espanola is an unassuming white building on a small side street in Harbor City in the South Bay part of LA County. To some who may hesitate because of the drive, let me tell you, it's more than worth it. I found that out after I made arrangements for my dining group to visit one Sunday for both a tour and lunch, but first, let's learn a little La Espanola history.
In 1982, La Espanola Meats was founded by Juana Gimeno Farone, a native from Spain and her husband, Frank Faraone. When the couple relocated to California, Juana was disappointed that the availability of Spanish cured meats was extremely limited to almost nonexistent. After a lot of effort, she managed to find a Spanish food purveyor in Harbor City. After the current owners decided to retire, Juana and her husband bought all the remaining inventory and decided to start their own company.
27 years later, La Espanola wears many hats. Not only do they import, distribute and sell, both retail and wholesale, Spanish foods, they also manufacture Spanish-style sausages and cured meats using traditional Spanish recipes. Along with cured meats, other products that La Espanola imports from Spain to re-sell here include olive oil, olives, canned foods, candy, paella pans and more. As for their plant, it has the approval of the US Department of Agriculture and has state-of-the-art equipment, including mixers, multiple curing rooms and ovens.
On the day of the our La Espanola visit, many of the group arrived early to check out the retail store and as luck would have it, the store was sampling quite a few of their products including cheeses, cured meats, white anchovies and olives. I have to say it was difficult to display restraint. The quality of the product really was evident in how good everything tasted. I enjoyed the spicing of the cured meats and I could have eaten two plates of the white anchovies.
Walking around the small store was like a treasure hunt. It was just amazing the variety of products they had for sale. The various meats, sausages and cheeses were a definite draw, but so were the wines and the olive oils. Also on the shelves, I found sardines, quince, both an asparagus mousse and piquillo pepper mousse and so much more.
Soon, it was time for the tour and it was led by Alex Motamedi, a family member and it started outside where he first told us La Espanola's history and we also got a chance to take a peek at the Paella that was going to served later in the afternoon.
After the talk, we put on our oh-so-fashionable hair nets and were walked into the inner sanctum of their plant. As an importer of cured meats from Spain, those meats arrive whole, are cut into larger pieces, sliced, put into a plastic wrap, vacuum sealed and are ready for sale.
The star attraction was really the sausages. First, Alex pointed out the various machines that go into the sausage making process from the grinder, the scale, the mixer and finally the sausage casing machine.
Then we took a peek into sausage nirvana where row after row of sausages hung. The temperature, humidity and airflow in these curing rooms are carefully monitored. For a moment, we just stood there in awe. It was hard not to want to run in, grab a few sausages (some of which were actually taller than my 5'1" height) and make a run for it. It was a beautiful sight of meaty-goodness.
Once the sausages have finished their curing process, they are taken out of the vaults to be cleaned and packaged. An interesting thing that Alex mentioned was regarding the white mold on the surface of the sausages. During this curing process, white mold grows on the outside while the moisture evaporates as the sausage dries; hence, you get a dry sausage. There's apparently nothing wrong with the mold and while La Espanola generally cleans it off before packaging the sausage, they do get requests for the mold to be kept on for those customers who want to ensure the sausage was actually cured on location.
It was definitely a fun and informative tour and I always love going behind the scenes of a food factory because it makes you so much more appreciative of the work that goes into what lands on your plate. After the tour, we walked over to the covered patio for lunch which started with a tapas plate of cured meats, cheeses and olives.
Soon it was paella time and it arrived in a large platter right in the middle of our table. This was definitely an epic serving of rice, sausages, mussels, shrimp and chicken. I wasn't even sure if we'd finish it, but I have to say we made a pretty good dent and along with espresso and Spanish cookies to end the meal, it was definitely an enjoyable afternoon spent at La Espanola.
A couple things I should mention in regards to the tour and the lunch. This was a private tour I had set up with Alex and at the time, he had mentioned that they were going to start limiting the number of factory tours. So if you want a private tour, he's the person to contact, but there's no guarantee that he'll say yes.
As for the paella, it's only available during the weekend and you need to make advance reservations for it. They only make enough paella for the number of reservations that come in. Even if you can't do the tour or try their paella, La Espanola is really the place to go for Spanish cured meats and imported foods, so I definitely encourage you to check it out.
Click here to see all the photos!
La Espanola Meats
25020 Doble Ave
Harbor City, CA 90710-3155