There are three things that people from Alcalá will never forget about their homeland; the bread, the chacina1 and the cheese. The bread from Alcalá was famous throughout the region. It was sent to Cádiz, Jerez, Algeciras …. There was a flour-mill in the Prado and all the bakers in town went there for their flour. The miller was Julio Romero, and it was located a little beyond the bottom of the hill of La Salada, on the left hand side. Julio Romero was a friend of my father, who had been godfather at the baptism of Salvador, the smallest of the eleven children they had at that time. Later there were thirteen. Thanks to that, we never lacked bread or flour for the poleás2.
I think that mill was turned by the water in the River Barbate. There was another mill, which can still be seen from San Antonio, situated on a hill and whose sails were turned by the wind which blew continuously in that spot. It was a beautiful view which I always enjoyed seeing when entering Alcalá via San Antonio. But I can't remember whether it produced flour or oil. It can still be seen, erect and graceful, as if it were a work of the Romans or the Moors.
There were various bakeries where delicious bread was made in wood-burning ovens. One was in the Alameda and belonged to Pileta, the local policeman. When he took the loaves from the oven you could smell the bread all over the Alameda. Another one belonged to Agustin Pérez, and was on the left of the hill which went from the Calle Real down to the Playa. Another was in the Callejón de Bernadino, the Horno de Luna, which is still going in the same place. Whenever I go to Alcalá I go up the Calle Real and into the alley to by bread, olive-oil cakes and soft rolls there.
Another traditional product of Alcalá was chacina. Before Christmas there was slaughtering of the pig, and it was a real ritual. The butcher was an expert, who turned the job into a spectacular event. But the whole family was involved in the task of making the sausages, black puddings and crackling. Right from the start, there was flagon of wine for the slaughtermen. The killing took place in the courtyard of the house, at an early hour, so there would be enough time to work on all the meat, the fatty bacon and the various sausages. At midday, a seductive smell wafted down the whole street. People caught a whiff and said “There's a slaughtering going on”. They were Iberian pigs raised on the acorns of the Alcornocales, but these days it is hard to know what food they give to the pigs.
Very close to my house in the Calle la Amiga, Manuel Romero, “Trinidad's Manuel”, had a shop next to Vicente's bar where he always sold his own meat products. Manuel was a good friend of my father's and the two of them would sit drinking coffee in Vicente Jimenez's bar, at the end of the Calle la Amiga. The smell of the meats being cooked with the spices would reach as far as the Playa. When we came out of Don Manuel's school in the afternoon, we would grab a chunk of warm bread with manteca colorá3 and a slice of cured loin or chorizo. With those calories inside us we could carry on playing until suppertime. But the one thing that couldn't be beat, which nobody could copy, was the Alcalá chicharrones [pork crackling] and asadura [chitterlings]. The blood sausage, black pudding, chorizo and crackling were flavours that would endure forever. Nobody talked about cholesterol in Alcalá, because the animals were healthy and the produce was made by people who knew what they were doing. The children were strong but not overweight, because it was an ideal food for children and adolescents.
When we moved to Jerez and, shortly afterwards, Manuel and Trinidad arrived with the children, we all met up for Christmas, bought several kilos of meat and Manual made chacina in the Alcalá style. It was absolutely delicious, but Manuel himself told us that it wouldn't be the same as it was in Alcalá because the raw material of the pork was different. There was a big difference between the Alcornocales pigs of Alcalá and those which were sold in the butchers' shops of Jerez.
The third product made locally was cheese. This demanded a special manufacturing process and not everyone knew how to do it. But there were families who had the tradition and preserved the style from one generation to the next. Opposite Antonio Mansilla's tannery in the Calle Real was a little old lady called Vicenta. She had a little shop where she sold queso emborrado4, a special cured cheese with a strong smell and and a flavour that went perfectly with the Alcalá bread. In the summertime and autumn, the children had bread and cheese as an afternoon snack. We children used to say “Pan y queso saben a beso” [Bread and cheese taste like a kiss], and “Pan, queso y uva, saben a beso de cura” [Bread, cheese and grapes taste like a priest's kiss]. I don't know where these sayings originated from.
Cheese is still made today in Alcalá and many people go there to buy it. I don't know if it's the same cheese as I ate when I was a child, for the childhood memories of colour, smell and taste can't be fooled. But we buy it because Alcalá lives on its revenue and because of that saying “El que tuvo, retuvo” [What you had once, you will always have].
Translated by Claire Lloyd
1. This term covers a whole range of edible products made from the pig.
2. Baked dough made from flour, water and oil, sometimes sweetened and used in hard times as a “filler” for an empty stomach.
3. Pork dripping or lard flavoured with spices that give it an reddish-orange colour.
4. Goats' cheese marinated in olive oil and turned regularly so it becomes coated in the sediment of the oil.
Crónicas del ambiente alcalaíno (III)
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