Spain is the world’s 7th largest producer of cherries, and is the second largest producer in Europe. Some 60% of Spain’s cherry crop is exported with Germany and the UK taking a large proportion.
In fact, UKs imports of Spanish cherries peaked in 2011, when 10 million punnets (2500 tonnes) were shipped in during the five week season. The Brits obviously liked them.
The bulk of the cherries are produced in the 40 mile long Jerte Valley, near Caceres. It lies in Spain’s Extremadura region, south-west of Madrid, and close to the border with Portugal. Originally the area was the main centre of chestnut
production, but when blight ruined those trees in the early 20th century – they were replaced by cherries which are now planted on terraces. These terraces rise from 1100 feet at the valley floor to 3600 feet at the top. In 2013 there were 3737 growers, farming nearly 10000 hectares of terraces.
Picota (meaning peaked, and referring to the slight oval shape, or peak at the end) is the name given to the four protected varieties of Spanish cherries. They are protected because a Denomination of Origin Certificate has been granted.
The four varieties are Pico Limon Negro; Pico Negro; Pico Colorado and Ambrunes. Ambrunes is dark red in colour with firm, crisp and juicy flesh. It’s very sweet, as it matures on the trees longer.
All are unusual in that they are separated from the stalks when picked. Hence they are referred to as "stemless” or "stalkless”. It’s claimed this is an indication of perfect ripeness.
If you are ever near Jerte Valley a visit should most definitely be on your itinerary. There are many cultural; and gastronomic celebrations and fiestas around harvest time. There are tours of co-operatives and walks through the cherry trees.
Without doubt there will be the chance to taste the fruit and the liqueur into which it can be made.
Last but not least, throughout July, there are competitions held to decide the best dish made with cherries. If you look at Gordon Ramsay’s book "Just Desserts”, you’ll see a recipe called Cherry and Almond Clafoutis. Though it cannot be guaranteed to win one of those competitions, it is a fantastic pudding, especially if you use Spanish cherries.
The ingredients are –
· 50gground almonds
· 15g strong plain four .
· good pinch of sea salt
· 100g caster sugar
· 2 large free range eggs
· 3 large free range egg yolks
· 250 ml double cream
· 300g fresh ripe cherries
· softened unsalted butter, to grease the pan
· icing sugar, sifted, to dust
The cooking method is as follows–
· Put the ground almonds, flour, salt and sugar into a food processor and whizz for a few seconds to blend.. Add the eggs, egg yolks and cream and blend to a smooth batter. Tip into a large bowl or jug, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
· In the meantime, stone the cherries and pat them dry, if they’re especially juicy. Rub the inside of a large oven-proof sauté pan or gratin dish with the softened butter.
· Scatter the cherries over the base of the pan or dish. Stir the batter in the jug and pour over the cherries. Bake for about 20mins in an oven, preheated to 190 degrees centigrade, until risen and golden brown.
· The middle may be slightly flatter than the surrounding batter, but it should be set. If not, then bake for a little longer.
· Dust with iing sugar and serve at once.
All Gordon’s desserts will cause you to salivate, especially the half dozen or so relating to cherries.