In Spain's Costa Del Sol, save room for cured ham, tapas & drink on your golf holiday
Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure if you got my friends and I together, I’d know way more than them about the art of cured ham in Spain.
I ate tons of it over there during my golf trip earlier this month, and learned a little over every thin, little slice. For instance, if you walk into a cured meat shop, with all the legs hanging around everywhere, these seemingly indifferent hunks or ham all have different prices. That’s based on what kind of pig it is. The most prestigious pig is a black, Iberian pig that roams freely and eats nothing but acorns on a hillside, giving their legs the leanest meat.
I learned this and plenty more on cured meats, tapas and wine over two days with Sergio Refugio, who runs Cooking Holiday Spain. He offers gastronomy tours mixed in with historical sightseeing of some of the Costa Del Sol’s most historic towns like Ronda and Malaga. If you’re headed to Spain for a golf trip, you should really only be spending half the time golfing. Jonathan Snell of Simply Golf Holidays (and partner with my friends over at London Golf Tours), sends his golf groups to Sergio when they’re looking to learn all about Spain’s gastronomical delights. He says a week’s trip often has four days of golf in it and three days off the course
On a day off, you can take tours of Alhambra & other historical sights, to cooking classes, to lounging on a Mediterranean beach all day, doing absolutely nothing.
During my trip I also went from despising olives to adoring them, having them just about every time I had a drink in my hand. This is olive country after all. In fact, head down the coast a bit to Arcos De La Frontera, and you’ll play the new Arcos Gardens Golf Club that winds through an olive forest. Olives are served just about everywhere in Spain - even when you order a simple beer.
And along those lines, beer over there is largely unremarkable, at least compared to Ireland’s Guinness and Smithwicks (I even really like a local Carlsberg in England) - or Oregon’s many local breweries from Portland down to Bandon. But in Spain, there is one exception: Alhambra Premium Lager, brewed in the Andalucian city of Grenada (look for it in it’s skinny, green bottle). It’s considered bold and dark over there (compared to the San Miguel that’s served in most spots, which is very light). But it actually just tastes and looks a lot like a bitter Czech beer - and my adoration for the bitter Czech pilsners have been well-documented.
Alhambra also makes a darker, “negra” beer, which I never got the chance to try.
The tapas bars here run the gammut from modern and stylish to traditional. Traga Tapas in Ronda features designer dishes in a modern and casual atmosphere, where presentation is everything, right down to each dish being served on a different shape of plate. On the traditional end, there are plenty more. One of my favorites was the Taberna Del Pinxto in Marbella. Here, a guy comes around with a different plate of tapas and sticks them in your group’s face (including the tiniest burgers I’ve ever seen in my life). You grab as much of any plate as you’d like you’d like or wave him off (someone comes by every two minutes at least), just save your sticks. At the end of the night, show the bartender your sticks and they tell you a total price.
Suffice to say, I was so inspired by the various kinds of tapas & wine options during my trip, upon my return home I did the unthinkable…
I cooked for some people. I had some olives out during pre-dinner drinks of course (which didn’t get eaten much, it’s an acquired taste, as we all know, but over the weekend a buddy staying with me was drunk and ate them all in one 3 a.m. sitting), following by steak & salmon skewers with wasabi chunks on them (they used lamb in Spain), some bread and various cheeses and ham (closest thing I could find to cured ham at Whole Foods) and some shrimp simmered in beer (that’s more of a family recipe but similar to some tapas I had over there).
I didn’t bring any souvenirs home to my friends, but I think they enjoyed the meal more than any Marbella snow globes I would have found in a trinket shop…
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Bloody Mary Gazpacho shots
Chilled dry sherry
Olives/Manchego cheese/salted almonds/quince jelly
Calamari/Gambas a la plancha/prawns & chorizo
Cold tortilla/cold empanada/crispy chicken wings & patatas bravas (I know the wings aren't authentic Spanish tapas, but they SHOULD be)
Apple & walnut salad
Red onion & orange salad
Iberico/Serrano/Parma ham platter
Beer & wine
All except me now having a siesta!! (which means I can sneak away and catch up on Houston Open).
PS I'm glad you're now an olive convert, otherwise how could I take your tapas blog seriously?