Tapa Thursdays: Mantecados de Estepa and the Despensa de Palacio

¡Pero si los mantecados no engordan! Put a few more in your purse already!” Javi stole a glance at the four estepeñas attending to the Sunday morning crowd as he loaded a few barquillos and polvorones in my purse, swearing they didn’t fatten anyone up. A sly smile crept across my face as I accepted them. Claro, no way these would make me fat.

Mantecados, the Christmastime favorite of Spaniards, was on our agenda one bright weekend morning. Ask any español to name the Ciudad del Mantecado – a crumbly cookie made of pig lard, flour, sugar and cinnamon – and, ten-to-one, they can. At just an hour’s drive from Seville, Estepa, the Mantecado City, was a tasty stop in one of the many pueblos blancos in the area.

After visiting the factory and museum at La Estepeña, the city’s most famous brand, Javi directed onto the streets of the city named after the cookie’s principle ingredients and into La Despensa de Palacio. The sprawling factory and adjacent museum are a charming homage to the city’s artisan claim to fame. The albero-colored façade had just a modest blue-and-white azulejo announcing it as a factory.

What sets La Despensa apart from the rest, aside from its celebrity clientele, is that traditional baking methods and packing are still used, and the assembly line and industrial machines used at other brands are suhnned. Ninety-five percent of the work force is women who work overtime during Christmas to knead the lard, let the flour dry, add in the sugar and cinnamon, cut the dough into rounds and later package them in wax paper with ruffled edges. What’s more, the mantecados are cooked in a traditional oven.

The quality is matched by the higher price for La Despensa’s products, which also encompasses jellies, cookies and other lard staples like polvorones and alfajores.

The store was, like any Sunday, a zoo. Old ladies elbowed their way up to the front of the line, grabbing the hardbound book of available items and pointing out what they wanted, how many kilos, and bickering with their friends about whether last year’s packaging design was better than this year’s. Their grandchildren eyed the bowl of samples on the counter as they stood on their toes to try to reach the prize. I smiled to myself while watching these Spaniards start acting as if it were an auction, eager to get their hands on the freshest surtidos.

Just then, one of the employees came through with a batch of cooled treats, topped with sesame seeds.

I couldn’t help myself from one and let the cake break apart in my fingers as I sniffed out the cinnamon that gets kneaded into the dough. Just two bites of a mantecado leave you needing a drink, so we hopped in the car and drove to Anís Bravío for a few sips of distilled anisette, the Spanish abuelo’s drink of choice.

At the end of the day, Caitlin and I were back to La Despensa with the tail end of the Sunday crowd, narrowly missing a tourism bus that had made a stop in Mantecadolandia for their fill. Taking a small plastic card with a number imprinted on it, we waited for our turn to be served.

¿Quién va?

Author’s Note: My visit to Estepa and tour of various mantecados factories was kindly offered by Violeta, Javi and their team at Heart of Andalusia. All opinions are, of course, my own.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Sandra says:

    Congrats. You’ve got your first sponsored trip! ;)
    Sandra recently posted..Renfe Spain – Santa Justa train station in SevilleMy Profile

  2. Gayla says:

    I bet those are really tasty treats. Wonderful that they are still produced by hand and with the traditional ingredients. I love that around the world each region has its own delicacy(ies). I’m still learning about the various spice cookies and cakes customary for the Dutch Sinterklaas holiday. Sweet stuff!
    Gayla recently posted..Dutch Treats…My Profile

  3. Javi says:

    Thanks for coming Cat!

    We invite you all to visit Estepa by Heart of Andalusia.

    A pleasure, always!

    ww.heartofandalusia.com

  4. Cassandra says:

    My first Christmas in Spain I overlooked these crumbly cookies–weren’t bombones de chocolate a million times better? It was only last year when I tried mantecados again at my school’s holiday fiesta that I realized how subtly inviting these simply sweets can be. This year I’ve stocked up on polvorones and mantecados to try all the ones I missed out on last year–like lemon, cinnamon, and “casera.” Yum!
    Cassandra recently posted..Teaching English in the Ukraine: LucyMy Profile

  5. Sunshine and Siestas says:

    I’m sure they’d be happy to take you, too!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Heart of Andalusia. This pueblo blanco in the eastern reaches of the province is famous for its mantecados and other Christmas treats, and we were treated to a lovely day out in a place I’d always [...]

  2. [...] its church spires punctuating the horizon pass by quickly. Being known for its holiday goodies, particularly mantecados, it’s always been a place in the back of my mind to [...]

  3. [...] telling us that all of the flavors were artisan and made in the company’s obrador, just like Dispensa de Palacio in Estepa. Just for good measure, we tried gazpacho and tortilla. They tasted just like the flavors [...]

  4. [...] Photo via: sunshineandsiestas.com [...]

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