First mention turrón and marzipan to any Spaniard and you can onlybe talking about Christmas. By tradition these delicious gourmet sweetsare the crawing glory of any Christmas fiesta in Spain, especially on ChristmasEve. New Year's Eve and the night of the Three Kings, who receive theirown offering from the children. "The sweet enchantment of Christmas"is presented in nine out of ten homes on elegant trays with the cava atthe end of a feast Piece from the blocks of assorted turrón aremixed with charming marzipan figures and other delights for all to pickand nibble. The sharing of the tray and the nougat blocks symbolizes familyunity infused by the happiness of the Christmas festivities.

During the last two years there has been a dramatic increase inthe number of Hispanic families rediscovering the historic tradition withexports from Spanish manufacturers soaring to the Americas and other partsof the globe. And prices have been frozen at last year's rates. The mostpopular turrón is still the classic hard, duro , and soft, blando,that have been made for over five centuries in Spain. But other new varieties,especially those including chocolate, are also becoming favorites. turrónis produced in nougat type slabs of 300 (10.5 oz) and 100 grams (3.5 oz)and is made from a mixture of wild honey, sugar and glucose to which isadded the most important ingredient, almonds that have been peeled andtoasted. The quality of each type of turrón depends on the amountof almonds used, varying from almost two thirds for the Supreme to undera third for the Popular. The origins of turrón are lost in the mistsof time but without doubt it was brought to Spain by the Arab invaderswho occupied much of the country for seven centuries until the Catholicmonarchs entered Granada on January 2, 1492, to capture the Moors laststronghold. In his definitive work on the history of turrón publishedin 1986, the late Fernando Galiana, once Mayor of Jijona, the originalcradle of Spanish turrón production near Alicante, says the wordcomes from torrar, meaning to grill from the Latin torrere.

Senior Galiana, whose family company made turrón, said thatit was produced in Jijona before the 14th century, especially in Arab andSephardic Jewish communities. Then it was called balvo, and. in Turkeyand the Middle East a similar sweet, also called balva , can be found today.In 1590 a document in Valencia, north of Alicante on the Mediterraneancoast, recorded that a hard mixture of almonds and honey sold for two Valenciansous per pound.

By the 15th century, turrón from Jijona, was already beingexported to Japan after Antonio Martinez Montijfto, a writer and chef forFelipe 11 (1527-1598), visited Jijona with three Japanese princes in 1585." All the houses in Jijona smelt of the steam of warm honey,"he wrote in his book Conducbos de Navidad.

Now the ancient craft involved in the production of turrónin Jijona is strictly controlled by a regulatory council formed by representativesfrom the 30 factories and the regional authorities to ensure the contentand quality of production. By law, no other manufacturer outside the regioncan label its product as Alicante (hard) or Jijona (soft) turrón.These turrónes are characterized by their high content of locallygrown sweet almonds and honey from bees that collect nectar both from orangeblossom in the area's extensive orchards and from rosemary growing wildin the mountains.

In recent years other turrón manufacturers in Spain, especiallyin Toledo, Zaragoza and Barcelona, have built major factories with sophisticatedproduction lines for many different varieties of turrón. Most alsoproduce other sweets, especially chocolate and marzipan, to balance thefinancial stress caused by the seasonal nature of turrón sales.

The Spanish Association of turrón and Marzipan Manufacturers,based in Barcelona, represents 38 companies, employing 4,000, that produceover 75 per cent of output. In 1993 its members produced 22,500 metrictons with sales reaching 25,100m pta, representing 80% of Spain's turrónbusiness. Sales had increased by 5% in the previous year with traditionalhard and soft turrón accounting for 38%, turrón with chocolate46% and other varieties 15%. Overall, turrón accounted for 81% ofsales, marzipan 13% and other products 6%.

During the economic boom that followed Spain's membership to theEuropean Community in 1986, sales at home soared but with a shortsightednessthat was to prove fatal for several brand names, exports were neglected.The boom ended, the recession started in 1991 and the cost of raw materialsrocketed. Nuts have doubled in price, partly due to the drought causinga one third drop in this year's August crop, which amounted to 22.000 tons.Cheaper California almonds, that arrive in November, are considered ofinferior quality because their thin skin makes them susceptible to wormsand blemishes. The Spanish sugar prices are the highest in the EuropeanUnion and the cost of packaging has increased by 35%. But the rewards forthose who finally met US food, packing and labeling regulations, set updistributors and financed publicity campaigns have been substantial.

Exports in 1993 increased to 3,600 tons, 114% more than the previousyear. But the degree to which the export market had declined can be appreciatedwhen one realizes that in 1963, the last year before Fiddle Castro prohibitedimports, Spain exported 3,500 tons of turrón just to Cuba's 6.5mpopulation. But the Cuban exodus to the United States, particularly Miami,coupled with the economic recovery and greater stability in Argentina,Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico have entirely changedexport prospects. In Europe, the main buyers are France, Italy, the UnitedKingdom and Germany.

"In the export market we have to be very optimistic after theresults of the last two years. At the moment exports represent about 12%of production," says Alfonso Bonmati, secretary general of the manufacturers'association. "Given the degree to which South American countries arere animating their economies, we are very confident that exports will keepgrowing."

Senior Bonmati blames the recent difficulties within the industrynot only on the recession but bad structuring. " Many have had problems,especially in Jijona," he says, " It is not just a question ofincreasing the market but making it more profitable. We have a lot of competitionbetween companies for the home market and a grave problem is that somecompanies, desperately seeking sales, send too much product to their distributorsand then have many returns.

"They have to adjust production to demand. For various yearswe have tried to create closer links with the distributors and make surethere are not surpluses that have to be absorbed by the industry."He said that the association had supported a generic campaign with ICEX(Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade) with television and radio commercialsfor turrón in Miami in Puerto Rico. "It was very successful,"he says. "This year we will repeat it and include New York. We arealso doing very well in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia and hope to increaseexports at the same rate as the last two years. our members have agreedto freeze their sales prices at 1993 levels."

According to Fernando Galiani, the first record of a turrónero,dedicated exclusively to making and selling turrón was in 1590 inJijona, but a century earlier the trade was already well established. Theraw materials were all local. Almonds are indigenous to the area with archaeologistsdating nuts found in nearby Alcudia de Elche from the fifth or sixth centuriesBC. The Arabs had brought sugarcane from Sicily and granite mills werebuilt on the edge of town. Felipe 11, whose banquets always included turrónand marzipan, constructed Spain's first dam nearby to irrigate Jijona sugarcanecrops. And bees thrived so well on wild rosemary and thyme. The name ofa neighboring town, Biar, is derived from the Latin apiarum meaning beekeeping.

Another reason for Jijona's main industry is its location. justa few kilometers inland from the port of Alicante, it nestles between moonscape,mountains and deep canyons carved by the very occasional rains. The drymicro climate is ideal for turrón production and also ensures thatthe almonds are top quality. The main variety used nationally is Marcona,a perfect, sweet tasting, healthy almond that peels easily and has justthe right oil and fat content to be ground and mixed to make soft turrónor marzipan. The almonds used in Jijona are from Alicante andadjoiningMurcia.

Jijona's population of 11,000 depends entirely on two seasonal industriesfor employment. Last year they produced nearly 5,000 tons of hard and softtiirr6n, nearly a 1,000 tons down from 1992. But apart from producing turrónfrom June till December, they have ingeniously dove tailed ice-cream making,from Easter until August, as another of their arts. Jijona ice-cream makersspecialize in exotic flavors, one of which is of course turrón.Not only do they take their trade to the Spanish holiday costas but havealso traveled as far as Argentina to practice it.

" The fact that we make two product lines means that our workerspamper their product and nurture them with pride," says AlejandroJimmenez Navarro, managing director of El Castillo de Jijona SA, one ofthe town's major manufacturers. "The secret of Alicante (hard) turrónis that you can see the almonds. There is real competition between theworkers, often with incentive schemes, and many families are split up workingat different factories. There is no fraud here. Couples even talk aboutalmonds in bed!" Senior Jimenez Navarro points out that one reasonwhy turrón is sold in large slabs is that the flavor is better preservedthan in small portions. He says that Jijona produces 75-80% of Spain'straditional classic turrón.

El Castillo de Jijona constructed a new 2,500 square meter factoryin 1980 and by 1991 was exporting to the United States, Mexico and Argentina.Last year 44% of its Alicante and Jijona turrón production was exported.The company plans to build a factory in Tunis for the north African market.Among two dozen items, El Castillo's prestige product, packaged in a woodenbox, is turrón a la Piedra, crammed with crunchy almonds flavoredwith grated lemon rind and cinnamon.

El Castillo is less mechanized than the bigger factories elsewhere in Spaingiving the various turrón a more crafted feel and flavor. For makinghard Alicante nougat, the almonds are first sorted, scaled, peeled, driedand then toasted. The local honey is filtered and glucose is added to thebeet sugar to increase product life.

The honey and sugar are heated to 85C (185-F) for 30 minutes andthen mechanically mixed with the toasted almonds. The mixture, that includesegg white, is cooled, put into lined rectangular molds and pressed. Whenit has further cooled, the blocks are cut into 200 gram ( 7 oz) slabs witha circular saw. Finally the cold turrón is vacuum- packed and cartoned.

The manufacture of soft Jijona uses the same ingredients with 4%more almonds, but after mixing, the mass is squeezed between powerful graniterollers, with the almond oil binding the paste which is then refined. subsequentlythe maestro turrónero supervises the noisy process of homogenizingthe paste for up to three hours in giant, mechanical pestles and mortars,the latter called a boixet, heated by gas.

The mix is then poured into molds to cool. Each block is then choppedinto 300 gram slabs (10.5 oz) and excess almond oil filtered out beforebeing vacuum packed.

Another variety of turrón, becoming popular in the UnitedKingdom, is torta made in the same way as hard Alicante but poured intocircular, cake size molds without being cut, thereby leaving all the almondswhole. Other permitted types of turrón contain crude or toastednuts such as walnuts and hazel nuts mixed with egg yolk and perhaps coconutor fruit. This category, which includes marzipan ( see separate section),is known as turrón de obrador (workshop) because of its specialconfection.

The largest manufacturer of turrón or nougat varieties, excludingthe specific soft or hard types, is the 154 year old Lacasa company inZaragoza in north central Spain, headed by the legendary pioneer, CarmenEcheverria, still working hard at 80. Last year Lacasa took 62.22% of theSpanish chocolate sweets marketwith sales of 7,000m pta, 36% from salesof 850 tons of 28 varieties of mainly chocolate turrón which Lacasawas the first to launch in the 1950's.

In 1979 Lacasa inaugurated its new factory just outside Zaragozawith a highly mechanized production line that includes its sophisticatedweapon, a 1,200m pta Hutt machine from Germany that can extrude virtuallyany shape or form as well as create layers or stuffing's of individualflavors. For example, Irish coffee pralines are layered and taste likethe real thing. Lacasa has also acquired the Mauri factory in Barcelonawhich produces 17 types of mainly dark chocolate Marcona turrónthat are very popular in Catalonia. Lacasa also owns Bonbonera Vallisoletanain Valladolid that produces the Una brand of boxed chocolates.

Pedro Arregui, export director, says that Lacasa exports have risenfrom 200m pta in 1991 to 390m pta last year to a projected 500m pta thisyear. The United States, Argentina, and Mexico are the major markets. Inthe Miami area, Lacasa will be advertised on Ole TV, a new cable TV channel,with 50 twenty second spots during the four weeks before this Christmas.

David Burns, the Texan marketing director of Lacasa, says: "Our success is variety with popular flavors. Also our distinctive blackand gold packaging was most liked in market surveys." Lacasa launchedits triangular Chocala, a delectable blend of chocolate nougat with honey,with success in North America in 1991. Also selling well is Chocolate Chip,a bar in which Lacasa's best selling Lacasitos, multicolored sugarcoatedchocolate drops, are cleverly inserted.

Delaviuda SA, founded. in 1927 in Sonseca, near Toledo, central Spain,is the second largest Spanish owned producer of turrón varietiesafter Lacasa but takes the first position if both hard and soft turrónare included. Total variety sales were 700 tons last year including marzipanproducts.

Jesus Alaba, marketing director of Delaviuda, says that exportswere worth 370m pta last year, an increase of 120% on 1992. The major marketwas the US with 27%, followed by Argentina (17%), Mexico (15%) and AldeasaSpanish duty free shops (11%).

"This year we hope to pass 500m in exports. Apart from joiningthe ICEX promotion, we supply point of sale displays, posters, organizetastings, and in Argentina we help our distributor with television commercialsand magazine advertising," says Senior Alaba. "We have high hopesfor the growing export market."

For the second successive year, ICEX will be financing 75% of a70m pta campaign on Spanish television and radio in Miami, New York andPuerto Rico. Four leading turrón manufacturersare supporting thegeneric campaign: Jacobs Suchard, Castillo de Jijona, Delaviuda and SanchisMira.

The major companies are forecasting export sales increases of upto a third this year after doubling exports in 1993. This proves therehas been a spectacular revival of the great Spanish Christmas treat amongSpanish emigrants, their descendants and Hispanics.

But the real success of any campaign is getting the Spanish turrónand marzipan on the shelves. Its production is strictly controlled by lawin Spain and it is both the original and the best. In Spain most of thedelicacies are sold in Christmas boxes, at hyper markets and supermarkets.impulse buying of the newer chocolate varieties is high. Such market penetrationabroad will also widen the market to non- Spanish customers and they'llhave a delicious Xmas surprise!

Edward Owen bas worked as a journalist in Spain forthe past 14 years and is the correspondent in Spain for The Times and theDaily Express in London as well as the South African Argus Group Johannesburg.He has also contributed to Time magazine, Lookout and various travel books.

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