Over the Christmas holidays, the Spanish supermarket shelves have been groaning under the weight of boxes of turron, a sweet confectionery whose Moorish origins lie in the village of Xixona. I decide to find out more about this popular Christmas stocking filler.
I arrive at the “Almendra y Miel” Factory to discover three coaches in the car park and a crowd of Villa Real football fans waiting for a tour of the Turron Museum. My heart sinks, as I was rather hoping to get a personal tour, however the guide allows me to join the group for free and promises to give me some additional explanation in English. So I follow the bright yellow football shirts, past the dark and empty factory floor and into the museum. Turron production only takes place between July and November in order to stock the shelves ready for Christmas. According to our guide, the 120 local workers have no problem with this seasonal contract and return year after year.
The origins of Turron can be traced back to the 11th century when the Moors ruled Alicante, and their king was the emir Ali. He fell in love and was married to a Scandinavian princess named Ilda. Although Ilda loved Ali, her heart longed for the snow that she grew up in. The following Spring, the almond trees burst into bloom and the entire landscape was showered with petals from the white blooms. At that moment, Ilda was reminded of the snow. Seeing how happy his wife was, the emir wanted to have the almond trees bloom all year long, but this was not possible. However, a small bakery in Xixona, had the idea to create a confection containing the fruits of the almond tree which could be enjoyed during the whole year. A romantic tale, perhaps, but it was the introduction of sugar cane by the Moors, the locally grown almond trees and the local honey, scented with mountain herbs and orange blossom, which led to the creation of turron in Xixona.
Although the museum information is in Spanish, the diagrams, photos and displayed equipment help me to understand the turron process. In addition, the kind guide offers me a private screening of the English language video explaining the process of making turron. Sugar and honey are cooked together and then mixed with roasted almonds and egg whites. The mixture is then milled into a paste and beaten with a mallet in a boixet for up to 3 hours. All that remains is for it to be cooled in moulds, cut into slabs and then boxed up and branded. There are two main types of turron:
- Alicante – a hard, brittle candy which includes whole almonds and is encased in thin rice paper sheets, to prevent it sticking to your fingers while you enjoy it.
- Xixona – A smooth, soft, creamy paste.
However, in order to appeal to a wider market, the factory now produces more than 100 different products, including turron with toasted egg yolk, chocolate, coffee, fruits, salted caramel and cinnamon.
The tour inevitably ends in a shop where all the products are temptingly displayed and tagged at factory prices. I’m offered some chocolate turron which is so sickly sweet that I turn down a second helping. However, it’s hard to resist the tooth-rotting treats and I end up with a few boxes to take away. My New Year’s resolution can start next week!