The World of Pimenton

This description is taken from “Culinaria Spain”, Ed. Marion Trutter 1998

PimentonWhat is the origin of the Pimenton?
Christopher Columbus brought paprika back to Spain with him from his second voyage to America, and introduced it to their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella in the monastery of Guadalupe. The biting sharpness of some peppers almost took the noble pair’s breath away. But that did not prevent the monks of the monastery from passing on the new vegetable to the brothers of their order, so that the peppers spread initially throughout Extremadura and then over the entire country. However , it was not until the 17th century that pimenton, the crushed powder from the small red spicy pepper, began its triumphal progress through Spanish cuisine.

Today, the finest paprika powder in Spain is made in northern Extremadura, not far from the place where the first plants bloomed in the monastery garden 500 years ago. The home of the famous pimenton de La Vera is the delightful area around La Vera in northern Extremadura, the most fertile part of central Spain. The spicy peppers find ideal conditions on the low-lying alluvial soils around the Tietar River. The climate is mild and there is adequate precipitation. Here the farmers cultivate different varieties of the paprika genus Capsicum annum, each with varying degrees of pungency. This factor is determined by a substance known as capsaicin, which is absent in delicate, mild peppers and bell peppers grown as vegetables.

How is Pimenton produced?
The farmers sow the pepper seeds in March. The harvest begins in September and lasts until November. Entire families go out into the fields, sometimes assisted by seasonal workers, to harvest the little red peppers. It is a wearisome manual task. Buildings equipped with little skylights are scattered around the edges of the fields: the drying houses.

Pimenton FactoryIt is not until the fresh peppers are smoke-dried that any real skill comes in. The amount of oakwood required must be five times as great as the amount of paprika powder to be obtained. No other wood can be used if the genuine pimenton de La Vera is to have its typical taste. The peppers are placed whole on a wooden grid at a height of just under 8 feet, and the fire is lit. The farmer enters the smoking house – secadero – once a day to turn over the layer of peppers by hand. It is just over 30 inches thick. After the drying phase, which lasts 13 to 15 days, the peppers are sent to one of the little paprika mills of the region. There the stalks are removed, together with part of the core – not all of it, of course, since the cores contain fatty acids which decisively affect the consistency of the powder.

Finally, the peppers are milled by electrically operated stone wheels. This must be done very slowly, since friction heat could impair the pure flavor and color. Pimenton de La Vera is marketed in several varieties – mild or sweet (dulce), medium hot (agridulce), and hot (picante). It normally keeps for two years. The precious powder is indispensable for many types of Spanish sausage such as chorizo or lomo. It is also an integral ingredient to many well known traditional Spanish recipes.

Rey de la Vera Pimenton