Bread (pan) is a staple in Spain and is usually eaten at every meal. Day-old bread is never wasted but used to make crumbs for coating croquettes, to make stuffing or adding to soups (gazpacho).
Cheese (queso) is associated more with the northern regions of Spain where the main dairy producing area is located. There are many types of cheese produced in Spain including blue and soft cheeses, made from cows, sheep or goats milk. Two of the more popular ones are Manchego (a hard, dense sheep milk cheese with similar characteristics of parmesan cheese – which is probably the most popular cheese in Spain) and Mahón (a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that has a piquant flavour).
Also known as ajo, garlic is used extensively in Spanish cooking.
Known as jamón, the ham found all over Spain is jamón serrano (mountain), a younger salt-cured ham. It is served thinly sliced and raw. It is a deep red colour and melts in your mouth (depending on the age it can be slightly dry). Jamon de Pata Negra is made from free range black Iberian pigs which have grazed on acorns, the jamon is aged for 18 months – because of the care taken, its very expensive (around $230 per kilo) and the taste is nutty, slightly sweet, the texture melting.
Olive oil (aceite de oliva) is 'fruitier' than Italian olive oil and used both for cooking, salad dressings and also drizzled over dishes to finish.
Paprika (pimentón) is a variety of capsicum that is dried and ground. There are sweet (dulce) and smoked (ahumado) varieties.
Quince paste (membrillo) is a rich crimson jam-like paste that is often served sliced on bread with manchego cheese.
Calasparra is a low starch, short grain rice that is fluffy and separates when cooked. It is the best one to use for paella. It can absorb three times its quantity in liquid which means that it is bursting with flavour.
Saffron (azafrán) is the stigma from the crocus flower and the most expensive spice in the world. Fortunately a small amount is enough to impart a distinctive flavour, enticing aroma and a rich colour. Essential for paella.