Gastronomy. Minorca, the Island of Cheese and Gin.
Was Mayonnaise sauce born in Mahon? This seems to have been an important question for a long time.
The French were here from 1756 to 1763. They had seven years to convert the strong local garlic and oil sauces into a smooth emulsion of egg yolks and olive oil. Legends and stories abound.
Of course, these ingredients were not only present on Minorca…
Well, we’ll never know for sure and so we’ll move onto other, more immediate matters.
There are three major strong points in Minorcan gastronomy: the top-quality fish and lobster, previously mentioned in the section on Fornells, cheese and gin.
Made under the strict quality control of the “Denominación de Origen”, is, perhaps, the island’s chief export. The cheese is made from fresh (traditionally) or pasteurised (industrially) cow’s milk, is square-shaped with rounded corners caused by the cloth, the fogasser, used for pressing the curds. Cheeses usually weigh between 2 and for kilos and are coated with oil for curing.
Traditionally made cheeses can be eaten after two months and last for about a year. Some people prefer the matured cheeses when the flavour is very
strong and piquant, somewhat reminiscent of Parmesan, but most people tend to prefer the recently popular young and semi-mature cheeses. Mahon cheese is one of the great Spanish cheeses, as good as any you’ll find on the mainland.
On Minorca there were a great many junipers, (there still are), and in the harbour lay the British fleet. The twain met and Ginet was the result, a spirit far removed from the Spanish and Mediterranean traditions and with a notable difference from the English Gin.
It’s a kind of a cross between London Gin and the Mediterranean spirit, invented in Minorca. It was very successful and was drunk throughout the British Fleet and it surprised more than one distinguished visitor: “the best of the sprits found in Europe today” was historian Vargas Ponce’s opinion on visiting Minorca in 1781.
The major difference between London Gin and Minorcan Ginet is that ours is based on a spirit distilled from the grape, as is usual in the Mediterranean, and not on a cereal-based spirit. The juniper now comes from the mainland, but the distilling continues to be done in old copper stills. The spirit rests in oak barrels cured in gin so that the end-product does not take the colour of the wood.
Gin is found all over Minorca, drunk neat or in a mix of our own invention: la pomada, a mixture of gin and lemonade and a great favourite during the fiestas and la pallofa, gin with a slice of lemon and dash of soda.
We know Minorca produced a great deal of wine in the past, but nowadays there remain hardly any vines and until recently, only a few people made wine. Nevertheless, today there is a new wave of Minorcan wine-makers producing some excellent wines.
Traditional Minorcan cooking, though unknown to most visitors, is well worth exploring. Some traditional Minorcan dishes include: oli-aigua, a tomato soup served in country houses and of which there are several variants arros de sa terra, originally an Arab dish made from wheat berenjenas al horno aubergines stuffed with peppers, tomatoes and onion perdices con col, roast partridges stuffed with local sausage, and wrapped in cabbage leaves.