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... And Xixona nougat is here for Christmas once again!
Publishing date 15/12/2014
An infinite white mantle of almond blossom: this is the color of Xixona fields until the spring, when the harvest of the fruit starts. A harvest which is then turned, by skilled craftsmen, into a typical Spanish Christmas treat: nougat. Legend has it that many years ago a king married a Scandinavian princess who felt sad when she left behind the eternal snows of her country. The king, eager to see again the smile of his beloved, had thousands of almond trees planted which, in blooming, turned the landscape white. The princess smiled again and the humble peasants regained joy: they began harvesting almonds and nougat became their main source of income.
One of the stories of Arabian Nights talks about a sweet similar to the nougats made in Alicante, so legends aside, the mainly supported theory is that nougat has a oriental origin. It is a sweet made of primary ingredients - almond, sugar and honey - with a single secret: the craft, skill and patience of the masters of the nougat industry from Xixona who, generation after generation, have transmitted all their wisdom and processing techniques for over five hundred years.
The nougat types "Jijona" and "Alicante" are handmade and depend on the ability of the nougat master chef, who provides the final touch for its proper development, even in those factories with large production capacity.
Although the manufacture of nougat is based on proprietary technology, it depends on a small number of machines and tools designed by the manufacturers themselves. Namely, the almond torraor (toaster), the mechanics, stone mill and the Boixet, a vessel where the mix is whipped, cooked and finished. Although these containers are now made of stainless steel, both the tools and the preparation process have hardly changed in the fabrication of the nougat types "Alicante" and "Jijona".
The nougat master chef controls temperature, mixing and cooking time until it is done to perfection, and he counts only on his own experience to achieve it: he takes a small portion of dough and pulls it to form a wire. Then he rolles it and introduces it between his teeth. If it cracks or breaks, the dough is ready. At that moment, toasted almonds are incorporated and mixed with the cooked dough by measn of Punxes, similar to wooden oars. Two mixers are in charge of mixing the dough, through a harmonious and coordinated movement originated in the effort of their bodies and wrists when using the Punxes. A cooked dough weighting up to seventy kilos has been achieved by that time.
For a long time there were two clearly differentiated varieties of nougat, which have so far retained their specific denomination: Jijona and Alicante (soft and hard, to make it clear).
If the nougat makers from Xixona owe something to a particular person, that is Montiño Francisco Martinez. The senior chef of the King Philip II, he was a writer and a gastronome, since it was him who introduced nougat as a Christmas treat to the palace tables. The success was such that the habit extended to the aristocracy in Madrid.
For centuries, Madrid was the largest consumer of nougat, and the manufacturers moved to the capital to set up their stalls or sell it to retailers. As for the foreign market, the industry of nougat making decided to conquer the world in the early nineteenth century. The first nougat shops were settled in Havana and from there they extended across America.
And, in the end, it was large and small nougat makers of Xixona, supported by the Spanish Regulatory Board, who achieved thanks to their perseverance and tenacity that, nowadays, Christmas is not the same without nougat.