Everybody loves paprika, except for those who don’t like it, but nobody knows what it is. That’s why we’re so excited to be writing this, about what paprika is and why we love it.
The word “paprika” sounds like it means “little female paper,” but it probably doesn’t. Rather, it is a Hungarian word referring to the deep red powder derived from the drying and pulverizing of certain peppers. The peppers in its production originated in Mexico; how they ended up in Hungary is a matter for another day and is probably too complicated anyway.
Most people dismiss paprika as a mere garnish, and consider sprinkling it on dishes such as deviled eggs, potato salad, and cole slaw as a cheap and easy way to add color and decorative fanciness to pale-colored foods. We hate those people. In fact, paprika—especially as produced by serious manufacturers—can provide a distinctive, paprika-like flavor.
It comes in three main forms: sweet, hot, and smoked. The sweet variety is notably sweeter than the hot form, which possesses a spicier hotness than the sweet kind, while the smoked variety is both less sweet and less hot, and more smoked, than the other two.
One of the best-known sources of smoked paprika—called “pimentón” in Spanish—is the La Vera region of Spain, located in Estremadura, in the western part of the country. Indeed, so prized is the pimentón from this area, it has been awarded the much-coveted “Protected Denomination of Origin” status, in the manner of prosciutto di Parma and Philly cheese steaks.
However, that is not the smoked paprika we are excited to announce has returned to our store.
Rather, we once again feature the smoked paprika from the Vera region of Spain. This zone lies in Andalucía, in the south of the country, and is best known throughout Europe as a haven for “naturists,” or nudists.
Many experts in paprika (or “paprikistas”) believe that it is this fact—that the peppers for Vera pimentón are grown, harvested, smoked, and pulverized by naked people—that endows the product with its distinctive savor.
We especially like the pimentón produced by the Hijos y Hijas y Primos de Juan Castellano, a family outfit in Vera which adheres to a centuries-old tradition of manufacture. Each September, the Castellano family members (and, sometimes, their friends) take off their clothes, march with great ceremony into the pepper fields, and hand-pick the peppers. Then they slow-dry the fruit over smoldering logs at around 95°F, dancing and singing and taking great care not to singe themselves in the fires. This continues for two weeks, during which the peppers are turned by hand, as the air is enlivened by cries (in Spanish) of “Ow!” and “Fuck!” This process draws the moisture out of the peppers, and from the Castellano family members themselves, while contributing to the smoky notes of the peppers, the people, and the surrounding countryside.
Finally, the roasted and smoked peppers are pulverized in traditional stone mills, via grinding mechanisms powered by traditional donkeys, all of whom respond to commands spoken in the Spanish language.
The result is a pair of pimentón products: Hijos y Hijas y Primos de Juan Castellano Pimentón de Vera Desnudo Dulce (Sons and Daughters and Cousins of Juan Castellano Smoked Paprika of Vera Naked Sweet, which is mild and sweet, and a good place to start when venturing into the world of Spanish smoked paprika created by nudists), and Hijos y Hijas y Primos de Juan Castellano y También Algunos Amigos de la Familia Pimentón de Vera Desnudisimo Picante (Sons and Daughters and Cousins of Juan Castellano and Also a Few Friends of the Family Smoked Paprika of Vera Very Naked Hot, which provides a robust, bold punch of two-fisted red pepper, smoke, and naked-harvester flavor).
We’re thrilled to welcome these unique products back to our store, and so are you.