Menorca food and drinkWith its strategic situation in the western Mediterranean it is hardly surprising that the wide number of varieties of Menorca food and drink are a complex blend of the influences left by the many invaders and occupiers over thousands of years, from the Romans and Arabs to the French and British. This, coupled with the fact that the island, declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993, has some of the best agricultural produce of the Balearic Islands means that its gastronomy is rich, varied and unique.
Seafood has always been of utmost importance here, and the island also has a long history of cattle farming – both for meat and diary production. With such an excellent range of staple products, Menorca food and drink can be said to combine the best of both land and sea.
Perhaps the best known seafood dish is the “caldereta de llagosta”, a delicious and succulent lobster stew served on fine slices of toast. Made from the spiny blue lobster caught in the waters close to the coast, the dish is a favourite with both visitor and resident alike and is a popular item for the traditional family Sunday lunches served in restaurants along the coast.
Other well known and popular seafood dishes are “escopinyes” (clams eaten raw with lemon or baked with a mixture of breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic), and peus de cabrit – the bizarre looking goose barnacle which seems to taste of the very essence of the sea. Baked sea bream, squid and octopus or grilled red mullet served with the delicious small potatoes of the island are always a popular meal on local menus.
The island also lays claim to the discovery of mayonnaise, first produced in Maó in the mid 18th century by a French chef. This rich sauce took Europe by storm at the time and although some French chefs still insist mayonnaise is an exclusively French invention, in Menorca people have no doubt. The sauce was first made in Maó, hence the name mayonnaise, and is best they say here on the island, made with good local eggs and olive oil.
With many herds of dairy cows on the island, butter, milk and cheese are very important for Menorcan cuisine. The first British governor, Richard Kane introduced Friesland cows to the island in the early 18th century and today, the extensive use of butter can be directly traced back to the period of British occupation.
Cheese making artefacts which date back to 3,000 BC have been found here and today the local cheeses are famous for their quality. With the temperate climate of the island and the richness of its pasture, Menorcan cheeses have a very distinctive flavour, and are matured for up to a year, giving the cheese almost the consistency of Parmesan. Today the curado and semi curado cheeses have their own D.O.P. (Denominación de Origen Protegida) regional trade mark and a well deserved international fame.
The island’s meat products too are well known for their quality and flavour, with the typical sobrasada (a pork sausage-meat made with red peppers ) and the traditional carn i xua sausage made of lean meat, bacon cubes and seasoning forming a vital part of many Menorcan rich winter dishes.
Wine production two centuries ago was a vital part of the island’s economy, especially with so many thirsty troops billeted on the island during the French and British occupations. Many of the vineyards however, were killed by phylloxera in the 19th century but today, like a phoenix, wine production is increasing again as many new vines are being planted.
The calcium rich soil of the island, plus the hot long days of summer sun and the relatively cool nights are perfect for bringing good flavour in the grapes. One Menorcan wine, the Binifadet Chardonnay was selected for the wine list of El Bulli in Cataluña, the world’s best restaurant of 2008.
The presence of so many British sailors in Menorcan ports of the 18th century also had another lasting influence. Gin was a favourite tipple of the Navy at the time and within a few months of British occupation stills had been set up and a distinctive local gin was being produced. Today the aromatic gin of Maó (Gin Xoriguer) is well known and is still produced from a secret recipe flavoured with local juniper berries in the traditional way using copper stills. The favourite drink at fiesta time for many Menorcans is Pomada – a deceptively refreshing drink made of three parts of lemonade and one of gin – which has to be treated with care for it is very strong.
The Menorcan sweet dishes too are justifiably well known throughout Spain with delicious small cakes made with almonds or toasted nougat and the very popular and traditional ensaimadas, a delicious circular soft pastry cake covered in icing sugar which melts in the mouth.
In the 20th century, the traditional cuisine of the island was in danger of disappearing, as busy modern families found there was little time for the elaborate and lengthy preparation of food, carried out in the past by the grandmothers and womenfolk of the large extended families. But today, some chefs on the island believe that the old recipes and ways of cooking represent a vital part of Menorcan culture and should be preserved.
As a result there is a thriving movement to ensure that traditional dishes are returning to the menu of many restaurants so preserving and combining the best of old and new.
Read our top 10 tips for things to see and do in Menorca