A Malaga Surprise!
Whilst you are unlikely to visit Malaga for the quality of it’s raisin output, here is a bit of background to one of Spain’s most natural products.
Whilst you probably did not know any of this before, you might just be encouraged to buy a packet of this fruit as a momento to your visit and tour of the magnificent city!
The Spanish word for raisin is pasa. And, nowhere in Spain is the pasa more famous than in Malaga.
Since the 18th century, raisins from the mountainous hinterland of Malaga were traded throughout Europe, as a highly prized delicacy.
The raisin is the exclusive product of the Muscatel grape, of, principally, the region of Axarquia, but also from Manilva on the Costa del Sol.
Raisins, are dried grapes. But the process of drying, cutting, and selection are what makes the Muscatel raisins of Malaga so highly valued in Spain.
The important drying process, here, for example, is manual. Artificial processes for drying are prohibited for production of this heralded raisin.
It is the ecological and artisanal process of raisin production in Axarquia that makes this fruit distinct to all others.
Malaga’s Artisanal Raisin Production
The grapes are picked in mid August to September. At this time they will be hanging low on the vine, to almost ground level.
Whilst the terrain of Axarquia is highly picturesque, in practical terms the region offers a difficult terrain, with slopes angling up to 60%.
This necessitates that all work is done by hand, with help from mules and donkeys. The land is inaccessible to mechanical harvesting with machines like tractors.
Workers set out with wooden boxes on their shoulders, and a knife to manually cut the fruit from the vines. They cut bunch by bunch, being careful to preserve the grape, as each grape is a potential raisin, and not subject to treading for wine, where broken grapes are of no consequence.
Filled boxes are then transported by animal to the designated drying area.
The drying areas are known as paseros.
Manual Raisin Drying
The Malaga raisins are produced by exposing the grapes to direct sunlight for drying, where they will lose 70% of their water content. The drying process is carried out by hand, with the grape bunches being carefully laid out on the ground. These grape bunches have to be turned every two weeks or so for even drying.
The weather is obviously an important element during the drying period, which can go on to the end of November. Tarpaulins are used for forecast foggy or rainy periods, and the individual grower has to be vigilant all the time.
After drying, the raisins will be a purplish, black colour.
Picking the Grapes
The raisins are now separated from the stalks using a process called picado. This literally means ‘picking’ the grapes.
Whilst this will be done by mechanical means in the industrial production plants, here in Malaga it is done by hand, in the local farms.
There over two thousand of these farms in the province.
Male and female workers will sit under a branched shelter, known as an enramas, with scissors, and work for hours to separate the clusters of grapes.
Following this, the raisins are delivered to a Co-operative, where they are cleaned, and prepared for packaging prior to sale.
The Uniqueness of the Malaga Raisin
The characteristics of these raisins is their large, plump size, and the intensive sweet flavour derived from the Muscatel grape.
The dark colour is also distinctive.
Malaga Raisin Output
This area of Axarquia accounts for 65% of the raisin producing acreage of Malaga province, with the small town of El Borge dedicating more land to raisin production than anywhere in Spain.
The quality of Malaga’s raisins is such that the European Union granted the product a protected food status under the designation of origin: ‘Malaga Raisins’.
Malaga’s Raisins Enjoyed
Raisins are used in salads, rice dishes, cakes, apple dishes, bread, cookies, sauces, chutneys, mueslis.
Yet, one of the nicest ways to appreciate the unique flavour and texture of Malaga’s raisins, is when combined with a rich vanilla ice cream.
And, why not have a touch of Muscatel wine poured over this too!
Note: In the supermarkets of Antequera, look out for a pack of raisins from the area of El Pasero. Recommended.