Some foods are so much a part of a place that you never think of one without the other. Belgium’s got their waffles. Champagne has their bubbly. Buffalo has its chicken wings; Nashville has its hot fried chicken. In the Spanish village of Almoharín, they’re all about their figs.
Welcome to Fig Town.
Population: 2,000. Three hours west of Madrid and an hour east of the Portuguese border, Almoharín is in the heart of Spain’s remote Extremadura region. More figs are grown in and around Almoharín than anywhere else in Spain. Maybe more than anywhere in the world. You’ll find dried figs, fig jams, fig breads, fig pies, figs in syrup, fig cakes. At dinner, your meat or stew will be garnished with figs. Visit during the harvest in September, you’ll be part of the annual Almoharín fig fair. (Yes, there will be DJs. And they will be eating figs.)
The figs grown in Almoharín are famous not just for their plentitude, but for their flavor. They grow a variety called Calabacita. Calabacitas are relatively small for figs, remarkably sweet, and have a thin, greenish-yellow skin. That thin skin is key: before harvesting, ripe Calabacitas are often left on the tree to dry for a few days to amp up their flavor. A dried fig with a thicker skin can end up tough and leathery. With their thin skins, dried Calabacitas have a chewy, toothsome texture, and massive amounts of figgy flavor.
What’s the most popular way to eat figs in Almoharín?
No contest: fig bonbons.
Everybody in town makes fig bonbons. Most use a similar technique, so the bonbons generally look alike. About an inch tall, each teardrop-shaped fig is coated in chocolate and stuffed until plump with a rich filling, like salted caramel ganache, or hazelnut cream, or chocolate ganache.
While they may look alike, flavor is another matter. For my money, the rabitos fig bonbons made by second-generation, family run La Higuera are the best I’ve ever tried. Using the original family recipe, they puncture the bottom of each tree-dried fig and fill it to bursting with a boozy chocolate ganache spiked with a heady dose of brandy. Then they enrobe the figs in a silky-smooth layer of chocolate.
As soon as you rip open the packaging, you’re immersed in the rich, punchy aroma of brandy.
One rabito is the size of a large chocolate truffle. You could eat it in two or three nibbles or devour it all in one bite. When you do, the chocolate cracks and snaps between your teeth before giving way to soft ganache. Rich, sweet chocolate coats your tongue first, followed by a sharp hit of the brandy, then the tangy, fruity acidity of the fig. The flavors marry, then linger for a long time after you’ve finished.
They lend themselves naturally to pair with all manner of drinks. With a good strong cup of black coffee or some milky tea. A dessert wine: a Sauternes or a port. (It’s counterintuitive but true that sweet wine and sweet figs are a great match.) A cognac or a brandy. Even a good cup of milk. If you’re feeling adventurous, try it with cheese. Rabitos are great with a tart cheese like a good fresh goat’s milk cheese, or a hard cheese that’s salty and fruity like Lincolnshire Poacher, or a creamy blue cheese like fudgy Bayley Hazen Blue.