La Espanola Deli, 2020 Lomita Blvd. No. 7, Lomita, (213) 539-0455. Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
"When I was a housewife, I was a customer here," says Juana Faraone, proprietor of La Espanola Deli in Lomita. "When the owners wanted to sell, I thought it would be the perfect business for me because I love to cook."
La Espanola Deli is the only Los Angeles-area store that deals exclusively in Spanish products. Every weekend, transplanted Spaniards crowd into the minuscule shop in an obscure area of Lomita to pick up some manchego cheese, or a chunk of serrano ham and some Spanish paprika for their Fabada Asturiana. They come in for the northern style chorizos de Bilbao that dangle on racks behind the shop's compact deli case or for the tiny links of russet cantimpalito sausages of Central Spain. In addition to those Spanish sausages, La Espanola carries about a dozen more varieties.
All the sausages are made on the premises, in a USDA-inspected sausage-making kitchen that is also the only one of its kind in the area. La Espanola produces Spanish-style hams and sausages, some of which remain up to 18 months in the plant's curing room.
The company can turn out about 1,000 pounds of sausage a day, which it distributes to restaurants and stores across the country. That is quite a jump from what the company was producing when Faraone purchased it from an old Spanish couple eight years ago.
Faraone trained at La Espanola for a month before the owners turned their formulations over to her. But the first batches of sausage she made on her own were a disaster. "My Sobresada , which should always be a beautiful, deep red, developed white spots and I couldn't figure out why," she remembers. Faraone consulted a family friend, Father Miguel, a priest from Majorca who had been in charge of hog butchering and traditional sausage making at a Nevada monastery. Together they prepared La Espanola's first successful batch of Sobresada Mallorquena.
Father Miguel counseled Faraone on a few fine points of sausage-making: the correct temperature for the meat before it is ground, how to watch for rancidity in sausages as they cure. Faraone then traveled throughout Spain to observe sausage-making techniques firsthand. Back in the United States she attended professional seminars and eventually obtained her USDA status.
Spanish food has vivid, earthy flavors and Mediterranean accents that seem natural for California. But it has only recently been finding a following here. You can prepare Spanish food without the authentic ingredients you find at La Espanola, of course, but your cazuelas, egg tortillas and Iberian bean dishes will be missing that essentially "Spanish" taste. And unless paella is prepared with the sort of short-grained Valencia rice sold in La Espanola's deli, it won't have the chewy texture that reminds you you're eating the genuine item.
* Serrano Ham: Many compare Serrano ham to Italian prosciutto but its flavor is sweeter and nuttier and, as a rule, it is sliced thicker than prosciutto . In Spain some of the best hams, including Jamones Ibericos and Jamones de Jabugo , come from pigs fed on acorns. At the moment no one imports them and La Espanola cannot obtain acorn-fed pork. But their hams, made with lean, domestic pork and cured 18 months are very good.
The deli carries the ham sliced in 4-ounce packages, but it is preferable to slice your own from the whole hams.
For tapas , cubes of the ham are customarily speared on a wooden pick or hand-cut for pan con tomate y jamon (known in northeastern Spain, where it is a focus of local patriotism, as pa amb tomaquet) : crisp bread rubbed with tomato, drizzled with olive oil and topped with the ham. In the Basque country the ham is an essential part of piperade , a dish composed of fresh-roasted sweet green peppers, onions and tomatoes cooked slowly together until they are meltingly sweet then swirled with beaten eggs to make a Basque-style tortilla .
Serrano ham hocks, which La Espanola also sells, add their robust flavor to Cocido Madrileno , a sort of pot-au-feu dinner served in courses or lentil and bean dishes. Faraone uses the hocks in her spaghetti sauce.
* Manchego cheese: Once the cheese of sheep herders in the region of La Mancha on the Castilian plateau, Manchego's sharp, complex, buttery flavor is due in part to the Manchego sheep's milk from which it is produced. Manchego will always carry a denominacion de origen label, assuring that only cheese made in the region may bear that name.