The people of Jijona have always lived from the products of their land: fields of almond orchards, beehives in the nearby mountains, and a blooming abundance of rosemary, lavender and thyme.
These rich flavours are packed into Turrón de Alicante PGI and Turrón de Jijona PGI, traditional nougat treats that are enjoyed around the world, especially at Christmas time.
It is thought that the custom of making nougat was brought to the town of Jijona by Arab and Jewish settlers, who introduced almonds and dried fruits to the gastronomy of the area.
While production is believed to have begun in medieval times, the earliest recorded mention of the local turrón comes from 1484, in a document of the city of Valencia.
After the personal chef of King Felipe II (1526-1598) introduced turrón to the Spanish court, it soon became a favourite treat of kings and queens. In 1610, the historian Gaspar Escolano noted that turrón was often given as a present to princes and kings.
Across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the production of turrón evolved and its popularity grew, as attested to by its appearance in many novels, plays and scientific writings of the period.
From the second half of the nineteenth century, the demand for nougat was such that factories were constructed and industrial production gathered momentum. Notable nougat brands emerged in Jijona, attracting people from the surrounding countryside to relocate to the town and work in the factories. Many families from the locality travelled and sold their product around Spain and the wider world, especially to northern Africa and South America.
By the second half of the twentieth century, Jijona’s food industry had become the most important economic activity of the region. In order to maintain year-round industrial activity, many turrón companies started producing ice-cream during the summer, before returning to nougat for the winter.
In Spain, turrón is traditionally enjoyed at Christmas and forms part of a unique tradition, widespread in Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon. The tradition revolves around Tió de Nadal, a magical wooden log with a smiling face and small legs made of sticks. The log is fed and cared for in the weeks running up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, children gather around their Tió de Nadal and beat it with sticks, singing songs and imploring the log to magically bestow them with turrón and other treats.
Owing to their distinctive traditions and tastes, the European Union recognised Turrón de Alicante and Turrón de Jijona as protected geographical indications (PGI) in 1996.
Turrón de Alicante PGI and Turrón de Jijona PGI are produced and packaged in the municipality of Jijona, located in the Spanish province of Alicante.
Honey and roasted almonds provide the distinctive flavours of the turrón. The Jijona variety is soft, as the nougat is blended with finely ground almonds, while the Alicante variety is hardened by the texture of chopped almonds, layers of wafer, and a nougat reinforced with egg white.
At least 10% of the turrón must be made from pure, local honey, while clean and healthy almonds are selected from the following local varieties: Valenciana, Mallorca, Mollar, Marcona and Planeta. The percentage of almonds defines the class into which the turron is placed: “Supreme” (66% almonds) or “Extra” (46% almonds).
The nougat begins life as a mix of sugar and honey, cooked at a high temperature. In the case of Turrón de Jijona PGI, the mix is cooked for at least 30 minutes. Once the nougat has reached its desired consistency, it is spread in sheets upon a cooling surface. When sufficiently cold, the mixture is kneaded and refined before ground almonds are added. The mixture poured into cauldrons known as "boixets" and is cooked again for at least 150 minutes, until the desired compactness is attained. While still warm, the nougat is weighed, formed into shapes, and cut for packaging.
In the case of Turrón de Alicante PGI, the honey and sugar mixture is cooked for at least 45 minutes. When the mixture is ready, diluted egg white is added along with peeled, chopped and roasted almonds. The mass is stirred and kneaded until the almonds are evenly distributed throughout the nougat. While the mixture still warm, it is weighed and shaped, before being covered with layers of wafer. The turrón is cut into rectangular bars and then packed.
The finished products are sold in local shops and across the world. The town of Jijona accounts for roughly 60% of the total amount of turrón produced in Spain.