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Ancient nougat will sweeten the Catalan Christmas with a sales increase

As Christmas approaches, so does the presence of the traditional nougat sweet, found in almost every Catalan home during the festive season. Torró, first introduced in the Iberian Peninsula through Catalonia, has been part of the Christmas tradition since the Middle Ages. Nowadays, artisans of nougat in Catalonia still respect the original recipe. Nougat from the town of Agramunt, in western Catalonia, is an example of a product, which expects an increase in sales this year.

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22 December 2011 08:34 PM

by

ACN / Oriol Bosch / Sara Gómez

Barcelona (ACN).- Christmas in Catalonia is not complete without the presence of the typical torró or nougat candy after almost every meal during the holiday period. Torró originally made of sugar, honey, egg white and toasted nuts is part of a tradition that has prevailed in Catalan speaking areas since the Middle Ages. In Agramunt, a small town in the Catalan province of Lleida, in western Catalonia, torró is of special importance as it has held its own \u2018Protected Geographical Indication\u2019 (PGI) granted by the Catalan Government in 1984 and recognised internationally. Agramunt\u2019s nougat manufacturers are competing for the position of top seller against other well-known nougat brand Xixona, from the Valencian Community. Àngel Velasco, President of the Protected Geographical Indication, which gathers the four biggest nougat producers of Agramunt, forecasts a sales growth of 20% for this year\u2019s Christmas campaign.


The origins of the traditional sweet

Gastronomy writer Jaume Fàbrega explained that whether it is used to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Christmas, it is believed that the origin of nougat comes from the Arabic and Jewish world. However, the earliest references of the traditional torró (the Catalan word for nougat) in Catalonia are found in the 14th century, when it was cited as a royal meal, which was used as payment for the authorities. According to Fàbrega, the tradition was first brought to Catalonia and later spread across Spain.

Due to the importance of nougat in Catalan speaking countries, most of the best known torró producers are located in this area: Perpignan, in France; Amer, Barcelona, Reus and Agramunt, in Catalonia; Cati and Xixona, in the province of Alacant (Alicante); Ciutadella and Maó in Minorca, and Palma on the island of Majorca are some examples of traditional centres.

Agramunt\u2019s special torró

The nougat tradition in Catalonia has a remarkable representative in Agramunt, a small town in the Catalan county of Urgell. Agramunt received the PGI from the Catalan Government in 1984 thanks to its special torró recipe that dates back to 1714. Evidence of this is the recipe found in a family letter.

Agramunt nougat \u2013named \u2018torró a la pedra\u2019 (stone nougat)\u2013 uses a mixture of hazelnuts or almonds (depending on the variety), sugar, honey and egg white as a base and is then presented in round or rectangular pieces of different shapes and weights. Together with a wafer wrapping, nougat artisans achieve a crispy and fragile golden dough. When elaborating hazelnut torró, first the nuts need to be toasted and then peeled. If it is almonds, the process is reversed. Then producers boil honey, sugar and the fresh egg white together so they can finally add the hazelnuts or the almonds. Depending on the nougat category, the amount of almond or hazelnut can vary from 46% to 60%.

More Torró sales this year

Àngel Velasco, President of the Torró d\u2019Agramunt PGI, said that they foresee a growth of 20% in nougat sales this Christmas season. Translated into real numbers, this means they expect to sell 800,000 nougat bars, 90% of which will be bought between November 1st and December 31st. Velasco assured that Agramunt torró is \u201Cvery trendy\u201D, which explains its progressive consolidation over other traditional brands that until today almost held the monopoly of the sector like Xixona nougat from Valencian Community. Furthermore, Velasco also stated that \u201Cthere is no crisis\u201D in the nougat industry because \u201Ctorrons have a price that suits all budgets and no one will stop eating them\u201D.

Experimentation with other nougat flavours

When talking about this year\u2019s novelties, Velasco, who is also responsible for Torrons Vicens, one of Agramunt\u2019s nougat producers explained that every manufacturer uses his imagination to experiment with multiple ingredients to create new torrons far from the traditional \u2018stone nougat\u2019. Every year they test nougat with chocolate, truffle, praline or marzipan. Torrons Vicens, for example, has displayed more than 30 new specialties, which combined with those that already exist reach around 80 different varieties. According to Velasco, nougat \u201Chas infinite possibilities\u201D.

Barcelona\u2019s bakers seek to maintain sales

The Patisserie Guild of Barcelona expects to keep nougat sales up during Christmas. Even though the sales season will last until January 7th, the peak demand concentrates itself, overall, between December 20th and 25th. On the other hand, the Patisserie Guild foresees nougat prices to move between \u20AC30 and \u20AC40 per kilogramme, and calculates that each family will spend about 35\u20AC to 45\u20AC on torró.

Despite sales not dropping, nougat producers have observed a decrease in the amount of Christmas baskets sold, which usually include torró and other sweets typical in the season. The reason might be found in the reduction in the size of the hampers and the fact that they now focus on quality and originality rather than on quantity.

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  • The traditional Agramunt nougat is round (by O. Bosch)

  • The traditional Agramunt nougat is round (by O. Bosch)
The family company Torrons Vicenç producing nougat bars