The first time I encountered Marcona almonds, I had no clue what I was eating. I picked one up, popped it into my mouth, and had a moment of intense culinary curiosity. Had I just eaten an apricot kernel prepared in some newfangled way? Then I learned these wonderful little morsels were in fact almonds—Marcona almonds. When I found some at my local cheese shop and devoured a one-pound container within a week, I knew I had to learn more.
Marconas are grown exclusively in Spain where they're often used in confections (think turron) and tapas (think seasoned with salt and chilis and served with olives and bits of Iberico ham and Manchego) for years.
When not used in sweets, they're almost always fried in olive oil. They are rounder and plumper than the traditional teardrop shape we've come to expect from our almonds. The texture has been described by many as a cross between a traditional almond and a macadamia nut.
Indeed, traditional almonds seem "woody" compared to the soft, buttery crunch of a Marcona. Marconas are popping up all over—as a dessert pairing with dark chocolate, an alternative to croutons in salads, and even emulsified into sauces.
One enterprising company is importing Marcona almond butter from Valencia called OroLiquido (which translates to "liquid gold"). Available mostly at cheese shops and select markets, this delicious spread is great on baguettes and flatbreads, served with bits of cheese and dried fruit. At $8.99 for a jar containing just over nine ounces, it's not going to replace peanut butter as America's favorite sandwich spread, but it certainly makes for a delicious departure from time to time.
Have you ever tried Marcona almonds? Do you have a favorite way to serve them?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.