ONE of the many traditional Christmas goodies in Spain is the mantecado. Similar to the polvorón, it is a type of shortbread biscuit of Levantine origin, popular in Spain and Latin America, as well as in other ex-Spanish colonies such as the Philippines, at Christmas time.
The name mantecado comes from the word manteca meaning lard, which is one of the main ingredients. The traditional base is composed of 50% wheat flour, 25% lard and 25% sugar, so mantecado does not form part of a calorie-controlled diet then! An extra ingredient provides the different flavours, for example lemon, cinnamon, almond or coconut.
The mantecado dates back to the sixteenth century. Antequera and Estepa, two towns in central Andalucía, both claim it as their own invention. Apparently surplus supplies of lard and flour led the locals to dream up a product that would turn these surpluses into profit.
Mantecado began to be marketed commercially in 1870 and its success was rapid. By 1934, some 15 houses in Estepa (Sevilla) had already been transformed into small businesses. Today, the number has doubled to 30.
Despite the rival claims of Antequera (Málaga) – don’t they also claim the mollete as their idea, despite evidence that this bread “bap” was invented in Ronda? – Estepa is without doubt the world capital of mantecado production. Its annual output is 20 million kilos, or 40% of national production.
A town of no more than 12,000 inhabitants, Estepa produces mantecados at a frenetic pace during four months of the year – from August to December – a workload that “more than merits its eight months of holiday,” says LJosé Luis Olmedo, director of the La Muralla mantecado factory in the town.
2,000 people in Estepa work in mantecado manufacturing, whilst most of the rest of the population are involved indirectly. Marketing, equipment, transport and distribution are 100% Estepa-based and contribute to the town’s wealth.
Overall in Andalucía there are about 70 factories which form part of a syndicate that produces polvorones and mantecados.
The mantecado is so popular that there is a huge export demand from the ‘colonies’ of Spanish immigrants living in the rest of Europe, especially in France, Italy and in Portugal, as well as from Latin America and the Philippines.