Barely 120 kilometres from Madrid, the town of Madridejos, Toledo, has joined the map of Sepharad, Tierra Recovered, which the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters promotes so that Sephardic Jews from all over the world, especially from Israel and the United States, can get to know the country where they lived for fifteen centuries and to which they have been able to return, five hundred years later, with full recognition of their citizenship.
Appealing to such Spanish and Mediterranean products as oil and saffron, both very abundant and of great quality in the area, Madridejos offers a cultural and gastronomic experience to travellers who want to make a quiet stop next to the A-4 motorway, or to those who prefer the tranquillity of dedicating a day to be passionate about the small great history and to taste the unbeatable artisan products of a cuisine as simple and tasty as the Toledan one.
Saffron, true red gold for those who extract its prized stamens, has its own sanctuary here, the Saffron Museum, located in the old convent of San Francisco, which shows the process of cultivation, harvesting, roasting and packaging of this gastronomic jewel capable of transforming the simplest and best dishes with its aroma and flavour. The plant, brought by the Phoenicians, found in La Mancha the necessary soil conditions to form part of its best cultural heritage.
Madridejos also has several oil mills, which collect, process and bottle one of the best oils in the world. Those of García de La Cruz, which date back to 1872, have the essential kosher seal as well as the halal seal, and have already collected a long list of international awards. The Jews claim that oil, a very Spanish product, owes much of its widespread consumption to them, since the Christians of the Iberian Peninsula used to cook mainly with lard. At the entrance to the headquarters of this oil mill, a majestic olive tree, five centuries old, greets the visitor, proudly showing the abundance of its leaves and renewed fruit, anchored in trunk and roots that have already seen so many dense chapters of our history. This olive mill has just won the Grand Prestige Gold Award at the Terra Olivo competition, which is held annually in Israel.
The sheep of the Manchego breed are the architects of the universal product that is Manchego cheese. The immense stables that house the flocks are also in the process of being modernised, with gigantic new installations, above all to improve the welfare of the animals, which deserve to be compensated for the quality of the milk and cheeses that have been feeding and delighting so many generations since the Middle Ages.
The fields of Madridejos have recently incorporated the production of almonds, which they carry out by means of the novel system of cross-pollination between trees. The evident climate change is forcing these imaginative and costly solutions to produce a product of a very demanding quality.
And, of course, there is no shortage of wine either, the fruit of the abundant vineyards in this and many other towns in La Mancha. Among its many wineries, the Bogarve winery produces its wines and mistelas using traditional methods, but incorporating the most modern technologies. Its Sauvignon Blanc, its exquisite red wine Autor and its white mistela Memorias make up the best music to accompany traditional recipes such as migas, its exclusive and unique meatballs and the variety of desserts such as torrijas, mantecados buttons, flowers from La Mancha and now also almonds wrapped in chocolate and cinnamon.
The key that the Red de Juderías (redjuderias. org) for you to become a "Discoverer" of Sepharad, has definitively opened this door, as it has already done in Avila, Barçelona, Bejar, Esteya-Lizarra, Hervas, Kaçeres, Kalahorra, Kordoba, Leon, Lorca, Luzena, Monfort de Lemoç, Oviedo, Plaçencia, Ribadavia, Sagunt, Segobia, Shaen (Jaén), Taraçona, Toledo, Tudela and Tui.
Thus concluding with the cry of that Sephardic song of lament for the loss of their homeland in 1492, a nostalgia that was also sung in the Nazi extermination camps: "Arvoles yoran por luvyas /I muntanyas por ayres/Ansi yoran los mis ojos/Por ti, kerida amante" (Arvoles yoran for rain/I muntanyas for airs/Ansi yoran los mis ojos/Because of you, dear lover).