Making up about 20% of the entire country, Castilla y León is the largest autonomous community in Spain — and the third largest territory in the European Union. In fact, the region is larger than some countries, including Portugal and the Netherlands! But who knew it, and who knew about Castilla y Leon food and these 8 local specialties? Experience a whole new level of flavor and texture in each bite.
While Castilla y León is still fairly under the radar, it has so much to offer and conserves its own traditions. This territory is home to 8 World Heritage Sites, with the most popular including the cities of Ávila and Segovia; the ancient rock carvings of Siega Verde near Salamanca; and the legendary Camino de Santiago.
Besides cultural monuments and UNESCO lists, so much richness of Castilla y León is also represented in its bucolic landscapes, flat heartlands, and fairytale medieval villages.
Trying to cover Castilla y León in a single article would be impossible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start somewhere… and there’s no better way to show the region than through its fantastic culinary delights and wines!
The unique geography and climate of Castilla y León has forged plenty of gastronomic treasures, from farm-to-table staples like mushrooms and chestnuts to finely cured meat (including the famed Jamón Ibérico!), suckling pig (cohinillo asado), garbanzo bean and a delectable assortment of wines. And don’t forget probably is the best meat restaurant in the world is here!
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most famous ingredients and main dishes from this region in Central Spain.
1. The Land of Wild Mushrooms
In Castilla y León, mushroom foraging is a familiar pastime for many locals. More than 1,500 species of mushrooms grow in the forests and mountains of Castile, and, thankfully for us, many are edible!
What really makes these mushrooms extraordinary is that, due to the region’s extreme climate, the harvesting period is only three months out of the entire year. There are about 50 types of mushrooms sold in community farmer’s markets, including various types of cep, chanterelles, and lactarius mushrooms. There are even special markets called Mercatrufas, where foragers and truffle growers meet and sell their goods.
The mushrooms have become so popular over the past decade that there is even a special seal of quality, the ‘Setas de Castilla y León,’ that certifies authentic mushrooms from the region. Likewise, restaurants have quickly caught onto the farm-to-table trend and distinguished themselves by using regional specialties in their dishes. One of our favorites is Restaurante Serrano in Astorga, where the second generation – the lovely brothers Jesús and Miriam – continues showcasing every winter the most delicious mushrooms recipes, even if sautéed in olive oil and garlic will always be favorite!
That’s not all: The streets of Soria fill up every two years for the Soria Gastronómica, a biennial event that gathers experts in mycology, including scientists, chefs, and researchers, to showcase the wonders of mushrooms and fungi.
2. Alluring Wines & Rustic Joys
Las Medulas — the copper-hued rock formations that will surely leave you speechless — is considered one of the most popular attractions in Castilla y León (it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after all!), but not many travelers know of two other local wonders in the region.
Just a few kilometers away is the appreciated wine region of el Bierzo, which was awarded a Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) for its spectacular wines. The secret is the area’s unique microclimate, which benefits from the region’s low altitude (preventing late frosts) and soil with quartz and fine elements.
Travelers who are looking for wines with exotic aromas and delectable flavor profiles will certainly find them in DO Bierzo!
Come autumn, the entire region revels in the hypnotizing smell of chestnuts. To many, chestnuts signal the joy of being in the woods during autumn and the happiness of having a light on where to cook them, or the anticipation of long winter nights and hearty meals.
You can easily find roasted chestnut stalls in the streets, and if you visit during late October, be sure to partake in a Castanyada festival. Chestnuts are roasted and served alongside sweet wine and candied fruit to honor the fall harvest, and a festive atmosphere is guaranteed.
3. Salamanca and the Famed Iberian Ham
If Spain was magically transformed into a mercado (market) and each city turned into a dish, there’s no doubt that Salamanca would be Ibérico cured meat (being cured ham the star of the show).
One of the most ubiquitous products of Spain, Jamon Iberico enjoys legendary status among locals and visitors thanks to its exquisite taste. While the Black Iberian pig can be found all across western and southern Spain (and Portugal), some of the best Jamon Iberico comes specifically from Castilla y León.
Remember: Iberian pork stands out from regular pork thanks to its unique diet and lifestyle. The pigs are fed a special diet of grass, corn, and acorns (Iberian pork exclusively fed on acorns during the acorn season) that gives the meat its characteristic marbling and rich flavor. As for lifestyle, Iberian pigs are allowed to roam freely in their natural habitat, giving the meat softer texture.
Guijuelo Iberian cured ham, which is located in the province of Salamanca, is famous for having a smooth and creamy texture that almost melts in one’s mouth. The secret is thanks to the regional climate — one of the coldest in Spain! — which means that the ham requires less salt and can be cured naturally.
Although Jamon Iberico can be enjoyed by itself, it is also a popular ingredient in many tapas dishes, such as sandwiches (on bread rubbed with tomato with a dash of olive oil) or in the famous croquetas.
4. Cecina, the Finest Charcuterie
While Salamanca may be known for its cured meats, it doesn’t stop there!
Beyond Iberian ham and chorizo, Castilla y León is also home to another culinary jewel: the cecina. Cecina de Leon is often called “the best cured beef in the world”, and after knowing more about the process (and sampling a few bites!), we’re sure you’ll agree.
Cecina de León is exclusively produced in the province of León and is so unique that it is protected under the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status in the European Union.
Producing cecina is quite the task, and requires artisans to follow six steps to create the perfect product. First, cecina from León is made from four specific parts of cattle: the rump, nut, back, and hindquarters. From there, the cuts are salted, washed, and smoked before being brushed with oil and laid out to age for a minimum of seven months (or twelve for Cecinas Reserva pieces). Enjoy cecina with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for the best appreciation of its excellent taste!
5. Astorga: Of Chocolate & Cathedrals
Astorga is the European birthplace of chocolate. It began sometime in the 1520s, when Hernán Cortés brought this common Aztec and Mayan ingredient to his homeland.
The popularity of chocolate spread across the region after one of the most high-profile events of the 16th century: the marriage of María Cortés de Zúñiga (the daughter of Hernán Cortés) to Álvaro Pérez Osorio, heir to the Marquis of Astorga. It is believed that a large part of the dowry provided by Hernán Cortés was cocoa, due to its high nutritional and commercial value.
Astorga is now known as the City of Chocolate in recognition of its role in introducing this delicious treat to Europe. In the 16th century, the Maragatos, a group of merchants from Astorga, were responsible for transporting the first chocolate beans to Europe.
In the 17th century, chocolate production began to spread to other parts of Europe. The Dutch were the first to establish a chocolate factory in Europe, and they were soon followed by the English, the French, and the Swiss. Chocolate became increasingly popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. It was seen as a healthy and nutritious food, and it was often prescribed by doctors. Chocolate was also used as a stimulant, and it was popular among soldiers and sailors.
Over the years, Astorga had a prominent chocolate industry, and is still well-known in Spain for its sweet treats. During the early 1900s, there were nearly 50 chocolate manufacturers and shops in this small city! Nowadays, travelers can learn more about the city’s delicacies at the Museo del Chocolate, or stop by for a tasting at one of the many chocolatiers.
Beyond its delicious history, the city is known for another famous attraction: the Episcopal Palace of Astorga. After the original palace was destroyed, the bishop assigned the design of the new building to his friend — the illustrious architect Antoni Gaudí. Built with granite from El Bierzo and having the appearance of a castle, this palace is only one of three Gaudí works outside of his native Catalonia!
6. Segovia’s Dramatic Wonders and Suckling Pig
Since we’re on the topic of beautiful buildings, let’s turn our attention to Segovia.
While the city itself is pretty charming, the real star of the show is the Alcázar of Segovia. This medieval castle inspired Walt Disney’s classic film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as the residence of the main character’s evil stepmother. In fact, the grandiose silhouette and rounded towers of this 12th-century fortress served as the perfect muse for one of the film’s main locations.
Just like Salamanca is noted for its Iberico ham and Burgos for its wine, Segovia is renowned worldwide for its roasted suckling pig (cochinillo asado). The history of this dish goes back many centuries, yet roasted pig became a staple in Castile cuisine in the 17th century, when taverns and kitchens would serve it to travelers heading toward Madrid.
One of the most famous places to try the Cochinillo de Segovia is in Restaurante José María — the suckling pig is so tender and juicy that it can be cut with just the edge of a plate!
7. Legendary Wines & Suckling Lamb
Some 200 kilometers north of Segovia is Burgos, a bustling city famed for its medieval architecture and dreamy cityscapes. However, it’s also home to another eminent asado dish: Lechazo de Castilla y León!
While Segovia may be known for its suckling pig, Burgos is renowned for the roasted suckling lamb (lechazo). Traditionally, this dish uses only the Churra, Castellana, or Ojalada lambs, and is cooked in a clay pot within a horno de leña (wooden stove).
The roasted suckling lamb is a prized delicacy in the region, and is a widespread dish across restaurants and taverns.
If you’re wondering what pairs well with lechazo, we have just the answer: a glass of wine from Ribera del Duero! This DOP-awarded region is known for its reds, and its legendary Vega Sicilia Único wine has been served at many royal functions over the years.
Making up one of eleven wine regions within Castilla y Leon, the Ribera del Duero comprises a 100 kilometer-long belt along the Duero River. Dense and strong flavors form the majority of these wines, as nearly 95% of the crop is Tempranillo (locally known as Tinta Fina). However, other authorized grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Garnacha Tinta. Recently, the appellation has added white wines made out of the local grape Albillo Mayor.
There are more than 300 wineries that make up the Ribera del Duero DOP. However, perhaps one of the most well-known is Tinto Pesquera, who originally put Ribera del Duero on the map thanks to its legendary 100% Tempranillo varietal wine, but it wouldn’t be fair making a list that does not mention them all and we prefer to avoid it.
8. Local Legumes
The cuisine of Castilla y León is built around stews, so it’s no wonder that the region is famed for having some of the best legumes in Spain!
Beans are a staple in many Spanish recipes for Castilian stews and soups -as olive oil is-, but due to Castilla y León’s cold winters, these main dishes are especially popular once the temperatures drop.
Nowhere else can you find such a wide variety and assortment of legumes, from white, pinto, red and black beans, to chickpeas (garbanzo bean), lentils, and everything in between. A large part of Castilla y León’s legumes come with a quality status, such as lentils from La Armuña, beans from El Barco de Ávila, and alubia white beans from La Bañeza-León.
However, perhaps the most famous is the chickpea from Fuentesaúco, which is justifiably recognized under PDI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.
If you’re planning to travel across Spain during the winter months, be sure to try at least one cocido (Castilian stew) dish, as they’re usually made with local legumes and truly bring out the best flavors of Spanish gastronomy!
Can’t wait to dive into Castilla y Leon food?
If you’re already dreaming of sipping on a glass of crisp red wine from Ribera del Duero, sauntering through intriguing cathedrals and palaces, or getting a first-hand look at the culture of Castile… You’re in the right place!
Our signature 10-day Madrid and Castile Food & Wine Tour takes a small group of guests across central Spain to show them the best that the region has to offer. We’ll start in the capital of Spain, Madrid, and make our way through the streets (and restaurants!) of charming cities and towns that encompass the Castilla y León region.
Along the way, you’ll be immersed in some of the most fascinating gastronomic and cultural experiences, such as staying in an exclusive wine hotel, enjoying an exotic lunch in a gourmet market in Madrid, visiting a family-run winery near Las Medulas under the Bierzo designation, and enjoying rustic Castilian cuisine.
If you’re ready to say si to Castilla y León, we invite you to join us on our memorable tour!