All About Mitica® Fig & Date Cakes
Fig Almond Cake. Date Walnut Cake. You may have tasted these pressed dried fruit and nut cakes from Valencia, Spain. You might already use them as an easy cheese pairing or an energy-boosting snack. Even if not, you’ve probably seen these large 11-pound cakes at a cheese counter before. These products are some of our staples and represent our expansion into exceptional specialty foods from the Mediterranean beyond cheese. Though we’ve carried them a long time, they’re still evolving, as we recently updated all of the packaging on these cakes to reflect how unique and special they are. Read on for some history, fun facts, and a look at how these cakes come together (hint: it’s not quick or easy).
We have always sourced our Mitica® fruit and nut cakes from the Vallés family in Valencia, Spain, who have been making traditional fruit products for two generations. Michele took one look at their beautiful cakes at the Alimentaria tradeshow in 1997 and wanted to bring them to the U.S. It was a happy accident, since she wasn’t even looking for something like them; she ended up at their booth to look at Arrope, another traditional food from the area. But after tasting these cakes and recognizing their artistry and handmade quality, she saw their potential and pursued a relationship that has continued to this day.
Pan de higo, as it’s known in Spain, has a long history. In Al-Andalus, which was the name of the Iberian peninsula under Muslim rule (711-1492), agriculture expanded immensely. The productivity of farming grew along with it, leading to a vast surplus of fruit and vegetables. With all this extra fresh food, people needed to find a way to preserve it. A flurry of culinary innovation looking to solve this problem led to the creation of pan de higo. It was a perfect food for farming families, as it gave them lots of energy for their long days of planting and harvesting. At the time, it was typically made from the fruit that was lesser quality and could not be sold at market. People would grind up dried figs into a paste and use spices like cinnamon and clove to mask off flavors. This style of cake is still prevalent today, but the Vallés family decided to go a different route and use the best quality ingredients they could find so there would be no need to mask the flavor with additives.
Amalio Vallés, the patriarch of the family, first started making pressed fig and date cake and sold it locally and at regional holiday fairs. At that point, the cakes were known as a specialty holiday item and were not considered an accompaniment to cheese. Eventually, with the help of his four sons, they began to transform the perception of pan de higo to something less niche and more versatile. When we partnered with them in 1997, we were just starting to introduce accompaniments to our cheese catalog as value-added items to help cheese shops sell more. The flavorful, soft and crunchy, fresh cakes made them very successful pairings with anything from aged Manchego to gooey and fragrant blues. Though there have been many imitators, Mitica® cakes are at the top of their category.
Although there are many varieties of cake, the base is always Pajarero figs or Deglet Noor dates. Pajarero figs are native to Spain, growing in the dry region of Almoharín in Extremadura. They are preferred for their thin skins, soft flesh, and sweetness. The fruit ripens on the tree until they naturally fall off when they reach the ideal weight, generally at the end of August or beginning of September. The drying process starts there, as the sandy soil keeps the figs fresh. Once they are collected, they are washed, sterilized, and further dried through aeration. The Deglet Noor dates, grown in North Africa, are picked fresh and not dried or candied. They remain soft with a fabulous flavor of rich honey. All the fruit is pesticide-free and all natural, with a focus on traceability throughout the entire process. It is specially selected for its quality – a far cry from the secondhand fruit that was used back in the day.
After the fruit is collected, the next step is to assemble the cakes. It is a very labor-intensive process. Many companies now produce industrial cakes that are made by machines, and the difference between those and handmade cakes is massive. First, the fruit is destemmed, pitted (if necessary), and cut open by hand. Whole fruits are used; never a paste or pieces. Next, layers of fruit are alternated with layers of nuts/chocolate/other fruit, depending on the type of cake. It is then pressed until it’s compact. The beautiful even layers are key to our cakes and you can clearly see them when slicing. It’s an art to make a cake that looks this good and stays together. And because it’s made with just fruit and nuts, and nothing else, it tastes astoundingly good.
Over the years, we’ve added significantly to our fruit and nut cake offerings, with something for every season and palate. Choose your favorite and serve cubes of it over yogurt for breakfast, use as a sweet salad topper, or go for a gluten-free dessert. From giant 35 kg cakes to tiny 1 oz bites, we’ve got you covered. Here are our some of our selections!
Mitica® Fig Almond Cake
The original with the best of both worlds: Pajarero figs and Marcona almonds. It truly represents the finest native crops Spain has to offer. The figs are juicy and the almonds are crunchy and delicately sweet. It’s a nearly universal pairing for cheese – you can be creative or try it with your favorite, from fresh to super-aged! You can also take a note from the farmers and enjoy it as an all-natural energy bar. Vegan, Gluten-Free, and Paleo-friendly. Available in 5kg bulk, 225g retail cake, 150g wedge, or 1oz bite. Other fig cake varieties include Fig Chocolate Cake and Fig Cake Mixed Nuts.
Have you seen our new retail Fig Almond and Date Almond cakes? These mini round cakes look very snazzy now and even snazzier, they are wrapped in a new, 100% compostable and biodegradable paper made from grass and recycled material.
Mitica® Date Walnut Cake
Melt in your mouth dates pair wonderfully with crunchy, earthy walnuts. Cut up cubes of this sweet, succulent cake and top with a strong or mild blue cheese. Or dip into dark chocolate for a mid-afternoon snack. Vegan, Gluten-Free, and Paleo-friendly. 5kg bulk. Other date cake varieties include Date Coconut Cake and Date Cranberry Walnut Cake.
There are over 200 varieties of dates. Deglet Noor means “finger of light,” so named because the fruit appears to have an almost golden glow when held up to the light.