Of course we are constantly trying new sardines and actually still eat them voluntarily and with pleasure for our private pleasure. However, it has been a good two years since our last really big sardine sample . It was therefore a particular pleasure when Jörn Gutowski from Try Foods contacted us and asked if we were interested in tasting together. You don't have to ask us twice about that... of course we wanted to! In addition, it is always good to refresh your knowledge from time to time, to put your taste buds to the test and to re-evaluate what you have saved. Individual preferences may have changed and vintage sardines are more mature... a lot can change in two years!
The location for the tasting was also quickly found, because where better to try sardines than in thesardine bar ?!
The day's tasting program followed a similar logic to our sardine seminars and so we started comparing countries.
Country comparison: Spain, Portugal, France
Here we tasted sardines from Portugal, Spain and Brittany one after the other - each only in pure olive oil - and compared them with each other.
The Spanish sardines from Ramon Peña are the smallest in our range with a length of only approx. 7 centimetres. This means that they are of course lower in fat and also tasteless than the larger ones - because fat is known to be a flavor carrier. If you prefer fish with a more delicate taste and a light salt note, you will get your money's worth here. On the other hand, if you like it a little more aromatic, you will be happier with the Portuguese or Breton sardines.
The Portuguese sardines from Pinhais are the largest in the country comparison and that's why there are only three pieces per can. They are also the most rustic. For example, you can still find a scale here and there. However, the fish tastes delicious.
With the Spaniards and the Portuguese, the fish is clearly in the foreground, while the oil plays a rather minor role. The Spaniards are refined, very light olive oil with little taste, which is used solely for preservation. At home you can just throw it away and drizzle good quality extra virgin olive oil over the fish. This upgrades it and tastes a lot better. The oil used in Pinhais preserves comes from their own olive grove in Trás-os-Montes. It is of very good quality, but a little paler and less intensely fruity than the olive oil that we appreciate so much about the Breton ones.
The Breton sardines are the most refined in a country comparison and the oil is beautifully fruity and present and is just as much in focus as the fish itself Poured fish and in which we also dipped our baguette afterwards. A really special taste experience! In this tasting, the Breton sardines were represented by the Sardines Saint Georges from La Belle-Iloise . One of our absolute classics.
Sardines 2016, Brittany
For the Breton sardines, we compared the "normal" 2016 sardines from the Conservatories La Belle-Iloise , La Compagnie bretonne du poisson and La Quiberonnaise .
"Our" sardines are all vintage sardines in the sense that they are always canned freshly caught. And even if the year is not on the front of the can, the fishing season can be easily determined by looking at the stamp on the back of the can.
The sardines from La Belle Iloise ( Sardines Saint-Georges , already known from the first round) and La Quiberonnaise are really flawless and very tasty, but you can tell that they are not quite as fine and of the same outstanding top quality as them vintage sardines. So it's really true what the conserveries say: from the respective catch, only those sardines that have the perfect fat content and the right caliber go into the can as vintage sardines. Good to know that's actually true.
On the other hand, the sardines in olive oil from La compagnie bretonne du poisson, which come in a rather unadorned packaging, left a lasting impression on us all: they were by far the best in this category and came very close to the perfection of a vintage sardine. So we learn that you should not be dazzled or put off by the packaging :) They taste umami and somehow warm, complex, fruity-fresh and have a pleasant salty note.
Year comparison 2011 and 2016
We then compared the 2016 vintage from La Perle des Dieux and a 2016 can from Les Mouettes d'Arvor with the 2011 vintage from La Point de Penmarch' . Personally, I liked the young vintage a little better, but apart from that, it was just really interesting how much the contents of the can changed over time. With the 2011 vintage, fish and oil had already entered into a kind of union and had come together to create something new. The fish had absorbed the flavors of the oil and lost some of its ostensibly “fishy” taste. The consistency was creamy and the fish was very easy to mash on the palate. The young vintage was much firmer and of course drier.
After this full program we actually had (almost) enough, but then – as so often – we got fever. We were very keen to present Maria and Jörn with two more specialties that stand out from the crowd due to their special way of preparation: the sardines from Jean de Luz from the Basque country and sardines in butter .
The Basque sardines are the biggest we have. They are about 12 centimeters long and almost as big as the fresh sardines that are used for grilling. Since they don't fit in a jar, they are placed in a glass. Unlike other French sardines, they are not fried before pickling, but salted and dried. This gives them an incomparable aroma that is reminiscent of cured meat. The olive oil in the glass is a deep sunflower yellow and has a very intense buttery, almost nutty aroma. My conclusion: to clean!
The sardines in keg butter with pepper are a relatively new variety from La Perle des Dieux. Putting it in butter is an old tradition that dates back to the time before olive oil began its triumphal march around the world. These sardines are meant to be eaten warm. You can warm them up in a water bath and then eat them like this - which we did - or carefully fry them briefly on both sides in a pan. The five different types of pepper give the recipe fine-floral-piquant notes and the heat intensifies all the aromas, including those of the sardines, of course. This is really something for connoisseurs.
Summary of the day:
There is something for everyone in this colorful range: the small Spanish sardines are perfect for tapas fans, while the large ones from Jean de Luz are for connoisseurs. If you like it more elegant, you should stick to Breton sardines, if you prefer the rustic, you will find what you are looking for with the Portuguese sardines. Everything tastes at least three times as good warm and if you want the finest product of all, you should stick to the vintage sardine. As far as the vintage is concerned, individual preference decides. So, get to the tasting plates!
All tasted sardines at a glance:
- Small sardines in olive oil, Ramon Peña
- Sardines in olive oil, pinhais
- Sardines Saint Georges, La Belle Iloise
- Sardines in olive oil, La Quiberonnaise
- Sardines in olive oil, La compagnie bretonne du poisson
- Vintage sardines 2016, La Perle des Dieux
- Vintage sardines 2016 "Ville bleue", Les Mouettes d'Arvor
- Vintage sardines 2011, La Pointe de Penmarch'
- Sardines in olive oil, Jean de Luz
- Sardines in butter with pepper, La Perle des Dieux
And for the Try Foods article, including a very nice video, click here .