Calasparra is a small town located in the Murcia region of the Northwest, mountainous territory in which the Segura River and its tributaries have been modeling a landscape that presents from deep canyons surrounded by forest, to fertile plains of huerta. In fact. The name of Calasparra has crossed borders by the famous rice produced in the area (denominación de origen), by the special enclave of the temple dedicated to their Patron Saint. The Virgen de la Esperanza to be revered since antiquity in a natural cave carved by del Segura, 5 km away from the urban core, are currently one of the most visited Marian shrines in the country.
Every year the very best rice in Spain is cultivated in the village of Calasparra. The producers grow two historic varieties – Sollana (called Calasparra rice), and the coveted Bomba, which was nearly extinct until gourmet chefs recently recognized its superior qualities for producing the perfect paella.
Both types of rice are cultivated by hand in rice paddies along the banks of the Segura River. With little more than 1,700 acres a year, Calasparra produces just one half of 1% of Spain's rice production. The townspeople protect its quality by working to rigorous Denominacion de Origen standards. Their Bomba and Sollana rice are the only ones in Spain awarded this distinction.
Unique to the cultivation of Calasparra rice is an irrigation system employing ancient aqueducts built by the Romans and maintained by the Moors. Bubbling river water flows in channels from one family plot to the next before continuing down the mountain. At 1300 feet above sea level, the constant flow of cold fresh mountain water means that the rice matures much more slowly than it would in the still flats along the Valencian shore. It produces a harder grain, which carries less moisture, thereby absorbing one third more broth while retaining its integrity.
Another distinction that enriches the nutritional value of Calasparra rice is that the farmers alternate the rice crops with other grains, or just let the fields lie fallow for a season. When it is time to plant rice, the land is ploughed in early spring. In the first few days of May the fields are flooded and men, stand shoulder to shoulder to scatter the seed by hand. When the young shoots appear in two to three weeks, they are thinned. For the rest of the summer the farmers have to weed the field by hand in ankle-deep water.
At the end of September when the green of the grass becomes golden with the mature grain, the fields are drained and the rice harvested. After being prepared for market, both the Bomba and the Sollana are hand packed. About six women in blue uniforms and hairnets sew shut the individual white cloth sacks.
From beginning to end, Calasparra rice is tended caringly by the villagers. The result is the finest, most authentic rice for your paella.