Spanish fresh meat. Chicken, lamb, pork and veal. © Icex
For the Romans, who laid the foundations for Spanish gastronomy, meat was the prime element in ritual sacrifices. Large sheep, cows and pigs were slaughtered in public ceremonies while smaller, younger animals such as lambs, kids and chickens were slaughtered for domestic consumption. Meat was considered a luxury, available only for special celebrations and banquets.
In the Middle Ages and as a result of Germanic influences, meat came to symbolize strength and power. Large hunting trophies were the most highly-esteemed food for nobles and warriors. The way in which meat was prepared marked social differences, with the lower social strata consuming boiled meat, and the nobility and warriors preferring it roast or grilled.
Today, meat as a food no longer has any special significance. Francisco Grande Covián (1908-1995), one of Spain’s most renowned nutritionists, stated that meat is not an essential ingredient in the human diet but that its nutritional properties and flavor have made it a feature of the diet of western countries.
Spanish Native Cattle Breeds
In Spain, all types of cattle and poultry are reared, especially chicken, reflecting the country's great geographic and climatic diversity. In general, Spain is a dry country and, although there are green pasturelands in the north, much of the livestock that supplies the Spanish meat industry is reared intensively on cereals.
There are, however, still a large number of native breeds that are reared in the traditional way in harmony with their natural environment. The European systems for protecting quality, especially the Protected Geographical Indications (PGI), have helped preserve their identity, allowing consumers to enjoy genuine flavors with clear identification and official protection.
This is the case of various beef cattle breeds from the damp, mountainous regions in the north such as the Rubia Gallega (PGI Ternera Gallega, Asturiana de los Valles (PGI Ternera Asturiana), Tudanca (PGI Carne de Cantabria), Pirenaica (PGI Carne de Vacuno del País Vasco and PGI Ternera de Navarra); also the Morucha (PGI Carne de Morucha de Salamanca), Retinta (PGI Carne de Extremadura) and Avileña Negra Ibérica (PGI Carne de Ávila) and PGI Carne de la Sierra de Guadarrama, from the drier parts of central and southern Spain where the climate is more extreme.
Amongst the sheep breeds that are well-adapted to the steep, dry lands that exist in many parts of Spain are the Merino sheep, famous for the outstanding quality of their wool and now especially appreciated for their tender, lean, pink meat. In Aragon, various breeds are farmed - Rasa Aragonesa, Ojinegra de Teruel and Roya Bilbilitana, which serve as the basis for production under the PGI Ternasco de Aragón. In this region, lamb is generally known by the local term ternasco, rather than the usual cordero. The breed usually found on the plains of Castile-La Mancha is the robust Manchego (PGI Cordero Manchego) which is reared for its meat but above all for the production of the most popular of Spanish cheeses, Manchego. In Castile-León, the Churro, Castellano and Ojalado sheep are the raison d'être for the PGI Lechazo de Castilla y León, lechazo being a local term for milk-fed lamb. And in Navarra we can taste its delicious lamb meat from IGP Cordero de Navarra.
Ibérico pig, internationally recognized as the raw material for the famous Ibérico hams and cured pork products, is also excellent as fresh meat.
As regards poultry, many different types are farmed - including turkey, quails and even ostrich - but the main type is the classic chicken. They are mostly fed cereal, which results in bigger birds with excellent meat. Alongside the large population of hybrids, there are still some native varieties of great interest, such as Prat in the Baix Llobregat district in Barcelona (Catalonia), which gives rise to the PGI Pollo y Capón del Prat. This breed can be distinguished by the bluish color of its legs, its pearly skin, elongated breast and sweetish meat.
Game in Spain
Today hunting is just a sport, but it is still practised, under strict rules and regulations, in many parts of Spain where it amounts to a tourist attraction, one that includes the gastronomic aspects. It is fair to say that today Spain is Europe's main hunting reserve.
The main small game bird species are red-legged partridge and turtle dove. The wood pigeon is also hunted in the north and south of Spain. Quails are plentiful during the months of August and September and pheasants, of which there are not so many, are popular because greater skill is required for hunting them. Rabbit and hare are also popular with hunters, the latter being found especially on the plains of Castile-La Mancha.
Large game is mostly hunted on steep mountain slopes and the most usual trophies are deer, roe deer and wild boar. The latter are considered especially noble, intelligent and fierce animals.
- Carne de Avila PGI
- Carne de Cantabria PGI
- Carne de la Sierra de Guadarrama PGI
- Carne de Morucha de Salamanca PGI
- Carne de vacuno del País Vasco PGI
- Ternera Asturiana PGI
- Ternera de Extremadura PGI
- Ternera de Navarra PGI
- Ternera Gallega PGI
- Baby lamb from the Basque Country
- Cordero de Extremadura PGI
- Cordero de Navarra o Nafarroako Arkumea PGI
- Cordero Manchego PGI
- Lechazo de Castilla y León PGI
- Ternasco de Aragón PGI
- Ibérico pork meat
- Suckling pig
- Farm-reared chicken from the Basque Country
- Pollo y Capón del Prat PGI
- Vilalba capon
4th Pork, 21th Beef and Veal, 24th Ovine and Goat, 14th Chicken. (Source: FAO)
23.34% (Source: Datacomex)
5,000 elaboration industries in the sector, 700 slaughterhouses, 2,400 quartering sites
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