Cured pork loin, a traditional cold meat from Spain. Juan Manuel Sanz/©ICEX
The pig is of almost symbolic importance in Spain and pork features throughout Spanish gastronomy. In medieval Spain, people openly ate pork to indicate their Christian heritage, thus setting themselves apart from Muslims and Jews. There is not a single Spanish region that does not have a tradition of the annual matanza, or pig slaughtering. Families in rural areas used to raise a pig every year then butcher it, making maximum use of the meat and thus filling the larder for the rest of the year. A large proportion of the resulting pork was air-cured, resulting in the most representative and characteristic of the Spanish pork products - chorizo, lomo (loin sausage), salchichón, fuet, longaniza, sobrasada, etc.
The chorizo is the most emblematic and varied of the Spanish pork products. Every region and province in Spain has its own characteristic chorizo, except for the Mediterranean area which has other specialties. Texts mentioning sausages survive from the 16th century, before pimentón (a type of Spanish paprika), which was to become the most characteristic ingredient, was widely produced in Spain. Peppers were introduced in Spain by Christopher Columbus after his first voyage to the Americas, in 1493, and we know that production took place in the Yuste Monastery (Extremadura) as from the 16th century. Today chorizos are made on both small and industrial scales. The shape varies from the traditional horseshoe to the string of small chorizos divided up by a knotted string and candle-shaped chorizos of different sizes. The meat used to fill them is minced to different sizes depending on the type of chorizo, and the condiments used vary, with the most common being pimentón, garlic, salt and spices or herbs such as oregano, thyme, nutmeg, clove, etc. Most chorizos can be eaten either raw or cooked.
A high-quality product that is much appreciated in Spain is loin of pork, trimmed, seasoned and cured. Salchichón is also made in almost all parts of Spain with the usual condiments of garlic and pepper. Fuet is like a thin salchichón but containing pepper instead of garlic. Both are usually enclosed in natural tripe which generates its own whitish mould. Longaniza is considered the predecessor of most Spanish pork products and varies from region to region. In addition to the lean meat and fat used, some specialties include unusual flavorings such as aniseed, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, etc.
In addition to the above, many other tasty pork products are made in different regions of Spain. A well-known example is sobrasada (a lightly-cured, soft pork paste colored red by pimentón and enclosed in an irregular natural casing). Also chistorra, a very lightly-cured pork sausage eaten fried or stewed and enclosed in a very thin natural casing in a horseshoe shape.