WARNING: Parts of this series may challenge the sensitivity of some, so if you're particularly sensitive, or perhaps vegetarian, stop reading right now.
The pronunciation of this word is not very important (even Wikipedia admits it is often mispronounced) – unless you want to be understood . What is really important, however, is the taste. Chorizo (say it right, go on) is one of Spain’s staple foods. It comes principally from pigs, which are plentiful all over the peninsula. And it comes in a wide variety of tastes, qualities, sizes, prices and other specialty names. But beware, chorizo is also a colloquialism for what our dictionary calls 'petty thief, small-time crook, etc.' Well, the better ones are bent, after all.
The principal ingredient of a chorizo is pork meat, fat and blood. Some of the best chorizos come from the best pigs on the principle of ‘quality in = quality out'. The best pigs are fed on acorns (See article on jamón on the 'old' JimenaPulse) in the wild, though the vast majority of chorizo varieties are made from ‘farmed' pigs thus making the better varieties considerably more expensive. This part of the series concentrates on ‘home grown' chorizo and the way it is prepared at village level, as opposed to an ‘industrial' process.
in Autumn or early Winter (the traditional date is on St. Martin's Day, November
11th, hence the refrain A cada cerdo llega su San Martín, 'Every pig has
its St. Martin' said of someone who's done something wrong and thinks he/she
has got away with it) involves catching and killing the pig, which friends and
family are invited to attend. It is considered an honour to be so invited,
especially if you are a foreigner (reasonable excuses are accepted gracefully
though the chances of being invited again next year are remote).
Once hooked, with considerable difficulty and a great deal of understandable noise from the animal, it is placed on a table, usually one that is specially built and reserved for the purpose. The chief matancero (‘killer', from matanza or ‘killing') is someone with great skill with a sharp knife. A single cut to the jugular is usually enough.
The dead animal
is weighed by a romanero (from the type of scales used, called romanas,
or ‘Roman', which gives some idea of their history) while the blood is now
collected in buckets for further use. The reason for weighing lays in the fact
that even this ‘home grown' system, of great tradition and history, is subject
to veterinary supervision, though it might be said that there are exceptions.
removing the pig's hair, which is done by laying it on a bed of highly
combustible dried ferns. The claws are then removed and the skin is scraped
clean so it can be used as well. It is hard work, added to the dangers of getting
burned. It is also important, at the non-industrial level, to do this properly
and with natural products as this will enhance the ‘curing' process of the
chorizo and its derivations.
is called despiece
(from pieza or ‘piece'). This is butchering the animal into manoeuvrable
pieces, preserving, of course, the hams, feet, lomo, etc. for uses other
than making chorizos. The carcass is hung for this procedure, after
which it is usually time for lunch. Family and friends gather round the table
to enjoy each other's company and catch up on news. A full stomach will give
the strength to continue, though the lazier members might take a little
Step 4 has the work divided: the men will continue classifying each part of the pig (bacon, lard and guts, for one), while the women will wash out the latter for later stuffing and the eventual chorizos, morcilla, et al.
of the animal has a use, from its liver and lungs, which will be used for a
lesser quality morcilla, or blood sausage, to the entrails.
The choice part of
these is the bladder, which when properly washed out will later contain the
best chorizo or morcilla, according to family tradition. The
washing out is traditionally carried out in the crystalline waters of a
mountain spring, though these days it is more likely to be done at home using
tap water (Jimena's water, so full of chlorine and flowing in a variety of
browns and whites, is probably not the best for the purpose; chances are they
bring in water from the fountain in San Pablo, however).
While this is being carried out by the women, the men will have taken out the liver and tongue for veterinary inspection. This is to avoid trichinosis, which, though it doesn't affect the pig, can be deadly to humans. This is the end of the first day of la matanza, with the pig being left to cool overnight under cover and indoors, ideally with a frost (unlikely in Jimena) that will make it easier to handle in the morning and in side a stone building. This is, of course, a natural process that does not happen in an industrial setting, where the carcass is hung in a cool box.
The family will again gather round the table for another meal and refreshment, after which they will probably chop onions and pumpkins or courgettes that will go into the morcillas tomorrow. In some parts of Spain, the morcillas de arroz also contain rice, which is considered a great delicacy. In other areas, they can be stuffed with local ‘mountain' bread, though these are not deemed anywhere near as good.
The family and friends are gathered around the table, chopping up onions, garlic, pumpkins and courgettes to be used as part of the ingredients for chorizo.
Step 5 takes place the following morning, when the chorizo ingredients continue to be prepared by the women while the men carry on cutting up the carcass.
The ends of the clean intestines are tied before they are stuffed with the ingredients that have been thoroughly and expertly mixed together in large vats.
contain garlic, oregano, pimiento (red pepper) and, for the picante
(hot) variety, chilli peppers, all suitably kneaded together with some of the
meat, lard and other, often ‘secret', ingredients. It is the pimiento that
gives the chorizo its characteristic colour, not blood.
This part of
the process has traditionally been carried out by the women and children, the
men's role being reduced to turning the handle of the grinder and/or mixer.
However, the chief
matancero's job is usually to see to the salting and curing of the hams
and other large pieces.
Step 6 is when the chorizos are taken away from the main preparation table, duly tied and pricked very slightly with very fine needles, placed in rows tied conveniently together according to family tradition ...
... and hung
under cover to dry. It is the job of the matancero to look out for the
proper curing of these delicacies over the next few days, weeks or months.
The choicest chorizo is that made with the largest intestine, or rectum.
The making of the chorizo is over and in the next part of this series, we will be looking at the many varieties of chorizo as well as at its other names and forms, such as butifarra, salchichón, lomo, morcón de chorizo, etc. However, we will not be dealing with its other international appearances such as salami, pork sausages, or anything by Oscar Meyer.