History of Spanish Chorizo

Spanish chorizo is known for its rich red colour and tangy, smoky flavour, equally delicious eaten in slices as tapas or used in cooking to give wonderful depth to a bean stew or egg dish. Chorizo in its present form has only been enjoyed in Spain for the last few centuries, as its main flavouring spice, pimentón, or smoked Spanish paprika, was introduced to Spain in the sixteenth century from the Americas by the explorers and conquistadors.

Preserving meat for the harsh winter months by means of air drying or smoking has been used as a method throughout history. Spain’s famous Serrano and Iberico hams evolved from that tradition, and sausage production went hand in hand with that of the hams. The legs of the pigs would be made into hams to be cured for several months, then the loin, belly and other cuts would be made into sausages, preserved with salt and spices and cured in the dry mountain air, the smaller ones ready to eat within a few weeks, providing essential protein to keep families nourished through the cold season.

When red peppers were first brought to Spain in the sixteenth century, it was discovered that pimentón, the spice obtained from drying and smoking them, not only flavoured the sausages beautifully, but also had preservative qualities and it was quickly adopted as an essential sausage ingredient in many of regions of Spain. Together with garlic and a touch of white wine it remains the common ingredient of all Spanish chorizos today.

The pig was an important part of the Spanish diet for centuries. Every family would have kept their own, feeding it on peelings and food scraps and allowing it to forage for itself. Come the montanera, the autumn winter season, pigs would be fattened on the best acorns and grazing available, until the time of the matanza. The matanza was when families or villages would gather together, the pigs would be slaughtered and everyone would work together to turn the meat into hams, sausages and other pork products as quickly as possible. Even today, in many parts of Spain, the matanza is a festive though hard-working occasion when families gather together to make their own supply of chorizo, salchichon and morcilla (black pudding) to last them through the winter.