Production of Spanish Chorizo

Smoky, earthy, sweet with a gentle tang, Spanish chorizo has been a staple of Spanish cuisine for centuries. Until the last century each family would produce their own chorizo each winter from the family pig and there are hundreds of regional variations, but they all have in common their basic ingredients of chopped pork, salt, the smoked Spanish paprika, pimentón, garlic and white wine.

Traditionally, once the hams had been salted, the rest of the pork was chopped together, with a 70/30 proportion of lean to fat meat, then fermented with the spices for one to two days, to allow the good bacteria naturally present in the meat to develop and prevent spoilage bacteria from affecting the chorizo. The meat was stuffed into natural casings made from the intestine of the pig, before being tied into lengths and hung in the drying room. Here the cool, dry outside air could circulate through gaps in the tiles and windows, gradually drawing out excess moisture from the sausages. The climate of the mountainous Spanish interior in winter was perfect for this process and to this day the best hams and chorizos are produced in these mountain regions.

In the damper climate of Northern Spain a fire was lit in the drying room to smoke the chorizo as it dried, helping to preserve the meat and imparting an even smokier flavour to the chorizo.

Nowadays industrial production is able to replicate the conditions of these mountain drying rooms, with constant temperatures and controlled humidity, so that chorizo and hams can be produced year-round in optimum conditions, but many of the best chorizo are still produced using the age-old artisan methods and hung in the traditional drying rooms in the mountain air to cure.

The length of time that the chorizo is cured for depends on the size of the sausages and whether they are intended for cooking with or eating sliced for tapas. Small, soft chorizo for cooking will only need to be cured for about a week, while larger thicker chorizo, can take a couple of months to dry out enough to be sliced. All chorizos, once dried and ripened, are very stable and as long as they are correctly stored should last out the winter, to be enjoyed a little at a time, as they have done for centuries in Spanish homes.