Food & Beverage

Apr 1, 2016

A Taste of Centuries

If you have never heard about Cecina de León, it is just about time everyone did. It is a smoked and dried beef meat, with the outside of a toasted brownish dark maroon colour. Inside, it is coloured in cherry maroon, increasing in the borders as it matures, with some light marbling and a juicy, slightly salted flavour, and a non-fibrous consistency. A treat that is so mouth-watering it makes you a glutton just by looking at it.

And, to add to its prestige, it is produced only and exclusively in the geographic delimitation that comprises the province of León, thus its name, Cecina de León. Located in the Peninsular Northeast of Spain, Léon has a continental Mediterranean climate, typically dry and clear, characterized by very cold winters and long periods of frost. The high altitude gives the area exceptional qualities for the elaboration of cecina, which requires a slow desiccation and a curing in the wind.

Cecina is a delicacy with great tradition, and there are endless written references from a very early stage, as early as the IV century b.C., in the Agricultural Treaty by Lucio Julio Moderato Columela, where there is a description of the manufacturing and processing of "cecina". In the XVI century, there is also a reference to the cecina dried beef, in "El Lazarillo de Tormes", a picaresque novel. Cecina was also present, among other salty meats, in the list of supplies taken aboard the caravel Santa María, for the discovery of America.

In order to manufacture this product, it is used the hind leg of beef cattle that is at least five years old and a minimum live weight of 400 kg, preferably from local breeds, grazing in the Autonomy of the Community of Castille and León. The leg is cut in portions to be entirely used. In the end of the manufacturing process, which lasts seven months, each piece's weight is regulated. The pieces are the Tapa (centre leg) weighing around 4 Kg, the Contra (round), with around 5 Kg, the Babilla (stifle), around 3,5 Kg, and the Cadera (sirloin), with 3 Kg.

The manufacturing process of Cecina de León comprises different stages: shaping, when the cuts are given the correct shape; salting, the covering of the cuts with coarse grain sea salt, helping the dehydration, the development of the aroma and perfect preservation; washing of the cuts, with lukewarm or tepid drinking water in order to eliminate all excess salt; resting, which usually takes from 30 to 45 days, to eliminate excess water and make the salt penetrate equally, helping to develop the characteristic micro flora; smoking, using only oak and holm oak wood, lasting between 12 and 16 days; and finally, drying and curing, which takes place in natural drying places with open regulating windows to control the temperature (around 11ºC) and the humidity (75-80%), until maturation is complete.

When a fresh piece arrives to the factory, if it meets all requirements from the Ruling Council, a numbered red label is placed, together with the Protected Geographic Indication (P.G.I.), so that every piece is individually identified and controlled at all times.

After the minimum seven months that the whole manufacturing process lasts, the numbered certification and guarantee label is placed, if it is approved in all the organoleptic and physical-chemical controls carried out by the Regulating Council. This label guarantees the quality of that piece, and if it is put in the market in portions or vacuum-packed slices, the quality label will be visible on the packing, altogether with a reference which will allow anybody to know the original piece from which those portions or slices come from.

With such restricted production requirements and a very characteristic production, this is a truly exclusive product. It can be as a snack, an ingredient or even as a starter course. Its deliciousness is unique, and it will give the table a different touch. From a place with millenary history and secular traditions, to taste Cecina de León is to taste history, and all the generations that refined the technique. It is to taste a little bit of España.

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