CuliTemp Corner: The History of Chorizo
"Sausages have fed both peasants and kings, they have travelled with sailors to all the corners of the globe, and they can integrate new foods and flavours with ease."
Comfort, versatility, indulgence, all encased in a single grand item; really, this can only be describing one thing: sausages. From the luxurious duck sausages of a Michelin-starred restaurant to the humble bratwurst, sausages have a versatility that many other foods cannot match. Sausages have fed both peasants and kings, they have travelled with sailors to all the corners of the globe, and they can integrate new foods and flavours with ease. Perhaps one of the most robust and sharply flavoured of the sausages is the chorizo, and its history is somewhat elaborate.
Chorizo (Spanish) or chouriço (Portuguese) is a term originating in the Iberian Peninsula encompassing several types of pork sausages. Traditionally, chorizo is made using pork mince and other spices, predominantly paprika, and is encased in natural casings made from intestines, a method used since Roman times. Chorizo can be a fresh sausage, in which case it must be cooked before eating. Chorizo gets its distinctive smokiness and deep red colour from dried smoked red peppers (pimentón/pimentão). In Europe, it is more frequently a fermented, cured, smoked sausage, in which case it can be thinly sliced and eaten as tapas, fried, put into soups or stews or simmered in apple cider or a similar strong alcohol. Given this amazing versatility, it is no surprise that about 65,000 tonnes is made in Spain every year, making up about 40% of Spain’s entire sausage production. Spanish chorizo yearly output weighs more than 406 Boeing 747s!
Generally speaking, the origins of traditional sausages can be hard to trace, largely because humans have been preserving meat for so many years that the stories have been lost. It seems as though the history of chorizo begins with the "morcilla", blood sausage. The earliest reference we have of a sausage is in the Odyssey, the 9th century BC, Homermakes mention of the gut filled with blood and fat that can be roasted in fire. In Greece and Rome, there were different sausages, which can be seen in literary works from this time. Some literary works of classical Greece is named the ham, bacon and sausages; for instance, in a comedy of Aristophanes, where the main character appeared with a jar full of sausages. In the Calendar Romanesque San Isidoro (12th century) is reflected in the month of November (month of the killing or Sanmartino), the painted figure of a man holding a pig that will be sacrificed. In Roman times, some sausages were called "botulus" or "botellos" (by the way), which are now calledbotillos, typical from Galicia, Asturias and Leon. The Romans had little liking for sausages. We know that they had many variants of sausages and the botulus was a kind of sausage that was sold on the streets.
Some 1,200 years later in the aftermath of the Black Plague, sausages started increasing in popularity throughout Europe largely because the civilisation at the time learnt that smoking sausages prolonged their shelf life. The global population began to increase and communities turned to agriculture to produce the majority of their food. As a result, they required food products that would last longer and stretch farther than fresh meat, which iswhen sausage really stepped up to the plate; excuse the pun. As Europeans began to travel the world and came across new cultures, they changed their sausages to include the foreign foods and flavours they were introduced to. Chorizo itself probably originated from the xoriço in Catalonia (where there are 17 officially recognised varieties of chorizo). Chorizo’s distinctive flavour and colour comes from the addition of copious amounts of paprika, which in turn is made from peppers, sometimes called capsicum or bell peppers. These xoriço peppers are endemic to Central and South America
In the 15th century, cattle were bred outside cities and parts were sold to butchers when killed. However, it was different case with the pigs. Pigs grew up in the villages, were killed in the streets and the families prepared the chorizo. This custom is something that still exists in some villages. When the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 16th century, they brought pigs and eventually chorizo became emblematic of Mexican foods as well. The Spanish version of Chorizo is different from Mexico’s primarily due to Spain’s much longer aging process. Spanish Chorizo is more like salami; harder and smokier, while the Mexican sausage that is generally enjoyed is akin to a fresh Italian sausage; juicier and spicier.
The chorizo was the first of the Spanish sausages to be defined by the Royal Academy of Language in the Dictionary of Authorities, 1726 as "short piece of gut, filled with meat, regularly pork, chopped and seasoned, usually cured by the smoke." In that time, paprika spice was not very common in the Spanish charcuterie. The two Spanish varieties of paprika, known in Spain as "pimentón" come from the Comarca de La Vera in Cáceres province and a variety from Murcia region, both of which were introduced from the Americas, where they originate by local monks in the 1500s. The 19th century saw a significant peak in development of meat products, which is closely linked to the progress of industrialization; and this gave greater freedom to the trade and movement of goods.
Chorizo has come a long way since its introduction in ancient civilisation, and now all sorts of people around the world can enjoy chorizo sausage in their cooking. Chorizo is such a popular example of Spanish cuisine; it is only natural that it would have its own festival. Despite chorizo’s likely place of origin, the small town of Vila de Cruces in Galicia, Spain, actually hosts the most famous chorizo festival. Known as the Exaltation of the Sausage, the festival is held every February. Chorizo makers bring their wares, and festivalgoers can have their fill of free sausage, then buy plenty to take back home.
For a delicious, one-pot wonder and winter warmer chorizo recipe (Chorizo and Cannellini Bean Ragù), made by our very own President and chef Daniel Frutiger, please click here.
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