Everyone knows about Spanish jamón. The most famous of all Spanish foodstuffs is ubiquitous and best-loved all over the country. Except in the northwest, where people prefer cecina. Think of it as a beef jamón. It is made following the same techniques as jamón – salt curing and air drying. However, for cecina, beef is used, and an additional step of smoking takes place between the salt curing and air drying. Of course it does, right? Asturians love smoking meat!
While more commonly associated with the province of León to the south, Asturias is also prime cecina country. While no protected status exists in Asturias, it is definitely produced here. Some of the nicest, most artful cecinas are to be found in village markets all over Asturias.
Drying meat in the wind is probably the oldest way of preserving it. For at least 10,000 years humans have been doing so, and refining their techniques.1Wilson, C. Anne. “Preserving Food to Preserve Life: The Response to Glut and Famine from Early Times to the End of the Middle Ages.” Waste Not, Want Not: Food Preservation from Early Times to the Present Day, Edinburgh University Press, 1991, pp. 6. That makes cecina one of the oldest foods known.
In León, there are two different quality marks for cecina. There is an IGP for beef and a separate quality mark for goat from the village of Vegacervera. This village, and its goat cecina is famous throughout Spain. In Asturias there are several small producers and a single large producer/retailer (Crivencar).
In many parts of Spain, cecina is eaten primarily on its own, perhaps drizzled with a little bit of olive oil. It is also very popular in both León and Asturias as an ingredient in winter soups and stews. In that case, it is usually re-hydrated first and then cubed and added to the soup.
I enjoy adding it to all sorts of things, and have made a habit of making pizza with it. Paired with some blue cheese, it makes a very Asturian version of the world’s favorite food.
You can find many mail order companies that ship to all of the EU, so European visitors wanting to try this delicacy will have no problems. Unfortunately, like many European cured meats, it is not possible to import cecina into the United States. You will have to eat your fill on your next trip to Asturias.
- 1Wilson, C. Anne. “Preserving Food to Preserve Life: The Response to Glut and Famine from Early Times to the End of the Middle Ages.” Waste Not, Want Not: Food Preservation from Early Times to the Present Day, Edinburgh University Press, 1991, pp. 6.