Cecina de Leon
Madrid’s Top of the Tapa Menu
Besides the famous ‘Jamon’ of the Iberico pig, Spain has been producing ‘hams’ from other animals for centuries. Especially In the North of Spain, farmers are curing the hind legs of all kinds of farm animals that were nearing their retirement age, since the beginning of time. In particular, horses, but also deer, hares and of course cattle, did not escape the butcher’s knife. The slaughter (in Spain known as La Matanza) is always taking place in November, to provide enough meat for the harsh winter ahead and because of the ideal, somewhat milder weather conditions.
The end result of cured beef is called Cecina. The name is a possible reference to the ‘Ceircina’, Old Spanish for the cool Northern Winds, in which the hind legs are hung to dry. The meat is salted first and then lightly smoked. Authentic Recipes have been known from the 4th century. The modern version is made from the best quality beef. The curing process and quality are strictly controlled by a consortium in the last 20 years. ‘Cecina de León’ is a protected name and product (IGP).
The end result looks surprisingly similar to a sirloin steak, deep red, lightly veined and marbled in the core. With a little darker exterior. It is lighter in color than its Italian counterpart Bresaola. Surprisingly enough, Cecina is dried much longer (at least 1 year) and this aging you can taste. A table companion once observed a hint of corned beef. Outside of Spain, Cecina is still quite unknown. In the Capital Madrid though, Cecina is at the top of the Tapa menu. Sliced wafer-thin, and preferably accompanied by a small glass of sherry.