Spain's love affair with fusion food is taking on a new dimension thanks to the imagination and daring of some of the country's oldest producers of that most traditional fare: sausages and cured meats.
Among the stand-out attractions in Madrid last week at the annual 25th Salón de Gourmets, the main event in the Spanish premium food sector's calendar, was a range of products blending chocolate with such perennials as morcilla (blood sausage, typically filled with rice, pine kernels, apple or onion) and cecina (dry cured beef).
Castilla y León, the northern region where family firm Embutidos Cardeña has been satisfying local palates with this traditional black sausage since 1925, rightly considers itself the home of the morcilla. But the company isn't resting on its laurels, and in conjunction with Isabel Álvarez, who runs prize-winning restaurant La Fábula in the Castilian capital of Burgos, it has come up with morcilla nachos. Gluten-free, these slivers of black sausage covered with a crispy rice coating aim, in the words of the company, "to satisfy both traditional and progressive palates." Among its other innovations is a pâté made from Ibérico ham, and for the really adventurous, a new twist on surf and turf in the form of a morcilla-stuffed squid, created by Saúl Gómez Carrillo of Burgos restaurant Blue Gallery.
Not to be outdone, Burgos morcilla maker Ríos has come up with its own range of gluten-free snacks, nibbles, and starters. "Chococecina" looks like an ordinary bar of dark chocolate until you bite into it to discover wafer-thin shavings of cecina. The concept is the fruit of a collaboration between two long-standing companies from the Astorga area of northern León: Confiterías El Arriero Maragato and Cecinas Pablo. The first bite is dominated by the bitterness of the dark chocolate, which softens to something a little sweeter, and culminates in a hint of cecina. "The cecina lingers in the aftertaste," says José Arévalo, who runs El Arriero Maragato, adding: "We wanted to innovate based on traditional flavors."
Over at the Catalonia stand, Embotits Salgot is another family firm with a long tradition of producing quality charcuterie. Dating back to 1928, its output has always been based on using the finest natural ingredients. Its pigs are hormone and antibiotic free, and fed barley, wheat, beans and olive oil. Based in the small town of Aiguafreda in the Montseny national park, close to the French border, the company has set up an organic farm to research and develop new, all-natural products for the growing national and international markets.
Family firm Melsa has been producing longaniza, a dry cured sausage similar to the French saucisson, since 1860 in the Huesca foothills of the Pyrenees. Like its competitors, it has decided to expand its range of products to reach a wider audience by making snacks and starters. Among its innovations are mini-sausages that can be cooked in the microwave and have been spiced up with truffles, aromatic herbs and different wild mushrooms.
The Salón de Gourmets attracts around 70,000 visitors each year, bringing together producers and consumers of high-end food products. It awards a range of prizes for best restaurant, hotel, chef, wine cellar and so on.