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Home-made minorquian sobrassada
Women sewing sobrassada during the festival of the slaughter of pigs, Son Ferriol, Majorca

Sobrassada is a raw, cured sausage from the Balearic Islands made with ground pork, paprika and salt and other spices. Sobrassada, along with botifarró are traditional Majorcan sausage meat products prepared in the laborious but festive rites that still mark the autumn and winter pig slaughter in Majorca. The chemical principle that makes sobrassada is the dehydration of meat under certain weather conditions (high humidity and mild cold) which are typical of the late Majorcan autumn.


Ingredients and varieties

Sobrassada is made with a choice of pork loin, pork bacon (xuia), minced and mixed with paprika, salt and (in modern times) black pepper. Some makers also add cayenne pepper to the mixture and market it as picant, hot. Then the mixture is put into a pork intestine, and hung from a pole for some weeks until it is cured. The string which is tied around the intestine can be used to differentiate between the hot and dolç (literally "sweet", though in this case meaning "not spicy") varieties, the red or red and white string being the hot one.

Small, thin sobrassadas are called llonganissa, and are made from the small intestine. Bigger and thicker ones are called cular or pultrums, and the largest type are huge pork bladders called bufetes.

Sobrassada outside the Balearic islands

Four geographical areas in the Mediterranean, apart from the Balearic islands, have close links to sobrassada for different reasons:

1.- In colonial Algeria, sobrassada was part of the pied-noir cuisine and extremely popular. The French version was named soubressade. Upon the independence and re-islamisation of the country this pork product became less and less important and can today only be found in continental France in butcher shops run by pied-noirs.

2.- In Catalonia, due to cultural links with the Balearic islands, sobrassada is sometimes found together with other autochthonous pork products. The eastern Pyrenees are known for a mountain version of sobrassada.

3.- The village of Tàrbena, in the province of Alicante, was re-populated after the expulsion of the Moriscos with colonists from Majorca who brought along several traditions from the island, including their own variant of the Catalan language and foods such as the sobrassada, which is still being made there in the same way.

4.- In the island of Sicily, either a predecessor or a contemporary product is found under the name sopressada at least since the 15th century. There is debate over exactly where the product originated.

Botifarró and other Majorcan sausages

Botifarró is a pork intestine filled with coarsely groung pork cuts, including liver, and spiced with salt, pepper and aniseed, which gives this sausage its peculiar flavor. Then the sausages are boiled, and they are consumed fresh. Botifarró is typical in Majorca but very similar varieties can be found in the Tarragona, Castellón, Valencia and Alicante provinces.

Short history of sobrassada and Mallorquin penchant for pork

Other pork products typical from the cuisine of Mallorca are camaïot, veria negra and xuia (pancetta).

After centuries of Muslim (non-pork) culture, Mallorca quickly returned to pork consumption in the Middle Age, with the key ingredient paprika added after the discovery of America in the 15th century. Sobrassada is thought to have originated and expanded, as a culinary concept, in the Catalan-controlled Western Mediterranean (Sicily, Balearic Islands, Sardinia) after the 14th century, as different forms of the same product persist in this region still today.

In a traditional Mediterranean diet, containing little meat, as Mallorca had until the 1950s, sobrassada and its affiliated pork sausages were usually the main and exclusive pork meat source for Mallorquins. Larger meat cuts like pork or lamb roasts, pork steaks or beef cuts were largely a festive dish, or restricted to the well-off. Even today dishes such as porcella rostida, a whole roasted suckling pig, are only served on special occasions.

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