You Can Get Cecina, Spain's Excellent Cured Beef, in the U.S. for the First Time
Spain has made many important contributions to the culinary world: tapas, paella and, of course, jamón,—Spain’s incredible take on ham. While jamón ibérico and serrano have both taken America by storm over the past 20 years, there is another form of Spanish charcuterie, cecina, that has yet to receive the same attention. That is, until now.
For the first time ever, cecina, tender, smoky, deeply red, cured beef, is now available to American consumers. Cecina has long been absent from the U.S. due to the trade war over beef between Europe and America that has stopped the import of cecina to this country. So, since they couldn't bring it in from Spain, La Tienda, the largest online retailer of Spanish foods in the U.S., decided to make its own in New Jersey. “After finding Warren Pala’s gourmet meat company Braaitime, we started developing our cecina in April of 2016,” says Harris. “After about seven rounds of samples with different cuts of beef and quantities of salt, we really felt like we nailed it and it tasted super similar to what I’d tasted in Spain previously.”
While cecina isn’t as well known as it’s porky cousin, it has been a staple of northern Spain, where cows far outnumbered pigs, for a long time. However, it was only recently that the Spanish government began regulating cecina production and which meats are used for it. “Traditionally cecina was made with any cut of meat that was available, including donkey, horse or even rabbit,” says Harris. “Until the last 20 years, there wasn’t a lot of quality regulation. Now, however, the Spanish are producing some amazing cecinas and our aim is to meet that same level of quality.”
La Tienda’s cecina is made from the eye of round, which cure master Warren Pala chose because its fat-to-protein ratio allows the meat to cure while still being tender and flavorful without being overly fatty. Harris adds that the eye of round cut is fairly uniform and can cure rather quickly.
Additionally, the regulated cecina produced in Spain is required to come from cattle that are at least five years old, which is illegal in the U.S. due to threat of mad cow disease, and the cecina is often aged for 18 months or more. La Tienda uses much younger cattle (humanely raised) and cures their beef for just one month using only salt and Oakwood smoke. While La Tienda takes a slightly different approach to making cecina, the final product is absolutely delicious and pairs very nicely with a slice of manchego and a glass of tempranillo.