Perhaps you might have seen some Sobrassada, perhaps even tried some once. But somehow, you probably have not warmed to it really, so far. Perhaps you do not know too much about it.
The origin of Sobrassada goes back a long time to the Dark Ages when the Spanish and Mallorcans in particular were either seafaring or otherwise travelling and trading with places far away. Thus, the necessity of taking food provisions on journeys of unknown length. This brought about the need to discover some means of making perishable food items last a long time. Luckily, there was plenty of salt about in the Mediterranean Sea, and there was also a fair amount of pork. By that time, the Romans had extended their range of influence all the way to what is now called Spain, but was then called Iberia, Hispania or Lusitania, depending on what exact period you are looking at. The Romans, of course, also had the need to conserve their food, whilst conquering the world. Somebody clever, be that of Roman, Hispanic or Mallorcan origin, discovered that once minced and cured, meat, with the addition of salt, would last months at a time, provided it was kept in a safe container, such as animal tripe. How very convenient.
The chemical principle that makes Sobrassada is the dehydration of meat under certain weather conditions (high humidity and mild climate) which are typical of the late Mallorcan autumn. You have to put together this Mediterranean climate, salt from the seas, the availability of pork, the arrival of the Romans, but also the arrival of Christianity, before the Sobrassada could be created for the very first time.
No, wait a minute. The Sicilians, don’t forget the Sicilians. It is known that in Sicily, a technique was in use called ‘sopressa’ which apparently means minced, which was applied for the mincing of meat for the purpose of conservation. Now, from ‘sopressa’ to Sobrassada seems a very short distance in our way of thinking, and voilà, the inspiration for our very own Sobrassada finally arrived in Mallorca, most probably via the Port of Valencia.
Every Mallorcan family would have made their very own Sobrassada for centuries, up to the Seventies. Now they do it to a much lesser extent. Families traditionally gathered in November to celebrate Matanzas, the annual slaughtering of the family pig. I will tell you about Matanzas some other time. Just this much for now: People here in Mallorca were rather poorish in the past. One had to eat what the land afforded one with. To rear a pig was relatively inexpensive as the animal would eat what fell off the trees: apricots, figs, algarrobas, even prickly pears, plus any kitchen waste.
Back to the Sobrassada. Once the meat is minced, salt is added, and, most important of all, pimiento which is a condiment produced from red peppers. This mixture gets stuffed into natural pork tripe before it is cured. During this phase, a slow transformation process sets in which leads to the fermentation of the mass, whereby moisture gets reduced in the meat. The type of Mallorcan pig, mostly of the native black type, the pimiento, the salt, fermentation and curing, all make the very special taste that is so typical of the real Sobrassada. Having said all this, it may now be time for some Palo to digest it all.
But joking apart: Try some Sobrassada, even if you do not want to embark on a long lasting journey.
You not only eat spiced cured minced meat when you do, but you also connect to the past, the culture, the tradition and the livelihood of the people of Mallorca that have handmade Sobrassada for near enough 1,000 years. You will understand so much better who these people are, that so kindly make us all feel at home here, on their beautiful island. We can show them no greater respect than accept what they eat and share it with them.
Have some Sobrassada now and then. Your Mallorcan neighbour is most likely to have given you some already. Have some pa’amb oli with it (more about that soon) and some Palo or some Hierbas Secas after it, and you will finally have arrived.