- The chorizo covered by this protected geographical indication is characterised by its shape — string or horseshoe — which is more or less cylindrical, 30 to 40 mm in diameter, weighing at least 200 g and of a firm and compact consistency, generally of a wrinkled aspect, short, smooth and well bound, with no unusual colouration and in which meat and fat are clearly differentiated.
- Balanced and intense aroma which is lingering, mostly of pepper, together with garlic notes; no rancid or bitter smells. The flavour is intense, lingering and balanced between the lean and the fat; not very acid, spicy where pepper is used, and no rancid or unusual flavours. Its texture is balanced, it holds together well, is easy to chew and is not too gummy.
Meat and fat which stand out for their suitability for the pork industry, lean cuts from female or neutered male pigs, trimmed of nerves, and rind-free pancetta or salt pork, seasoned with fine dry salt, 100 % category ‘extra’ pepper and raw fresh peeled garlic, all of which is then stuffed into natural pig intestine casings.
The added salt pork must be consistent, in other words, sections of soft buttery abdominal fat which would become viscous on being minced and exude fat when the sausage is being matured and cured are unsuitable. However, the amount added must not be too great — it must never exceed 57 % of the dry matter — and this is one of the clues to the difference between ‘ chorizo riojano’ and the others, which undergo a sharp change in their pH, making them more difficult to mature properly and, subsequently, preserve.
Specific steps in production that must take place in the defined geographical area
- The meat factories which manufacture ‘Chorizo Riojano’ must be capable of receiving the carcasses and/or meat cuts correctly and keep them in appropriate conditions such as to avoid their pH from decreasing at any time or suffering changes to their colour and/or texture, and must check their purity on reception by means of the appropriate tests and analyses. Quartering, boning and cutting must take place as soon as possible, taking care not to allow meat to accumulate in the areas where these operations take place. The temperature in the area where the meat is handled must not exceed 12 °C.
- Inside the cold chambers where the chilled carcasses are kept, the carcasses themselves should be suspended in a way which prevents them from coming into contact with each other.
- ‘Chorizo Riojano’ production is kept separate — in both time and place — from all other production, including that of other chorizos of different categories. The meat, when ready to process, is mature and acidified, not frozen, with a pH of less than 6,3, so that it will cure easily, ensuring that the filling in the middle of the sausage will dry easily. It is equally important to ensure that the meat is not moist. This means allowing the meat juices to flow out if necessary
Once the meat and the fat are ready, dicing and mincing is more or less intense and the cuts must be clean in order to minimise damage to the protein chains and to the adipose cells, resulting in proper adhesion between grains, proper drying and, finally achieving the characteristic aspect and colour of the sliced product. All areas used for manufacturing must be air-conditioned and the relative humidity and air circulation and renewal must be suitable technologically and in terms of health and hygiene.
- Once the meat and the fat have been minced, fine dry salt, raw peeled garlic and 100 % extra category pepper — cayenne in the case of spicy chorizo — is then added.
- Once the raw materials have been minced and the remaining ingredients added, they are all mixed together, making sure that any air trapped in the mixture is driven out in order to encourage a better binding of all the ingredients and prevent the chorizo from breaking up when it is cut. Additional kneading in a vacuum drum is essential in order to achieve the ideal texture of the minced meat mixture.
- After mincing, mixing and kneading, the mixture must be rested 12 to 24 hours before it is stuffed into the casings. The cold chambers used for such purposes must be separate from of the rest and be kept at a temperature of 0 to 6 °C.
- Once the mixture is ready, it is stuffed into the natural pork casings. The nozzles are smooth and not too long in order to avoid raising the temperature. For the same reason, the mixture must be put into the casings using sufficient pressure since otherwise spaces would be created in the sausages which could lead to a colouring of the mixture or allow the latter to become mouldy.
The natural casings must be perfectly clean and with no sign of alteration, cut or disease which would render them unsuitable for use for human consumption. The casings are washed beforehand to make them elastic and help them adjust to the filling without separating or forming wrinkles.
- Once the mixture or filling has been inserted into the casing, the latter is tied using white or, in the case of spicy chorizo, red cotton twine.
- Ageing requires the chorizos to be left to hang in ventilated premises but at a temperature of 16 °C or less, in which the relative humidity and circulation of the air lend themselves to the product losing its moisture and acquiring its characteristic consistency, aroma, colour and flavour, unless ageing takes place in natural dryers, in which case the temperature may reach 20 °C.
In order to monitor the ageing conditions (temperature, relative humidity and ventilation) and maintain them at a constant level, use may be made of special chambers where such conditions may be regulated by hand or automatically. During the fermentation or ageing process, the installations must provide visible and accessible space and monitoring equipment to check at any time the temperature and the humidity levels and monitor the progress of the product.
- After the ageing stage is completed, the chorizo is moved for the post-ageing and drying stage to the hanging or drying installations. During this finishing stage, the microbial and enzyme processes of the chorizo continue to take place which stabilise the colour and the aroma. The curing period for Chorizo Riojano varies according to the length and/or diameter of the product. Any chorizo which has become wrinkled, contains air bubbles or displays any other defect is discarded.
Specific rules concerning labelling
The product is accompanied by a numbered back label issued by the Regulatory Board bearing the words ‘Indicación Geográfica Protegida Chorizo Riojano’, together with the corresponding logo. The aforementioned back label is affixed by the manufacturer of the product and is inscribed in such a way as to prevent re-use.
The processors covered by the ‘Chorizo Riojano’ protected geographical indication must be entered in the appropriate registers, since they are ultimately responsible for compliance with the specifications of the indication. The Regulatory Board is responsible for keeping the register up do date.
Concise definition of the geographical area
The area where manufacturing, ageing, drying and labelling takes place covers the Autonomous Community of La Rioja.
Link with the geographical area
- Natural factor: The defined geographical area is subject to three climatic influences: this combination of climatic factors makes La Rioja the ideal place for naturally ageing and drying this product by allowing the physical and chemical changes which occur within the chorizo to take place slowly and properly, enhancing the appearance of the sliced product, its flavour and its very characteristic aroma.
Today, the climatic factor is not so important since the latter stages of the manufacture of the product take place in controlled-atmosphere chambers where ventilation, hygrometry and temperature may be regulated, although this is always in line with the prevailing climatology conditions of the area, so that the latter continues to play a very important part.
- Human factor: What really differentiates Chorizo Riojano from other chorizos is the traditional manufacturing method which has been used for a long time and which has been successfully transmitted to the Chorizo Riojano processing industry.
Only those chorizos of the ‘extra’ category which have been manufactured in accordance with tradition in registered installations where every single stage of the manufacturing, ageing, drying and labelling processes as well as the quality and handling of all the raw materials have been effectively monitored can be covered by the ‘Chorizo Riojano’ protected geographical indication, and only Chorizo Riojano which passes all the quality control stages throughout the process may exclusively be put on the market with the guarantee of origin as attested by the protected geographical indication label.
Traditionally, the arrival of the cold weather in the mountains in La Rioja signalled the start of the slaughter or ‘moragas’, the resulting pork meat then going into the preparation of chorizo. Chorizo in La Rioja had to be made for the whole year and was to last until the autumn harvests, the knowledge of the local population about the manufacture and ageing of this product, which is so difficult to manufacture and preserve correctly, taking on vital importance as a result. Nowadays, these techniques are still in regular use throughout the Rioja area and more especially in the hills.
It was not until the nineteenth century that the manufacture of chorizo was industrialised in La Rioja and the first family firms began to appear, selling their product in their home town and the surrounding country. Thus, according to the municipal historical archive, the first reference to a ‘sausage factory in Logroño’ is in 1890. Also dating from 1890 is a document in which one Julio Farias, an industrialist and lawyer, describes how he sent chorizos from La Rioja to Cuba so that they arrived in good condition: ‘in tin canisters perfectly packed with lard and sealed by the bain-marie method so that they can withstand those temperatures without suffering the slightest change’.
Already at that time the industrialist had prepared advertising material — ‘prospectuses, circulars and other forms of publicity’ and showed confidence in his product: ‘[…] despite the United States competing very strongly on price, the quality of the home grown product is infinitely better, as shown by the fact that even the poorest prefer it in spite its costing more’. Moreover, Javier Herce Galarreta, in Chapter VII, concerning pigs, of his book bringing together various articles published in La Gaceta del Norte newspaper in 1979 writes: ‘Pork is tremendously important in La Rioja, and not just in terms of the fresh product. Ham, chorizo and blood pudding are the basic constituents of a specifically Rioja type of preparation, which is similar to that found in other regions, but different as to flavour and the way it is used. Probably the most distinctive by name is “ chorizo riojano”, which is different to all other chorizos in other regions, being smooth, aromatic, somewhat spicy and of strong colour. The importance of the pig and pork products in La Rioja is evident: meat and sausage factories have sprung up throughout the Rioja region, forming fully-fledged trading centres such as Baños de Río Tobía, Laguna de Cameros and, more recently, Albelda de Iregua which, in their own way, are as important, relatively speaking, as the wine or canning industries. A gastronomic industry in the Sierra, another one in the Rioja Alta and a third one in the Rioja Baja: sausages, wine and preserves — a threefold display by what is in effect three regions in one: La Rioja’.
The economic depression of the 1930s and the sustained failure on the part of the buyers to settle their bills led to the closure of many factories, and the only trace that remains are the registers of industrial taxes kept by each municipal authority. This economic readjustment made Baños de Río Tobía the industry's nerve centre. One of several possible reasons for this is that the descendants of the early industrialists decided to build their own plants, taking advantage of the favourable climate of the location. Miguel Ángel Villoslada expressed it as follows: ‘At first, factories were established where the climate was suitable, dry and cold but with few temperature fluctuations. That is why there are so many in Baños. We are at an altitude of 500 metres, at the gateway to the Sierra de la Demanda and the Urbión area as a whole. It is a place protected from the excessively cold winds of the Sierra de Herrera and there are no sharp changes of temperature or humidity’.
At present, the slaughter of pigs and the manufacturing and preserving of chorizo lives on as a small, craft trade, while the manufacture of chorizo and other meat products is left to the meat industry — usually located in the area — which, without ignoring the traditional manufacturing method of yesteryear, is able to overcome adverse conditions and age the product by using particularly well suited premises and installations.
Thanks to the sausage-making traditions of past generations, Baños de Río Tobía continues to boast the highest concentration of meat factories, since nowadays the climatic factor has less and less influence: ‘here nearly everyone involved in the meat industry is related because they come from the same place’. That said, Albelda de Iregua is home to the meat factory with the highest turnover in this Autonomous Community. It began in 1960 as a local butcher's shop, leading, in 1983, to the opening of the first factory specifically geared towards the marketing of ‘sarta’ chorizo and soon became the country's leading producer.
Major meat factories in other Autonomous Communities want to take advantage of this prestige by calling their chorizo ‘Chorizo Riojano’ when they have nothing at all to do with the product which this protected geographical indication is intended to cover. Moreover, the tradition and prestige which has garnered a great reputation for our chorizo riojano is also present today in our most famous recipes, such as potatoes with chorizo, calderete, choricillo asado al sarmiento or preñaditos, not forgetting its use in practically every vegetable stew. Lastly, it is worth noting that ‘Chorizo Riojano’ is mentioned on pages 110 and 111 of the Inventario Español de Productos Tradicionales.
Reference: The European Commission