Cecina is salt-cured, air-dried beef, and is truly a delicacy of Spain. The origin of the word cecina is not altogether clear. Some believe that it comes from the Latin siccus, meaning dry, while others believe it originates from the celtic ciercina, and is related to modern Spanish "cierzo" or North wind. The oldest written reference to cecina dates from the 4th century B.C. and the description of the process is the same as it is today. For centuries homes in the Maragara area (in the northwest of Spain) traditionally kept a dried beef leg in the larder to feed the family.
Although cecina can be made of other meats, such as goat, horse, bull or rabbit, the most common is made of the hind leg of beef. Cecina is primarily eaten in the provinces of Leon and Zamora, although it is also produced in the Basque Country and is well known all over the Iberian peninsula. The cecina produced in Leon, aptly called Cecina de Leon is famous for its quality, and has a protected geographical identification under the law. The altitude (over 800 meters) and dry climate of Leon is perfect for the production of cecina.
The production process contains six steps, which are called perfilado, salado, lavado, asentamiento, ahumado and secado or curación. First, the meat is cured in salt for a specified number of days. Any remaining salt on the outside is washed off. It is then smoked in oak for 2-3 weeks. The final step in the process is to dry the meat in special rooms, where windows can be opened and closed, regulating the temperature as well as humidity. The entire process takes 7 months, according to the Regulating Council (Consejo Regulador I.G.P. Cecina de León.
Pieces of cecina have a brown crust, which is cut off before eating. Inside, it is a dark cherry to maroon color, with small veins of fat running through it. It is slightly fibrous and has a distinct flavor. Although cured in salt, it is not salty. It is usually sliced very thin and served as an appetizer by itself, or with bread and/or fruit.
How to Serve Cecina
Cecinas Nieto, one of the cecina producers in Astorga has created and posted a short video about how to cut and serve it. The video can be viewed in English by clicking on the "Cutting Manual" link on the left side of the screen. http://www.cecinasnieto.com/. The same information is also provided in a PDF file on the same page.
It is easy to find Spanish cecina suppliers and stores on the internet, who will ship directly to you in the E.U. Unfortunately, cecina is unavailable in the USA. There is hope that some day we may be able to legally import cecina to the USA, since a few years ago Italian cured beef, called Bresaola was allowed to be imported. In the meantime, get your fill of cecina while you are in Spain!