British chorizo: Competing with Spain's famous sausage

Maturing British chorizo at Castellano's Charcuterie "I even had compliments from Spanish people," says Bristol-based chorizo maker Vincent Castellano

Making the perfect chorizo is an art almost as old as the Spanish hills where it's traditionally produced. But now British versions of the spicy sausage are finding prominence.

"[British people] are mad on our sausages as everybody knows," says Keith Fisher, butchery development manager at pork industry representative Bpex.

"I think put spicy food in a sausage and presto, you've got something which is absolutely fantastic for all of us."

Chorizo, usually made with chopped pork, fat and smoked paprika or red pepper and often flavoured with garlic and black pepper, has its roots in Spain and Portugal.

It comes in fresh or cured styles. Both types can be cooked, adding intense flavour to dishes such as soups and stews, although fresh chorizo must not be eaten raw.

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Countries in Central and South America have their own versions, but until a few years ago, British-made chorizo was unheard of.

Britain has traditionally made fresh, soft sausages, while cured types are associated with countries such as Spain, where dry conditions are needed to mature the meat.

However Britain's taste for chorizo and other continental meat saw sales rise by 6.1% in 12 months, market researcher Kantar Worldpanel reported earlier this year.

A taste for spice and a desire to experiment with new recipes saw British butchers start to produce their own chorizo five or six years ago.

Now British chorizo is sold in some butchers and supermarkets, farm shops and is making an impact at industry awards.

Bristol-based charcutier Vincent Castellano thinks many producers started making chorizo "more or less at the same time."

"Of course you know some people will always buy Spanish, imported chorizo because that's the most authentic one," he says.

"But on the whole I think people like to know where their meat is coming from... and to have a British chorizo is a bit of a bonus now."

Chorizo at Castellano's The intensity of chorizo's flavour changes with maturity

Mr Fisher oversaw the Banger Awards during British Sausage Week in November. He tells BBC Food he has noticed an increasing amount of British chorizo being entered for the event, including one gold-winning recipe this year.

"You've got some really fantastic pork in this country. That's the starting point really.

"The fact we've now got access to all these different ingredients that we use for [chorizo]... I think that we'd be fools not to try it ourselves."

He adds: "I think it's going to gain in popularity more and more."

Earlier this year Waitrose added a second British chorizo to its range of 15 products. "They are still a relatively new concept to customers," says a spokesperson.

Chorizo sales in the supermarket have increased 6% year on year, with their "sarta" rings (a cured and tied type) the best-sellers.

Does British chorizo taste different to the Spanish sort?

It depends on who you ask.

Do you know your chorizo?

Chorizo tapas

Spanish and Portuguese chorizo is usually made of chopped pork, fat and paprika or red pepper and often flavoured with garlic and black pepper.

Chorizo is made both as a cured, ready-to-eat food and a soft cooking sausage. Both are used as cooking ingredients, bringing different levels of intensity to a dish.

Chorizo as we know it today is traced back to the 16th Century when paprika was bought to Spain. Before that it would have been made without the spice.

The Pork and lard mixture is marinated and stuffed into casings before being hung to dry and cure.

Chorizo is associated with the Iberian Peninsula - some types are made with the famous meat, Iberico pork.

Keith Fisher says no. "To gain points in our competition they've got to be fairly authentic and taste like the 'real thing' really."

But Mr Castellano believes that "Spanish chorizo tends to be a bit more industrial and a lot more fatty".

He takes pride, however, in having surprised discerning Spanish customers with his British-made products:

"I even had compliments from Spanish people.... They tasted it and they said 'this is very good chorizo' and I said 'well I actually make it'. And when I said that to them they couldn't believe it."

It's not as if Britain is short on its own sausage recipes. There's the famous coil-shaped Cumberland sausage; the Oxford sausage packed with veal and beef suet as well as pork; the Cambridge with nutmeg and sage, and the Lincolnshire sausage flavoured with sage and thyme.

But Mr Fisher says these days butchers around the world are swapping recipes.

"There's a tremendous interaction between butchers in the world. They get talking to each other.

"I think that's done a heck of a lot for chorizo in this country."

Try something different

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Get a taste of Spain with Catalan fish stew

Savour the flavour of chorizo and scallops

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Make your own chorizo sausage from scratch

Different types of chorizo can be made from more or less the same recipe, but with different maturing times.

"It's a bit like cheese," explains Mr Castellano.

"It could be the same recipe but then the intensity of flavour changes according to the maturity."

Fresh chorizo is fermented and matured for a few days. And hard chorizo can be matured for a few weeks or even months.

"It's almost like the spice rack in the cupboard in a way," says Mr Fisher.

"If you've got a chorizo in the fridge you can go and get it and it adds a host of ingredients into a dish."

And that goes for traditional British cooking too.

"If you're doing a stew or a casserole, you throw some in and it brings out an altogether different flavour."

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