The origin of sobrasada – the traditional Majorcan sausage – goes back to ancient times, when the Middle Eastern territories reach their highest development and greatest splendour. Then there arises the need to create a way to preserve food supplies for indefinite periods of time, and proven the success of salting methods, the technique of stuffing minced meat in the animal’s own guts is created. But for Majorca it is still too early to talk about this technique, for the island is immersed in a constrained society – the Talaiotic – and there are no records of the use of any kind of technique for the preservation of pork meat, even though there is significant pig livestock.
As in all the dominions of the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean region is an excellent breeding ground for new food preservation techniques and an even better vehicle for the dissemination of the Romans’ own expertise. It is at this point that these techniques reach the island of Majorca.
There are no records of the continuity of pig breeding during the Muslims’ productive stay on the island. Indeed, it is not until the arrival of the western Christian culture that pig breeding becomes a common activity again. In Medieval Times preservation methods are applied again on the island of Majorca; the use of bacon is now recorded, and the early household inventories talk of how pieces of meat are hung in pantries. But we need several socio-cultural determining factors and a further evolution of pork products before we can talk of the island’s most emblematic sausage.
As an early revealing fact, we know that during the spread of the Renaissance across the Mediterranean basin – and more specifically in Sicily – a technique was used which was known as sopressa (meaning “pressed”, which is clearly etymologically related to the Majorcan sausage’s name). This technique was applied to stuffing meat. From Sicily it most probably travelled to Valencia, thanks to the significant maritime trade at the time, and the product then reached Majorca, where it was quickly adapted.
It is from the 16th century that Majorca begins to develop an important pork butchery tradition with its own distinctive features, and in just a few years sobrasada becomes one of the most common food preservation methods in Majorcan households.
By the 17th century Sobrasada has become fully rooted in the very hearts of the Majorcan people and it goes from being a mere meat preservation method to being understood as a characteristic feature of their own exquisite cuisine.
The 18th century can be considered the turning point for sobrasada, for it is at the end of this century that the most important change in the product’s physical appearance takes place: its red colour. Paprika – which originated in America and was brought into Europe on the early cross-continental voyages – is added to the sobrasada’s list of ingredients, offering its characteristic, distinctive red colour. But that is not all: in line with the new enlightened and technologically-developing society, manual mincing instruments are replaced by new, more efficient machines.
From that moment sobrasada will hardly differ from how we know it today. The only factor that helps boost its production is 20 th century industrialisation, particularly as it affects one of the most representative industries. Butcheries are gradually established in Majorca, and consequently the sale and spread of sobrasada made it one of the island’s most valuable ambassadors beyond its shores, as well as basic product in people’s larders and fridges.
Following the widespread success and welcome of the product, producers saw the need to create a Regulatory Board, which worked towards the award of the Majorcan Sobrasada Specific Designation, obtained in 1993. Such designation protects the name of Majorca as the unique area for the making and curing of this product.