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LIFE IN SPAIN

Your views: Is Spanish meat good quality?

In recent days a debate about the quality of Spain’s meat has been raging across the country after the Consumer Affairs Minister claimed that megafarms are exporting poor-quality produce. We asked you, our readers, to give us your opinions on the taste, texture and overall quality of 'carne' (meat) in Spain.

Your views: Is Spanish meat good quality?
More than half of our readers said the quality of meatin Spain is very good compared with other countries. Photo: Priscila Sanchez/Pixabay

Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón claimed in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian that mega-farms are damaging the environment and leading to the export of poor-quality meat from the country.

“What isn’t at all sustainable is these so-called mega-farms. They find a village in a depopulated bit of Spain and put in 4,000, or 5,000 or 10,000 head of cattle,” he told the newspaper.

“They pollute the soil, they pollute the water and then they export this poor-quality meat from these ill-treated animals”.

Since these comments were published, there has been an uproar about his comments both across farmers’ unions and in the government. 

Much of what the minister has said has been taken out of context and it’s important to point out that Garzón wasn’t talking about the quality of Spanish meat in general, he was only talking about the mass-produced meat from mega farms in certain regions. 

READ ALSO – KEY STATS: What you need to know about Spain’s mega farms

There is scientific evidence proving that intensive livestock farming is damaging Spain’s environment and water supplies, but is there any evidence to suggest that it actually produces poor quality meat too? 

According to Greenpeace Spain, the mega farm system always seeks the highest production of meat, milk and eggs at the lowest cost and in the shortest possible time, all to maximise profits. 

This means that a large number of animals are crammed into confined spaces rather than grazing or foraging outdoors, fed with cheap feed imported from other countries, and pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals to help them survive in these unsanitary living conditions. 

The Local Spain has not found evidence of any official study conducted in Spain which calls into question the quality of the meat as a result of intensive livestock farming. 

Most of the international reporting on meat quality standards is from animal rights groups who write that scientific studies prove factory farming can lead to the bacterial contamination of meat, such as salmonella and E. coli, and can be breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

But according to Spain’s Agriculture Ministry, only 1 percent of pig farms and 3 percent of cow farms in the country can be considered large scale, meaning that most of the many different types of meat produced in Spain don’t come from these macrogranjas (as they’re called in Spanish), although this doesn’t guarantee they don’t use a similar production model.

Cured pigs legs hanging from the ceiling are a common sight in Spanish supermarkets and bars.
Cured pigs legs hanging from the ceiling are a common sight in Spanish supermarkets and bars. Photo: Pixels4Free from Pixabay

If you take the example of Spain’s jamón ibérico de bellota, high-quality cured ham from pigs fed on acorns in outdoor pastures, the rearing model to obtain its exquisite taste is completely the opposite of factory farming.

What do The Local’s readers think of the quality of Spain’s meat?

Meat, whether cured or cooked, is an intrinsic part of the daily diet in Spain, so we decided to ask our readers what they really thought about the quality of Spain’s meat and how it compares to other countries.

Half of our respondents (50.9 percent) thought that Spanish meat wasn’t bad quality at all and actually thought it was very good compared with other countries.

Readers Anna and Christopher agreed with the Spanish Prime Minister’s recent words when arguing that Spanish meat is of “excellent quality”.

Harriet also agreed, saying: “Spanish ham, pork products, veal, and lamb are some of the finest meats in the world! We go to Spain often to eat!”.

Ann McKiernan also praised the quality of meat in Spain. She told The Local: “I’m happy with the quality, it compares favourably to meat I can purchase in other countries. I’d prefer more availability of different cuts/thicknesses in supermarkets but generally, I can find what I need in butchers, even with my rather limited Spanish”.

Jens Riis also couldn’t fault the quality of Spanish meat. “Here in Madrid, we get excellent meat: beef, pork, lamb; it’s almost always top drawer, never bad,” she said.

Jorge thought that Spain has some of the best meat in Europe with sustainable livestock, while Bruce thought that both the quality and price are excellent, and Daniel said that “it’s really tasty”.

Not everyone agreed however and around a quarter of our respondents (24.6 percent) said that ‘yes’ Spanish meat is bad. Many of the answers agreed with Garzón’s comments about the bad quality of meat from mega-farms, but several people also thought the taste and the texture weren’t good either. 

Maria thought that the animals in Spain are not fed quality food. “They should be grass-fed and they are not given proper living standards,” she said. “As a result, the meat doesn’t look or taste as good”. 

Jane Pritchard  told The Local: “The standard of beef and lamb is extremely poor quality and very expensive, particularly lamb. I assume it’s because there is no decent grazing for the animals. Having been used to salt marsh lamb in the UK we have been spoiled. Ibérico ham is lovely, but we can’t live on pork”.  

butcher cebada market madrid spain
Foreigners in Spain have very different opinions about the quality of Spanish meat. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Valerie concurred with Jane’s comments, saying that “the availability of large joints is very limited. The lamb joints are tiny plus the quality and taste are poor. I don’t see any meat claiming to have good husbandry care, I think most meat in Spain is mass produced”.

Chris Foster also thought similarly when he said: “I can’t find organic meat locally and the animal farms I have seen here are terrible. The food they are fed looks terrible too”. 

Meanwhile, a few respondents focused on the taste of the meat.

Thomas said: “It tastes strange, not like in other EU countries. It’s very weird. I’m now mostly vegetarian”.

Alan Robinson completely agreed “We find it tough and tasteless,” he said. “It would be so much better if they left some fat on it too”.

Roger simply thought that good quality beef was very hard to find, while Brian Wall thought that most types of Spanish meat are bad, but mainly due to the way it’s cut in Spain.

“The Spanish butchers don’t use or know the proper cuts of beef so their steaks are never what we expect. As a result, steak is always disappointing for a Brit used to traditional sirloin or rump etc. Furthermore, the Spanish lamb is atrocious. I don’t know where it comes from but it is awful and expensive. Finally, Spanish traditionally seem to prefer wafer-thin chops and I have to remind the butcher to cut it thicker. My brother is a top-class chef and has trouble sourcing decent meat,” he said. 

On the other hand, a quarter of respondents said that the quality of meat in Spain depends. Most agreed that good quality meat is available in Spain, but that depends on where you buy it from, but others said it depended on the type of meat you buy too.

John Latka explained: “It very much depends where you purchase your meat. I avoid the supermarkets and buy from a reputable butcher”.

Jonathan said that “Of course there is high-quality meat available in Spain, if you are willing to pay for it…. most of what you see in the supermarket or served at an average restaurant is the kind of stuff that Garzón is talking about. There is a demand for cheap meat, and lots of it, a demand that these farms serve. The megafarms don’t employ proportionally as many people, so if you could persuade the population to reduce their meat consumption, but spend about the same on a smaller quantity of better-quality product, you might even improve the economy”.

Rob H agreed saying: “Generally speaking, meat from traditional pastures is of good quality. Spain produces meat in a variety of ways and it is sold at a variety of prices. You get what you pay for. Personally, I try to buy locally produced meat that I know doesn’t come from a huge, industrially-run factory farm. If you want quality you should buy your meat at a butcher and ask where it comes from. If price is a priority, as it understandably is for many people, it is still possible to buy local meat, but never at the lowest price”. 

Anna also thought that it depended on where the meat is sourced. “Animal products produced on small farms using traditional farming methods is of excellent quality, both ethically, health-wise. Supermarket meat from mega-farms involves animal abuse and is dangerous to consume,” she said. 

Susan Wallace said: “I have bought some excellent quality fresh meat, especially organic.  And I think bellota jamón products are of very high quality, too.  But “industrial” jamón is a different matter, and some fresh meat from supermarkets also leaves a lot to be desired”. 

Matthew agreed with Susan, saying that the cured meats are excellent, whereas fresh meat here is somewhat less, while Jerry B said: “Beef is generally of very poor quality (tough, sinewy), whereas pork and chicken are very good”.

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FOOD & DRINK

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

Granada

Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Almería

Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Jaén

The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 

León

It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 

Ávila

In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Lugo
Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).

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