There’s an old Catalan saying that goes, A Vic, llonganisses, frares i misses (“In Vic, cured sausages, friars and masses”). The capital of the Osona region – equidistant between Barcelona and the Pyrenees – was indeed for a long time an important religious town: it is said to be one of the towns with the highest number of convents and churches in Catalonia. Nowadays, university students and a diverse off-campus population have largely replaced priests and nuns, while masses have been swapped for music, film and other cultural festivals. Cured sausages, though, have managed to retain their place in local culture and are in evidence in every single pork deli shop window in this central Catalonia town.
Vic is well known throughout Spain for its artisanal and industrial pork xarcutería production. Although Osona’s boiled cured meats also have an excellent reputation, dry-cured meats are this region’s claim to fame. Once produced on local farms as a way to preserve meat while making the most of seasonal weather conditions, Vic’s main peppery cured specialties are fuet, secallona, somaia and llonganissa. The first three are made with pork shoulder and lean meat, bacon and spices. Fuet has a round or oval-shaped cross section and takes about 15 to 20 days to dry. Secallona differs from fuet in its figure-eight-shaped cross section. Somaia is bigger than fuet and has a softer texture and mellower taste. Llonganissa (which has an EU designation of Protected Geographical Indication) is made with pork thigh and shoulder, small cubes of bacon and spices, and its drying time ranges from four weeks up to four months. The first written references to the llonganissa made in Vic date back to 1456; it’s probably the town’s most renowned traditional cured sausage.
Right on one of the corners of the main square, which is famous throughout Catalonia for its lively Tuesday and Saturday outdoor markets, are three charcuteries: Can Solà, Can Vilada and Ca la Teresona. Between them, they have 500 years’ experience of artisanal production.
Joan, the owner of Can Solà, does not know exactly when his family opened the store. Town council tax records indicate that their business was in operation by 1889, but it may have opened long before. Can Solà was originally a grocery store where grains, canned food, salted cod and pork were sold. When supermarkets opened in Vic, Joan’s family decided to focus on what they did best – pork xarcutería. Behind this store’s unique 70s-retro façade, Joan, along with his sister, nephews, nieces and family friends, work tirelessly in the shop, the workshop and the drying room to provide their extremely loyal customers and newcomers with traditional top quality pork products, from raw, cured or boiled xarcutería to hamburgers, meatballs and skewers.
Two doors away is the fifth-generation family-run Can Vilada. Joan and Conxita work side by side with their son, David, to produce great traditional pork products as well as gourmet delicacies such as cheeses, pâtés and cod and meat dishes. The fact that Joan studied at a butchery training school in Montpellier in his youth and the family’s regular visits to iconic Parisian deli shops such as Fauchon have certainly made a mark on their exquisite artisanal production, which has always attracted a devoted clientele and food-loving tourists. It is physically impossible not to stop at Can Vilada’s shop window.
Just opposite Can Vilada sits Ca la Teresona, which opened in 1837. Santi, the energetic current owner, decided to give his family business a new twist a few years ago: he turned the former three-story family home into a deli shop, restaurant and small cooking workshop. The shop is on the ground floor and has enough room for mouthwatering traditional xarcutería, a wide range of superb meat specialties, imported gourmet products and appetizing takeaway sushi. The restaurant on the second floor offers a delicious set lunch menu, dinners and an excellent wine selection. Finally, the top floor is where Santi hosts his butifarra and fuet workshops for tourists and curious gourmands (he has even installed a webcam so his guests can see how their cured meats get dried).
These three establishments are a reflection of the changes that Vic and, by extension, the whole country have experienced in the last century. These family-run businesses all started out mainly selling spare cuts of pork and lard to housewives, who would cook laborious and time-consuming pork-based meals for their families. When these women moved into the labor market en masse, they had less time for cooking, and these shops had to adapt, so they started offering ready-made pork products (sausages, meatballs, breaded pork fillets, cannelloni and the like). Neither of Joan and Santi’s great-grandmothers would recognize a lot of the foodstuffs that their great-grandchildren are currently selling, but they would certainly recognize the llonganisses at first bite.
There’s another old Catalan saying that goes, El porc, sigui xic o sigui gros, vuit llonganisses duu al cos (“The body of a pig, whether big or small, can make eight sausages in all”). In Vic, one can’t help but feel that pigs, sausages and pork culture are somehow greater than the sum of their parts.