After five generations of working in the meat industry, Carnes Jacinto is now a national and international reference for high-quality, aged meats. The secret of its success: A commitment to indigenous Portuguese bovine breeds and perfecting the appropriate ageing processes.
Sergio Ribeiro is the latest generation of butchers in this family. A young, energetic, simple kid who talks passionately about the product of our land and his profession: “For as far back as I can remember, I have always been surrounded by meats; when I was 8 years old, I helped my grandfather set up the window display and he began to teach me how to use knives, I learnt the art of cutting from him…” “I also remember that at that time, my father would leave the meat in the cameras for a couple of weeks, well before the concept of ageing meats was popular,” he adds nostalgically. And it was that way of working the meat, the extra ageing his grandfather and his father gave their meats, that slowly but surely earned them a certain reputation with their customers. Today, their aged meats are the flagship of Carnes Jacinto and are sought after all over the world.
The best meats in the world are in Portugal
However, the secret of high-quality meats is not only this ageing process. Another important aspect is the choice of meats. For this reason, Ribeiro gives priority to how cattle are selected on farms and follows the same methods that were used 30 or 40 years ago; he prefers an artisan way of working and tries to stay away from the industrialisation of the meat sector where cattle is produced in series. So for this company, interacting with the animals and witnessing how they are bred and raised before sacrificing them is essential. And here he sits up: “We have many of the best indigenous races in the world: galega minhota, marinhoa, arouquesa, barrosã, mirandesa and cachena.” And he adds with pride: “Not only that, the farmer in Portugal treats the animal as if it were someone part of the family and breeds it and feeds it in very good conditions for 12, 15 or even up to 27 years, something that is not done in other countries. That gives the meat an unparalleled flavour and texture.” According to Ribeiro, the Galician minhota, known in Spain as Rubia Gallega, produces one of the best meats in the world. But in fact, on the other side of the Minho river, the breed Rubia Gallega—which is also very sought after—is not actually the Galician minhota, since during a period it was almost extinct, it was bred with other races. Portugal, however, preserves the original breed.
The art of ageing meat
The Jacinto family has been ageing meat for generations. So much so that it is the only company certified by the State to do so. That is because the process of ageing meats must be subject to certain guarantees and quality controls which prevent the meat from spoiling when cured. For this, the temperature and humidity to which the meat is subjected must be very precisely controlled, and ensuring the exact ageing times is essential. But what does the ageing process bring to the meat? Well, it’s actually quite simple: when cold meats are aged, they lose water, gain flavour and crucially, increase in tenderness. But the process cannot be standardised. The process cannot be generalised since each breed and race, of each specimen, may need different ageing conditions and times. So, it is a purely artisanal process. However, Ribeiro states that although ageing does improve the final product, it would not be useful if the best raw materials were not used.
“In Portugal we don’t value our national product as much as we should, and we tend to think that what has been imported is a higher quality”—the young entrepreneur admits with certain regret about the state of the Portuguese market. He adds that “we have to change this way of thinking. We probably have one of the best meats in the world: its unique flavour is shaped by the Atlantic sea breezes and the unique Minho region mountains.” “In fact,”—he says proudly—“our product is internationally recognised, and we are in many of the best restaurants in the world, to the point that our meats often replace Kobe meats in many menus”.