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Meat for lean times

Sales rise for Spanish vendors of lesser cuts of meat, such as intestines and pig feet.

MADRID — Persistence has paid off for butcher Luis Fuertes.

During Spain’s economic boom about 10 years ago, this seller of animal innards was in despair. Some of his competitors boarded up generation-old shops. Mad cow disease had made Spaniards queasy about using the products he sells, even though traditional Spanish cooking turns these secondary meats into delicacies.

“You see new faces come and go,” said Fuertes, while tending his stall at the Mostenses market, hidden behind the five-star hotels lining Madrid’s Gran Via. “But I always think: This will get big.”

Indeed, the tables have turned for Fuertes, for several reasons: Government marketing campaigns helped restore consumer confidence in the lesser cuts. Recent immigrants from former Spanish colonies sought out his products. And then the economic crisis made less expensive cuts more appealing.

In the hour I spent with Fuertes one weekday morning, his clients included immigrants from countries including Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. The only Spanish client he had was the owner of a restaurant frequented by Madrid’s immigrant community.

Spain’s immigrants are among those hardest hit by the economic crisis. Dramatic cutbacks are sweeping through the construction and service sectors where most of them work.

And as the economy worsened last year, sales of lesser-meat products — from pig intestines, to cow hoofs, to sheep testicles — jumped 10 percent, according to the National Association of Lesser-Meat Merchants (ANECAS). ANECAS president Josep Ramells projects an additional 15 percent increase in 2009 sales.

“Families suffering unemployment have to cut back and you notice it first in the kitchen,” said Ramells, a fourth-generation merchant of lesser meats. “Let’s not fool ourselves. We can’t afford to eat sirloin steak every day.”