Friday, July 28, 2017

La Matanza

We once lived in Ciudad Rodrigo in Salamanca. In the town hall programme, alongside the fun run and the guitar concert, was “La matanza” - the traditional pig killing. I wondered if they intended to kill the pig in public but, on the day, the pig arrived from the slaughterhouse suitably dead. Nonetheless the carcass and its entrails were butchered and used to produce various products as a public spectacle. The blurb advertising the event stressed the maintenance of a dying tradition. I suppose your average modern Spaniard now pops down the supermarket for their chorizo rather than starting from scratch with a live pig.

Also in Salamanca we visited Candelario a village built around the rearing and killing of pigs. The houses had a sort of half door in front of the main door which was used to pen in the pigs at matanza time making it easier to deliver the death blow. The houses had three storeys: the ground floor was for the pigs, the middle floor for the family and the top floor, where the smoke from the chimneys vented, was used for curing products. In the streets, water flowed through channels so that water was readily available to wash away blood and to clean the carcases during the slaughtering season.

In Alberca, also in Salamanca, a pig wanders the autumnal streets fed on scraps by the village's inhabitants. When it is nicely fattened up it is raffled off.

Reading up to write this article I realised that there are nearly as many differences in the descriptions of the slaughter as there are similarities. Each region, and each family, has its own variation on the process so take this article as a general outline.

The traditional time to kill pigs is November, as the weather turns cooler. The slaughter usually takes place outdoors, and, in November, it's still not too cold while being cool enough to help preserve the products. Matanzas can be much later, as late as February.

Traditionally whole families and neighbours unite and make a party out of the hard work. The work needs to be done quickly once the animal has been killed so lots of hands are needed. The first thing to do, once you have a nicely fattened pig, is to kill it. Traditionally the pigs have their throats cut so they bleed out. A 1993 EU directive says that the pigs can only be killed outside of regulated slaughterhouses if they are first stunned. It's a directive that seems to be largely ignored.

Once the pig is dead it is scorched, in a fire or with blowtorches. to remove most of the hair. Any remaining bristles are rasped off later. Then the animal is split open and its entrails removed. Some of them are kept to be washed and used as sausage cases. It's an unpleasant smelly job so it's left to the women whilst the men get on with cleaning and butchering the carcass. Samples are sent away to the vet at this point to make sure the animal is fit to eat. The women start to cook onions and maybe rice which will be mixed with blood to produce black pudding or morcillas. If the vet's report is OK and if things have gone to plan by nightfall the carcass will have been butchered and hung so the family can sit down to a boisterous meal of fresh pork products.

The next morning any meat that needs to be smoked will be hung in a smoke filled room. The second day is also the time to start the preparation of the salchichón, chorizo, tocino and lots of other products that don't have English names and which I don't recognise from supermarket shelves. If it's a ham producing region this is the day they begin to be processed.

Some parts of the animal are butchered down to joint size and maybe marinaded, but most of the meat is coarsely minced and mixed with seasoning and spices depending on what the final product will be. The second day is when the fats are rendered down to produce everything from lard to soap. Finalising the chorizo sausages, by stuffing the ground meat, seasoned with paprika on day two, into sausage skins, usually happens on the third day.

And that's the fun over for another year, or until the neighbours invite you round to help with their pig.

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