THERE is a Spanish phrase that says ‘every pig has his St Martin’s Day coming to him’ (A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín).
It means that a person will get their comeuppance but it has its origins in the age old Spanish tradition, la matanza, literally meaning ‘the killing’.
This is the annual slaughter of pigs in preparation for the winter drying of hams, sausages and black pudding – the signature meat dishes of Andalucia – and it traditionally coincides with the feast of San Martin on November 11.
In the weeks that follow, thousands of fattened pigs are slaughtered on family farms in the mountain towns and villages across Andalucia.
All the neighbours and relatives take part, and normally one local man is assigned the task of ‘pinchar-ing’, or ‘sticking’ the pig.
The animal is traditionally killed with a knife and bleeds to death.
However this method has been prohibited by law for almost two decades.
A European directive of 1993 states the tradition can only be practiced outside the slaughterhouse, provided that the pig has been stunned before sticking the knife in it. But this is done practically nowhere.
Now it is more of a commercial process, although the tradition continues unofficially in the campo where generations of families and communities have long taken part in the two-day activity to produce meat for the year.
The main reason the slaughter takes place in the autumn and early winter is the weather.
The cold is required as it’s a natural method of preserving the large quantities of meat, yet, because people work in the open, it is preferable that the temperatures aren’t much below freezing; hence the slaughter rarely extends into winter.
Also, the slaughter needs to take place before Christmas, to provide food for the festive season.
Traditionally the day begins before dawn with the killing of the pigs and is spent butchering the carcass and stuffing sausages and black pudding.
And as Andalucians love any excuse for a fiesta, the matanza is generally accompanied by a lot of eating, drinking and camaraderie.
In particular, the day’s work is rewarded with a sumptuous meal in the farmhouse.
And crucially, nothing is ever wasted of the pig.
In fact it is said in Andalucia that ‘the only part of a pig you can’t eat is its squeak’.
Even the blood is quickly drained into a large pan and immediately taken to the kitchen where morcilla, or black pudding, is prepared.
Of course morcilla and chorizo are very much a part of the ritual of the matanza.
And while recipes vary from family to family, the basics are always the same.