The Olive Press and Orce Serrano Hams guide you through one of Christian Andalucía’s oldest and bloodiest village rituals: the matanza or the annual slaughter of the pig, giving a family its ham, black pudding and chorizo for the coming year.
STEEPED in tradition, the annual humane pig sacrifice was carried out in every household in Andalucía up until very recently. It was the most common and economical way to ensure families had a supply of meat throughout the year. Although not for the faint hearted, some Andalucian families still carry out the matanza today. It not only continues to provide meat, but it is a strong Spanish tradition as well-known as bull fighting, flamenco and indeed the serrano ham, which is the world famous result of this very process.
The matanza is usually carried out during the month of November to take advantage of the cold weather ensuring the meat products are conserved as best as possible. It also means families are prepared for the coming winter months.
The days of the matanza traditionally take place during the fiestas of local village saints allowing families to gather together for the occasion. Although the three days over which the matanza happens involves a lot of hard work, families are able to take advantage of their time together. The process is often thought of a fiesta in itself as everyone is together in the home enjoying each other’s company while they work. Of course, much eating and drinking takes place along the way.
Nowadays, the actual act of sacrificing the pig has to be carried out in the abattoir under strictly controlled conditions. Only when the veterinary inspectors are satisfied can the family take their pig home to carry out the rest of the process. In the past however, the whole process took place in the home or on a family plot of land.
Day one of the matanza started very early in the morning with all the family members gathered together usually indulging in a drop or two of local wine to fortify themselves for the task ahead! If required, often people with more experience such as the slaughterer and his assistants would also be present to ensure the act of sacrificing the pig is carried out correctly. The first and often most difficult task was to get the pig up onto the specialist large wooden table. Usually done by the strongest male members of the family, they hoisted the pig up and held it in place to allow the slaughterer to do his duty. Not an easy task given the size and weight of an animal unwilling to cooperate! The sacrifice was done by the slaughterer “stabbing” the pig in the neck with a large metal spike. This allowed the blood to flow from the animal down into a large bowl known as a lebrillo.
From this point on little has changed over time. The next stages of the process are still done today as they were in times past.
While the blood is flowing into the bowl one of the female members of the family (suitably dressed in an apron, protective hair covering and latex gloves) has the dedicated task of stirring the blood continually with her hands. The blood must be kept moving continuously to ensure it does not clot and the most effective way is by hand. Although quite a tedious task, it must be done by someone with experience because if the blood is allowed to clot, it will be wasted and the family will have no black pudding, the principal use for the blood.
Eventually after some time, a fine fibre like mesh forms between the hands which is then discarded (probably the only part of the animal not used). The remaining blood will now stay in its liquid form and is placed in a large pot and kept cool until it is time to make the black pudding (morcilla).
The next task is to move the pig onto a specialist trough (artesa). Nearby, a large pot of water would be already boiling and the water is poured over the animal. The skin is removed and the pig is thoroughly cleaned. Once skinned and cleaned, the animal is moved to the coldest part of the house where it is hung and cut lengthwise down the middle and opened up. Next, the intestines are removed and cleaned. In the past this was traditionally done in natural running water such as a spring or a river. The intestines are then emptied and the skin is wiped down with flour, lemon and vinegar on both sides and cleaned off again. Once cleaned, it is placed in tins or pots with pieces of lemon until it is time to make the charcuterie products such as the morcilla and chorizo.
The offal is also removed at this point and used, along with the fat of the pig, to make the very fortifying traditional migas matanceras. This is a typical dish eaten during the matanza and is a simple recipe of flour fried in oil or fat along with the offal. It is warming, very filling and quite greasy but perfect for cold days and ideal to soak up all the wine consumed on the first morning!
During the first day, it is custom to prepare the onions. The smell of them cooking throughout villages indicates the matanza has begun. For each pig you need four arrobas of onions (one arroba is roughly 11.5 kilograms), which is an awful lot of onions! Two or three women have the unenviable task of preparing all those onions. They too start very early as the onions have to be peeled, cut and cooked before the end of the first day. The onions are cooked in a large pot, usually over the fire and stirred with an enormous wooden spoon. It takes a few hours to cook all 46 kilos. Once cooked, the onions are placed in large sacks and hung overnight. This allows for all the liquid to drain away in preparation for the black pudding, which is made on day two.
The first task on day two is to take the pig apart and separate it into the different cuts: head, ears, shoulders and front legs (paletillas), jamones (hind legs), loin, ribs, spine, trotters and the fat.
While the men busy themselves with their task, the women begin to make the morcilla using the onions and blood from day one. The black pudding is a welcome dish eaten at the end of the day full of nuts and spices. Whatever is left can be conserved for later use.
The jamones and paletillas must contain no blood whatsoever. In order to achieve this, a clean cloth is placed over the leg and very strong pressure is applied by pressing down on the cloth with the hands and “squeezing” out any remaining blood. The legs are prepared for curing. Along with the spine and the trotters, they are placed in the small artesa and covered in salt. After two days, the spine and trotters are taken out and the salt shaken off. They are put in the bodega, usually a cellar or cool back room to dry out and there they stay until at least March.
The hams remain in salt for a longer period, usually one day per kilo. The salt is then removed and they are hung in the bodega and left to cure for about twelve to fourteen months.
The ribs are sliced up and mixed with cinnamon and lemon and left a day or two in pots to marinade. They are then fried in oil and placed in airtight jars for future use.
The loins are conserved in a similar way. Cut into large chunks, they are fried and stored in jars with olive oil. This method of conserving the loin has become a famous local dish known as lomo de orza (orza being the name of the ceramic pot traditionally used to store the loin).
The third day is reserved for making the charcuterie products of which there are quite a few: chorizo, salchichon, salchicha, butifarras, lenguados, rellenos and sobrasada.
The well-known phrase “The only thing you cannot eat from a pig is its squeak” is very true in the case of the Andalucian matanza. Nothing is wasted and the products made during this three day fiesta are either eaten during the course or are conserved for use during the coming months.