25 Nov, 2011 @ 17:48
1 min read

Pigs to the slaughter

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.

Eloise Horsfield

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  1. I used to attend matanzas quite a lot ,and became a dab hand at making morcilla ,despite the qualms of seeing the coagulating blood ,had to prove that English women could get down and dirty .I loved it ,but sadly all the restrictions placed on it by the EU have made it harder to find ,especially in the villages ,where you can no longer keep a pig in your backyard ,and need a vet to check the meat ,and as less people do it the less they want to help out in this two day event ,they would rather go to the butchers for their meat instead of carrying home their share of the spoils

  2. It drives my dog mad, Although he does not like the sound of the pig being slaughtered he does, however, love the scraps. Obviously, he can’t put the two together.

  3. Hi!

    I discovered this website while researching for information on La Matanza del Cerdo. I am currently a master’s student in anthropology in Belgium. I am passionate about food and interested in pig slaughtering rituals/practices and food in Spain, and I hope to write my master’s thesis on the topic so I am looking for contacts.
    I was hoping that someone might know someone or someplace that might be a good place in Spain to document this pig slaughtering. I will be in Spain this summer trying to make contacts, and I will most likely come back to observe and hopefully participate in the process when it occurs.

    I am just trying to find someone as I don’t know anyone in Spain. Thank you in advance for any information or help you could provide me with!

  4. Wesley: Did you miss the bit that says this practice is illegal? You want to, “take part in the process”? You deserve to end up in jail. Along with all the other sadists participating in such an abhorrent activity.

  5. stefanjo: Apparently you missed the bit about not being a total ******* to someone who is clearly curious and trying to learn more about this topic. He ASKED for information! that would be your opportunity to say, “in fact, this practice is illegal and here’s what I think.” Instead, you chose to ridicule and insult someone who would have gladly accepted any information or thoughts you had to share. There is no need for your insolent attitude and pathetic attempt at moral superiority.

  6. You’re all bloody bonkers – Cretins on this website all say the same things, – then the FASCIST Olive Press decide who to delete on comments and who not to – GOODBYE Olive Press & anyone reading this! It’s all degrading negative views on Spain on here anyhow (like typical MOANING Brits abroad). Just TERRIBLE!!! Now about to DELETE OLIVE PRESS from my favourites! *******!!! (fill in with what words you like). UUUUURGH!!!!! My life in Spain from tomorrow will be a lot more positive than reading these degrading articles every bloody day!!!!

  7. Charlotte: Now look what you’ve done, you’ve upset Roger. Still, no doubt Wesley will be glad to have you as his spokesperson while he gets on with his gleeful pig-sticking.

  8. Stefanjo: As a vegetarian, any method of animal slaughter makes me feel uneasy. However, as a student of anthropology, I know that because this tradition gives meaning to the people that practice it, there is more to the story than just labeling the people as “sadists.” That is what I am interested in.

    Also, this practice is not illegal in Spain or the EU. The animal must be stunned first, but otherwise the rest is legal- http://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2007/11/08/pdfs/A45914-45920.pdf

    Thanks Charlotte

  9. Read it again Wesley. Stunning is done “practically nowhere”. Also, difficult to equate vegetarianism with pig-sticking, which you said you wanted to have a go at. Or will you stay with simple voyeurism?

  10. Roger will be back next week. You did make me laugh. It is easy to be positive when everything is going fine Roger or you are loaded but for many life in Spain is not that way.

  11. at this time of year, this illegal HORROR is still carried out without stunning the pig, as are many other animal cruelty traditions carried out in Spain! (that most local Spanish people would vote against btw – like Bullfighting)

    it’s ‘tradition!’ though


    and thick Brits thinking they’re integrating in all this are worse! for some reason mainly cockneys! (you know the loud annoying moaning voices you hear locally in Spain)

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