Saturday, February 26, 2011

La Matanza - Slaughtering and processing a pig

There are many places, not only in Asturias but also across the whole of Spain, where during the Winter months, you may still come across "la matanza" or pig slaughter. In Asturias the matanza has become a fiesta in many towns and villages, where people come together in the village hall to enjoy some pork based dishes or go out to some of the restaurants that prepare traditional and modern dishes cooked with pork.

My sister Rita, the matriarch in our family, traditionally organises the matanza in December and January on a Saturday when people are off work and available to help as it is such a big job. Ian, being a vegetarian, needless to say, stays at home.

The matanza cycle starts during Spring when 4 piglets are purchased from a  local pig breeder. The pigs never get named as this practice would make it harder when it comes to Winter time. Over the next few months these piglets will be reared and fed with a range of grains and vegetable matter that comes from her small-holding. The surplus vegetables and fruit that she produces in her large vegetable plot is always enjoyed by the pigs with ripe tomatoes and figs being their favourite.

As the Winter sets in Castilla, the cold weather brings the beginning of a new matanza season and friends and family are notified of the when the matanza will take place.

On Friday, we all start arriving to help. The matanza is always such a big event and an opportunity to get together. The first job to be done is peeling and chopping about 50 kg of onions to make the black pudding. You always hope your eyes will not react to the onions - onions are one of the main ingredient in this black pudding recipe, a recipe which has handed down (verbally) through the generations and is very specific to that part of Castilla.

A big rustic bread loaf is thinly sliced to be soaked in the pigs blood and to be added to the black pudding. It is interesting to hear from those who try Rita's black pudding, they say it is the best they have ever had. Of the 100 or so black pudding made, she keeps very few as there is an extensive list of friends and family who are given some to take home.
The skin is cleaned and clear of hair
Saturday is the big day and my brother, Ruben, would have arranged for some of his friends to come for the matanza which starts with us all sampling one of the several home made orujos (liqueur) normally taken with a biscuit. As the outside temperatures are very low, -10 Celsius is frequent, you welcome the warmth  that the orujo gives you. I quite enjoy the orange orujo, one has to make an exception on such gatherings and drink early in the day.

Once the two pigs are slaughtered, the butchering commences. Once the hairs have been carefully burnt away with long rye grass collected during the Summer, the carcasses are washed and cleaned.

A sample of each pig is taken to the vets for analysis and everyone gets ready to come in for a big lunch. The table will be set for anything between 15 and 20 people gathering to enjoy a typical lunch based on legume,  pork and vegetable stew for which Castilla is famous for and that does not go on too long as the black puddings need cooking and this will take us into the evening as there is always two lots of black pudding to be made.

Sunday is a busy day and with an early start we all gather to process the different joints. We usually have jobs allocated according to experience and ability. The meat destined for chorizo is minced with a hand mixer as this ensures a better texture than an electric one and it is usually one of the younger ones the one who will do most of the mincing. The minced meat is seasoned with rock salt before is marinaded in paprika, oregano, garlic, black pepper and a bit of brandy or red wine. This will be processed later on in the week and piped into casings before hanging up to be aired cured.

Another big lunch is celebrated with the 10 to 15 people helping on the morning. After lunch they gather around before starting their journey back home and are given a package containing black puddings, some chorizo mixture and a joint of meat. The rest of the joints are bathed in a mixture of water and paprika: oregano and salt is added before leaving for some time to marinade.

Monday is a quite day when I enjoy a drive to visit some historical building nearby or one of the numerous Romanesque churches for which Palencia, the province I was born, is famous for. On other occasions, it is nice to wrap up and take the dogs for a walk within a landscape that I am very familiar with and where you can look into the uninterrupted views for miles.

Tuesday is another early day as the piping and stringing of the chorizo and salami mixture, 50 to 60 kg in total, will take some time. Eventually the chorizo and salami will be taken to a cold and dark room to be left to be aired cured. The photo shows chorizo and hams curing.

For me the matanza finishes on Wednesday after the meat that was left to marinate is hung in a warm and dry place to partially cure for a few days before it is preserved in oil. This traditional home curing of the pork requires experience as it does not rely on carefully controlled environments and the using of chemicals.
The matanza is a tradition some people would find difficult to be involved with. I personally only eat meat that comes from Rita's as I know for sure the pigs have been fed a natural diet, I am happy with how the animals have been reared and how the meat has been processed. Although it is tempting to become a vegetarian, each year I enjoy helping with the matanza and returning home with some of the marinated meat, chorizo, black puddings, salami and ham. I always enjoy sharing with those who eat meat friends and family who come to stay. It is easy to buy in shops and butchers marinated pork, chorizo and cured ham but Rita's is certainly in a league of its own and much nicer hence the reason I occasionally still eat some meat.


  1. Lovely blog! I should comment more. I love the way nothing is wasted. What do they do with the offal>? do they make pate of some sort?
    froogs xxx

  2. Hi Froogs - thanks for the comment. The offal isn't wasted, the liver is eaten on the day of the slaughter, sautéed. Some of the other offal is made into a different kind of chorizo and anything that is left is for the dogs. The fat is rendered down and made into household soap. Love you blog, how about a reciprocal link?

  3. Nigel6:50 pm

    Lovely blog entry, tempting to eat meat!

  4. Thanks for sharing the matanza process. I'm salivating at the thought of trying that morcilla! My husband is from Avilés - a city boy- so unfortunately I have not had the chance to experience a matanza in Spain. (I butchered plenty of chickens in the US as a teen, though!) I appreciate knowing where my food comes from and nothing seems more natural than this. It's been a while since I visited and I love the blog design.

  5. Thanks Globalgal, the pigs have a good life and are fed well with natural ingredients. The slaughter is quick and efficient. As you say it is great to know where your food comes from especially these days where so many practices and processing techniques are questionable. Thanks for the feedback on the blog.


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