Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

La Matanza

Garlic, salt, paprika and ground pork never looked so pretty!

This will be the third matanza we’ve attended with our friend Isaac, a surgeon from Extremadura who befriended us via his cousin, and Paloma, his wife whose has a voice I envy.  

Turismo rural Los Cantos: The charming place we stayed at in Alburquerque
Click here to see Los Cantos' Facebook page

matanza is, literally, a “killing,” from the word matar, to kill.  At this matanza, four huge black Iberian pigs were the victims. Just about every Spanish person I spoke to knew what a matanza was, and the comment was always the same: Estamos perdiendo esta tradición.  We are losing this tradition.  It is why Isaac and Paloma continue, each year, to slaughter and butcher their pigs, and to invite a whole bunch of friends to celebrate this rural tradition with them.

José the cerdo surgeon

It is only mildly uncomfortable for me, a biology teacher used to dissections, and Todd, a general surgeon, to be part of the butchering.  They are huge animals, black-hooved behemoths, and they came apart with astonishing rapidity under the skilled hands of José, el carnicero.   The first part of the process involves burning off the hair—which is surprisingly abundant—and then removing the entrails.  

A very matter-of-fact process, and remarkably fast

Pig organs are remarkably similar to human ones, Todd and Isaac tell me, and I was fascinated and only mildly squeamish.  Then off come the limbs, and then the fat, and the animal is quickly dismantled into easily-recognized cuts of meat. 

Working the tenderloin
Why watch this butchery, you might ask?   There is blood in huge vats, the smell of burning hair, organs slung over clotheslines, the slightly odd sweet smell of fresh meat that the cold afternoon air cannot quite dampen.   

Colorful organs and belly fat
For me, it is important to connect with our food source.  I am definitely not a vegetarian, and as I tell Tia and Sasha, listen, for us to live, something generally has to die.  That’s true with animals, and with vegetables, grains, even eggs.  The only things I can think of that may not fit this truism are milk and honey. 
All those packaged treats, like bacon and baby back ribs and ground pork, come from this animal

So watching the butchering, and then the coarse preparation of the chorizo and patatera, a fat-based spread with only some meat ground in and supplemented with potatoes, helps me see where those nicely-packaged pork cutlets and the delicious sausages come from when we buy them at Mercadona.  

Sausage, chorizo, and patatera, left to right

It is a reminder that for me to live, these animals died, and therefore I can enjoy their delicious fat-tinged secreto iberico (a fatty muscle hidden under the armpit) and our favorite, jamón bellota.   It’s somber and a bit sad, but also delicious and extremely interesting for a science teacher like me.

There's a certain beauty to the secreto iberico: doesn't it look like an artsy fish?

And then there is the fiesta!  Isaac is a marvelous singer and plays the guitar with abandon, knowing well how to light up a party.  He invites his friends who appreciate a good song, and he orchestrates the performances, inviting in all of us aspiring músicos.  

King of Song
Early on Todd and I sang our acoustic versions of Vale That hits, which was lucky, because the three brothers from Jerez—Rafael, Paco, and Gabriel, along with their cousin, also Gabriel—took center stage, singing sevillanas and rumbas to the delight of the guests.  They vied for center stage with Isaac, as well as Paloma, whose enchanting voice filled in the quieter moments.  

Ah, to have a voice like Paloma's...!
Click here to hear some singing and see some dancing!

Two French guys living just over the border from San Sebastian, Curro and Laurence, drove all the way from Bayonne for the weekend and sang some great flamenco, giving Isaac a much-needed break so he could attend to the chores.

Isaac, Curro, and Laurence: singing buddies

A multitude of entertainers
We arrived that Friday afternoon to watch the singeing, butchering, and meat-grinding, along with the weighing of ground pork and spices, the chorizo-mixing in huge tubs, and the barbequing of fresh pork delicacies (like my favorite, secreto iberico). 

Grinding the pork meat in huge quantities
Mixing in the potato to make patatera
Adding salt by the kilo!

Tapas and drinks came around, and once folks were fed and watered, the singing started.  We sang, danced, and snacked until late, then went to sleep it off at our turismo rural, Los Cantos.  “That’s just the pre-party!”  Isaac laughed.  “Tomorrow is the real party!”

The real party: Saturday-night celebration amidst the freshly-made sausages
And sure enough, that’s how it was.  We sauntered in around noon to help Paloma and the others with the sausage-making; the intestines had been thoroughly cleaned and soaked in lemon water overnight, and were in the process of being stuffed.  

Expert sausage-makers
I tied and wrapped for a good hour or so, but I was probably more nuisance than anything else, having to ask how to do this and that, splitting the intestine at one point in my enthusiasm to tighten up the casing, and tying off one sausage for every three or four sausages that my table mates completed. 

Total novice

Guests continued to arrive, and by the afternoon the arroz was ready.  This is the hearty country-pork version of paella, rice made with pork broth, chunks of tender meat and liver.   It is delicious (even though I am not a liver fan and tend to pick around it).   

Country-style arroz
Everyone brought side dishes, and the weather cooperated, the bright sunshine bringing the temperature up to a cozy 15˚.  After lunch, out came the guitars, and we took turns singing, dancing, eating and drinking until, as the crowd dwindled and the fire in the hearth died down, we returned to the turismo.  The next day, we stopped by to say good-bye and left with a bag of fresh pork cuts to enjoy at home.

Gorgeous weather for a delicious almuerzo
I learned a lot this weekend: the renewed gratitude for animals that are so tasty and sustaining and the efficiency that the Spanish show in utilizing every possible pig part; the grace with which Isaac shares the stage and involves everyone who wants to sing; the unhurried, off-line unplugged pace of life in rural Spain and the way it allows connection to grow; the importance of repetition and the year-after-year enjoyment of a tradition (this is the twenty-something-ith matanza).  Thank you, Isaac and Paloma, for making us a part of your world. 

A couple who knows how to have fun and who value friendship

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