Yet for approximately seven years ‘Matança do Porco’ by farmers for domestic consumption was illegal. This had a huge impact in the Algarve where most farmers run sustainable farms. Reading various reports of the time it seems the laws were clandestinely ignored by some. Their reasons were understandable – firstly by 2007 there was only one slaughterhouse in the region and so it didn’t make socio-economic sense for many families, and secondly there was a strong desire not to lose the traditional skills of slaughtering and butchering domestic pigs. Fortunately the lawmakers eventually recognised how important some traditions of subsistence farming are, and in 2014 it became legal again for individuals to slaughter their own pigs of less than 12months old for domestic consumption.
A couple of weeks ago we felt very honoured as we were invited to attend the slaughtering of two pigs. But not the two pigs in my photograph above, these we came across on a rainy drive back from one Alcoutim one day! We presumed escaped rather than wild, wonderful to watch for a few minutes. And the one to the right was on another day also in Alcoutim, again not our friend’s pig but they are the same breed. So returning to our wonderful friend and her invite. She was very kind and suggested we arrived after the actual slaughter as she thought we, like her, may not enjoy the actual killing. We arrived though in time to watch the butchering process, which we found fascinating. However if you are not keen on looking at photographs of a pig being butchered you may wish to click away now! As after my pictures of their wonderful market garden there will be pictures of the butchering process. My pictures are in sepia but unlike the fabulous cabbages and tomatillo possibly not suitable for vegans, vegetarians or the sensitive.
It is quite an event slaughtering the pig. The size of the animals and the skills involved to humanely kill and butcher them require many people. Traditionally it is the men who take responsibility for the slaughtering and butchering, and the women who clean and prepare the insides to make sausages, and also prepare the food for the collective meal that follows the slaughter. The morning begins of course with the killing of the pig. Once killed and the blood collected, the pigs are scorched and then shaved to remove their hair.
Once shaved they are washed down with cold water, and then transferred to a hook or ladder for the first deep longitudinal cut. It took five of them to complete the transfer of our friend’s pig, these are big pigs. The pig is then cut straight down its middle to enable them to remove all the fat and offal. As this is a sustainable economy it was all kept, the fat will be used to make lard and the offal for speciality dishes and sausages. What struck me – is the physical hard work involved, that at the same time is a very skilled process. We observed different men leading different parts of the process, with the older ones generally taking on the more skilled work. Everyone though was needed and it was very apparent they all had a clear role. Our friend told us that each farm/household with pigs in their local community is visited in turn for their own ‘Matança do Porco’ which explains the butchering expertise and superb teamwork as well as the wonderful atmosphere. Great for the pigs as well as the community!
They killed and butchered two pigs but unfortunately, because there were only a few women present, were only able to utilise the intestines of one of the pigs. The intestines of the second pig were thrown away. It takes quite a while to clean the intestines, and even longer to rid them of the smell. At the point the intestines are removed they look a bit like sausages. However the contents are of course the pig’s partially digested food, all of which needs careful removal by flushing with water and squeezing out. I would have been delighted to have helped with this but it looked complex and I was concerned my lack of Portuguese would have created problems. Maybe next year! Once the waste has been removed the intestines are soaked in lemon juice, orange juice and salt to kill all the bacteria and also remove the smell. Our friend shared with us it can take quite a time for the smell to go. In England after the cleaning stages the casings are turned inside out and the lining scraped out, then are turned back and voila you have casings for sausages. Not to sure if this is the same in Portugal, but we hope to return to our friend’s house to observe how the sausages are made and if we do I’ll let you know what happens next. What I can share though is how delicious the collective lunch is that follows the ‘Matança do Porc’. I know we didn’t help but we were lucky enough to join everyone. It was superb, we began with cooked pigs blood, surprisingly delicious, followed by grilled pork, salad, potatoes and copious amounts of homemade wine. It was a wonderful day and we were so sorry we had to leave when we did.