The Pig Slaughter, An Annual Tradition in Mallorca

She was 220 kilos (485 pounds). She was black and white (and pink) and huge.  She met her fate on a chilly morning in the middle of January in the back yard of Maria and Willy’s house in rural Mallorca, not 1 kilometer from the village of Artá.  I never met her, but I am certain she lived a the fullest and most joyful life a pig could live, fed well, a cozy mud stye, and several years of mild Mediterranean climate.  I arrived late for two reasons. The first is that I am not a morning person ( and probably never will be).  The second reason is, well, to be honest, I didn’t think I could stomach seeing a gigantic pig get slaughtered, especially at the ungodly hour of 7am.

A matanza (literally translates to slaughter), is a very traditional event that happens every year anywhere between November and January.  I think it happens at this time because its cold and there are not a lot of flies and other vermin around to hinder the process of making sobrasada, and butifara.  The matanza is a very happy day for everyone (except perhaps the pig, I reckon).  The whole family is invited as is the extended family and often friends and neighbors.  Everyone helps except the children of course, and the abuelas (grandmothers), but they are sitting in lounge chairs supervising the entire process while the children play nearby seemingly oblivious to the work being done around them. 

I’ve lived in Mallorca for 7 years and I was delighted to finally be invited to a matanza!  Living on this gorgeous Mediterranean island is a luxury in and of itself, but among the foreigners who live here, it does not go un-noticed how hard it is to feel as though you are ever really part of the Mallorcan community. It seems you are always outside the circle so to speak. So my excitement to be invited to a matanza was mostly because I was so honored and  “omg I’m finally ‘in’”! I also admit I have heard about matanzas for years and my curious, adventurous California travel girl inside me really had a yearning to go to one of these parties. Yes, it is a party also.  One that you need to be invited to. 

I am also quite the foodie.  I have always been a bit particular about food.  I’ve gone through several phases; vegetarian, vegan, vegetarian again (except bacon), pescatarian, and now I think I’ve finally settled on flexitarian (mostly vegetarian and the occasional indulgence of good meats).   When it comes to food, I like to believe the more you enjoy it, the better it is for you.  I try not to obsess about it too much, but I really do think that when food is produced locally, organically, and authentically, the better it is for our bodies, our psyches, our souls and our planet. So attending this matanza was also exciting because it is a ritual that has been happening, likely for thousands of years, and it seems a very intimate way to be connected to my food.  Its locally produced, at a party, everyone participating, simple ingredients, no artificial preservatives, made with love. You get my drift.

Now for the nitty gritty.  Everything gets used.  Our focus this day was to make sobrasada, and butifara.    Sobrasada is all the soft parts of the pig ground up and mixed with paprika, salt and pepper, nothing more.  It then gets stuffed into the intestine linings which have been washed with vinegar and are hanging up nearby waiting to be used.  The sections of lining are stuffed, sewed off, dipped in black pepper (to prevent flies from laying eggs inside where the threads have pierced), tied up in string and hung to cure.  The curing process takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months depending on the girth of it.   The butifara is mixed with the blood, Jamaican allspice, salt, pepper and pine nuts and is tied off in sections and then boiled then and there. Again, no artificial additives.  The fat had been boiled down to produce lard,  which is used in a lot of Mallorcan cooking. The bones were saved for broths.  

I arrived as the butifara was being mixed.  The first thing I did was take pictures.  Then I washed my hands, rolled up my sleeves and asked how I could help.  I was handed 2 packages of pine nuts and asked to count out exactly 150 of them. Yeah, that was a joke on the new girl.  I was quickly set at a table to help sew closed the sobrasada.  As it is a production line, there were ebbs and flows so it was fine to take a break now and then. I was offered a beer, moved to help the men tie up the butifara, then back over to help at the sewing station.  I worked for nearly 5 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it.  There is something  very jolly about being among neighbors and friends and meeting new neighbors, working together to get the job done, it was easy and it was gratifying to see the line of hanging sobrasada grow longer as the day went on.  

By 430 pm it was all done and they insisted I stay on to eat  supper which was nearly ready. Who had been cooking?  I was amazed at how hard everyone had worked and after a quick jaunt home to feed my dog and my chickens, I returned to feast.  

At the table, wine was poured and bread was served with  arroz brut typical peasant’s soup. It was all delicious.  I asked about the matanza tradition and I was told that Maria and Mateo were not sure their son would carry on the tradition.  Forty years ago, after the dinner, there would be traditional Mallorcan folk dancing and the party would go on until quite late.  Willy said that the matanzas used to be a place where people would met their partners – the Tinder of the days of yore.  I knew that one of the cousins happens to be a fantastic folk dancer and I suggested that perhaps next year, we can persuade him into organizing a proper dance.  I also, quite sincerely suggested that I come early next year to actually watch the pig be slaughtered….why?  I think I feel like I missed out on something.  Maybe you get a magical power if you can get through the whole day!


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