Pig Butchering in Olive Country

Last week, we unexpectedly got to take part in an ancient ritual: the slaughtering of pigs at the beginning of winter.  We were staying with my cousin Keith and his English wife Sue, in mountainous olive country near Granada in southern Spain.

The matanza was a shared annual weekend of three or four families who live in the houses nearby.  Victor, the senior man of the group and genial host, went out and selected the pigs, one by one.  A half-dozen young men wrestled each pig to her fate.  It was hard to watch–even harder to listen to–and Lynnell decided to go for a long walk after the first one.


The young men scraped the hair from the carcass, and Juan, shown below, carefully and respectfully cut one portion after another from the animal.  I will spare you the details, but in the course of my observing, I learned why some ribs are called “short,” and learned that only a small percentage of a pig actually ends up in those pink foam trays under plastic wrap at the supermarket.


Here are José and Antonio, two of our hosts and neighbors of Sue and Keith.  José is sharpening his knife before trimming various cuts from Pig #4.


Meanwhile, in a centuries-old division of labor, the women (helped by several men) cleaned, cut up, ground, and added spices to various porcine components to fill the all-natural casings.  The result is three different kinds of sausage: salchichon, chorizo, and morcilla.  José and a different Antonio are processing the skins.


Keith’s and my grandmothers were sisters, so we’re second cousins.  He and Sue have lived in this tiny village for just ten years after retiring from school administration in England, but have made so many great friendships.  They’ve joined a warm community of tradition, loyalty, and cooperation that welcomed us, too.  Here they are with Lynnell in the huge garage which sheltered us from the rain and served as a processing center.


Sue has worked on the matanza from the first year onwards. They save certain jobs for her.


Here’s chorizo in the making.


And here is our host Victor and his brother Antonio relaxing at lunch on the first afternoon.


Two kettles are kept boiling all day, sometimes just for the water and sometimes because the sausages required boiled meat.


Across a stream-bed from where we were working is my cousin’s house, nestled among the olive trees.  Olive harvesting begins soon and lasts for a couple of months.  You strike the branches with a pole and the ripe olives fall into a net covering the ground.  We wish we’d been there to help with that, too.  We will be enjoying the half-liter of olive oil from the local cooperative for the next few months of camping.  Thanks, Keith and Sue!


We got to wash the processing tubs, with encouragement from our host, Victor.


Our deepest thanks to Sue and Keith for opening their home, sharing meals (she is such a fine chef!), introducing us to their many friends, and showing us the towns and villages of their region.

Just after sunrise the next morning, with a thick fog covering the reservoir in the distance, we savored the view from their home.


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I am the Upper School Chaplain at Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota, USA., an Episcopal priest, and the author of the world religions text "Tree of World Religions," available on amazon.com. I've also done two lessons for TED-Ed.

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