A couple of lifetimes ago, I was at a Quebec pig farm, probably wanting to record the sound or something equally flippant. Anyhow, this was one of those massive production houses where only size matters, the type of place where Greenpeace and David Suzuki would have a field day. I was absolutely abhorred by the enormous, sickly whitish-pink animals, injected by god only knows what to achieve the desired market bulk and weight. The sound was ghastly and the smell of the pigs was positively the foulest thing I have experienced. Is it therefore odd that people think pigs are, well, pigs?
The other day we were hiking in the Sierra de Grazalema, a UNSCO Biosphere Reserve, and came across an old stone farmhouse with a lonesome black Iberian pig. It was a moment of perfect porcine bliss, this gorgeous fellow, peacefully sniffing about for acorns with no care in the world. In contrast to the usual pink monstrosity, the Iberian pigs are bluish black and limber. They usually roam free in a fenced-in woodland, acorn being their main food source. They are good climbers and I have even seen them stand on their hind legs to eat acorn right off the branches of the black oak trees, without training or a circus contract…
I am not much of a pork lover, but living in Andalucia I have come to enjoy the occasional slice of Iberian ham. A real Jamon Iberico de Bellota has an amazing wild, bittersweet, woody taste, having consumed a diet of only acorn for the latter part of its life. The meat has little fat and is cured for about 3 years. It is also expensive. You can get a cheap Spanish ham for 40 euros, while a genuine Bellota ham can put you back 800 euros or more, depending on the producer and location where the pig was raised. It is beyond free-range or organic. It is how animals used to live, and how they should be reared.
As Christmas is coming near and many of us will indulge beyond our belt buckles digging into a dish of roasted pork, we might spend a moment to give our thanks, not only for having food on our table, but also giving thanks to the beast, who (unwilling and hopefully unknowingly) gave its life and limb for our dining pleasure.
Let the party begin!