Pork talk

Here are just a few reasons why our Mallorcan farming neighbours in the valley are so great:

They often give us fruit and vegetables they’ve grown. On one occasion, while I was out for a walk and passed the finca of Toni and Maria, they came out and presented me with the world’s largest watermelon. So enormous was this magnificent fruit, that I had to carry it up the hill, pressed against my stomach and supported by both arms. By the time I staggered through the gates at home, I had an inkling how it must feel to be heavily pregnant . . .

They’re generous about sharing their knowledge and advice – on occasions, unsolicited. The Boss was once up a ladder, giving our almonds trees a long-overdue pruning – not something of which he’d had a lot of experience. Pedro stopped while driving past our finca to tell him where he was going wrong  . . .

They’re very honest. One day we were talking – in castellano – to a local couple who farm in the valley and sometimes stop for a chat when they’re passing. “You’re like a real Mallorcan now,” Margarita told me. I puffed out my chest in pride – my Spanish was obviously improving.  “Yes,” she reiterated. “Just like a Mallorcan woman!” And with that she patted my tummy . . . a reference to the fact that quite a few Mallorcans carry just a little bit too much weight around the middle. Brutally honest.

They’ve never invited us to a matanza. We’ve been invited into the homes of several Mallorcans for meals and various social occasions, but thankfully we’ve never been invited to a matanza – the slaughter and butchering of the family pig(s). This traditional event, which takes place around this time of year at farms and rural homes all over the island, is one I’d rather not witness, thank you. It’s an occasion for family and friends to gather and join in with the messy business of turning a perky pig into a pantry (or freezer) full of porky products for the coming months. The thought of being elbow deep in a large vat of squidgy pig bits is not for the squeamish . . . and certainly not for me.

It’s for the matanza that our local supermarket has stocked up with the necessary accessories (string, paprika and a white powder that prevents rancidity) for turning Peppa the Pig (don’t let your little ones read this) into Mallorcan delicacies such as llonganissa, botifarró, and sobrassada – a well-hung cured pork product flavoured with a generous quantity of paprika.

Sobrassada is emblematic of the island and adds great flavour when used in cooked dishes. It’s also popular spread thickly on rustic bread but, personally, I’d prefer a well-made crispy bacon sandwich. If only I could find one on Mallorca . . .

Sobrassada spread on rustic bread – a popular Mallorcan snack.

From swine to wine

Until we moved to Mallorca, I’d had few encounters with pigs (the four-legged variety, that is). Most memorable was when I was in a previous relationship: my then partner’s parents kept a sow.  When his father became ill, we visited frequently and, on one occasion, our visit coincided with the imminent birth of  piglets. We gamely agreed to sit in the pig shed with the enormous sow, to ensure that she didn’t squash any of her newborns (a not-very-motherly trait they apparently have). Watching those little piglets come into the world was a moving – and rather messy – experience. I certainly heard vegetarianism’s siren call that morning: I simply couldn’t face the enormous pile of bacon sandwiches that my partner’s mother served us when we returned to the house . . .

It’s a swill life . . . 

My next encounter was here in our tranquil valley in rural Mallorca. When we first moved here, a charming Mallorcan lady called Margarita ran a pig farm further down the lane. It wasn’t too far from our finca, but rarely did we suffer piggy aromas. Margarita’s husband had died from cancer but she continued to run the farm for quite some time, with the part-time help of a local man.

One of our regular walks is what we call ‘the triangle’, which takes about 25 minutes. Much of the walk is on tarmac but there’s also a rough old track that runs past the pig farm and this is probably the most interesting part. One day we were passing and Margarita called out from her doorstep and invited us for a tour of the farm.  We followed her into the huge barns behind the small house and were astonished to find that she had more than 200 pigs and piglets in her care. Now we understand why a lorry came twice a week to take pigs off to market; suckling pig – or lechona – is an extremely popular dish here in Mallorca.

When we left the farm (gulping in huge amounts of fresh air), I wondered how Margarita had managed to continue running the farm, with so little help. She couldn’t really even take a day off, let alone go and visit her sons (both of whom live abroad).

These little piggies went to market . . .

Pigs ‘n’ figs

Then one day, the pig lorry called for the last time. Margarita had had enough. Unable to sell the farm, she’d sold her stock and most of the pig-keeping paraphernalia, and went off to embrace the urban life.  A month or two later, we were at a wine-tasting fair in town and a well-dressed woman with immaculate hair – and beautifully manicured hands – came and greeted us warmly. It took us a few minutes to recognise this smiling, relaxed woman as Margarita, who was enjoying a night out with ‘the girls’.  We had another glass of wine to drink to her new pig-free life.Margarita managed to rent out her farm to a couple who have a home in town, but also enjoy part-time country living. They grow a lot of produce on the land and each winter they buy a couple of pigs, which seem to lead a contented – but fatally doomed – life in a field of fig trees, where they feast on fallen fruit in the summer. Until it’s time for the annual matanza . . .