This Spanish Pig-Slaughtering Tradition Is Rooted In Sustainability : The Salt In Spanish villages, townspeople gather at dawn to collectively slaughter a pig, then prepare every last bit as food, even the ears. The ancient ritual, called matanza, is now drawing foodie tourists.
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This Spanish Pig-Slaughtering Tradition Is Rooted In Sustainability

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This Spanish Pig-Slaughtering Tradition Is Rooted In Sustainability

This Spanish Pig-Slaughtering Tradition Is Rooted In Sustainability

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In western Spain, an age-old way of surviving the winter is getting new attention from foodies from all over the world. It's called the matanza - Spanish for killing or slaughter, in this case of a pig. It's an ancient ritual that's been rediscovered by farm-to-table food enthusiasts. Lauren Frayer witnessed a matanza and sent us this report.

ARMANDO ESCANO: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF PIGS SQUEALING)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Armando Escano calls out to his fat black pigs as they chomp on acorns under cork trees. Armando comes from a centuries-long line of pig farmers on western Spain's dehesa, a UNESCO-protected landscape where this country's most prized ham - jamon iberico - is produced.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIGS EATING)

FRAYER: Lured by that delicacy, tourists are now making these empty green hills a new foodie destination. They're coming to see how Armando's pigs live and how they die.

MIGUEL ULLIBARRI: Matar means kill in Spanish, but the word matanza actually refers to the whole process that takes two to three days, which starts with the act of slaughtering, but involves seasoning of the meats, charcuteries. There's lots of cooking involved - quite a lot of drinking as well. (Laughter).

FRAYER: Miguel Ullibarri's company, A Taste Of Spain, brings visitors to learn about the farm-to-table, free-range, organic eating that's been the norm here for centuries. Bob Hancock was so impressed by his matanza tour of Spain a few years ago that he went home and started raising pigs himself. I reached him at home in Kentucky.

BOB HANCOCK: So Armando, he starts to do his little call, which the pigs all know, and they start coming from everywhere. And they all look like hippopotamuses. They were just, like, super fat - I mean, unlike what the pigs are here in the United States.

FRAYER: The Iberian pigs can weigh 500 pounds, having doubled their weight in the two-month acorn season right before the slaughter.

(CROSSTALK)

FRAYER: In the Spanish village of Linares, population just 300, the matanza has always been an intimate community affair.

MAYOR JUAN MIGUEL RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "But this is a rural tradition we want to preserve," says Mayor Juan Miguel Ramos. "It's important to know where your food comes from, even if the experience is unpleasant."

(CROSSTALK)

FRAYER: Villagers drag the pig onto a wooden table, cooing and petting to keep it calm. A man wields a knife and women rush forward with buckets for the blood.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

CARMEN RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "The rest is women's work," says Carmen Ramos, her arm elbow-deep stirring a bucket of blood. The whole process took less than 15 seconds. The pig is then butchered on the town square and a festival begins.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRAYER: The women take the pig's intestines down to the river, where they wash them with lemon and vinegar. Tourists watch as every part of the pig is used - nose to tail - even the hooves for gelatin.

ISABEL ROMERO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We came out to the country to show our little girls the old traditions," says Spanish tourist Isabel Romero. "It's the first time they've seen that pork doesn't always come from the supermarket." After his matanza tour, Bob Hancock realized there might be a market for free-range pork in Kentucky.

HANCOCK: There's a huge wave of people that are getting into a nose-to-tail style of eating. They're not just going to the three-star Michelin restaurants. They're doing exactly what I did.

FRAYER: And he says that slowly but surely, they're changing the way they look at food. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in the Sierra Aracena, Spain.

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