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Spanish Secrets: A Twist In The Tail

This is the time of year when pigs are slaughtered in Galicia. Craig Briggs, his wife Melanie and two of their friends are invited to a farm for the Matanza, the slaughtering, an event which is another reason for a celebration.

At this time of year hardly a weekend goes by without hearing the screams of pigs as they are prepared for slaughter. With summer long since gone and frosty nights now common, the climate isright for salting, curing and smoking of the meat.

Our good friends David and Terri had arranged an invitation for us all to their Spanish friends' farm for a Matanza.

Matanza literally means slaughter or killing and is just one more reason for the Spanish to have a celebration.

The invitation was for 10.30 am if we wanted to see the actual killing, or noon if not. As four people who normally get their meat from a supermarket, jointed on a white polystyrene tray, wrapped with Clingfilm and labelled, we chose the latter.

We arrived at the house and were greeted on the porch by our hosts. To the left of the porch were five or six stone steps leading to a small covered terrace. Here, around a table, were four or five women, each with a knife, cutting and preparing various internal organs of the slaughtered pigs.

We climbed down the steps and followed a dirt path around the side of the house. This led to a lean-to at the back of the house, which was open on three sides with a corrugated roof.

Hanging from a steel frame which was securely bolted to the house, were three dead pigs. They were hanging by the tendons of their hind legs, from what looked like steel coat hangers. It reminded me of the delicate straps sewn inside ladies clothing and used for a similar purpose.

Our hosts' son, Herman, was just cutting open he last of the pigs. The knife was about 18 inches long with a 12 inch blade. Starting at the pig's stomach, he cut down the length of the animal, like a warm knife through butter. The organs literally fell out into a large well-placed bucket on the floor. This was then taken to the ladies we'd passed on arrival.

To the left were three other men working on a fourth pig around a makeshift table. One was systematically burning the body hair off the pig with a large blow torch. The other two scraped the burnt hair off the skin with tools similar to heavy-duty wallpaper scrapers.

Melanie commented that the air smelt like roasted pork crackling. If that was the case perhaps I need to see a doctor. To me it was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It just stank.

At the far end of the lean-to were another three men working on the fifth and final pig. By the time all the hair had been burnt off it was looking rather black and charred. These three men were carefully cleaning the skin with nail brushes and pan scrubs until it was a pale pink once more.

After the first three had finished their task, they set up a makeshift sluice. This consisted of a hose pipe wedged between two broken wooden pallets. Leant against this, was a 6 foot long by 2 foot wide piece of corrugated roofing.

For those with a fragile disposition read no more.

Out of one of the many plastic buckets filled with various entrails, came the small intestines - although narrow would be a far more accurate description. Whilst one man held both arms out, the other began wrapping the intestines around his outstretched arms.

I'm sure everyone can remember holding the hank of wool whilst their mother wound it into a ball for knitting. Well this scene was similar, except in reverse and using pigs' intestines instead of sheep's wool.

Both ends of the formed loop were then cut and the bile cleaned out by hand, on the makeshift sluice. After the small intestine comes the large intestine. These are simply cut into manageable sections, for cleaning out of the more solid waste items.

For those who have tasted the delicious chorizo sausages, you will be pleased that they go to such lengths to clean out what will become the sausage skins.

The carcasses require a day's hanging to dry out before butchering.

With the day's work complete the feasting can begin - and what a feast!

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