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Weekly Edition 037: Saturday 10th November 2001

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An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

"Ric com un Verga"
Of Pigs and Men on Eivissa/Ibiza - Part Seven

'Pig Fever'. There was a certain amount of worry amongst pagesos eivissencos (Ibicenco peasants) earlier this year that an outbreak of swine fever on the neighbouring Spanish mainland might possibly spread to the pigs on Eivissa/Ibiza and thereby ultimately affect the annual seasonal matanšes (pig killings). Medically called Classical Swine Fever (CSF), it is a highly contagious viral disease of swine which can spread via trade in live pigs, fresh pig meat and certain meat-based products. The pigs can catch CSF through eating, inhalation, and sexual (semen) infection or by contamination through cuts and scratches. Usually spread through contact with infected pigs, it can also be transmitted indirectly via contaminated manure, farm equipment, vehicles, and boots and clothing. Although disastrous for pigs, it poses no health risk to humans. Rural Ibicencos were apprehensive, though, as if it reached Eivissa it might mean the pre-emptive slaughter of many of their pigs to prevent further spread. European Governments are extremely cautious with CSF. On 14th June 2001 the European Commission in Brussels notified its Commission services throughout Europe (upon advice from the Spanish Government) of an outbreak of CSF in the province of Lleida (Lerida) in Catalunya in southeastern Spain. The infected area was immediately cordoned off by the establishment of a 3 kilometre protection zone and a 10 kilometre surveillance zone. English readers will be familiar with what this entails after the recent struggle in the UK to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth disease. A special meeting of the Standing Veterinary Committee was held on 22nd June to review the situation but by 20thJuly there had been a total of 23 reported outbreaks of CSF in Catalunya including 6 recent outbreaks in the Autonomous Community of Valencia (parts of which are only a few hours away from Eivissa by boat). By that date a total of 438 pigs had died and 5,154 had had to be slaughtered.

 In San Antonio on the western side of Eivissa (the side nearest Valencia and from where a regular commuting passenger fast ferry can take only two hours to reach Denia on that part of the mainland) it was the height of the tourist season. Amongst the crowds of hangover, strung-out and lobster-red British tourists queuing for cheap cigarettes and British newspapers in the main 'Tabac' shop near the centre of San Antonio one could periodically see old pagesos eivissencos from the hills who had come to get the local newspapers to find out how the 'pig fever' outbreak was spreading. Many elderly Ibicencos cannot necessarily read or write (a normal situation in an oral culture in which easy access to education dates really only from the 1950s) and some may not even speak Castillano (Spanish), but news was passed around rapidly by word of mouth to those who needed it. The local radio also had regular updates on the situation. None of the English tourists on the island at that time were aware, I am sure, of the underlying 'pig tensions' during their visit. In the old days, if 'pig fever' hit Eivissa', it was the time when the irregularly regular pig smuggling performed by the often dashing contrabandistas des porcs (pig smugglers) shifted into high gear, bringing pigs secretly from the more isolated island of Formentera to Eivissa. Luckily by the end of August it seemed that the control actions on the mainland had had their effect and the 'pig fever' threat to Eivissa was over. Much of the island breathed a sigh of relief (not noticed by the tourists). The safety of the 'hidden' pigs earmarked for this winter season's matanšes thus assured, pagesos eivissencos thoughts then turned to the beginning of the fattening up process.

Back to the matanša itself. In the article before last in our present series we had got to the stage where the killed pig is being carefully dismembered in a set order by the matanšer (pig killer) who is directing his assistants, men from the extended family of the owners of the pig. Almost none of the pig is wasted, almost everything is used. The last parts of the pig to be taken out are the guts or entrails - ventre in Eivissenc language, 'tripa(s)' in Spanish. A traditional matanšer eivissenc (Ibicenco pig killer, a respected calling) recognizes five different types of ventre: ventre prim, ventre ruat, sa nora, sa bufeta and es ventre cular. Nowadays it is a relatively common practice to also obtain ox or cattle entrails, ventre de bou or budell de bou, as the pig entrails, for making and encasing the sobrassades and botifarros are not necessarily long enough to make as many as one may want/need. As oxen and cattle are almost non-existent on Eivissa these have to be purchased from special stores who usually get them direct from slaughterhouses on the mainland or neighbouring Mallorca.

From an average pig weighing, say, 20 rovas (200 kilos), only about a quarter will not be used, leaving approximately 15 rovas (150 kilos) whose use is split up in approximately the following manner: 7 (plus) rovas (72 kilos) go to make sobrassades; 2.5 rovas (24 kilos) go to make botifarros; 3 (plus) rovas (32 kilos) consist of xulla fats and 'grease' for culinary additives and cooking and 2 (plus) rovas (22 kilos) of bones. In England not much use (for humans) would necessarily be made of the bones, but on Eivissa life was harder and with pigs (as with almost everything else in life) everything that could possibly be used was used. The bones would be/are covered in sea salt and then stored, well wrapped in cloth sacks, in a dark and cool area. Cooked bones and their marrow are an essential element in much traditional cooking on Eivissa and Formentera.

At this stage most of the pig has been cut up but the entrails (for making the 'skin' of the sobrassada sausages) must be left to cool first. The pig was clean and opened up and the entrails sent to the group of women ready for preparation. Now was often the time to esmorzar (to have 'almuerzo' in Spanish, a type of late breakfast), although the timing of the much awaited feast breaks varied/varies according to the traditions of each particular pagŔs household. It was the time to eat the famous bunyols, sugared and cooked (but cold) buns of flour, yeast, lemon peel, batafaluga and sometimes a bit of potato. Sometimes as a trick a bean, or a 'toilet paper leaf' or a special small cord were/are put inside some bunyols so that then the lucky eater could/can be laughed at and with - there is a lot of subtle symbolism in these trick bunyol insertions. If it was a 'full' late breakfast it would be a companatge, with bread, sobrassades, botifarros, cheese, dried figs, olives, fried pigs blood and lots of vi pagŔs (peasant wine, drunk fresh, it doesn't usually store too long). 

Once the entrails cool off they are washed by the women. As most of ventres will be used to cover the meat products as a 'skin', they must be perfectly clean inside and out. The traditional local oranges are used for this purpose. Most old houses will have one of these orange trees nearby - their oranges are smaller and more bitter-tasting than the modern oranges, but their higher citric acid content makes them ideal for the kind of cleaning and sterilizing necessary. Although again traditions vary from household to household the entrails can be washed around six times with these bitter oranges and then turned inside out by sticking a reed up through them and then peeling them to turn them inside out. The reverse side is then washed again six times with oranges.

When these entrails are all cleaned, the meat can then be put through sa capoladora, the manual meat grinder that has an exit attachment over which one puts the open end of an entrails: the exiting ground meat goes, sausage-like, into the entrails and is periodically tied tight with string at the required lengths. For making sobrassada the meat is premixed with salt, crushed red pepper and spices. Two types of sobrassada can be made a thin one that, after curing, is ready to eat within about a month and a thicker one that takes about six months of curing to be edible. The important thing about sobrassades is that the ground meat contents are left raw to be cured naturally by the salt, pepper and spice ingredients interacting with the cool storage temperatures. Each sobressada is about 50cm in length, bent in the middle and the two ends tied together. As they cure naturally the reddish tinge will deepen and they sometimes develop a beautiful shiny patina, much admired by rural inhabitants.

Botifarro and botifarra go through a different process. Neither contain pepper and the ground meat contents are much less in quantity as the major constituent is boiled/cooked blood. The large cauldrons of boiling water steaming all day are cooking these 'embutidos' once they have been 'dressed' with their skins/entrail coverings. Botifarro are smaller and finer than the botifarra and cannot be stored as long as the latter. Their shapes are lump-like rather than sausage-like and they may have a lighter or darker blackish colour depending on boiled blood content.

As these 'embutidos' come off the extended family production line they are hung from the perxada, a series of racks attached to the inner roof of the darkest and coolest section of the house. Hundreds of embutidos may end up hanging there by the end of the day, but the exact number is kept a rather closely guarded secret by those of the extended family present and the 'nomadic' matanšer (pig killer) knows better than to tell the next rural household he goes to how many embutidos were made in the households he has visited previously.

The end of this exhausting day is approaching and all await the big special dinner. We have not finished yet, there is still much to say. Readers may by now be getting a bit bloated with pigs on Eivissa/Ibiza. However, at least one has to admit that this newsletter is without doubt the first foreign language publication from this island that has had enough guts - or ventre - to publish an extended series of articles on this aspect of the island that is almost completely unknown to tourists and is seemingly at odds with the (rather tarnished) image and reputation of Eivissa as touted by overseas tour promoters. Just hang in there!

With thanks to many eivissenc friends, but there is not enough space to list them this week.






Kirk W Huffman

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