It’s dark, very dark indeed, with thick cloud blanking the sliver of moon. The farmhouse sits squat and black on the peak of the hill, and only the headlights reveal it as we rattle up the track. There are four of us in the Jeep and we’ve come to see something die.
In rural Spain, pigs are still killed the traditional way as part of a family event called a matanza – literally “a slaughter”. The family members would gather so that when the animal was killed, there would be enough willing hands to process everything that could be preserved, as quickly as possible. Then, the store cupboard stocked until the next killing, that which couldn’t be laid away was consumed on the spot – a brief celebration of plenty before returning to the hard life of the farm.
I’d come to Extremadura – along with Simon Mullins, co-founder of the Salt Yard Group of Spanish and Italian restaurants in London, and Ben Tish, the group’s executive chef – to watch a little piece of cultural history played out and to participate. But we’d also come to see a slaughter more real than most will ever experience. There is a natural inquisitiveness about death. There’s a moral aspect for a meat eater in connecting with the living animal that has to die for you, and there’s the challenge: how will you handle yourself? Witnessing the process has become a rite of passage for a certain kind of serious food lover, so we’d come to join a family matanza, we’d come to learn about Ibérico pigs, but, at the core of it all, we had come to see something die.