f you’re between four and six weeks old, weigh seven kilograms and notice a moustachioed fellow ambling towards you with a knife ready for the kill, chances are you are in the Bairrada region of Portugal.
If you are a pig, that is.
Bairrada, a green, hilly and typically rugged region in central Portugal, is suckling pig-eating Nirvana. Each day some 3?+¦-+?+¡000 little titty-sucking porkers are lovingly slaughtered in this province to provide locals and visitors with the dish known as Leit?+¦-ú??o da Bairrada. Like most Portuguese cuisine, the transition from screaming young pig to glorious finished dish shows a commitment to simple cooking, ?+¦-ú?+¡ la no brain surgery, foams, towers or saucy skid-marks involved.
After gutting, the cavity of the freshly killed porker is rubbed with salt, loads of pepper, garlic and spoons of gooey pork fat. The animal is then sewn up, skewered on a spit and carefully roasted for around two hours in a wood-fired oven, preferably one where gnarled old vines from the region are providing the heat. The roasting process is involved, complex and intricate, techniques being carried over from generation-to-generation. Arguments over the correct heat at which to roast a porky have caused brutal civil wars, copious bloodletting and malformed infants.
During a recent punishing business trip to Portugal, I convinced my host to veer?+¦-+?+¡from the highway between Porto and Lisbon to check out the suckling pig scene. First stop was a non-descript petrol station outside Mealhada, the Bairrada region’s pig capital. My introduction to the leit?+¦-ú??o was simple, nourishing and successfully showed the locals’ love of their little pig. For in the petrol station’s sparse, simple diner, the only fare on offer were floury, freshly baked Portuguese rolls stuffed with crisp, golden brown slices of piggy bambino.
Now, if one should judge a nation’s degree of civilisation by its truck-stop food, Portugal must be the centre of the universe.
But this slight roadside interlude was not going to be the only bit of piglet pleasure. A few days later, drained after a strenuous business meeting at the Allianca Winery in Sangalhos, also in Bairrada, lunch showed a commitment to the little pig that I had not seen since my grandmother slaughtered my orphaned lamb named Bonafacius and made a pie from him.
After we sampled some fresh white wines, a waiter placed bowls of saucy grey rice with little black bits of flesh before us. Cabileda, rice cooked with the blood of an animal, in this case obviously a six week old porky. The bloody mixture like a Chain Saw Massacre risotto ?+¦-+?+¡- was nicely flavoured with vinegar and also contained bits of intestines and organs harvested from the same animal whose blood was before us.
Like the red Bairrada wines, flavours are robust, lip-smacking and leave one with the content feeling that comes through recognising that as a human, you have made it to the top of the food chain.
Main course was not a surprise. A beautiful suckling pig of around six kilograms. The head was passed to me to examine, and upon my approval, the pig was deftly cared into bite-sized morsels.
Each piece contained a piece of sweet milky pink flesh and a thin layer of airy, crispy fat. The pieces were perfectly flavoursome and surprisingly light. What I liked about it, is that only the pig does the squeaking no marinades, sauces, drips. Served with roasted potatoes and a few slices of orange, the suckling pig of Bairrada must surely be one of the world’s great dishes, from a country whose cuisine is surely one of the world’s most authentically finest.
Yes, that’ll do pig.
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