Purple piglets

A purple piglet wriggled in my lap while another half dozen scuttled around my ankles. Born that morning at the end of summer, they seemed to be enjoying their first evening in the Sierra de Aracena in the north-west corner of Andalucía. I was staying on a farm just outside the village of Cortegana, and helping peel tomatoes to be stored in jars and used throughout the winter.

The quiet villages, on gentle hills that are crowned with castles built by the Knights Templar, are linked by ancient mule tracks, flanked by peach and plum trees, which make excellent and easy walking routes.

Later on, we piled into a Landrover and set off to find the 150 prized Iberian pigs that roam the estate. It was time to feed them. We came upon a group of them wallowing in a shallow pool, cooling off in the evening sunshine. As we bowled melons at them, they headed them to each other in a piggy version of volleyball.

The Atlantic winds meet the warmer Mediterranean breezes here, creating a mild and humid climate. The landscape is covered with chestnut, cork and holm oak trees, which produce the acorns on which the pigs feed throughout the autumn. Reared in accordance with the strictest regulations governing diet and exercise, the pigs will eventually produce the delicious Jabugo pata negra ham for which the area is renowned. Salt-cured and air-dried, the ham is carved into glistening magenta strips, marbled with almost imperceptible lines of fat, which is what gives it its exquisite flavour.

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