The Iberian Pig, the Fungi and Seville
It is said that the Iberian swine is the consummate truffle hunter. It is further alleged, the rather musky odour of the fungus is similar to the porcine sex hormones. Now, the thought of this unwitting purveyor of fine smoked meats, snuffling around in the dirt to elicit sexual favours from a vegetable, seems somewhat off-putting to me but hey, that’s me. Others may be enchanted by this revelation and I say, each to their own.
As far back as the ancient Phoenician empire, the black domesticated pigs have been used for the purpose of truffle hunting. Not a great deal of evidence of this fact remains but enough to make the assertion that the fungus has been in demand for a great many centuries. Having tried a small slither of the stuff myself I have to say I can’t see what all the fuss is about, and why it commands prices surpassing $14,000 a kilo is beyond me.
Did it all start with a lonely Phoenician pig herder witnessing a horny hog snuffling about in an ancient grotto to unearth, to its disappointment, a rather ugly, black tuber, prompting it to turn it’s unsated attention to a nearby sow. Did the said swineherd, upon witnessing this abandonment for a bucolic assignation with its own species, and finding his stomach grumbling, have a bit of a chew on the dirty old thing. Who knows but the rest is history, as they say.
The word ‘truffle’ originates from the Latin word ‘tuber’ meaning swelling or lump, words that are clearly laden with sexual innuendo in my humble opinion. Some might say that this is a long bow to draw if one wants to show a parallel between sexuality and vegetables and indeed they may well be correct.
The Iberian pig is a small, black skinned creature which roams in the vicinity of the ancient oak forests of central and south western Spain and Portugal. The acorn provides the unique flavour of the famous Jamón Ibérico, Iberian Ham in English. I may be prejudiced against what one much-hatted chef called the ‘diamond of fungi’ but I became infatuated with Iberian ham, and when in Spain I took every opportunity to partake.
Even the smallest of bars in Spain will harbour the mould encrusted legs hung from the ceiling with tiny conical cups at the bottom to catch the residual oil. You can also find them skewered on purpose made stands (see picture below). It is usually the first thing a thirsty tourist will see when entering one of these establishments for a Cáno (a small glass of beer). The traditional method of serving this delicious meat is to cut it straight off the bone in very fine slices, arranged on a platter, dribbled with olive oil, dabbed with some strong local soft cheese and a pinch of fresh thyme…sublime!
You can buy the whole Iberian Ham at delicatessens in Spain and Portugal though it may require a second mortgage to do so. In the unlikely event you do happen to meet with the approval of your financial adviser on the matter, you will not be disappointed with your purchase.
There is much to like about the Spanish way of life. I particularly admired the populace of Seville’s propensity for doing as little as possible. Whatever can be put off until tomorrow can certainly be put off until next month in Seville. Lunch is from 2:30 to 4:30pm after which a siesta is mandatory. The dinner bell rings around 8:30pm and it appears the entire population wanders around the old city looking for somewhere to lounge, drink and eat tapas like there’s no tomorrow – and there often isn’t. However it is not until most tourists are snugly tucked into bed, the real fun starts. Bars are abundant in Seville, but things don’t start jumping until well after the traditional dinner-time between 9pm and 10pm. Beer and Mojito’s are a favourite and there are a few good Flamenco venues, although I have heard one has to venture out into the suburbs, to experience the traditional Flamenco. Well worth the cab fare, so I have been told. Maybe next time.