Everything But The Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain
FSG; 306 pages
Barlow is not a half-assed carnivore. An expatriate Brit who relocated to the Galician town of his Spaniard wife, he launches himself on a foolhardy mission: travel around northwest Spain and eat as much pig as possible. Snout, marrow, heart, bladder, headall of it. Along the way, he tells the tale of Galicia, a cold, rainy, and stubbornly independent piece of Spain on the Atlantic Ocean. It is "a patchwork of small, low-intensity farms...real working countryside" and home to Don Quixote's Miguel de Cervantes, longtime Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco, and the Castro family (of the Havana Castros). Barlow's gastronomic travelogue manages to make the place sound utterly depressing and enchanting at the same time.
1. On the reputation of the pig: "Traditionally, pork is the staple meat of rural Galicia. It's a good, dependable food source. But dependable is the word. The pig does not evoke a sense of grandeur. It is an everyday animal. And its meat is not generally considered to be glamorous or sexy. Think sexy meat and it's a big juicy fillet or beef winking up at you from the plate, next to it a decent bottle of Bordeaux. Think healthy meat, if you must, and it's a small portion of free-range chicken breast...Whatever your criterion, there's always something outgunning pork for the top spot: aristocratic meat (venison, swan), cruel meat (dog, suckling anything), underrated (rabbit), overrated (veal), fashionable (ostrich), unfashionable (horse)..."
2. On a small town's Dionysian "Dirty Day" festival: "Those bulging sacks on the cart contain moist soil and live ants, the big, juicy, biting kind, bred and nurtured especially for tonight's extravaganza. Apparently, the ants are sprinkled with vinegar just before the main event, to get them really angry. An army of ant scatterers emerges from behind us, each one with a bag of the anty soil, which they launch into the air above our heads. Screams go up as the sky fills with soil and very annoyed ants...Everyone is maniacally scraping mud and insects from their hair and clothes, yelping and groaning with horror and hilarity in roughly equal measure."
3. On one of the more rarified pieces of the pig: "Pressed head of pig doesn't sound that tempting. All I can say is give Manolo a call, he might persuade you otherwise. After the cachucha is simmered until soft, the bones are removed. The two half-head pieces are then crammed into a steel press about half the size of a shoe box, and pressure is applied until all the squeal's gone out of it...I don't count them, but there's a real cacophony of flavors, from the familiar sweetness of boiled ham to the earthy notes of the skin. All the different bacon you've ever eaten comes back to say hello."
The Lowdown: Galicia is the non-Spanish Spain. It's typically not warm, not anywhere near the Mediterranean, and far from the foot-stomping, castanet-clanging, torero ole-ing that characterizes the nation's more well-known southern coast. As Barlow writes it, Galicia is a misty, mysterious place full of cagey old coots and rustic food fanatics. What better place, then, to embark on a semi-ridiculous, typically male journey. With good humor and shameless enthusiasm, he has written a delicious meat mash note.
The Verdict: Read