Last week’s sketch provided a glimpse into the Hispano tradition of a Matanza –a pig roast – believed to have begun in Spain during the Moorish occupation. When the Spaniards discovered their Muslim overseers distaste for pork they would periodically slaughter a pig, hold a festival, and enjoy life without the Moors for several days.
This tradition of a pig butchering and festival continued into the new world and exists today in rural New Mexico where families and friends gather to butcher a pig, cook it into Carne Adovada, ribs, chicharrones and other tasty dishes. Often times much of the pig is stored for consumption later in the winter; sometimes the entire thing is consumed.
Each year in Belen, Valencia County, New Mexico the Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce hosts a large Matanza as a fundraiser. 39 sponsored teams gather to butcher pigs and take part in a day long festival celebrating Hispanic heritage in New Mexico. This is serious business as bragging rights for best ribs, Carne Adovada, Iron Pig and other dishes are at stake.
Once again this year I had the pleasure of joining Joe Jaramillo’s team for most of the day getting up close and personal with the pig, the preppers, the cooks, the families, and a raunchy joke or two. I also made friends with Ray Chavez and Danielle Griego, on the Fat Sats Bar & Grill team who featured a large rotisserie slow roasting a full pork loin which attracted a fair share of attention and caused Pavlovian reactions among attendees.
This is not a photo story or essay in the strict sense. This is a sketch, a series of images as I learn the intricacies of the New Mexico Matanza and those that are skilled in its preparation. This is also a big thank you especially to the members of Jaramillo’s Custom Meat Processing of Los Lunas Team and also the Fat Sats Bar & Grill Team for welcoming me into their prep spaces and helping with all my efforts to make some pictures. I hope you enjoy the images.
The day begins before it begins: in the dark. Fires are lit, cook areas prepped, water is boiled, and traditional New Mexican breakfast is prepped: green chile breakfast burritos, potatoes, frijoles. The crew needs to be fed; they have a lot of work to do.
Time moves quickly, as do the preppers. Joe, a custom meat processor by trade, begins the labor intensive process of butchering the pig. There is a chill in the air, but the mood is jovial as families, extended families, and friends meet and greet and pitch in. Everyone, it seems, has a place and a purpose and takes part. This is a family affair; a community affair.
In anticipation of thousands of hungry mouths to feed, the excitement rises as the scent of frying sopapillas and carne adovada begins to fill the air mixing with wood smoke. Food is on the fire!
It’s not all hard work – though there is plenty of that – as the morning progresses the PA system comes to life, followed by the pledge of allegiance (in both English and Spanish) and the Star Spangled Banner. Eventually a series of musical acts take the soundstage with the music piped around the Valencia County Sherriff’s Posse Fairgrounds, the location of the Matanza. Below, a couple takes a break from cooking to dance while Carne Adovada (pork stewed in red chile) is expertly cooked nearby.
“El Perdido” (the Lost One) made an appearance and graced me with a picture.
Periodically through the day I visited the Fat Sats Bar & Grill Team’s prep location. After a few conversations about their recipes for the competitions I was invited behind the scenes to make some picture. Here I met “Country”.
Not content to be one of the most interesting people I’ve met, Country is also the proud owner of this object of male envy, the antique cast iron wood fired soap stove turned cook pot which he lovingly stoked and stirred. He also happily regaled all the curious onlookers with the story of how he came to be the owner of this unique – and hefty – cook pot.
Danielle Griego is a fascination to watch. Responsible for creating most of Fat Sats competition dishes she is a dynamo of creativity, organization, and motivation, and a gracious hostess sharing with me her recipes and samples of her creations.