On our countless rides on the paths of the Sierra de Huelva, it is not at all unusual for Chaparro and I to come across herds of black Iberian pigs foraging under the holm and cork oaks of the dehesa. You’ll see the pigs rooting about in the chestnut groves too.
Sometimes we spot pigs of dubious parentage; that is when the wild boar that roam the forests of the Sierra make an “illegal” incursion into a field of sows…
Very occasionally we’ll see the odd ginger coloured pig with black spots. The first time we saw these was on the circular Roblecillo ride, just to the west of Galaroza. The pigs there belong to Faustino, who is often there with his wife, and who we pass on the path with his mud-spattered white Land Rover.
I have also seen shy, spotted pigs on the ride over Los Altos de la Dehesa, on my way from Galaroza over to El Talenque and beyond. I had always assumed that these pigs where some sort of mix of Iberian with, maybe, from way back when, some Old Spot or something like that… after all it was English people who ran the mines in the Cuenca Minera of Huelva Province so who knows, they may have brought Gloucestershire Old Spots and Tamworths with them.
Those of you who read the blog will have heard me talk of Francisco’s farm, Navalonguilla. It is one of mine and Chaparro’s favourite places to ride through. One day in September, when we were passing, Francisco asked if I had taken any photos of the piglets.
“No, what piglets? I haven’t seen them.”
“Oh they’ll be round here in the shade.”
So I dismounted and tethered Chaparro to the gate opposite, got my wee camera out and followed Francisco into the southern field where the Sweet Chestnuts grow. And there they were; lovely little hairy piglets, with black spots. Mum was there too and Dad. Francisco picked up a couple to show me and began to explain to me that these pigs were actually a specific breed: Manchados de Jabugo.
The breed, along with Torbiscal and Lampiño pigs, is now in danger of extinction; this was made official in 2012 in a declaration by the Spanish Government. While there were numerous Manchados de Jabugo at the beginning of the 20th Century there are now at best only a couple of hundred left, maybe less. The breed was developed by wealthy farmers, D. José Sánchez Romero and D. Manuel García Moreno, on a farm called “El Mayorazgo” in the municipality of Jabugo, around the middle of the 19th century.
With the rise in popularity of ham from black Iberian pigs there was a perception that anything that didn’t have patas negras or black trotters, was of inferior quality – and while this may be true of the intensively farmed, factory pigs it certainly isn’t the case with the Manchados de Jabugo, who while not growing as large as the black pigs, produce excellent meat. However, the pigs cannot be hurried in any way, so are seen as being less “profitable”. The breed was also adversely affected by the Peste Porcina Africana (African Porcine Disease), which was a virus that hit Spain and Portugal in the 1960’s.
The Manchados can be either red (Retinta) or pale blonde (Jara) with irregular, black spots. They are long and rotund, they are much hairier than the black pigs and have pale/white trotters. Their heads are wide, their snouts long and they generally have pale eyelashes. The Manchado sows are fierce mothers. Their distribution is limited to the province of Huelva.
Nowadays there is only one farm to source legitimate bloodstock: “Los Remedios”, El Almendro, near Cabezas Rubias, south of the Sierra. Previously these could also be sourced in Galaroza at “La Dehesa” which belonged to the Diputación de Huelva but that was sold off a couple of years ago. This is a great loss to Galaroza as not only could serrano farmers source local breeds of pigs but this was also a base for the conservation of old, local varieties of fruit trees.
Riding by, a few days after my first encounter with the piglets, Francisco said that one of them was very poorly. I dismounted and went to have a look at the piglet, which was in the cortijo, in a box with a blanket and a hot water bottle. It was very weak and Francisco was sure that it wasn’t going to make it but wanted to give it a chance. Sadly it didn’t make it.
A few days later I arranged to visit the farm again, but this time with my “good” camera. Chaparro got to rest under the shade of a tree, in the company of the farm cats and Leona, Francisco’s beautiful mastín. There had been a new litter of piglets, this time they were retina coloured and were in a cortijo in another part of the farm which is hidden away at the back of the marble quarry. They were still quite tiny and rather beautiful. Francisco was justifiably proud of them. He is doing crucial work to conserve this lovely but rare breed of pig.
Video clip of the piglets feeding…..