The pig and its derived products are very common in the whole region of Kelmend, in northern Albania at the border with Montenegro. The importance of the pig is linked with it’s use as a primary protien soure in winter for the area’s 99% Catholic population. Mish i thatë (literally “dried meat”) is the oldest way of preserving of meat in Kelmend, dating back hundreds of years. After having cut the hams off the pig, the rest of the carcass is cut in pieces of 4-5 kg each. These pieces are put into a container and covered with a layer of unrefined black salt for 21 days. Since at this point the meat is particularly salty, the pieces are then immersed quickly in hot water and then hung in a well-ventilated place and smoked for 5-6 days. The wood used to smoke the meat is often from juniper or fruit trees. The dried meat can then be stored in a cold place. Mish i thatë is produced form the meat of the Kelmend pig, a small but particularly fat breed. Since the fall of Communism, the Kelmend pig has been cross-bred with larger, more productive breeds from Montenegro. Today Kelmend pigs are larger and leaner than they were in the past. Their weight varies from a minimum of 120 kilograms to a maximum of 200 kg. The community is particularly careful in feeding the pigs, avoiding excessive corn in the diet and giving it local herbs, bran and grass to improve meat quality. Each sow can give birth to 8-16 pigs per year. The use of this meat is particularly important during winter: Preparation of the dried and smoked meat starts after the 6th of December, Saint Nicholas Day. Almost each family in Kelmend owns at least one pig, and each family uses the meat for its own subsistence and consumption. Production of dried and smoked meat is mainly for domestic use, and consumption is limited to the Kelmend region. The risk of disapperance of this product and related breed are due to social and economic conditions in the region. There is a large amount of emigration of younger generations from the area due to the lack of opportunities in the territory and the low profitability of traditional farming and breeding activities. This is bringing about the gradual loss of the knowledge related to the traditional, local methods of meat conservation.
Image: Slow Food Archive