Alongside the extensive herding of dairy animals, the breeding of the Sardinian wild pig was once very widespread in the Barbagie, Gennargentu and Supramonte areas, but also in the Ogliastra and, to a lesser extent, in the Sarrabus-Gerrei and in the Monte Linas areas. It is a small animal, with a live weight of around 70 to 100 kilograms, its height at the withers is about 60 centimetres and it has a black-grey coat with reddish-brown blotches. The bristles are long and form a mane on the back of the pig. The head is conical with small ears that point up and to the side or that even hang down. The nose is not very developed, the back is straight or a little convex. The thighs are thin. Sometimes the tail it has long bristles and therefore is horse-like. The limbs are short and strong. These territories lent themselves and still lend themselves to wild breeding, thanks to the dominance of the holm oak forests that still cover almost 40% of the territory today. Until the first half of the nineteenth century they covered over 70% of the total area and a significant part of this was prime forests, now reduced to endangered portions.
The presence of pigs on the island is very ancient, dating back to the Neolithic period, around the sixth millennium BC. Archaeological/zoological studies have made it possible to attribute numerous quantities of bones to the domestic pig. They have been found during archaeological excavations carried out in various sites on the island.
During the Nuragic period (1800-238 BC) this breeding is easily notable not only by the large quantity of bones found in the excavations of Nuragic villages and places of worship, but also by the bronze statuettes depicting the domestic pig and the wild boar.
In the Middle Ages, numerous written records regulate pig breeding, in fact several chapters of the Code of Mariano IV, Judge of Arborea, are reserved for pig breeding: chap. CXXXVI De su porchu mannali reports the term with which the fattening of the pig for family use is still indicated, su mannali; the chap. CXXXVII Porchus de gamma (who were in herds) lists the penalties that the breeders would face if the animals crossed over into the vineyards or vegetable gardens; the chap. CLIV De porchos in which it is forbidden to introduce pigs to pastures during the winter and in fallows. These laws were later taken up by their daughter Eleonora D’Arborea in the Carta de Logu code. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pig farming was of considerable importance in the agro-pastoral society of the interior of the island. In fact, it was very common to raise at least one pig in each family, defined in Sardinian as su mannale or mannali, to meet a family’s needs with supplies of meat, cured meats and lard.
As for the morphological characteristics, the first descriptions date back to the second half of the eighteenth century. F. Cetti, Jesuit father, naturalist and professor at the University of Sassari, in his 1774 essay “I quadrupedi di Sardegna”, shows a drawing of the animal and describes some peculiar characteristics of the native pig breed that are still present in some areas of central Sardinia. In particular, it emphasises the presence of a tail that is not twisted or short or bare, but that hangs straight, thick, long beyond the knee, full of bristles and looks like a horse’s tail …, the body abundantly is covered with bristles, the presence of a dorsal mane … but above the back row the bristles are upright almost like a sheet …, the presence of the lumbar tuft and, sometimes, of a wattle, and a varying coat colour.
There were shepherds who dealt exclusively with this breeding, known as “is proccargiusu”. There was also, and it is still used today, a special and rich pastoral architecture dedicated to the breeding of the pigs, partly taken up by modern outdoor farming techniques. For centuries and probably for millennia, farming was carefully regulated by civil customs, unwritten but strictly respected codes that governed the community’s use of land. Holm oak forests and acorns (su landi) were a community resource. Part of the acorns were reserved for residents and part were destined to the be sold in order to replenish the municipal money reserves through an auction to the best bidders, who assessed the price through an expert report (su landi a projectu). Several names of local areas testify to these practices: Su Coili de is Fonnesusu for example is a place where swineherds of Fonni settled for several winters in the nineteenth century, who having won the tender, built several pens. Everyone, resident or not, had to help move the pigs out of the forests after winter (Sproccargiai su Padenti) and they could return only in late autumn. In fact, if there were no more acorns to eat, the pigs would have eaten anything that they could find and would have caused damage to the forests.
Part of the piggery’s production was designated to weaned pigs which were for fattening and that ended up in practically every home, they were bought or bartered, they were slaughtered when they were over one year of age, and they provided the family’s supply of animal fats and proteins. Another product was the roast suckling pig, a typical dish of the area which then spread quite recently throughout all of Sardinia, becoming a characteristic regional dish. Originally it was a dish reserved almost exclusively for the table of the piggery family’s and the pigs were almost exclusively slaughtered young by making a selection from the litter, hence giving greater opportunities for the remaining young animals to grow.
Nothing was thrown away from the pig. The offal of the pig is cooked at the time of slaughter and the set of dishes, with the ritual of slaughter, took the name of Sciala ‘e Proccu. When there were no refrigeration systems, the processing and curing of the meat allowed for it to be conserved for a reasonably long amount of time. The process started with curing the meat with vinegar, pepper and salt (Pezza Cunfittada) for a few weeks; the fat was transformed into lard (used for cooking or instead of butter and olive oil that were not produced in the area, the cultivation of the olive tree spread only from the 1930s), and the head was always cured, it was cooked with dried broad beans; the guanciale (guardiola), pancetta and fine lard were aged for a few months; thick lard, which was stored for cooking other foods.
The main product, the most valuable and the only object of trade that often ended up on the tables of wealthy families in the cities was the renowned Barbagie prosciutto, su presuttu.
This type of farming, and consequently its products and its economy, practically ended in the early 70s with the arrival of the African swine fever or ASF (1969) in Sardinia which led to the embargo on Sardinian cured products. Which consequently made it impossible to market cold cuts outside the island. The pig herders, “is proccargiusu”, have disappeared but wild breeding by other shepherds or private individuals persists.
Today Sardinian pig farms are managed with fences that avoid contact with wild animals.
In June 2020, the Sardinian Region officially declared that they had eradicated the swine fever which therefore allows the Sardinian cured meat sector to start a new story.
The research activities necessary for the reporting of this product in the Ark of Taste online catalogue were financed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, the General Directorate of the Tertiary Sector and Corporate Social Responsibility – notice n° 1/2018 “Slow Food in action: communities protagonists of change”, pursuant to Article 72 of the Tertiary Sector Code, referred to in Legislative Decree No. 117/2017.