Pig farming and butchery (xerri hiltzea in Basque) has been a common activity in the Basque Country since the time of the Celts. In the past, the three most common native breeds were the Baztanesa, the Chato Vitoriano (now both extinct) and the Euskal Txerria (whose name means simply “Basque pig”). We have information about the Basque pig, in particular, from the time of the Kingdom of Navarre (824-1512). It seems that in 1237, the King of Navarre decided to demand a fifth of every herd of this breed of pig in exchange for the farmers being allowed to graze their pigs in the royal mountains in the autumn. The tax was commonly known as “kintoa,” from “quinta,” meaning “fifth,” which eventually became the name of this area, particularly suited to pig farming.
The Basque pig has strongly built limbs, a silky coat with large black spots, a black head and rump, a convex back and large fat ears hanging over its eyes. It has a very docile temperament and grows slowly, putting on around 300 grams a day (in contrast, a commercial hybrid can grow a kilo a day on average).
The innate docility of this breed means it can be farmed outdoors in small herds, feeding only on acorns, chestnuts and ferns. The natural diet, traditional outdoor farming and the breed’s genetic characteristics make for excellent meat: dark red in color, tender, spiced and flavorful. The fresh grass in the pig’s diet means the adipose tissue is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants, making it excellent for curing.
The surface of the fat in ham and cured lard is firm, but oily and melting in the mouth, while the leaner meat is tender, soft and elastic. On the palate, Basque pork offers aromas of spices and nuts and sensations of velvety fat. As well as extraordinary ham, the pork is also used to make traditional products like boudin (a blood sausage made with the pig’s head, pork rind, onions and piment d’Espelette), chicons (pork breast and fat cooked over low heat for four hours and flavored with salt, pepper and piment d’Espelette), hure (pork head and rind, white wine, garlic, parsley and piment d’Espelette), bacon and cured jowl.
Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, Aquitaine region, northern Basque Country
Presidium supported by
European Leader and Feader projects, Aquitaine Regional Authority, Department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Arrapitz association
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Jean Paul Duhalde
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Monique et Gabriel Echecolanea
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Marie-Pierre Jara Xolan et Jean-Michel Pampi Erramoun
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