The Good Life of the Iberian Pig
In Spain, in order for meat to be classified as Iberian pork there is a rule that there must a hectare of land for each pig. With space to move freely and the best quality food and care it could be said that the pigs at the Jamones Eiriz farm are living their best life. I wouldn't mind a hectare of land to roam around myself. I was visiting Eiriz as part of a photography workshop with the photographer Tim Clinch. We were staying at Finca Buenvino in the heart of Sierra de Aracena in Andalucia, famous for it's black Iberian pigs and delicious pork product, jamon.
The deep flavour of Iberian jamon is attributed to the fat that infiltrates the muscles of the animal and causes it to be marbled through the meat (similar to Wagyu beef). The fat (mainly oleic acid which is good for cholestrerol) allows the meat to cure without drying it out. With their diet of acorns and grass, open space for exercise in the sun, socialising with other animals and daily mud bath treatments, we could see that the pigs were thriving in their 5-star lifestyle.
As we toured the farm, it was explained by our guide Jesus that every aspect of the pig's life is designed to enhance their health and minimise stress. In the region there is a deep understanding and appreciation of the relationship between the pig's wellbeing and the quality of the end product. Any stress to the animal will reduce the tenderness of the meat. It reiterated to me the effect that stress has on the body, animal or human, and it was clear that we could all benefit from this type of care and attention to our wellbeing - even if we can't all have mud baths in the afternoon.
Stress, and how to manage it, was a topic that was on my mind since I had recently featured in an Irish Times article on the topic of "downstressing". When I was in my corporate tech job, stress manifested itself for me through chronic back pain. When we're not taking care of ourselves stress will scream for our attention through our body and present itself physically until we address it.
It was obvious at Eiriz that through taking care of the animal's basic needs, they would raise pigs that are in great physical condition, living stress-free happy lives. What would that look like for us? To avoid (or manage) stress we could also start with tending to our day to day needs - eating good quality food, getting enough rest, exercise and fresh air are a good place to start.
Some other things that have helped me...
- I've recently gone back to the gym after a 3 year hiatus. After the initial shock to my system I got the feel-good endorphins back and it's been a way for me to get out of my head for 45 minutes.
- The audiobook of The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer blew my mind and I go back to it regularly. Listening to it in bed is like meditation. It's pretty deep. Who are you? and Are you a physical body? are questions that he ponders. I get something new from it every time.
- Cooking always relaxes me and helps me to wind down physically. Chopping, stirring and washing dishes all involve us using our hands, getting away from a laptop or phone screen and forces us to focus on the task in front of us.
I'm starting a newsletter series next week 'Kitchen Meditations: How to De-stress through Cooking' where I'll be going deeper into how we can use our time in the kitchen to relax, switch off and get creative. If you'd like to receive this you can sign up to get 'postcards from my kitchen' to your inbox at the link below.
Meanwhile I'll keep posted you here soon with an update on my summer veggie challenge.