During the Montanera season, we spoke with Juan Carlos González, one of our suppliers from Guijuelo, Salamanca, who shared with us the reality of life on the "dehesa" during this special time.
We asked Carlos about all the details of the necessary care for the pigs to achieve the best ham.
What does the Iberian pig do before the Montanera?
When born, the pig spends 28 days with its mother. Later, its growth is based on consuming about 700g of feed once a day for 3 months (120 days) to develop a strong skeleton. It reaches a weight of 90 to 100kg.
Which pigs are selected for the montanera?
Pigs for the montanera are those born in September or October of the previous year. For this year's montanera, we have pigs born in 2013.
What is the role of the mayoral?
A mayoral oversees the pigs and the estate. In our case, he moves about 200 pigs across an estate of around 450 hectares. The number of pigs moved varies depending on how the campaign went that year.
What does "moving the pigs" mean?
The estate is divided into enclosures, and the pigs are moved from one enclosure to another on a weekly basis. This ensures that the animals find the required amount of food in each enclosure.
Furthermore, at the beginning of the montanera, the pigs must roam the steeper and more rugged areas, as they gain weight over time and won't be able to access these areas later on.
During the montanera, do they only eat acorns?
No, during the montanera, the pigs eat acorns, but they also consume grass, and some days they are given feed as well because acorns do not fall all at once. Grass is important in their diet, as acorns can be too strong for their stomachs, and the grass helps them digest this crucial nut.
What type of acorns do they eat?
Pigs, though it might not seem so, are quite selective. They don't like the taste of green acorns, which they first encounter, due to their bitter flavor. However, by the end of the montanera, the pigs end up eating all acorns without hesitation.
When is the pig ready to produce the best ham?
The pig is ready when it weighs between 4 and 5 "arrobas."
What are "arrobas"?
The "arroba" is an ancient unit of measurement used in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America to determine volume or weight quantities. This unit is still used in this context. In this case, an "arroba" is equivalent to 11 and a half kilograms.
What is the pig's life like during these months?
During the day, the pig covers about 20 km, eats around 4 or 5 in the morning, sleeps at 11, resumes eating at 1:00 PM, and is back to sleep by 5 in the afternoon. To establish their routine, the pigs are brought to the estate a month before the montanera starts, as during the first 5 days, the animals are disoriented and thus unruly.