Everything but the Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain

When one lives with a vegetarian wife and an infant son, an irresistible enthusiasm for feasting on pork may not be the most communal of hobbies. But it’s no surprise that writer John Barlow discovered said urge soon after moving to Galicia, a region in northwest Spain particularly known for its thorough consumption of hog (and where the locals find the eating preferences of his wife, a native Galician, so incomprehensible that they continually urge her to “just try” morsels of flesh). After a full 12 months of strenuous gastronomic research, Barlow can tell you the flavor of just about any pig part, from hoof to jowl. He competes for platefuls of chorizo served family-style at an open-air market decorated with dried pigs’ heads in festive soccer scarves and mustaches (“Galicians are not cruel to animals, but neither are they sentimental”). On the recommendation of his podiatrist, he goes on a pork quest to the hometown of Cervantes, and along the way has an unfortunate encounter with what seems to be “smashed up vertebrae” steamed in a stomach bladder. A pressed pig head, his guide claims, has “twenty-four tastes,” and indeed Barlow savors “a chorus of chattering pork voices” in what seems to be “an amazing pig cocktail.” Pepe Solla’s elegant plate of sous-vide ribs are so fine, he says, “they make you cry when you taste them.” Finally, he attends an old-fashioned slaughter, involving a nine-inch knife and a tractor, followed by a repast of “a bacon sandwich, a glass of wine and a spot by the fire.” Yes, yes, this is a book that makes one yearn for smoky porcine deliciousness. But Barlow’s uncommonly fresh wit and charm (he is also the author of a novel and short story collection) make him the kind of guide one would follow just about anywhere.