November 14, 2001
November is traditionally the month for
slaughtering pigs on the small family farms in France. It is
usually cool enough in November to complete the three days of
hard work without spoiling the meat. Although it is a rare event
today, the tradition still exists and the pig remains an important
part of the French diet. Of course modern farms are no longer
constrained by the weather or tradition but butchering a pig
was a common occurrence on small family farms just a few years
ago. I witnessed the slaughter of a pig on my grandmother's farm
fifty years ago and although I was only five years old, I can
still remember my father and his six brothers and sisters working
all day long in pools of blood and guts. It was very impressive
and many of campagnards of the Loir Valley remember how it is
The pig has always been an important weapon
against famine and starvation in Europe. Absolutely nothing is
wasted. Everything is eaten. That thirty-pound porcelet purchased
in April now weights three hundred pounds and is ready for slaughter.
At the turn of the last century, the aid of a segnur (pig butchering
expert) or charcutier specialiste was necessary but the whole
family participated in the work.
Segnurs are hard to find nowadays so I
did a little research to find out how the slaughter is accomplished.
Monsieur Jean arranged a visit to the pig farm of Gilles Capps
near the village of Houssay. But Gilles tells me that modern
farms no longer kill and butcher their pigs. They are all sent
off to an abattoir in Clermant-Ferrand for processing. However,
I met a donkey named Mr. Ed who knew a lot about the subject.
When I approached the donkey to take his picture, he commenced
to sing something that sounded like the Marseillaise. He didn't
stop until I left. The pigs were less colorful but more poignant.
After five minutes in the building where they are kept before
that big truck ride to Clermant-Ferrand, my cloths were completely
impregnated with the smell of pig shit. Jean and I were pursued
by packs of dogs all day long as we traversed the valley in search
of a segnur. All of my clothes had to be washed but it was all
worth the trouble. I learned how to butcher a pig. Here are the
Attach the pig's right rear hoof (or whatever a pig has at the
end of its leg) with a cord. Use another cord to tie the upper
jaw of the pig to your ankle. Tighten the cord so its head does
not move. This allows the animal to squeal a long time when its
throat is cut. Squealing speeds the bleeding.
When the pig is tied and secured, make two cuts in a V shape
in its throat. Empty the blood into buckets. Pour the buckets
of blood into a larger vessel where one member of the family
should begin to stir the warm blood by hand to prevent it from
clotting. The blood will be used later for making sausages.
Stretch the carcass out on a bed of straw. Cover it with another
layer of straw and set it on fire to burn off the fur. After
burning off all the fur, scrape the skin with tiles or the edge
of a knife. Wash the scraped skin with clean water.
Remove the testicles by a quick twisting, snatching movement.
Wipe the cold sweat from your brow.
With a sharp knife, make a long slice the length of the stomach
and chest until the innards are revealed. The French argot for
these innards are la boufie, les rognons, le chodin, la coeffe,
la pire dure and la pire molle. La boufie is the stomach, les
rognons are the kidneys and la coeffe is the heart, lungs and
spleen. The rest are just parts.
Pull out the entire contents of the cavity and separate them
with care. Use a hatchet to break the spinal column from top
to bottom. Distribute the various innards to the family members
for processing. The stomach (la boufie) when dried and inflated
makes a great balloon for the children. The tail is usually given
to a young woman in the family and everyone makes phallic jokes
The next day fires are built and ovens are heated. The heavily
larded meat is simmered all day to make rillettes, rilles, rolets
and pates. Part of the coeffe (heart, lungs and spleen) is used
to cover the pates. The blood and intestines are used to make
blood sausage (boudin noir). The intestines are also used to
make another type sausage with the couane and the viande moulue.
I believe these sausages are called andouilles.
The best parts of the pig are the hams that are rubbed with eau-de-vie,
covered with salt and pepper, and wrapped in a type of rough
cloth. After ten or fifteen days they are hung high in the chimney
The third day is dedicated to making fressure. Fressure is the
meats not yet used which include the heart, liver, spleen and
lungs. It is simmered all day in a large cauldron with bread
and onions. At the end of the evening blood and a broth of milk
and flour are added. I believe this is consumed like soup.
Lard, rillettes and rillons are stored in ceramic pots called
saloirs. Salt is used for conservation. Andouilles are hung in
the kitchen to dry in winter but in the summer they are also
stored in brine in a saloir. The roasts, pates, and blood sausage
are consumed immediately. One pig could feed a family for several