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Matances: Foto 1
  • Matances: Foto 1
  • Matances: Foto 2
  • Matances: Foto 3
  • Matances: Foto 4

"Fer matances", the unchanging tradition

The private family slaughter of a pig, "fer matances" as it is called on Mallorca, is perhaps the island tradition that has evolved least of all those that are still preserved. And so, the slaughter that is still carried out nowadays is more or less similar to what was done two hundred years ago. Many families, especially in the villages, still kill a pig or two per year and produce the star product, the sobrasada sausage.

In former times, the pig slaughter was essential because it supplied the families with food for the whole year, giving them a store of meat in the event of hard times. Nowadays, although things have changed a lot, many Mallorcan families still fatten up a pig each year and the sobrasada continues to be, in many cases, a daily star food in the Mallorcans' diet.

The great success of the "matances" on Mallorca, and what has allowed their preservation, is that they continue to answer a need of the island rural society. The slaughters on Mallorca were, and are, a family party, a day to meet up with friends, neighbours and acquaintances who helped in the tasks. They are, in fact, a complete theatrical performance of the Mallorcan character. The houses fill with people as on a large stage. The owners of the house invite people for lunch and can show off their manners and knowledge of a topic in question. Songs are sung and verses recited. The more people the merrier and the more the mistress of the house gains in prestige. The more food, more laughter and more fiesta, the more satisfied the master of the house is.

Apart from the social question, of course the most important item of the day, and throughout the following year, is the star product, the sobrasada. It is without doubt a very complete nutritious food, protein rich in fats and calories, and that can be preserved for a whole year, and often longer. Since 1993 it has been recognised by the European Union with the quality seal of the Protected Geographical Identity.

Formerly, any "matances" day in the morning

Traditionally, and as is still carried out, the pig was fattened up for a year: from January to December, for example although these dates could vary according to the slaughter day. What is certain is that the pig had to be killed on a cold day to ensure the best conservation of the sobrasada. At dawn, the farm workers, sent by the farm manager, would catch the pig and while the former held it on the bench, he would plunge the knife in the pig’s neck. Giving the fatal stab to the animal was the task reserved for the most expert hand, since it is by no means easy and something that is not known by many people. Once dead, a sign of the cross was cut with the same knife to ward off any evil spirits.

The next step was to singe the skin and soften it by rubbing it with a rough stone and pieces of roof tile, with hot water until it was really clean. Afterwards it was cut up, removing the belly pork and mincing up the meat to mix it with paprika to make the sobrasadas.

Sobrasada, the star product

Although other products were made, and still are, such as salted belly pork, "bottifarons" (small blood sausages), "camaiots" (large blood sausage), and more recently ham or forms of "chorizo" (cured sausage), most of the animal was dedicated to making sobrasadas.

Sobrasada is made from the lean meat of the pig and some belly pork, all minced and mixed with paprika, salt and spices. The origin of the name probably comes from Italy, where there is still a product called "soprassata" present in the markets of certain villages in Tuscany, although it is not like the island sobrasada. Naturally the first sobrasadas that will have been made on Mallorca, in the middle ages, will not have been like the present day ones, since paprika was not added until the XVIII century, when the product was brought from America and the meat mincing was improved.

Once a homogenised paste of meat and spices has been prepared, the cleaned entrails of the animal are filled and sown up. The great variety of entrails in a pig creates the different kinds of sobrasadas we can find. Therefore the first to be eaten is the "llonganissa", prepared with the small intestines and that matures quickly, one week after hanging it; the sobrasada prepared with the large intestine; the "culana" made from the colon, particularly characteristic as there is only one per animal and it is very long and thick; the "bufeta" made from the animal’s bladder; the "bisbe", the largest of all which is eaten last, made from the stomach; and the "poltrú" made from the appendix.

All the sobrasadas have different maturing times so they are eaten at determined times of the year, guaranteeing in this way the constant supply. It is during the maturing that it acquires the colour, aroma and taste that have made it a symbol of the Islands.

And so, soon it will be time to open the "culana", if this has not already been done, and to try and make the sobrasadas last until it is cold again and the pig is really fat ready for the next fiesta.


Text by Jaume Catany for MallorcaWeb.

Photographs by Pep Torró ceded to MallorcaWeb.

English translation by Anne Kay.

Last update: 08/07/2004

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