Postcard from... Aldudes, France

 

Thirty years ago, with fewer than two-dozen members of their species left, they faced extinction.

But after coming across some of the last remaining examples of the hairy, lop-eared Basque pig by chance at a French agricultural fair in 1988, Aldudes valley farmer Pierre Oteiza has almost single-handedly saved the breed from dying out – albeit by rearing the pigs for the consumption of their ham.

Mr Oteiza now has some 5,000 Basque pigs on his farm, producing a much-prized cured ham which sells in around a dozen delicatessens in France, as well as being exported to Japan and Korea.

And if the sight of porkers snuffling through the grass on Mr Oteiza's farm in search of acorns, roots and grass seems timeless, the former butcher uses modern computer technology and search programs to keep track not just of each ham, but of each pig's ancestors as far as six generations back.

The Basque pig cured ham, darker and richer than the much-better-known jamon serrano from the other side of the nearby Spanish border, has grown so popular that recently it was the pièce de résistance at a banquet for 3,000 local rugby supporters in a France-Argentina match.

But there are fans from much farther afield – even in the Far East. As Mr Oteiza told newspaper Sud Ouest this month: "Most weeks we'll have at least one busload of Japanese tourists come and pay the farm a visit."

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