Celebrate the Pig: The Maialata Returns

Chef Cathy Whims is teaming up with local lovers of Italian food to bring the age-old Festival of the Pig to Oregon.

By Erik Maurer January 16, 2014

Chefs Jason French and Cathy Whims

Image: John Valls

In the dead of winter, while the land slumbers and frost paints the ground silvery white, the villages in the foothills of northern Italy spring to life. Friends, family, and townsfolk come together a fortnight after the first full moon of the New Year for the age-old celebration of The Maialata—the Festival of the Pig. The villagers gather together to butcher pigs (“maiale” in Italian) from local farms and prepare the next year’s stores of sausages, roasts, charcuterie, prosciutti, and a whole host of other porcine delights. After working feverishly all day, they celebrate throughout the night, devouring scrumptious pork dishes, hand made pasta, and delicious Italian wine.

You, too, can take part in this day of revelry and feasting. For the second year, Nostrana’s Cathy Whims is teaming up with Montinore Estate to bring this classic Italian tradition to Oregonians. Thanks to the efforts of Montinore owner Rudy Marchesi, who is as passionate about biodynamic wine production as he is about peasant food traditions, and local pork connoisseurs Jason French (Ned Ludd), Camas Davis (Portland Meat Collective), Piper Davis (Grand Central Bakery)Rick Gencarelli (Grassa/Lardo), Mark Doxtader (Tastebud), and John Taboada (Luce, Navarre), Italian cuisine fanatics will be able to take part in an experience that is normally only enjoyed by the butchers, farmers, and villagers of Italy.

Image: John Valls

The Maialata has always been a community affair, with everyone taking part in the preparations, and the same will be true of Montinore Estate’s event. The day begins at noon, when guests will get started by sipping choice vintages of Montinore wines while watching experts Rob Roy and Camas Davis demonstrate the art and craft of whole-pig butchery. They will then dive into a course on centuries-old techniques for making hand-rolled pasta. They’ll enjoy handcrafted cheese and charcuterie (and of course, more wine) as they create ragu, raviolis, salumi, prosciutti, and a cornucopia of other piggy delicacies.

Finally, once the sun dips below the horizon after a day of engrossing gastronomy lessons and invigorating labor, guests will hunker down to a six-course feast in the barrel room of the wine cellar, accompanied by more Montinore wine and the melodious strains of Portland Opera soloists.

“It’s such a beautiful tradition, teaching younger generations to use every single part of the animal,” says Whims. “I discovered the Maialata while travelling in Friuli. There is a wonderful expression there—il suino e’ stato donato dalla natura per banchettare!—which means 'The pig was given by nature to feast!'” And the Italians have taken this saying to heart, indeed, having produced divine pork dishes for millennia. The Maialata dates back to the time of Roman emperors, and, having survived the rigors of time, we are lucky to have it here today in the hills of Oregon wine country.

The Maialata will be held at the Montinore Estate on Sunday, February 16. Cooking and lessons begin at noon, and the dinner is at dusk. There are only 60 seats available, so interested parties should get in touch with Montinore Estate as soon as possible at (503)359-5012. For more information, visit the Montinore Estate website.

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