The French Pig (from salt to ham)

Piglets Now!

We met Julian on Wednesday. Julian is the son of Jean Guenard, who breeds the piglets that become Ibaiona hams. He showed us around the improvements to the facility since we had been there in December. I will tell you about those improvements later. They are impressive. When Kate explained why we were there, he asked  the question that I couldn't quite get my head around until that moment. He asked the completely basic question I had been to ignorant to ask. "But how will we know which piglet will go to Eric; at birth is too early to tell."

Then he took us to the birthing rooms where the still pregnant sows were to deliver any time now. Some of the sows had already delivered a day or two early, one of them a week early. We left our phone number and he told us he would call tomorrow when they were giving birth. He would not be there in the morning, but Agnes, the pig mid-wife would be.

We checked into the hotel and hung our piggy clothes to air on the terrace. We took a little "internap" and said hello to our facebook friends. We went for a nice dinner and, encouraged by the Basque cider and jetlag, very quickly we were asleep.

The next morning (this morning) we went down to breakfast ready for action and wearing our piggy clothes. Kate went up to pick up her recharging phone, while I finished my coffee and mamia. Then she sent me the panicked text message:

"Piglets now! Julian just called."

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Many of the sows had given birth overnight. We missed the last delivery by minutes.

We entered a room with 11 sows most with newborn litters of 8 to 20 (yes, 20) piglets. Some were still passing the last of their placentas. And we met Agnés. 

Agnés, the pig midwife... 

What's in a Name?

So, tomorrow I go back to lurk around M. Guenard's breeding farm.  (Yes, the flight over was uneventful. Thank you for asking.)  Let's do a quick recap of what's happened so far.

 Trip 1:

We went to the source of the salt used to cure Jambon de Bayonne. I thought we'd be going to Bayonne — to the sea, for sea salt. But I was wrong. The salt comes by mandate from the ancient salt springs of Salies de Baern, the remains of a now subterranean prehistoric sea. Salt from before human time, harvested to preserve meat for the future. We met the ham maker, Eric Ospital whose supply chain we will follow from salt and piglet to sausage and ham.

Trip 2:

We went to see how piglets are conceived. But while we took lunch at the Taxidermy Cafe and followed the Pilgrims' trail, through some miscommunication, our breeder, M. Guenard was hard at work breeding. The next day, we got the full tour without the Al Green soundtrack. And that is how we met the two likely — now pregnant — mothers of our piglet. Pigs gestate for three months, three weeks and three days. Farmers can practically set their clocks to it. They inseminate on Tuesdays and deliver on Thursdays, or there abouts. When only a handful of people are responsible for 500 pregnant sows, it is handy to have a system and they do — an admirably efficient system.

We also visited the farm of American-born Basque animal scientist, farmer and cheese maker, Josette Arrayet. I will tell you her story later.

Trip 3 (Now) : 

So like I said, I'm back three months, three weeks and three days later. It's two in the morning and I am wide awake sitting in the dark, in bed in the "summer house" at Camont. Jet lagged. And Kate is also jetlagged from her return from Australia. But tomorrow we will drive from Camont to Lasse and see what we will see: the birth of two litters of piglets of which we will pick the biggest, healthiest, most ham-worthy male.

So, what's in a name?

Last week in preparation for the coming of my piglet, I polled you (my friends, my audience) . We compiled more than 60 names of which I added the most popular boy names in France this year (from a baby blog). I asked a smaller group of you to winnow the list down. You can vote for your favorite of these here. But I'm making all this up as I go. So, armed with your list and recommendations, I'll wait to see the pig before I choose a suitable name for him. I think that's what most parents do. And I might come up with a name that is not on our list. Because that is my perogative as an artist.

In our instant messages across several oceans, land masses and time zones, Kate has voiced an opinion that echoes others of you. "I think the name is less about a personality and a people name could be challenging for some at the slaughter and food stages...like eating Bob ham…sounds revolting." Some of you have told me privately that it is kind of disturbing to give the piglet, an animal we will eat, a human name. How can we eat parts of a being with the same name as people we know, members of our tribe? This is reflected in a certain proportion of your name suggestions which made light of the pig's final destiny. Names like Sausage, Hammy, Tasty Cakes and Bacona. But then again we often give names to babies to honor individuals we admire or to recognize our ancestors. Why should the animals we eat be different? 

The Name List — Round Two

 

I asked a handful of people I trust to help me winnow the 70+ names all of you submitted last week. Among them are artists, scholars, cooks, writers, farmers, butchers and curators. Some of them are parents and have named children; some of them have pets for which they have chosen names; and some of them have named boats, artworks and farms.

Here are the top 15 names: 

Asier
Baz
Darricusseq
Duchamp
Eric
Espelette
Francis Bacon
Françios
Hugo
Jules
Manex
Raphael
Selavy
Txerri
Xabi

Pig Names: The Results for Day Two + Some Popular French Names

The question I asked in the form sent by direct email, Facebook, and twitter:

"What should should we name the French pig?"

Here are your responses as of 10pm March 18, 2014. You can see Day One's names here. Feel free to weigh in on these names by commenting below. But to get YOUR name on the nomination list you need to submit it through this form.

Here are 20 names submitted by you today

(plus some names I found on a baby name blog)

XABI — I liked the suggestion of Xavier, but like the Basque diminutive of XAVIER, Xabi, even better. It's going to be a baby, after all....

Mork — Because someday, you will be eating pork from Mork (My apologies - I like moderately obscure references and bad puns.)

BAZ — Has a suggestion of 'Basque' and just seems to me a good name for a pig, though Pigs I have Known would not be a long list. Short for Basil of course, but he doesn't need to know that - we don't want to encourage effeteness . . .

Benny Boo Boo — Nephews nick name

Harry Batasuna — From "Herri Batasuna" (Unity of the People) a Basque nationalist political party outlawed in Spain in 2003, after a contested court ruling declared proven that the party was financing ETA with public money. As an association and not as a political party, Batasuna had a minor presence in the French Basque country, where it remained legal as "Batasuna" until its self-dissolution in January 2013. (wikipedia)

Honor — In great Girrrl tradition it's fun, respectful and translates globally which helps strengthen the bond. BTW this is an amazing photo as it captures a piglet who still wearing it's birthing membrane coming to Mom's nose so she knows he's here.

Ouinker — Because he's a positive (oui), French (oui), pig (oinker).

Art Pig — (Short for Arthur Pig, but Art seems like a fitting nickname)

Smokey — or Efumé?

Tisket — because of the potential for basquet(te) in jingles

Sausage

Bacona — The pig will bear in the name a full embrace of his future as food.

Ramon — Ramon, the Jambon de Bayonne. That is a name destined for greatness and endless possibilities.

Oinkadoodle — Its funny

Cerdito Basquito — Means piglet from Basque country (almost)

Hamlette — So many puns: little pig, the tragedy of Hamlet, a play on Lacan's idea of the hommelette (the pre-oedipal non-subject) which is itself a play on omelette.

Polar Vortex — Because soon this idea - the polar vortex - will be lost to stories of santa ana's and tropical disturbances.

Jon Hamm — Because he's a handsome devil

Marcel Duchamp — Why not?

French Names From a Baby Name Blog 

Here are some popular French boys names trending in Paris this past year (according to nameberry.com)

Baptiste – Stylish in Paris though may feel a bit old-school religious for many outside of France.

Bastien – Sebastian has been in the Top 100 in the U.S. for over a decade, but Bastien both simplifies it and makes it newer.

Corentin – Corentin is an ancient saint’s name very popular in France but virtually unknown beyond.  Pronunciation is cor-en-TAN.

Jules – One of the simplest of the fashionable French names, Jules might be a newer way to say Julian.

Marius – Marius is one of those names that feels familiar and exotic at the same time.  Much chicer than Italian cousin Mario.

Mathis — Very popular in France and pronounced mah-TEES like the painter, this name may update or honor Matthew.

Maxime and Maxence – Looking for a fresh route to Max?  Consider one of these French long forms.

Thibault – Cool but pronunciation challenged: It’s tee-bo.

You can see yesterday's names here.