A cheaper and less well known pork than porco preto, Bísaro pork is back on the rise, as the breed is rescued from the risk of extinction.
DESPITE BEING one of the most emblematic Portuguese indigenous breeds, the Bísaro pig is very little known in Portugal. Until recently, it was at risk of extinction, having been hit by the African plague and subsequently overlooked in preference of the Iberian black pig (porco preto) (fed only on acorns in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula) and serrano(an animal of Celtic origin, not always black, bred in the highlands and traditionally used for cured meat). Although the Bísaro pigs breed large litters (of up to 20 piglets), they grow slowly. As a result, cross-breeding became popular, but more recently, and following on from the establishment of the National Association for Bísaro Pig Farmers in 1994, the pigs have increased in number once again.
There are two varieties of Bísaro pig in Portugal: a white spotted one, common in the Minho, and a black or black spotted one, found in Trás-os-Montes. The Bísaro has a docile temperament, is slow and somewhat clumsy, and is characterised by its convex back and large drooping ears.
Traditionally, Bísaro pigs enjoyed roaming wild across large areas of land, grazing on acorns and grasses. Nowadays, their food management is conditioned by the resources available from local agriculture, and they are mainly fed with farm crops (comprising a cereal mixture, supplemented by a variety of tubers, fruits and vegetables) and chestnuts. The use of complete compound feed occurs only at specific times, such as during weaning and lactation.
Today, the Bísaro pig is raised in a semi-extensive system, whereby breeders have pigsties, but the animals are still free to spend most of their time roaming the adjacent parks.
From the need to keep their meat throughout the year, a great diversity of sausages has been created from Bísaro pork, including: salpicões, meat chouriças, butelos, alheiras, bread chouriço, sweet chouriças and ham. Bísaro meat is also much appreciated in traditional dishes such as roast pork or Trás-os-Montes style stewed beans. With less fat than other pork, the Bísaro from the Tras-os-Montes region offers excellent sausage meat and is significantly cheaper than the Iberian black pig.