The Greatest Pig on the Planet

Tim League tells you where you can find the most delicious suckling pig on the planet.

While cleaning out my desk this evening I found an old postcard that I picked up back in 2003 while on vacation in Portugal. The sight of it brought back a flood of memories that I thought I would take a few minutes to share.

The card was from the restaurant Churrasqueira Rocha in Mealhada, Portugal.  My wife and I were at the Fantasporto Film Festival in Porto (home of the other sacred Portuguese treat, Port wine).  Between movies at the festival, we overheard someone talking about the finest roast suckling pig on the planet.  We got the full scoop and decided to rent a car, drive 100 kilometers due south and check it out.

The dish is called Leitão da Bairrada (literally piglet of the Bairrada region) and in the tiny town of Mealhada, there were no fewer than six specialty restaurants serving up the regional specialty.  By all accounts Churrasqueira Rocha is the reigning champ so we decided to start at the top.

A weaned piglet about 45 days old that has been feasting on acorns is slaughtered and prepped.  The belly of the piglet is rubbed with a spicy paste of peppers, garlic and pig fat and then sewn back together.  A clay oven is preheated with a fire of aromatic eucalyptus bark until the bricks are glowing hot.  The live fire is then banked with ashes and the pig is inserted in the oven and roasted over the coals for two hours while the skin is periodically rubbed with additional fatty pepper sauce and white wine.

The end result is a platter overloaded with chunks of insanely juicy pork that falls apart to the touch with a thin layer of rendered fat and a crunchy, spicy pork skin.  I've eaten a LOT of delicious pork in my day, but the Leitão da Bairrada from Churrasqueira Rocha in Mealhada remains my all-time favorite pig.  Mealhada is smack dab in the middle of the Bairrada wine country, and to make things even more perfect, the locally produced sparkling Espumante (similar to champagne) is a perfect accompaniment to the perfect pig.

If you are anywhere within shooting distance, Mealhada is worth the detour.