In Ronda there is a pig with red-haired bangs. It has sturdy legs to scamper through the rugged mountains and short to make itself invisible among the rockrose and rooster of the pasture. He breathes, he is made of flesh and blood, but his presence seems ghostly: he belongs to an officially extinct lineage. The theory says he doesn’t exist, his herd book was closed years ago. Practice shows otherwise. Before their disappearance, a local family decided to search for the last living specimens. From a handful of animals a decade ago, it has grown to about 200, which La Dehesa de los Monteros now exploits commercially and exclusively.
The Malaga firm has found in this animal, known as dorado from Cádiz or dorado from Ronda, a gold mine. Its ham is sold at 100 euros per 50 grams and most of it ends up in Asia. “It is unique in the world and you have to pay for it, although its cost is also due to the fact that raising it and curing its meat requires more investment,” says Chelo Simón, matriarch of this family business that has billed 800,000 euros in 2020 and expects to reach one million. in 2021 thanks to the increase in exports.
The journey has not been easy for this company, nor has it been for the golden pig to be resurrected. The story of two rural women had to cross in 2016 to achieve the miracle. The first is that of María Sánchez, who in 2001 acquired the La Algaba farm in Ronda, where she launched a “romantic livestock” project to recover Andalusian species in danger of extinction. The purple cow and the pajuna, the merino sheep of Grazalema and, in 2008, the golden Cadiz, “whose situation is much worse than that of the Iberian lynx, passed through their lands.” She had two mothers and a boar, but she toured the entire area until she found eight other specimens. To walk with care, he had the support of specialists in genetics from the University of Córdoba (Uco). Years later there were a hundred copies, whose maintenance became more expensive.
The Diputación de Cádiz, which was participating in the project at the beginning, abandoned it. The Diputación de Málaga and the Junta de Andalucía refused to get involved. Sánchez was desperate. “Then I understood that, beyond a cultural and genetic value, it should also have it economic,” he explains amid the fog of a cold Ronda morning. He called Gámez looking for that profitability. They both empathized at the moment.
For the general director of La Dehesa de los Monteros to receive that call, there were many coincidences. Everything was triggered while she was teaching economics at the University of Malaga – she was the first woman at this institution, in 1968 – on the importance of diversifying assets. A student invited her to see a farm in Pujerra, a municipality in the Genal Valley a few kilometers from Ronda. He fell in love with the landscape. He wanted to be consistent and dedicated a family inheritance to buy the land. It was 2004, she was 59 years old and that year her husband fell ill. She retired to spend more time together, but he died within months. “Without a university and without a partner, I felt lost,” recalls Gámez. After spending her mourning, she reinvented herself as a cattle ranch looking for “a different product”, she says now, with 75 years and an enviable energy. The uniqueness came to him thanks to that phone conversation and a unique variety of pork. She added even more differentiation by feeding him local chestnut in the foothills (before the acorns fall) which brings sweetness to the meat, a long acorn montanera and a dry pea kernel support in summer.
Today the golden race of Cadiz is not found anywhere else on the planet. It is his right eye, as he shows when he finds the herd in the mountains or visits the mothers with their little piglets. The bet, yes, was made with doubts. The first is obvious. How to market a product that does not officially exist? “The previous studies that were made concluded that this variety was extinct,” they confirm from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. At least the Spanish Association of Iberian Pig Breeders (Aeceriber) indicates that the Gilthead dorados are Iberian, but without recognizing their lineage, a nail to hold on to.
The second was profitability. These animals take three years to reach the weight required to go to the slaughterhouse – one more than the rest of Iberian products – and their hams need four years to cure – also one more. Seven years without making a profit. His children were not clear. She neither. “As an economist, I didn’t see it, but my heart got the better of me,” says Gámez, who stresses over and over again his concern for animal welfare. These pigs have one hectare for each one, like the rest of the company’s animals, —of the variety entrepelado and of which they slaughter a thousand a year—, production that remains in Spain. He chose a slaughterhouse in Jabugo (Huelva) because there the specimens are dozed before receiving an electric shock. Also on Huelva soil, in El Repilado, they dry the shoulders and hams for a year. The cure is completed at the company’s facilities in Alhaurín de la Torre (Málaga). “Today to innovate is to return to the roots”, says the businesswoman.
The stake has gone well. Every year, La Dehesa de los Monteros sacrifices half a hundred dorado from Cadiz. In 2018 they obtained the first shoulders and, this past Christmas, they released the hams. The Asian market has kept practically all of the production, of just a hundred. “It’s where they pay it,” says José Simón, the commercial director. Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore and Macau have bought almost all of the units, although there is a small stock in store for Chinese New Year. Under the Raza & Oro brand, the ham is sold for 100 euros per 50 grams; the palette, in half. The former reach six kilos and the latter four. The rest of the meats have been part of the menu of restaurants such as Bardal (two Michelin stars) in Ronda for several seasons or the gourmet spaces of El Corte Inglés. Cadiz dorado is, for now, as exclusive in its production as in its consumption.