Everything but the Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain
by John Barlow ( FSG, $25.00 )
Beautiful Sheep: Portraits of Champion Breeds
by Kathryn Dun, photos by Paul Farnham
( Thomas Dunne Books, $19.95 )
Unslushed because: Will knows I love books about food and books that contain pictures of cute animals. He’s probably also hoping I’ll be inspired to produce some slow-cooked pork treats this winter (I am).
Factors not initially considered: How veddy British a pairing this is. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
On further review: Let’s start with Barlow. His book follows the popular conceit of vowing to do some certain complete thing over the course of a year (eating every edible part of a pig) and then write about his experiences. This concept has yielded countless terrible, pointless blogs and books. This project, however, had several saving graces. First, Barlow has lived in Spain’s northern province of Galicia for, it seems, well over a decade, and is married to a native of the region. So he knows his topic pretty well. Second, despite the incessant self-deprecation in the book (that does wear a little thin), he’s quite an accomplished scholar and writer, and so brings a depth of historical and cultural perspective to the book that balances out the “eew, I just spent an afternoon gnawing pigs’ tails” factor. So I really did end up learning both culinary and general European cultural and political history, which made me feel a little more virtuous about devoting a week to reading a book that’s primarily about eating huge amounts of fatty pork.
Drawbacks? The book would have benefited from a tighter edit. Aside from some truly egregious typos (fancy some jugged hair, anyone?), there was quite a lot of unnecessary repetition, such as at least five explanations of what empanadas are. Also, the aforementioned “oh ha ha, I’m such a charmingly bumbling Englishman” did get old in spots. But overall, it’s an excellent read for anyone interested in food lore.
On to the sheep! This slim coffeetable book is what it is: a series of pictures of champion sheep, mostly ancient and rare breeds, mostly English (with a few Frenchies thrown in there). The left-hand page offers a little history and stats such as height, average weights for rams and ewes, and helpful details such as whether the sheep is polled or not, whether the ewes make good mothers, whether the breed is prized for wool or meat, and so on. The facing page is given over to a startlingly beautiful and expressive portrait of the sheep under discussion. I’d imagine this book has a pretty limited audience, but it’s already given us a couple of evenings of fun discussion.