Animal use in truffle foraging and mezcal production

The following uses of animals seem to come as a surprise to many people who are attentive to the use of animals, and they certainly came as a surprise to me when I learned about them.

Truffles

Most of us probably encounter truffles in truffle oil form, and (maybe surprisingly) most truffle oil one encounters probably contains no actual truffle anything. That said, if you happen upon an actual truffle or authentic truffle oil, the truffle was probably found using a pig or dog.

Truffle hogs have a “tendency to eat truffles once found.” (Photo by Vayssie Robert Robert Vayssié — Own work Gignac Lot France, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14767965)

Mezcal

Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave. As far as I‘ve learned from online reading, talking to proprietors, and emailing producers and distributors, most mezcal is produced by the low-thousands (?) of small-scale producers in Mexico and most is produced in the traditional manner. It hasn’t yet been massively commercialized and the production process industrialized like so many of the world’s spirits.

The traditional process involves the following, as summarized on Wikipedia: The process begins by harvesting the plants, which can weigh 40 kg each, extracting the piña, or heart, by cutting off the plant’s leaves and roots. The piñas are then cooked for about three days, often in pit ovens, which are earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks. This underground roasting gives mezcal its intense and distinctive smoky flavor. They are then crushed and mashed (traditionally by a stone wheel turned by a horse) and then left to ferment in large vats or barrels with water added.

A horse pulls a heavy stone wheel in a circle to crush roasted agave hearts. (Photo By Agave — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4905781)

One distributor told me that horses and mules are most commonly used in Oaxaca to crush the agave and that in Puebla mechanical shredding (which doesn’t involve animals) is most common.

There is also a type of mezcal called mezcal de pechuga, a type which incorporates raw meat into the distillation process.

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