Feast: Mac Dathó’s Pig (#mwwc5)

wine-stain1-2It’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge time again… This time, the theme set by last month’s winner – Confessions of a Wine Geek (his winning entry here) – is FEAST. An interesting topic, which instantly conjured some very specific images for me – of burly fighting men in armour, long bench tables laden with roasted meat, of legends, firelight and loud voices… But that’s enough of my dreams, on with my entry…


Back in the days before I joined the ranks of the employed, I was once… wait for it… a student. Worse than that, I was a Cambridge student. And worse than THAT, I was a student of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. I am the exact sort of person that people resent paying their taxes towards, but hey that was ten years ago, I’m sure I’ve contributed a little to the national coffers since then.

Anyway, I loved my subject, esoteric as it was – the study of the history, languages and literature of the British Isles before the twelfth century. I wouldn’t say I use it MUCH in my every day work and life, but I still find it fascinating. I was always more of a celticist and so immersed myself in translations of medieval Irish and Welsh tales, battling with strange imagery and stranger grammar! One of the first stories that we had to work on was called “Scéla Muicce Meicc Da Thó” – or The Tale of Mac Da Thó’s Pig – a cheerful tale of blood and slaughter, which starts being about which of two opposing groups of warriors gets to take a particularly amazing dog home with them, and ends up being about who gets to carve and eat the belly portion of Mac Dathó’s pig. Now, I’m a big fan of pork belly, but I’ve yet to cause a war over all of Ireland for the sake of it – I wouldn’t rule it out though.

Book_of_Leinster,_folio_53Mac Da Thó’s house is described as one of the five legendary hostels, or feasting halls, in Irish literature, yet while the story is long on description of the food…

“There was an ox and a salt-pig in each cauldron. The man who came along the road thrust the flesh fork in the cauldron, and whatever he got from the first taking, it is that he ate.”

“The pig was afterwards brought to them with forty oxen transversely across it, besides their other food.”

“After that Conall went to carve the pig. And then he took the end of the belly in his mouth, so that the carving of the pig came to an end. He sucked the belly (that is a load for nine men) and left behind only a scrap of it.”

…it is rather short on description of the beverage selection: “there will be drink”.

I suspect if they were eating quite as much as listed, then there must have been plentiful ale. Or mead. Those salt pigs would have needed some sort of accompaniment, right?

But, rereading it and thinking about the lack of commentary on anything beverage-related made me think… Actually, have things changed that much? These days the bards are gone and television has become our court-entertainment. The bright box in the corner of every living room brings us tales of heroic deeds, of unheroic deeds, deaths, births, marriages, kings and queens, but it also now brings us the tales of the every day, the gardens, the decorations, the house builders…

And there are of course any number of TV shows about food, how to prepare it, how to loving slow cook it, how to cook it in 30 minutes, 15 minutes, how to competitively bake it, how to grow it, how to make it as fattening as possible, how to make it as healthy as possible, how to molecularly-gastronomise it…. But, where are the TV shows about wine?

WineThere’s a completely valid argument that, while food is at least partly visual, wine is in fact rather boring to look at  and – with some notable exceptions – it all looks pretty much the same. Red wine is red. White wine is white. Pink wine is pink. Not exactly a thrilling presentation.

There’s also the fact that describing wine is largely subjective – not to mention often rather pretentious (am as guilty as the next girl), with a full range of flavours, textures and characters woven together to give an overall impression of a wine.  They may work in marketing (maybe, says the marketing girl), but do they make interesting television? I suspect the answer is no.

There’s also a very real third argument. And that is that maybe most people just don’t really care about wine – they may drink it, but they probably buy the wine that is on offer, maybe selected on grape variety (maybe) and drink it as an alcoholic beverage to accompany their evening. In the wine industry, we spend a lot of time talking about wine and food matching, because we think that’s what people care about. But do they really? When feasting, does the modern equivalent of the warrior class really care about the booze that they have with their cauldrons of salt pork – or are they really just thinking “there will be drink”?


1 Comment

  • If I showed this post to my daughter I have a sneaking suspicion she might start to think about a different degree course!!
    The endless TV programmes show making food and actually not that much about eating food. Perhaps if they pitched several vineyards in a year long competition to win a wine prize it would gain better audiences.
    I can only speak for myself in saying I do care what I drink with a feast.

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