Vilalba capon

This is a male chicken which is reared, surgically castrated, fattened and slaughtered in Vilalba (Lugo, Galicia) and subsequently sold in the annual capon fair held the weekend immediately before Christmas Eve.

Tasting notes

Once cooked, the Vilalba capon has a similar taste to free-range chicken, but with a smoother, more tender texture, and a darker color. The meat is juicy, and when cooked the effect of the fat permeating the flesh gives the meat a very distinctive taste.

Other notes

The skin (in fresh meat) is yellowish. The color of the carcass and without skin is red and yellow, with reddish thigh meat and yellower breast meat.

The minimum weight is 3.5 kg, although almost all have a carcass weight of over 4.5 kg.

The castrated birds wear a numbered ring with the stamp of the Breeders' Association. This is done for two reasons:

- Traceability: this system allows each capon to be identified with its breeder, thereby offering a guarantee to the consumer in the event of possible complaints (control from source).

- To prevent fraud: on the day of the Fair, only animals wearing the ring are allowed into the fairground.

Production / Processing method

According to European legislation, only chickens which have been surgically castrated before attaining sexual maturity, with a minimum weight of 1-1.5 kg (corresponding to an age of between 45-60 days), and slaughtered at a minimum age of 150 days, can be sold with the label of "capon". Once castrated, the capons must be fattened for a minimum period of 77 days (according to EEC regulation no. 1538/91).

The production method is semi-intensive in order to ensure high-quality prestigious chicken meat. The chickens are slaughtered after five months of life with higher weights than in industrial rearing (2-3 kg carcass weight). It is important for the chickens to have the opportunity to exercise in order to favor muscle development.

The best available male specimens are selected when they have a weight of between 1-1.5 kg, which corresponds to an age of between 45-60 days; they are then surgically castrated. Once castrated, they are allowed to rest for a few days without being released outdoors in order to recover from the operation and to prevent infection of the wound. The castration and subsequent days are the most critical moments in the rearing process, where careful handling of what can now be termed the capon is essential. More or less one week after the castration the bird is once again returned outdoors and the fattening process begins.

The capons live in the open air and are fed a natural cereal-based diet. They have areas of pasture at their disposal to ensure that they are reared in the most natural possible way. These pastures must include scrub vegetation and trees to provide shade in summer. Open-air rearing, as well as providing the birds with green feed, gives them the chance to search for insects and larvae, an activity which is not only important from a nutritional point of view but is also considered to be a natural anti-stressor.

The fattening process is carried out using completely traditional methods; the key to quality lies in the methods of feeding and handling. Tradition dictates that the capons should be enclosed in capoeiras on the day of San Martiño (11 November). The minimum dimensions of these individual capoeiras must be 50 cm x 50 cm, and they should be made with suitable materials so as not to affect the animals' well-being. They are equipped with feeding and drinking troughs. Once inside they are fed a paste known as an amoado made with locally-grown corn in boiling water. Potato and cooked chestnuts and yolks are also sometimes added. These ingredients have a direct effect on the ultimate quality of the capon meat, and cause the skin to take on its characteristic golden tone.

The slaughter and processing of the animal takes place on the premises of each breeder, and is an operation which must be done with the utmost skill and care. It requires considerable experience and expertise, as the slightest failure in the process leads to a modification in the final presentation of the bird and a lower market value. The first step is to remove the birds from the capoeiras in semi darkness, with great care and avoiding all sudden movements; the birds are then slaughtered. They are then plucked, taking care not to damage the skin during the process as it is very delicate, particularly on the breast. Once the birds have been plucked, the innards are removed (evisceration) and all the internal organs, as well as abdominal fat. This fat, once removed from the giblets, is used as a final garnish for the capon and is known as ensunlla.

The other parts of the fowl are not used, with the occasional exception of the liver, heart and stomach, which are for personal consumption by the family. This evisceration increases the conservation time of the carcass. The bird is then thoroughly washed both inside and outside for two purposes: to clean the dressed birds and to prevent drying. Once they are immaculately clean, the process of recuchido (recooking) begins, which involves blanching the birds for five minutes in water at a temperature of 50°C to which can be added oat straw, saffron or salt as the case may be, to intensify the color of the skin or to improve the conservation of the carcass.

This phase is completed with a final review or inspection in order to check that no remains are left on the interior (parts of lung or other organs) which may later cause deterioration of the carcass.

For its presentation and sale, the capon is prepared in a very traditional way. The ensunlla is placed on the back of the bird and it is then packed in wicker or wood baskets filled with straw. All the capons are sold at the annual fair held on 21 December, the day of the Fair of the Vilalba Capon.

The capon is prepared for the event in a very special way. A small hazelwood twig is placed inside the animal to keep the back as straight as possible and to facilitate subsequent greasing. Then the wings are folded, with the points facing upward so that they are resting on the back. Finally the fat or ensunlla is also placed on both flanks and secured with a cocktail stick. This ensunlla is proof of the quality of the fattening process of the capons. It is then refrigerated until the thighs obtain the requisite stiffness.

The final step in the presentation is to place the birds in wicker or wood baskets packed with straw and covered with a white cloth. The birds are laid on the cloths with their heads in the centre of the basket and the legs towards the outside, and are then ready to be sold.

Geography / Relief and climate

Vilalba is the capital of the Terra Chá area, located in the centre of the province of Lugo. This municipal district borders with the districts of Abadín, Muras and Xermade on the north; Cospeito, Begonte and Guitiriz to the south; Abadín and Cospeito to the east; and with Xermade and Guitiriz to the west.

The total extension is 379 km2, distributed in 29 parishes and including the urban centre of the town. Geographically most of this district stands on a wide plain, except for the northern part which is the location of the Carba and Xistral mountain ranges.

This last range is the site of the Monseiván peak, and has a maximum altitude of 929 meters above sea level. Its position on a large plain makes it an extremely favorable location for farming. The climate in the district is mild, with an average annual temperature of around 11.5ºC, and 18º C in summer.

Vilalba capon