Ooh, it’s the smell of savory, slow-roasting cracklings dripping into the fire, a special seasoning deep inside the crispy skin. It’s the natural juices of the pig meat cooking itself from within. It’s lechon. If you’ve ever driven past Don Tito’s Lechonera on Christmas Eve, you’ll be intoxicated by the aroma. On that eve up to thirty pigs are slow roasted overnight at the Lechonera, and a delicious cloud of smoky, mouth-watering goodness surrounds the area like a fog.
Up to thirteen pigs can be roasted at the same time in the many ovens, actually large rectangular, cinderblock boxes covered with tin. And it’s not just Christmas Eve that gets them fired up. Every Friday the warm, sizzling-red glow continues all night long to fill Saturday’s orders from the community. After roasting, the pigs are chopped by a machete-wielding Papo, weighed, and packaged by his friend and helper Ismael Camacho Felix. Customers come and go, and Papo’s sons June, 20, and Tingue, 17, are busy organizing deliveries. Papo remembers working for his father as his sons now work with him, indicating how different it was back then. For one, the pigs were raised and slaughtered right there on the property. Don Tito raised the pigs and fed them with the scraps he bought for one cent a pound from the school cafeterias. Also back then the pigs were roasted over homemade charcoal that he and his boys made by chopping bayaonda wood, burning the wood under layers of grass and dirt for days. The ovens were converted to gas eleven years ago when the wood for charcoal became scarce and new burning restrictions were enforced.
But some things stay the same. Although the seasoning recipe has been changed slightly over the years, it has been passed down from father to son. It is made in 5 gallon buckets, with fresh ground herbs that Papo grinds into the mix.
During the busy times Papo’s lechonera is bustling with activity as friends come to share in the work, have their say and sample the fare. Six pounds to Mr. Che Belardo, twelve pounds to Papa Fú from Monte Santo, three pounds to Junito Corcino of Villa Borinquen; the handwritten orders are crossed off as they are packaged.
And when all the deliveries are out you can probably find Papo catching up on his sleep in the hammock.
Order lechon by the pound by Wednesday afternoon for pick-up on Saturday morning. Call Papo at 787.741.2898 or 787.617.2748 to order. Be prepared to speak a little Spanish!