Earlier this summer I arranged to purchase a pig – or at least a half of one that I could butcher and process myself.
My friends Emily and Daniel live on a farm out on the Bonnechere River less than 10 minutes from where I live and they raise all kinds of critters.
Ducks and sheep and chickens and pigs roam around big pens and fields and get to live a pretty good life.
Of course I was interested in what they eat. Their meal is a mix of organic non genetically modified soy-free corn-free grains and goodness. On top of that they get loads of garden produce and leftovers and they spend their days foraging fields. These critters are well taken care of and enjoy all the attention they get including the occasional scratch behind the ears.
This past Thursday I hitched the trailer to my car and went to pick up my (better) half. Weighing in at about 125 pounds, it was just home from the slaughter house, fully chilled and ready to butcher.
I’ll preface this by saying I’ve never butchered a pig before but I figured it would be pretty straight forward. Between what I learned in chefs school and from YouTube and books I figured it was all good.
The first job was to break it down into primal cuts: head, shoulder, loin, belly, and rump.
Cutting the head off the pig was a pretty humbling experience. It took me a while to make my first cut but once I got going it just seemed like familiar kitchen work.
I used my instincts to guide my decisions about what cuts to make and what bit of meat to reserve for what type of processing. It was a full day just to break it down. By the end of the day my freezer was full of chops, roasts, ribs, stew meat, belly and ground meat. All of it tied and portioned and vacuum sealed.
My fridge was also full of work for another day. Bones for stock. Shoulder meat for sausage and salami. Belly for bacon. Cheek for guanciale (Mmmm yummy face bacon! Gotta love they Romans for that invention). Back fat for lardo – another cured product full of goodness and flavour. Much of my weekend was spent processing and beginning to cure all these things.
There is still more work to be done. The stock needs to be pressure canned once it’s cooled. The bacon and guanciale need to be turned and massaged every day or so for the next week then I need to figure out how to smoked the bacon. I’m going to try to hang the guanciale and the lardo to cure in my basement. I figure it’s about the right temperature and humidity. We’ll see how that goes.
And i still have unprocessed meat in the fridge just waiting for me. I hope to make mortadella tomorrow (mmmmm) . I also have a piece of belly that will likely become pancetta and a wee loin roast that I need to make a decision about soon. And I have a bunch of belly and flare fat that I’ll package and freeze for future sausage making adventures.
Overall it was a pretty brilliant experience and I look forward to doing it again next year. It makes me very happy to know that my house is filled with enough food to get me though the winter and even happier to know that I did it all myself.
You are what you eat!