Photos by Donna
Pig weekend, actually, my effort to ensure I never have to buy that crap in the grocery store when I want pork. This pig is a Berkshire that was hand-raised a couple hours south of us, humanely raised, humanely slaughtered. I may be reading too much into this, but I like to think that the faint trace of a smile on this pig’s head attests to this fact.
But the actual work of breaking it all down, storing it properly, labeling it, using everything—roasting the bones for stock, curing the bellies and one of the two hams, all the shoulder and trim for sausage and pate, let me tell you, it’s exhausting work and no good on the back. My young cousin Ryan, 6’5” and an athletic 225 pounds easy, put his back out and was forced to suffer through another Browns loss horizontally and sans sausage the day after wrestling with the hog. I considered this a starter pig, 180 pounds hanging weight, which at a guess would be in the neighborhood of 250 pound live weight, which we split between three families. I really wanted some chops but without a band saw to cut through the chine bone, bone-in chops take some effort (and can frighten onlookers). But there’s really no match for fresh pork belly, even from younger pigs (thinner and leaner). That’s what I’m removing here, below right. Made about 20 pounds of sausage yesterday, including this 2.5 pound soppresatta, bottom pix.
We bought this for $1.65/pound ($297 plus $40 for dressing and transport fees). All in all, we’ll be paying a good deal less than we would were we to buy everything from the grocery store, but it’s very labor intensive (a good two- to three-day affair). We could have had a butcher break it all down but that would have added more to the cost and detracted from the satisfying work and also the lessons breaking down a whole animal provides. I wish everyone did this, though I know it’s simply not practical. But I can hope that more people who care about good food, good farmers, humane animal husbandry, eating locally, eating less meat of better quality, will consider finding farmers in their state who raise pigs and support them.
Question for readers: Who does not have access to hand-raised pigs, or rather, how many people live more than three hours from a farm that raises hogs? I’m betting my mom in West Palm would have a hard time locating a hog she could buy anywhere in her state. But what about Marlies in OK, Carri in AK, Elise in CA? How reasonable is it to ask more people to eat this way?
Update 12/10: Thanks for all these excellent comments. (Adam, take the skin off to make pancetta. I would confit or braise the skin till tender, then scrape the fat, slice it and fry till crispy. Or add to stock for its amazing gelatin.) Can't respond to every comment but I truly understand the three main road blocks most people have here. Space, time and knowledge. It does require space, which is why you need to share or have a big freezer. It requires a helluva lot of time. I'm still working. Made a couple gallons of stock yesterday, overhauled the bacon, renedered the fat (I got some extra ears to confit! they're curing too). Need to get to that head today. Froze meat and liver for pate over the holidays. Thank you, former butcher, for your good comments on the difficulty of good butchering even by those who do it for a living. Butchering is a craft and some practice it well, others less so. You only learn that by doing. But to save time and money, try to source people who will break down the hog into manageable cuts, as ntsc does. Storage is critical. You don't want to wind up with freezer burn.
This stuff will keep for months (with not too much compromise) if
properly stored. I recommend a Food Saver — air is the main enemy in the freezer,
followed by other odors and light. Otherwise double wrap in plastic, then in foil if
you wish to keep light out. Please label and date it—don't think for a minute you'll remember what's inside.
Again, all your comments make this a great discussion and help a lot of people, I hope, to consider how to eat not for as little money and time spent as possible but instead how to eat well. How and what we eat shapes our lives and our world. When did this stop being obvious?