Sunday, July 13, 2008

Adventures With an Organic Pig

I had a phone call from a farmer I am acquainted with who asked if I would be interested in helping out with a pig butchering which was going to occur within  a week.  The farmer had raised 20 heritage breed Duroc pigs on pasture and organic grain and had already processed 10 of them. The plan was to do 4 more the following week.

I jumped at the chance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my interest in charcuterie, and the fact that obtaining pork ingredients necessary to make salamis, sausages and prosciutti is nearly impossible through traditional sources.  In today's world, meat retailers no longer purchase whole carcasses, but only the primal and/or sub-primal cuts, which arrive in boxes.  These cuts are trimmed for the convenience of the retailer, but it's these trimmings that are necessary for the making of various preserved pork products.

The farmer had engaged a neighbor who had learned pig butchery from his father, and he arrived with his son, his scalding tank, propane heater and a variety of knives, meat saws and hog scrappers.  He proceeded to fill the scalding tank 1/3 full of water and heat the water to 150 degrees.  He singled out one of the larger hogs from the herd and dispatched it with a .22 rifle.  We hauled the carcass to the scalding tank and placed it in the hot water.  Within a minute or so the bristles on the pig's hide started to loosen and we applied the bell scrapers to remove them.

As soon as the pig was scrapped clean, it was hoisted with a gambrel attached to a block and tackle into a tree where it was eviscerated.  Among the offal we retrieved the heart, liver, kidneys and the caul, a filmy membrane that encloses the paunch of the pig and is used to make crepinettes, a flat French sausage consisting of minced pork with a savory stuffing wrapped in pieces of the caul.

The carcass was then cut in two down the backbone and hung in the shed to cool.  Three more pigs were similarly processed before we went in for a large lunch, some hard cider and good conversation.

I brought my pig home and hung it in my garage until the weekend when I planned on cutting it up and processing the various parts.

On Sunday I donned my chef's pants, jacket, apron, flat top hat and clogs for sanitary purposes, sanitized my stainless steel work table and put out my plastic cutting boards, each of which was anchored with a damp towel beneath.   I sharpened by boning knives and butcher scimitar and rewashed my meat saw, which had not seen any action for a while.

I brought in  half the pig, and broke it down into its primals; the front shoulder, loin, belly and ham.  I removed the head and carefully cut  off the jowls to make guanciale, a cured product used in Italian dishes pasta all'amatriciana and pasta alla carbonara.

I broke down the front shoulder which I was planning to put mostly into sausage and my home-cured salami, trimmed the belly into bacon, divided the loin into 2 and 3 lb. roasts, trimming off the fatback which would go into the sausages, and boned and trimmed the ham for prosciutto.  I did the same to the other half, saving the ham for brining and smoking over apple wood.

I salted the prosciutto and placed it in a container that I propped up with a brick at one end so the liquid the salt would pull out of the ham could be drained off.  The prosciutto would be re-salted over the next few weeks before being removed from the salt after about 40 days when it will be lightly seasoned with garlic and black pepper, sealed with lard and left to hang for 9 months to a year, at which time it will have lost about a third or more of its original weight and can be eaten raw in thin slices.

I salted the bacons and pork jowls and put them in a cold spot for the next week, overhauling them after 2 or 3 days.  The other ham was placed in a brine, and weighted to remain submerged for the next week.  The following Saturday, I hot smoked the bacons and ham until they reached 150 degrees, glazing the ham with a mustard-brown sugar mix toward the end of its time in the smoker.

On Sunday I made the sweet Italian sausages with fennel, which I froze, and the salamis, which will take 6 months to cure and dry before they can be eaten.  One of the salamis, which were stuffed into beef middles, ripped its casing, so I put it on the fridge for a couple of weeks before roasting it with potatoes.

I don't recommend that most folks dry cure their own salamis unless you are experienced and have the necessary ingredients, like pink salt.  Botulism is a potentially fatal disease that can be contracted from improperly preserved meats.  So caution is the byword.  I cured a lot of pork at Lupa, a Mario Batali restaurant in Greenwich Village during my time in NY, and I've researched the methodology extensively before and after those experiences.

So that's it for today.  Next time I'll start including some recipes for those who crave more than just my stories.

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