Taking a whole pig fresh from the abattoir, and transforming it into the various meat produce we are interested in, is hard work. We started on Wednesday, collecting the pig at noon. As well as our pig, with head and lights (the internal organs), we also had another 3 half heads and extra liver. The blood from our pig had been collected on the Monday and was now frozen. Maria and I carried the two half carcasses inside, just as some walkers were passing our front door, we gave them the look that was “yes, we do this most days”.
Interest in our adventures had spread to Winchcombe and the butcher Colin Pilcher was kind enough to pop over for an hour to show me a few tips. The most important thing was to get the meat processed and into fridges or freezers as fast as possible. Once this had been done we started on our first two products.
Brawn – This old fashioned delicacy comes from the desire to not waste any of the meat. The head is cut in two, and everything, except the brains (reserved for my breakfast) goes into a VERY large pot with onions, bunches of herbs and a bag of spices, and simmers for 4 hours. While this was simmering, we started on the second product.
Liver Pate – The liver was incredibly fresh, as you can imagine, and this was added to some minced belly pork and mixed with herbs, seasoning and a lot of port. It then goes into a bain marie and cooks slowly for 90 minutes.
I then started on the third big task of the day, preparing a leg for salting. This was the first stage in creating the air dried ham that is sure to rival Parma and Serrano. Tunnel boning a leg is a slow patient process, it was also early evening by now and neighbours had come over to watch and make helpful comments. Once boned it was weighted, covered in salt and set in a box with a large weight on top. The only way to weight something like this was to get the bathroon scales, stand on them, get off, pick up the leg and stand on them again. After some careful maths (checked by watching neighbour Jamie) the leg was declared 18lb, meaning it would sit in salt for around 35 days.
The next day we completed the brawn by mixing the slowly cooked pieces from the head with parsley, lemon juice, seasoning it, and then pouring over it the reduced juices, thick with gelatine. The result looks pretty good.
The pate was taken out of the loaf tins, some frozen, some ready for sale. We were not surprised that the abattoir had some spare pigs heads for us, but amazed to find that some pig owners did not want the liver. It is a fantastic source of iron, totally fat free, and delicious.
The final task of the day was to try to cure a sample of the belly pork (the result is called bacon if you hadn’t guessed). I used a technique passed on to me by Paul Peacock (www.citycottage.co.uk) of slicing the pork into thick rashers, sprinkling the salt cure mix onto each rasher, packing them together and wrapping and putting in the fridge overnight. The idea is to use less salt, and to cure quicker.
The rest of the time was spend cutting up the meat for salami, chorizo and sausages, which is exhausting. It does not take an expert to work out that the difference between cheap version of these products and the high end stuff is to do with the quality of the meat. This means painstakingly removing as much as possible of the chewy fat layers, and thin cartilage that runs through the otherwise lean shoulder meat. We made up 16 long salamis, 12 chorizo and a few dozen sausages. We added 5% cereal to our sausages, compare this to the 15-25% you can get in commercial products.
It was all very exhausting, and totally nerve-wracking. The salamis look great hanging to dry, but we wont know how they taste for another 5-6 weeks. So our first session was complete. Lots more to do though. In the freezer we still have the blood from which we will make black pudding and boudin noir. We have the hocks from the shoulder (they turn into an elegant hock and vegetable terrine), we have another leg to bone and salt, and lots more belly pork to turn into bacon and pancetta. But all of this as they say, is another story.