Our Side of Pork
I drove out to Home Meat Services in Shelton and picked up our side of pork in our trusty old Land Cruiser. The folks there couldn’t have been nicer. While I was there I also bought some of their alder smoked bacon and picked up a couple extra packages for some bacon junkies at work. While the hanging weight was only 66 lbs they were impressed with the quality of the fat, as was I. Without good quality fat we wouldn’t have good quality sausages, and while there were many more fabulous porky delights to be had from this animal, sausages are my weakness. I could be a vegetarian if it weren’t for sausages. Maybe that’s a stretch. The side fit perfectly in the back of the Cruiser with the jump seats folded up and off I went. As I drove back I replayed the class I took from Farmstead Meatsmith and went through a mental checklist of the steps I needed to take. Brandon Sheard’s mellow and respectful approach to butchering rang in my head and his class helped take the unknowns of how I would deal with my own nervousness of working with a dead animal, where to cut and which cuts to make. I also had a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Pig in a Day” as backup, pictures I took from Brandon’s class, and a photograph from the Canadian Pork industry for all the possible cuts and which part of the animal they come from to guide me.
Breaking it Down
Armed with a cleaver, a chef’s knife, a bone saw, a cheap plastic table-cloth, and a new boning knife I set to work. In hindsight most of the time spent was consulting with LeFemme Farmer about which cuts she wanted when I got to a large portion. We used the video and my photographs to help know where each big piece needed to start and end.
First we separated the leaf lard, and then broke the carcass into four pieces. Then recognizable cuts started to land in our tub. Ham, chops, tenderloin, ribs, loin roast, and so on. Then I came to the shoulder. This is a hotly debated subject in our house. The shoulder and it’s tough but well marbled meat is used in Porchetta, a near orgasmic Tuscan roast we first sampled in New York, it is also used in our favorite Chile Verde, and of course is the main ingredient in sausage. When we got to this point we wished we had ordered an entire hog. I offered to give her part of the shoulder and poised the knife indicating a miserly section of the precious meat. After what seemed like hours of debate moving the knife right and left we finally settled and I quickly cut it in two.
When we were done we had 5 containers. In clockwise order from the left, Sausage makings, Cured Cuts like ham, bacon and guanciale, Fresh Cuts bound for the freezer, Leaf Lard, after rendering a stable shortening bound for our pork pie crust, and less than a pound of stuff to go out to the compost pile. Not shown are the few bones we had which we made stock from.
After a long discussion around the use of nitrates I opted to use them this time. My cuts are a little amateurish and I don’t want to risk botulism. While I doubt I would eat tainted meat, the prospect of having all this work go to waste isn’t worth considering.
I had secured a couple of food grade buckets from the grocery store baking department and a 3 gallon bucket worked perfectly for brining our ham. We are using a cider brine from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Meat Book“, and the brining and air curing dates are on the calendar. We made bacon and guanciale from Brandon Sheard’s recipes, which are worth taking the class to get. Bacon and back bacon are now hanging in my freshly sanitized basement bathroom, and with the window open we should be sampling our first bacon in a couple of months. I am also trying to figure out how to improvise a cold smoker.
Getting everything salting and brining was pretty straight forward. Mix the salt recipes, put the meats in their respective tubs, and stick them outside where the temperatures were colder than my fridge. The salted cuts were drained and re-salted daily. That’s it. When the leaves turn it is time to butcher, natures colors yell at us that the temperature is dropping for good and that is the same time that a frugal farmer would want to slaughter an animal who would eat more without putting on weight to keep warm.
Or not. I have made sausage before, but my grinder is a Chinese version of an old-time hand crank design. The most important feature of a grinder is that the blades need to be perfectly flush with the disk. My mother’s, which was identical was a flawlessly easy thing to use. Mine was nothing but problems and probably didn’t have the same tight fit as Mom’s. Luckily some friends had an electric grinder to lend and we got back to the job a week later. I made two sausage recipes. Country Breakfast Sausage from the Charcuterie book, and my secret family recipe for Christmas Sausage. Tasting before we stuffed had us adding more sage and ginger to the breakfast sausage mix. We made biscuits and gravy for breakfast before we started stuffing sausage. Then out came the plastic table-cloth and away we went.
I had one size of casing so I made little chubbies for the breakfast sausage. The pricker lets air out of the casing, and after the sausage dries a bit lets it have a nice snug fit to the meat. Two people doing this is a lot easier. LeFemme cranked and I measured out links, pinching and twisting as I went. When we got to the Christmas sausage I let the remainder in the tube mix with the first few links for a few links of “Xmas Fusion”. You can see a few darker links where the sage heavy mix is visible through the casing. Then I hung all the work outside under our eaves, alongside our freshly rinsed bacon. The next morning, cut and pack, reserving a goodly hunk of unstuffed meat for our Turkey stuffing.
Thanksgiving is almost here and I can’t wait for more tasty treats.