Time for Pork

This is my first year with pigs. I have 20 pigs up the hill in the hoophouse we built. Up until Thursday I had 21. Back in the fall I optimistically set January 27th as the first slaughter date for the five largest specimens, but by the time the New Year arrived it was clear that the biggest pig in the group was still too small to send to the slaughterhouse (we use a local, family owned, USDA certified facility so we can sell across state borders). Living in the cold forces the pigs to direct some energy toward staying warm rather than growing, which makes for a longer grow-out. I pushed the date back to March 11th, and then with the continuing arctic cold and deep snow, I pushed the date back again, this time to April 1st. I expect to sell most of the pork from the pigs we send to slaughter, but Garth and I were really looking forward to getting some lard for cooking. I've mentioned a few times how tallow wore out its welcome a while ago...

Another reason I wanted to send the pigs in Jan/Feb/Mar was to have time to sample a number of different cuts before we go to market with them. I'm only interested in selling really high quality meat, and since this is my first time with pigs I was not completely confident in the quality of the final product. My pigs' staples are whey and hay. I've heard good things about pigs fed on rations similar to the one I'm using, but never having experienced it first-hand, I had to reserve my excitement. What if the fermented hay imparted a weird composting flavor? What if the acidic odor of the whey carried over into the meat? The first market I have on the calendar is May 2nd and the slaughter, processing, and curing takes some time. I wanted to be sure we'd have a a good product and have time to change the pig feed ration if necessary.

Alanna and Normandy suggested I slaughter a pig here for home consumption and taste testing. Garth and I hemmed and hawed for a few days, primarily because we don't have a scalding set-up, but ultimately decided it was worth the time and effort even if it meant skinning instead of scalding.

On the designated day Garth was laid low by a stomach bug, so I took it upon myself to kill the pig. I slaughtered it and then hung the carcass in Normandy's pottery studio (an unheated portion of the old farmhouse). I made the critical mistake of not skinning it while still warm. I found out on Saturday how hard it is to skin a cold pig. It was not easy, mostly because I wanted to save as much fat as possible. It would have gone faster if I was willing to cut away lard with the skin, but I wasn't. I might have mentioned I would like to have a fat substitute for tallow...

As you can see from the lead photo and the concentration in our faces in the pictures below, neither Garth nor I had ever butchered a pig. The guidebook was less helpful on the topic of pork than it was on beef. Pigs are pretty versatile animals, and taking one cut precludes the ability to get other pork cuts. For example, bone in pork chops use the bone that goes into baby-back-ribs. It's an either or proposition. Garth is interested in cured meats as you may remember from his post on bresaola. I like eating cured meats. So we decided to cure both hams, all the hocks, the bellies (for bacon) and a small pile of cubes for "salt pork". That left us with the loins and shoulders as fresh meat. While we butchered Garth hooked up a crock-pot of shoulder roast for a farm-wide dinner at the end of the day, and then he set a few scraps into a frying pan to sample. The frying fat released a savory herbal smell, which I'm going to attribute to all the hay the pigs eat even though I don't know  for sure that is the source.The upshot? It was incredibly delicious. Both the fat and the meat are loaded with pleasant flavor. In some upcoming posts I'm going to write more about the pigs and their digestion because it interests me... and hopefully I can make it mildly interesting for you too.

-Edmund

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