(Almost) the whole hog

(almost) the whole hog
(almost) the whole hog – no head and no front trotters

For the second year in a row we have bought a whole pig to make cured meat products, such as prosciutto, ham and bacon. This free range white pig is 60 kilos worth of porky delight.

Brined hams (top shelf) and bacon, streaky on the left and Canadian on the right (bottom shelf), drying out in the fridge before being smoked.
Brined hams (top shelf) and bacon, streaky on the left and Canadian on the right (bottom shelf), drying out in the fridge before being smoked.

Unlike our forebears, we at least have the convenience of refrigeration to allow the process of preparing all these products over a period of days. On the downside that means you don’t get the whole community/family dropping by to help with the processing – ah the loneliness of the long-distance preserver.

Rolled loins and rib roasts will be frozen for later use.
Rolled loins and rib roasts will be frozen for later use.

The pig is always TB’s project while I cheer him on from the sidelines and give taste evaluations as necessary. He does all the important calculations for the brining and seasoning, not to mention all the hot and cold smoking.

Bacon, hams and other bits I can't identify going into the smoker.
Bacon, hams and other bits I can’t identify going into the smoker. Our smoker is a converted clothes drying cabinet.

We draw on lots of different curing traditions to preserve our pig. TB is making family favourites such as lap yuk, sometimes called Chinese bacon, and pork bones as well as some of the more common European products. Just in time for this year’s curing TB has found another book by those ‘gods’ of charcuterie Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, called Salumi: The Craft of Dry Curing (Norton 2012). I’m looking forward to my favourite frankfurters and some tasty smoked hocks for hearty winter soups.

smoked pork hocks ready for adding into soups
smoked pork hocks ready for adding into soups

Luckily some of these products are processed quite quickly. We have already been eating one of the small hams and last Sunday we had a streaky vs Canadian bacon taste off. The only trouble was that I was so busy tasting that I forgot to take a photo. Maybe next time.

One of the small hams, already undergoing the taste test - verdict? delicious.
One of the small hams, already undergoing the taste test – verdict? delicious.


Pig Out!

This week TB finally bought home a pig. Well almost all of one, minus the head and front trotters, and yes it had already gone to the great paddock in the sky. This was a relatively small, about 50kg free range female porker, which TB ordered through Jordo’s Chop Shop at Waniassa.


A trolley full of pig

It’s long been TB’s goal to break down and prepare a whole pig for a range of pork products and winter is the best time to do so. Traditionally you killed your pig so you didn’t have to feed the it through the harshest season of the year. Winter was also the perfect time for making cured products where you had the cold dry air to help preserve your meat.

There is a large upfront cost to buy the pig, although at just over $8 per kilo it is quite cost effective when you consider what you would pay in-store for the finished products. The next biggest input is your labour. The other ingredients used for curing, such as salt and sugar are quite cheap.

The pig came cut up into the two back legs, the belly cut into two loins and two streaky’s and the forequarters cut into the hand (that is the front leg) and the shoulder and some sundry bones. All the bones were ‘in’ so one of the first jobs was to trim and take the top bone out of the leg to make a prosciutto.


Having taken most of the bone out, the meat was salted inside the cavity, then placed in a box surrounded by salt and then weighed down. The meat will be left to cure in the salt for approximately 18 days. After this the salt will be washed off and the leg will be hung to air dry.

Next up came the loins which were variously cut for roasts and chops.


The chops on the right ended up very tastily on our dinner plate that night, along with our homegrown potatoes, carrots and garlic.


I was very impressed by the tender, succulent meat which had been lightly brined before cooking.

Of course there was still plenty of pig to process. Quite a few pieces made it into a wet brine. Some of these will become hams. Most of the ‘sundry bones’ ended up in the brine, but were subsequently hot smoked in the BBQ kettle.


These will be used primarily for soup stocks. However we did sneak a piece of pork belly in the mix so we would have some tasty bacon in the not too distant future.

A loin fillet was placed in brine for only 20 minutes and was pan-fried along with mushrooms and homegrown pumpkin and potato for dinner the next night.


In all it took TB two days to do the basic cutting up of the pig. There is still plenty of work to be done. Sausage and salami making awaits.!

Free Range Pig

Last Sunday we went to – The Pig Day Out – where we heard Lee McCosker, former owner of Melanda Park (she has sold the business but the current owners continue to rear free range pork), to speak about farming free range pork on a commercial basis.

McCosker, who is a strong supporter of the Humane Choice accreditation system, made a very clear distinction between farming rather than mass-producing pork. McCosker spoke about the many concerning parallels between the way pigs are currently commercially produced and the way chickens are mass produced. I was rather startled to hear that, unlike commercially raised chickens, pigs can be given both hormone and non-hormonal growth promotants, as well as anti-biotics. Equally concerning is that there is no legal definition of ‘free range’ in the pork industry. It is therefore very difficult for consumers to really know what they are getting unless they sourced their pork from farms certified by humane production organisations (who also certify the abatoirs for humane slaughter) or could visit the relevant farm and see for themselves. Her best guide – if you are looking on the internet is to see whether photographs showed pigs at all stages of development out in the fields or just sows and piglets. If there are only sows and piglets you might be looking at what is called ‘born free range’ where the sows give birth outside and piglets stay with them for the first month, until the piglets are moved indoors for intensive rearing. Not that we were having any of that type of pork on the day.

As a person trying to produce a commercially viable animal McCosker crossed the commercial white pigs used in intensive farming with rare breed pigs to produce an animal with sufficient hybrid vigour to grow well and which also retained its ‘nouse’ as a foraging animal. She must have got it right because her farm supplied a number of top end restaurants in NSW including Neil Perry’s. McCosker went on to discuss the intricacies of raising animals with the specific characteristics required by different restaurants. I would have enjoyed hearing more of this side of the story but it was time to taste the difference.

We were fortunate enough to be tucking into some free range Wessex Saddleback pigs, some of which had been raised by Chef Janet Jeffs herself. The main dish was pork marinated in Reidsdale cider and served with Ingelara potatoes and steamed winter greens. I really liked the peas which were included as part of the ‘greens’. They were only partly developed and served pod and all – both flavoursome and tender.


This tasty dish was followed by Claudia Roden’s flourless orange and almond cake served with orange blossom citrus and marscapone.


Just some advanced notice of another interesting Kitchen Cabinet event on 30 October. People who get in early will travel to Braidwood to experience A Taste of Convict Life, A special event in association with the Crave Sydney International Food Festival 2011.

Pigs in Winter

There is, apparently, a Portuguese saying that the happiest times in life are the first year of marriage and the week after you slaughter a pig. While we do not grow pigs ourselves I know that TB would love to be able to do so, if only for all the wonderful products that can be made from this animal.

As we are now in the depths of one of our coldest Canberra winters in some years (we had a minus 5.8??C during last week and we are regularly going down to minus 3??C) this is the perfect time to be making pig products. You need the cold weather to be able to hang your products for air drying without them going off. Last year TB bought a pork leg and made his first prosciutto, he???s also tried his hand at various salamis.


Take one shoulder of pork ….


Use one big boy’s toy …


Produce salamis and hang to dry.

This year, encouraged by a range of authors, (see the list at the end) he has stepped up a notch and has purchased two shoulders of pork from Inglebrae Meat at the Northside Farmers Market. These come from Black Pigs which were grown free range. The aim is to make a number of salamis, a picnic ham and sausages. There will be other treats along the way, including Chinese Pork Bones for tonight???s dinner!


Pork Bones on rice

Meanwhile in the garden the Broad-beans continue to grow and it is definitely time for tying them up. I???ve noticed with the hard frosts that several of the taller plants have fallen over so this is a job that needs doing now. The Snow Peas, in the Red Poles bed, are growing so vigorously up their support that I will need to put another row of twine even higher up the poles to help them. Clearly no one has told the Warrigal Greens that they are not supposed to be frost hardy as the plant continues to grow outside with no protection.

Alas all is not so well in the polyhouse. Our transplanted capsicum has definitely keeled over after the hard frosts of this past week. However the Vietnamese Mint which we are also trialling by over-wintering in a pot is looking quite chipper. It never ceases to amaze me how hardy some of the Asian vegetables are.

Our broccoli is still growing but so far not producing any heads. By comparison friend M???s broccoli is producing regularly ??? a sign of the much more favourable microclimate in her garden which, while it is only a few suburbs away from us, is much more protected than Chez Fork.

For those of you looking to go down the pig product route TB recommends the following books: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn, Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli, Meat by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Preserving The Italian Way by Pietro Demaio.