Project Porker, Part I: Going Where So Many Pigs Have Gone Before

In 2012, my wife and I committed to buying an entire pig from our local CSA, Whistling Train Farm (who also happen to be WordPress bloggers).  I love supporting this farm, because they embody all of the things I appreciate in food and business.  I can walk around freely and explore all aspects of what they do (beef, pork, chickens, flowers, veggies, etc.).  I can see the way the critters are raised; I know they are treated with care and fed a diet appropriate for their critter kind.  They are very close to my home — slightly more than 3 miles away.  Perhaps most importantly to me, they farm because that’s what they want to be doing, and it shows.

<a href="">Three Pigs</a> by Petr Kratochvil

Not the actual pig(s)

Shelly let me know that the piggy, for which I had placed a deposit last August, was slaughtered last week and in the process of being butchered yesterday, and I could pick up the pieces, as it were, as soon as they were ready.  I drove over to Lind’s Custom Meats and walked into the butcher shop, where I was able to learn more about what we’d bought into.  Shelley and her husband Mike were there to wrap. In between cuts, Shelley was kind enough to field a bunch of questions.

We had purchased a winter sow.  I knew this going into it but didn’t know what that really meant.  As it turns out, from a weight and cost perspective a winter sow means less.  Winter pigs naturally put more of their energy into staying warm, and that reduces the amount of fat and weight they put on.  If I want the most meat and fat, I need to buy a summer male who’s had ample time to grow and no opportunity to use the energy he’s stored away.  Noted for next time.

When Shelley contacted me about the slaughter, she asked for my cutting instructions.  I tried to be as specific as possible about what was important to me:  I wanted whole hams, whole sides (bellies), whole tenderloins, shoulders (Boston butt), the cheeks and jowls, baby back ribs, and all the fat that could be mustered (especially the “leaf lard”).  Everything else was less important to me, but that list still included chops, loin roasts, ground pork and sausage, spare ribs, bones, and hocks.  I was able to dictate the size of cuts I wanted, too.  For an additional fee, the butcher could cure and smoke just about anything on the list.  Since I wanted to do that myself, we opted out.

Pig tastiness chart

Couldn’t draw it better myself.

If you think you want to buy a whole or partial animal from a farm, I suggest scouring the Internet for some basic animal anatomy and butchering cut charts.  Learning how an animal’s muscles are organized and seeing how they make up the cuts of meat we see packaged in the store will help you understand why your pork chops are smaller if you want the tenderloin whole, and why asking for baby back ribs means your chops will be boneless.

With me to the butcher, I brought along a giant cooler with a few one-gallon jugs of frozen water inside.  Everything fit perfectly, even the awkward hams.  I wasn’t headed straight home, but that didn’t prove to be a problem, as it all stayed nice and cool with the frozen water jugs in there.  Since I got home, I’ve been keeping the cooler out in the garage and will occasionally swap out a couple of the jugs for new ones to keep it as cool as possible.  This lifts the burden of space from my refrigerators and freezers, which all seem to have beer in them, for some reason.

This pig had never been frozen or vacuum-packed, and I wanted to take advantage of that freshness.  A few months ago I bought a book called Charcuterie:  The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.  Just about everything I want to do with this pig is included in that book and I’m using their recipes as a starting point for all of my projects.

The list is long:

  • Canadian bacon – 1 tenderloin
  • Spicy pork loin – 1 tenderloin
  • Baby back ribs – 2 racks ribs
  • Savory bacon – 1/2 side belly
  • Plain bacon – 1/2 side belly
  • Pancetta – 1 side belly
  • Guanciale – 2 jowls
  • Prosciutto – 1 ham
  • Country style ham – 1 ham
  • Pulled pork – 2 shoulders
  • Pastry dough – leaf lard
  • Sausage – back fat and shoulder roasts

Sounds tasty, no?  We’ll be enjoying a lot of this stuff over the next few weeks, but some of it is truly an investment.  The two hams might be ready in time for Easter 2014.  The good news, if you’re into this kind of thing, is that I plan to document these projects here, starting with my very next post.