We were rather fortunate that our local butcher's slaughter license for pigs came in around the same time we received our pig herd number.
So far so good. It meant that the stress levels for us, as well as for the piggies, would be kept to an absolute minimum. Better still, our local butcher would pick them up here at home with his trailer.
As the first two went to the butcher, I couldn't help but shed a few tears. It is damned hard. It will always be damned hard.
Now, from the time the pigs leave here, it will take near enough one week before they return as meat. That is a good time frame for me to distance myself emotionally from them. After all, we know from the start that they are not 'pets' and are meant for meat.
We have up till now sent them to the butcher per two. So there is never one pig left on their own.
Pigs are very social animals and they need company.
We start off with buying four weaners at a time. They are about 8 weeks old, although we had 12 week old ones twice now, and are ready to be separated from the mother. They will be used to eating vegetables, fruit, oats and barley by the time we bring them home. And that is what we feed them on for the rest of their stay. But as they are free ranging they will also eat lots of weeds and roots on the plot of land that they are allowed to roam on.
The pigs stay with us until they are at least 6 months old. I say 'at least' because we do try to keep them longer. Especially the last two. They have been with us since January and will probably be staying till November.
Yes, there will be a lot of fat on them, but we don't mind. The melted down fat will keep 'almost' forever in the fridge and certainly in the freezer. It can be used to spread on a slice of brown bread instead of butter. Try it when pan frying meat, sautéed potatoes..... I even added half and half butter/lard to my shortcrust pastry.
The meat is itself is darker than the pork you would buy at the butcher or supermarket. And, it is divine in flavour.
The butcher will cut the meat into your favourite cuts, but you have to be clear. If not, you will end up with 200 chops and a ham, so to speak.
Cuts of meat here in Ireland seem to be so different from what I am used to from continental Europe.
A chop is all very well, but they need to be cut from a certain part of the pig. If you chop across different muscles, you will get into trouble when cooking. Different parts of the pig require different methods of cooking. That is quite simple, seeing some muscles have worked harder and are therefore tougher. They do better with a slow cook method. The lesser used muscles (ie loin or tenderloin) are ideal for quick and short cooking.
Fatty cuts like pork belly are the yummiest yum yum when slow roasted so the layers of fat have a chance to render down while basting the meaty layers in between. What's left is succulence extraordinaire.
Our butcher will also brine cure anything we like. ham, trotters, bacon, ...
With the first lot we had a ham cured and that was ready just in time for our Christmas dinner. The butcher also minced the meat of a shoulder so that we could make our own sausages. Unfortunately we could only get the artificial sausage casings, but I will tell you about that in another post.
I divided the liver, some for frying and some for making paté. I did not make photos of the process, as I had fallen out of love with blogging. But believe you me, it was the smoothest and best paté I have ever made. And I've made a few in my time.
I boiled the ham, bone in, with added carrots, celery, onion and spices. After which I put it in a recipient that fit, put weights on it and left it to cool completely. The pressing of the ham means it becomes denser and is easier to cut off slices without them falling apart. After the pressing, you can still give the ham a good crust by roasting for 30 minutes or so in a hot oven. Which is what I did.
The most distressing thing I had to do was making brawn or head cheese, but I did.
Our Christmas buffet with in the middle/left the ham. In the middle/right paté and behind it the brawn or head cheese.
I hear you wondering if we ate all 4 pigs all by ourselves in such a short space of time. No, we didn't.
There are plenty of takers for half a free range pig, provided that the pricing is fair.
in the end we only had just about half a pig left for ourselves.
There will be a second part to this blog post, so don't forget to come back. In the future I would also like to take you through the process of making brawn and paté.
Thank you for reeeeeeeeeaaaading this long post.