Ooh dear Reader, I have been really looking forward to telling you about my latest exploits all week. As you know, I have had my eye on getting a pig but with no land nearby for sale or to rent, having my own pigs is just not an option at the moment. A huge blow but not an unexpected one. Our village is particularly anti-pig and since every field around here is prime grazing for ponies, Jerry and I have been thinking about alternatives to renting a grassy field. There must be someone nearby who needs a piggy rotivator!
Determined to learn more about all things porcine, off I popped to discover more about the joys of pigs at Parsonage Farm and join one of John and Sarah Mills’ regular workshops. John and Sarah Mills are true advocates of field to fork eating and their livestock doesn’t travel much further than to the abattoir and back, before making it to the butcher’s block. I know I have mentioned it before but their salami and air dried ham and beef is to die for too! So much so that I have been dying to learn how to make my own salami as well as bacon and sausages since I met them. So, where better for a beginner like me to start than with one of their Charcuterie workshops, dear Reader?
I confess, dear Reader, that I know very little about butchering any kind of animal. When our orphan lambs went to slaughter last year, we took the carcasses to a local butcher who did the job for us so going on a butchery and charcuterie workshop was high on the priority list to aid me in my quest to advance my good life skills!
Taking us through from whole pig to pancetta was the wonderful Marc Frederic (Le Charcutier Anglais as he is known) who, apart from having the best butcher’s chat I’ve heard in a long time, is also a dab hand at all things charcuti (wonder if I could make that one, catch on, dear Reader…?) and his skills are known from here to Thailand. His selection of butcher’s kit is incredibly impressive too, including a rather large knife rather hilariously named a “chopper” (yes, I did snigger like a school girl, dear Reader).
Getting down to the nitty gritty, I learn that different pigs are better for different things. For example, a Tamworth (the meat we are working on) makes a good pig for bacon as it has the ability to achieve the right meat to fat ratio. So it might be perfect for bacon and sausages but not so good for other types of charcuterie such as salami or air dried hams. Other slow growing porkers would be a better option if charcuterie was the end goal. I have to say for me, the Tamworth is my favourite of the pigs on the rare breed list – I have rather a soft spot for their russet hair and they make the cutest piglets you’ve ever seen, dear Reader. Back to pork…..
Some serious sawing, filleting skills and knife sharpening lessons later and we begin to see what you might recognise when choosing choice cuts from the butcher’s counter. There’s also a large tray of meat (and fat) that is reserved for later – offcuts from our butchery. I think that I learned more about meat in the first few hours of the course than I have in a lifetime of cooking and eating it! Coppa, lardo, bath chaps, trotters for gelatine……a good butcher knows how to use as much of the animal as is possible. Real nose to tail eating. Everything but the squeak but not the pesky sinews, tendons and bits of cartilage which shouldn’t even go into sausages. Marc’s knife skills (and patience guiding us beginners with the right cuts here and how close to take the blade) are amazing. It turns out that I have been sharpening my knives at home completely the wrong way for years.
Sausage making was hilarious! I can’t wait to get my own kit. Brilliant fun and so easy once you know how. The best bit with making your own sausages is that once you’ve mastered the basics, you can begin experimenting with flavours and create your own sausage recipes. Endless hours of fun in my book!
Marc made it all look so easy. Getting the hang of the sausage machine certainly had me in fits of giggles but then, dear Reader, I have never been known for my maturity! Almost impossible not to think of every sausage (and sausage skin) innuendo in the process but in the end, I was quite proud of my handiwork – not too embarrassing for a first try. Tying them is a real skill I can assure you, dear Reader. I made sure that I shot a video of Marc’s demonstration because I knew that I would never remember any of it when it came to having a go at home!
Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole day for me was learning how to make bacon – something I could definitely see myself doing at home. Marc showed us how to prepare the pork for curing and the steps needed to create our very own pancetta.
A fantastic day, dear Reader – I can highly recommend it and Marc’s insight and teaching alongside his witty repartee made the day full of fun as well as learning. I loved every minute of the workshop and Sarah and John’s delicious lunch was a triumph and a reminder of all the amazing things that can be done when care and respect is given to bringing food from the field to the table.
I can report that the bacon after its seven days curing was well worth the effort! Jerry, Poppy and Primrose are already wondering when I shall be making some more. I’ve even been looking for meat slicers and sausage machines on Ebay! Now if I could just find somewhere to put these little beauties! You know me, dear Reader, never take no for answer……so keep this to yourself, but I may already have a plan in mind! Oink oink!