One of my christmas gifts from Amy was the Underground Food Collective’s Whole Hog Breakdown class. UFC is a general force of foodie goodness around Madison, with a long-running catering business (whose work I’ve enjoyed on a few Bike the Barns rides for the area CSA coalition), a restaurant, a new butcher shop, and classes like this. (I suppose I should warn the potentially squeamish reader to proceed with caution.)
I was pretty excited about learning how to butcher a pig, but my expectations were exceeded. I had sort of expected that the class as a whole would break down a pig, but instead we each cut a half hog into sub-primal cuts (e.g. shoulder, pork chops, belly, tenderloin, ham, etc.).
It’s daunting to stare at a nearly 4 foot long half of an animal, but this class really reinforced for me the value of hands-on learning. I’ve stared at some length at cookbook diagrams of mammals we eat, and had a basic sense of where everything came from, but touching the pig carcass and causing it to become various cuts of meat really made the geography of the animal sink in.
Apart from the learning experience, I was really struck by how do-able this was. While raising pigs isn’t part of our 2013 plan, it’s definitely out there someplace as a future goal, but until I did this it hadn’t ever occurred to me that we could so feasibly turn the pig into meat ourselves, at home. (There is still the matter of slaughter; these pigs started out as headless skinned halves.) I’m more confident about chickens (which we do plan to raise for meat this year) and goats, as well.
We also got to bring home some of the meat we cut. Some went right into the freezer, but we had a delicious dinner of pork chops earlier in the week, and tried some kidney with eggs on Friday. I also brought a belly for bacon home, since the kids rather aggressively adore bacon. (Nora was already too jealous that I got to cut the pig up for me not to have come home with her favorite.)
The bacon needed to sit vacuum sealed with its rub for 7-10 days before being smoked, which brought us to today. This is it after the rub (juniper berries, bay leaves, salt, pepper) was rinsed off but before smoking (I’m assembling the smoking packet in the foreground):
After a couple of hours on a low grill, the meat got to the target temp. range in the 140s and was ready to be sliced:
The pictures don’t really show much of a difference, but it was definitely much more cooked feeling. I sliced it pretty thick, since I wasn’t sure how I’d manage a consistent thin slice, but it came out pretty good:
I was putting most of the sliced bacon in freezer bags, but couldn’t resist frying up a couple of pieces for us to share as a little snack. I waited a few seconds after putting the plate down, and almost missed the chance to take a picture. It was really quite delicious.