Piggy Camp (a guest post)

Ok folks I am thrilled to share with you some of the photos that my husband took during his recent three day workshop at Farmstead Meatsmith, about two and a half hours north of Portland on Vashon Island, and a description of his experience.

FYI: some of these photos are graphic in the depiction of the process, so vegans might not want to go any further. Then again, meat is a reality in our world and I think it’s great for everybody to have the opportunity to understand there are options to what you find in the grocery store, a great majority of whose meat comes from factory farms that disrespect animals in the most egregious ways in the name of profit. It was a thrill to see my husband get to be up close and personal with the process and it’s made a long-term impact on us as consumers of meat, as we will no longer be procuring any of it from large scale “green” grocers who claimed to support local but create massive carbon footprints flying in meat from all over the world where we cannot guarantee the animal has been treated humanely. If we want it, we’ll get it locally from our farmers. Period.

Train, taxi, ferry and feet – going from PDX to Vashon…

Day One – Slaughter / Evisceration

Day Two – Butchery

Day Three: Charcuterie & Sausage Making

You wanna know something really cool I did recently? I went up to Vashon Island in Washington to take part in the killing and butchering of two Gloucestershire Old Spot hogs. I figured that as enamoured as I am with the end product of pig butchery, it was time to take a step further back and be part of the transition from pig to pork. (More on the philosophical side of things at a later date…)

I did this at the Farmstead Meatsmith, a small scale abattoir, butchery and educational operation that has the philosophy of using everything on the slaughtered animal except the squeal. This is cool, as I hate wasting stuff and when I get to the point of raising my own animals for meat and lard, I want to do the same. From a purely economic point of view, if I am going to raise meat/lard pigs I want maximum return on my investment! Why get rid of those intestines when I can make salami/sausage casings out of them? What about the other perfectly edible offal? This and a bunch of other butchery things was what I wanted to learn and I figured I was in the right place.

So to business I went with six others. Out came the pigs and we chose two of them. My novice thought process was to separate the condemned so the others don’t freak out at the report of the rifle, but this is not so. I learnt that this stresses out all in the group, as it breaks up their social order (i.e., they have separation anxiety). This leads to increased stress hormones flowing through their bodies which in turn leads to an increase in PSE (pale, soft, and exudative) meat, which I’ve seen through work. In a commercial sense, you will not sell this stuff as it’s nasty. There’s no reason to do it.

A quick bullet in the middle of the head and a deft slice to the jugular vein and we were collecting the blood for later use. I’d eaten blood sausage in Australia and Europe before but actually being part of the collection process was one of the most intense things I have done. Others got a tad peaky during the evisceration, but the blood collection got me.

The other pigs really didnt appear to give to give a good god-damn about the whole thing. They just kept on eating. A couple of them took a great liking to the spilt blood and coagulate that had hit the ground as we were collecting it. Another strange thing, but to anthropomorphize them would do them a disservice. It’s tasty, I will eat it.

Preparing the hog before butchery was something else. Yes, I had done a ton of research about this but actually taking part in the scalding, scraping, shaving was a different thing. So that’s what that strange looking tool is! Oh that hook looking thing does that. That’s how I hold that weird upside down cup with the really sharp edges.

After he was cleaned up, I started to recognize a lot of the parts. My time as a meat cutter had me mentally quartering him up. “There’s the shoulder butt/spare ribs/loin/hams etc…”

Hefting them into the walk in cooler took a couple of people as even though we had split them down the middle they were still heavy. One fellow with us (a dead ringer for Mr Clean) decided he could do it himself and he did. He was built like brick shithouse and strolled along like he was carrying a small bag of groceries.

I mentioned earlier that we were using all available parts of the pig, so all the offal (or “cheer” as it’s also known as) we collected earlier was baked up into a stew. Liver, kidney, tenderloins, skirt, speen etc went into a pan with salt and pepper and cooked up. When they were done we splashed a big glug of brandy into the pan to deglaze it then a bit of flour to thicken it up and we were good to go. Of course we washed it all down with a few bottles of vino, making all the more enjoyable.

Day two was cool for me as well. Before we broke each half into primal cuts, I was shown how to pull the leaf lard out (any baker worth their salt prefers this stuff) and the caul fat (like a net of fat that is perfect for making crepinettes and rilletes). Next, we broke down the primal into sub-primals, like spare and baby back ribs, hams, loins and belly bacon. Then it was onto the head, where I learned how to remove the guanciale, or jowl and the ears, before we had them go into a huge pot for the low ‘n’ slow journey towards head cheese.

I mentioned blood sausage earlier and this was definitely one of the highlights of my time. Basically it was blood, onion, fat and seasoning poured through a funnel into hog casings and voila, they were ready to be poached then fried up. Very interesting how the blood, which contains albumen (think egg whites) coagulates and solidifies into into something very tasty.

I had a ball on the farm, making connections with folks of a like mind and learning a hell of a lot of stuff. It cemented in my mind things I want to do in the future with livestock. It was a little spendy and my take home swag was paltry…but damn, it was a life changer.

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