Friday, 21 February 2014

A piggy day out

When the lovely folk of Vale House Kitchen invited me to join them on their pig butchery course last weekend I jumped at the chance. The day promised learning not only how to cut up a pig into different joints but also how to process it into bacon, sausages, ham, salami and chorizo. Making charcuterie is something I have long wanted to try but its also been one of those things that I never seem to get around to. Like ironing my clothes or learning a new language. So it was brilliant to be asked along to get myself a whole new set of new skills.

Vale House Kitchen is a relative newcomer on the cookery school scene, having only opened for business last autumn, but it seems to be a place with big plans. Owners Bod and Annie have a strong 'field to fork' philosophy and many of the courses have a focus on catching your food - hunting or fishing or foraging - before you are let loose in the kitchen to cook. Whilst many might find the whole shooting & fishing thing a bit much, I agree wholeheartedly with Bod when he said that if you're going to eat meat and fish you owe it to the animals to know the process it takes to get them to your table. If more of us had first hand of the rearing & ultimate killing we might have more respect for the meat we put on our forks.

The course was brilliantly led in a relaxed and informal way by Robin Rea from the Rusty Pig, a specialist pork butcher and charcuterie in Ottery St Mary, Devon. Robin's shop has a table for 16 in the middle of it, where he and his team serve piggy feasts for brunch, lunch and dinner at the weekends.  'Pigging delicious' goes his strapline and it sounds so good I'm planning to head west at the first available opportunity.

Here are a few shots of my day. It was totally energising to learn something new and I left buzzing with ideas about things I wanted to try.  I've already tried my own bacon and am really struggling to wait for it to be ready.

Thanks Vale House!

We started with half a pig, his name was Stumpy and he an Oxford Sandy Black,  a rare breed that came from a breeder just down the road,  Plum Pudding Pigs. Oxford Sandy Blacks are Robins favourite for flavour and that all important fat layer that makes proper bacon and sausages such great things to eat.

Robin teaching me a proper butchers knot

My absolute tip of the day: put the string in a pan to stop it rolling on the floor when you're tying up a roasting joint. Why on earth have I never thought of this?

Removing the cheek, possibly the tastiest cut with the right amount long slow cooking. The ears were earmarked for a simmer in red win and herbs until soft and tender. Then Robin planned to slice them into thin strips, toss them un polenta and chuck them in the fryer for a crispy bar snack. Sounds good, eh?

Skinning the trotter, in preparation for cooking & stuffing.

The brain was so much smaller than I thought. Here I took a snap of it next a grown mans hand - I think you'll agree, not a lot of mass for an 80kg animal, especially one thats famed for its intelligence. I was left wondering just how big (or small….) my own grey matter is.

Robin deftly trimming the carcass and chopping the offcuts for the sausage making bowl. It pretty much all went in, bar the glands which apparently lend an unpleasantly bitter taste.

Making sausages rather predictably caused much schoolish giggling that we should have all have grown out of. We found the process needed a gentle touch and rather more control than many of us seemed to be able to muster. And don't even get me started on the link making process. One of those frustrating 'rub your tummy, pat your head' type tasks that my brain doesn't compute to well.

We learnt how to make a bacon cure with salt and brown sugar, flavoured with bay, pepper, coriander, star anise & cloves.

Dry cured bacon, the belly will become streaky, and the loin will become back bacon. I left Vale House with a generous piece of belly that I've now cured with a mix of smoked paprika, caraway, fennel and bay. Its in my fridge patted with a snug blanket of cure. At the weekend I'll wash it down with vinegar and hang it somewhere cool and airy (the shed I suspect) for a few weeks to dry out a bit. So, if anyone fancies a bacon sarnie, I'm taking bookings for mid to end of March!

Chorizo's drying from the eaves, mine is the 2nd from the left. Its now curing in my shed with strict instructions not to tuck in for at least a month.

One of Vale House's very own Oxford Sandy Black pigs,  called Sausage & Bacon,  and brothers of our fella, Stumpy. Vale House's pigs are due to be slaughtered in a few weeks and I know every bit of them will be put to good use.

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