24 June 2009

Here Piggy Piggy

It is remarkable how quickly Pig turns into Pork.

Here on the farm my aunt and uncle raise pigs for food. These pigs are some of the happiest critters I've ever seen, snorting around in a nice-sized pen under a big old tree in the shade, surrounded by some woods, some chicken houses, and some olive grove. When they're not munching on pig feed, they're eating people food scraps (especially in the late summer/early fall when all the fruit comes in and we are constantly picking, peeling, coring, seeding... they get all those leftovers.)

About twice a year, or every nine months or so, my aunt and uncle hire an itinerant butcher to come and butcher the pigs. This is a guy who drives around the county in a truck that is basically a remote butcher shop. It's really a wonder to see. I'd watched this process once before about a year and a half ago, when he did three pigs and he was there maybe two hours. We're talking 3 animals that all weighed in the neighborhood of 300 pounds. This most recent time, a few weeks ago, there were two pigs to kill, a 350 pounder guy and a 400 pounder. This is a lot of pig.

One of my aunts best friends was there, and a couple guys with her who are chefs at her restaurants in the city. I met them at the top of the hill right around 9am, at which point JT the butcher had already been there for a while and was all set up.

JT goes in the pen with his big gun, and generally kills the pig with one swift shot to the brain. (In this case, the bigger 400-pound pig took two shots. JT said the first one probably just gave him a big headache.) Surprisingly, this does not seem to cause the other pig or pigs left in the pen much concern. In fact, the next step is slitting the throat of the pig to drain the blood, and when done in the pen as he usually does, the pigs scurry to eat up what comes out. That was probably the most unsettling step the first time I watched.

After the pig, which momentarily will be pork, is shot and bled, it is hooked up to a chain to drag it over to the "butcher shop". It rests in a tub with scalding water in order to get the hair off. (I think what happens is it softens up the bristles enough to basically be scraped off.) JT has long rubber gloves on which he fills with cold water from the hose in order to keep the temperature on his skin down as he's working with the pig in the hot water.

The pig is then laid on a rack for the rest of the hair removal and cleaning. At this point, there's really no confusing pork for pig. When the rest of the hair has been scraped and the nails popped off, the pig is hung up side down to be cleaned out and split up. He starts by cutting out the genitals etc, and that all goes into a waste bucket. Then he slices down the middle enough so that the innards that will fall out do (the intestines, bladder, stomach), he catches those and sets them aside. He removes all the organs (heart, lungs, liver, kidney) and when he gets down to the head he pops out what is an extremely tiny brain. (Well, at that point, it's two pieces of a tiny brain.)

Throughout this process he's hosing down the pig, and the insides really look like a whole lot of clean meat. When the insides are empty, he uses what is basically a big cleaver with a long handle to completely split the pig into two pieces. Each half of the pig is hanging from a hook, which than slides to the back of the truck which is basically a big cooler.

The pig goes in the truck to an actual butcher where they will separate it into ham, bacon, stomach, loin, etc etc. My aunt's friend and her chefs took the bigger one and used every last bit, but the smaller (350 lb) one will be here at the farm stored in whatever fridge space we can find and it will take us a good year plus to go through it (this includes hosting many, many guests over the course of the year that will mostly be served pork.)

I like to understand where my food comes from. I am fortunate to live in a place where I get to watch the production of food from very beginning to very end, and as a result I have such an appreciation for what I eat. It is an incredible process, particularly in this transformation of animal to meat, and it is a privilege to witness it particularly in place that is clean an respectful of
the animal and the food they become. Not to mention - the pork is delicious.

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