Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Meat – Part 3: The Big Pig Day In the last part I was still on the lookout for a suitable boucher de campagne to help us slaughter and butcher our two pigs. Jean-Yves, one of the veritable Annick’s sons, suggested a neighbour of his, Bernard, now “retired” from the job he’s been doing since he was fourteen. Apparently, after six weeks of doing painting around the house, he was bored with retirement and has continued with his work the only difference being that he now works only the morning or the afternoon of any one day. He was short and slight and had the air of a village parson. I was relieved to find that he was familiar with a captive bolt stun gun, having worked in an abattoir, and was happy for me to use one to render the animals unconscious before he hauled them up and bled them. He was also happy to help us with these different pigs—another boucher had been to visit and declined to get involved with our Kune Kunes—and we fixed a date.

I spent more than one sleepless night in the lead-up, not helped by the non-arrival of the captive bolt gun that I’d ordered from the UK. I turned out that it had been addressed with the wrong postcode and was somewhere in a sorting office in the Midi-Pyrenees. With a day to go, I was ready to cancel the whole thing until I had another of my rare “light bulb” moments of inspiration and went scuttling off to another pig farm in the village (neighbour Paul doesn’t have a humane killer) and explained to the farmer my predicament. He had the device, called a Matador here in France, which he lent to me, what a relief!

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Pig in a Day
DVD was our guide throughout and we can’t recommend it enough. We also referred to Larousse Gastronomic (an encyclopaedia of food), which shows the differences between the English and French way of dividing up the carcass. In my slightly anal way, I typed up seven pages of notes to guide us through the whole complicated process. Bernard arrived promptly at 2pm and neighbour Alan came over to lend us a helping hand. While Gabrielle occupied the other pig with a bucket of acorns out of sight, I despatched the first pig with not so much as a squeal. After it had been hoisted up on a pulley and bled, we placed the carcass in the van and followed the same procedure for the second pig. I was apprehensive about the whole affair and concentrating fiercely to make sure I did it correctly and was very glad when they were both humanely despatched. Gabrielle did shed a few tears immediately afterwards but was soon back to normal, aided by the kind, and very British, offer of a cup of tea at Alan’s and Carole’s house.

We then took the carcasses to Paul’s and Christiane’s farm, where Christiane had been heating up a massive cast-iron cauldron of water over a fire for two hours, which was needed to scrape the bristles off the pigs. Once they’d been eviscerated, they were returned to our house and were suspended outside overnight to dry out and for rigor mortis to pass. Bernard returned just before 7am the following morning to divide up the carcasses. With the aid of Hugh’s DVD, Gabrielle and I prepared black pudding (blood sausage), sausages, chorizo, liver pâté, brawn, dry-cured bacon and we put a leg in salt to make Prosciutto-style air-dried ham. We also cooked fresh liver, braised the hearts, devilled the kidneys and even had a recipe for the ears.

It was a full four days work for the two of us and we now feel immensely proud to have raised two happy pigs in the open air over the summer and autumn and then taken full responsibility for their humane slaughter and preparation for the table, using just about everything but the “oink”, as the saying goes. We’ve already made some enquiries about buying some new weaners and are very interested in some Gloucester Old Spots that will be ready at the end of February.