Sunday, October 10, 2010

Meat – A Benign Extravagance ?

Back in 2002, whilst discussing “the sharp rise in the number of the world’s livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition”, George Monbiot, “concluded that veganism ‘is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue.’” In his review of Simon Fairlie’s new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, he now “no longer believe[s] that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.”

I’ve read it cover to cover and now lent it to our friend Kristen to read; I thoroughly recommend it. You’ll find Fairlie’s views honest and balanced, whether you are omnivore, vegetarian or vegan. You can get a flavour of it for free by reading online this article in the current edition of Permaculture Magazine.

For us, it’s that moment when all our year’s pork arrives in one day. This is the fourth year that we’ve kept our own pigs and we’ve grown in experience in their care and feeding and also in coping with 190 kg (420 lbs) of pork when it comes back from the abattoir. We had female pigs this year, which we now know put on proportionally less fat than the castrated males we’ve had before. That and increasing experience means that these are the first pigs we haven’t overfed (a very easy task with a pig!)

We asked Bernard (on the left) retired boucher de campagne (countryside butcher) to come and help with the butchery and Mélanie (below, on the left) to help Gabrielle with mincing and bagging. Bernard works very fast, so I had to ask him to slow down on occasions so that I could learn some of his techniques. When I asked him how it is he is so accurate with multiple blows of the cleaver, he explained that as a young apprentice, when there was a quiet moment in the butchers, his boss would mark pencil lines on a small stick of wood and get him to practice on that. I’m afraid that I usually hit a slightly different place with each blow so that by the time I’ve cut my chop free I don’t so much need a frying pan as a toast rack!

The more I read on curing pork, the more variations on a theme I find and there comes a time to stick the tail on the donkey (or should that the pig in the brine?) and work out our salty strategy. This time, we’ve bought a ready mixed salt cure with a touch of saltpetre in it and added nothing more than Demerara sugar and black pepper. We divided a whole middle into belly and loin and each of those into two. The belly had 5 days in the dry cure and the thicker loin 7. The pieces then stay in a fridge for a week to “equalise” which is (apparently) when the cure travels through the meat (so as to avoid salty edges and porky interiors, I guess) and then a further week air-drying.

At the same time, one back leg is in a brine solution to make Parma-style ham and this also needs to be maintained at fridge temperature. All very well but we don’t have a fridge big enough so I converted an old freezer that we were given into a sort-of-fridge by using a max/min thermometer and a electrical timer (the sort you use to put a light on at a certain hour). Through trial and error I got the temperature in the makeshift fridge to oscillate between 2 and 4ºC.

It’s only right that we should try and use as much of the animal as possible, so this year we’ve rendered the flare fat to make lard and done something spicily different with the heads, an item we’ve struggled with in the past.

Post Script : Click on the comments below to read some interesting stuff, links and book recommendations posted by readers and fellow bloggers.