Adventures in Pork

Hello friends, this is ShaeLynn.  I can’t help sharing my excitement about our newly arrived pork!  The pigs in our pilot program turned out BEAUTIFULLY!  Our free-range, part wild, forest-raised, whey-fed, and acorn-finished pigs were quite the attraction at the slaughterhouse.  We received a number of compliments from all the people who handled the meat on how gorgeous (and unique!) the marbling and overall fat composition was in these pigs.  Kevin was so proud, we’ve been joking that our Son will have to hit a lot of homeruns to top that!

 Quick Disclaimer:  I am writing a food blog post, and I promise this will remain a farm blog.  I’m just so excited I can’t help it!

We just received our half pig back from Freedom Meat Locker, where they cut and wrapped it for us.  Next time we hope to embark on that particular adventure of butchering the pig ourselves, but this time around it seemed easier to take advantage of the simplicity of having someone else do the butchering.   That said, I am pursuing two pork processing endeavors that are making the house smell great:  Sausage making and rendering lard.

The sausage is pretty simple.  I asked them to grind about 30 pounds of the pork, including the pork belly (from which you would usually get bacon).  This means that the fat content on the ground pork is a little higher, which makes it better for sausage.  If I had a meat grinder at my disposal I could have ground even more fat into it, but the above-average fat in the ground pork seems to be working fine.

I used a mortar and pestle my mom got me for Christmas last year (and I even ground up some parsley she grew in her garden!), to grind some of the whole herbs, and used powdered for the rest.  The spice mixtures themselves turned out awfully pretty, especially the Hot Italian mixture (pictured here--I also made a breakfast sausage).  We couldn’t resist tasting it as soon as I’d finished, so I put some into a pasta sauce which we ate at dinner.  It was really great!  Here it is cooking… yum!

The lard has been a longer, slower process (as it should be!).  I’ve learned so much about lard in the past few days while figuring out how to make it.   Lard gets a bad reputation both because of its high saturated fat content and because most of it comes from confinement pigs.  I won’t lay out my arguments about saturated fat, but suffice it to say I’ll take saturated over the trans fats of hydrogenated vegetable oil any day!  And, of course, our pigs were not raised in confinement, and were treated to really high quality feed inputs (notably the whey and the acorns which no doubt contributed mightily to the pig’s fat).

 I also learned that there are two types of lard:  For frying (lard is really stable at high heat, making it ideal for frying) it’s best to use lard from the fat back or pork belly (if you didn’t grind your pork belly or make bacon).  This is because little pieces of skin and meat cling to the fat and no matter how slowly you cook it the lard will take on a bit of a pork-y flavor and a little browner color.  If you’re making frybread (it’s high on my list of things to make with lard), this is no big deal—in fact most fried foods benefit from the added flavor in their cooking medium.  However, if you want to use lard in cookies or a pie crust, you probably don’t want pork flavor there (“Pig” Newtons aside…).  For these types of recipes it’s best to use leaf lard, which is the fat attached to the kidneys.  Since it doesn’t have any meat or skin attached, it melts down snow white and odorless, so long as you melt it slowly.  I started with the fatback because it seemed a little more forgiving for the first-timer!

Here is the fat back as it came packaged.  I chopped it into little bits to help it melt evenly.  I found it really interesting to see the different layers of fat in each piece.

Then it was into the crock pot, to which I added ½ cup water so it would cook too quickly at first.  Here it is full of pieces.  I ladled the liquid lard into a canning jar as it melted and here it is 24 hours later.  And then here are my jars (I already started using the one on the left to make biscuits to go with homemade sausage gravy for breakfast!).

With any luck this will not be the last of my adventures in pork, but I'm thrilled with the start!

P.S.  Thanks for not making fun of my complete lack of photography skills!