First off I need to say to my vegan and vegetarian readers the next 3 or so post are likely not going to sit well with you, the images that follow are graphic and this is the story of taking a life to nourish a family, a community and a million little critters along the way. A few months back we set out on a pork culinary adventure with the purchase of this cute fellow, and yesterday was the day that our “little piggy went to market” as they say.
The past 24 hours have been a whirl wind of processing and pushing through comfort zones and mental barriers, but let me step back a little. This little small holding adventure started a few years back with chickens and food in the ground, we have been through raising chicks, and setting hens, dispatching roosters and even raising and enjoying meat rabbits. Along the way we have helped friends with butchering cows and goats, we have been enjoying raw milk and cheese, foraging, fishing, smoking and canning, all with the intention of connecting to our food systems, all of them, even the unpleasant bits. This adventure is by far the most real, the most challenging, and for me as a cook the most humbling. When we first decided to get a pig my intention was to honor the entire animal, and to challenge myself to use every part of it, and reconnect to my humble roots where using all and wasting nothing wasn’t an ethical decision, it was simply the way of life.
So I sit here exhausted 24 hours after our pig departed his pasture, and this is how the snout of this nose-to-tail story begins…
We have a friend who is a butcher, you might remember from my birthday rabbit dinner, anyway he expressed interest in teaching a pig-in-a-day workshop to our Permaculture Guild and we just so happened to have a pig, what better way to honor my challenge than to share the knowledge and process with our community. We set to planning and are now 3 days out from our pig butchery and charcuterie workshop, ready to explore the art of processing meat the old fashioned way. We decided that we would use as much of the owful as possible and between the butcher and I we have split up the first round of the organs and bits and set to creating some culinary masterpieces to share with our friends, family and the class.
I took both of he heads and set out to make head cheese, I also took the livers to make pate. Pigs livers are HUGE, FYI! I also have some pig ear to deep fry, but I will save that story until my next post.
Now when I envisioned making head cheese I was picturing those clean pink pork heads you see at markets on occasion, or in youtube videos of my favorite chefs expressing their whole hog philosophies, what I got was a far cry from that!!! My cleaned and prepped rubber made bin came back to me with two hairy bloody and way to close to living looking animal heads than I had imagined. My guys had the task of skinning the heads which was a real harsh process for all. While they did that I scalded, scraped and shaved the ears. I then made a big batch of brine 18L of water to 3 lbs of salt and the two whole heads complete with tongues, teeth, eyes and snouts, spent the night in the salt along with 2 clean and nail-less trotters and the perfectly pink pig ears. Whoa… sometimes you just can’t imagine the reality of a situation like this.
Taking life and processing food is a pretty real deal, and I think if more people had to do it in order to eat, folks might think twice about consuming 4 different animals a day.
Anyway this morning I woke up knowing I had some serious work ahead of me, so I got the two largest pots I had filled with water and an onion each, set them to boil and got to work getting the giant pigs heads into the pot, which in itself was a challenge, they are really heavy and don’t have many good grabbing points, and at 8 am I wasn’t really up for handing the cold and slippery heads without the help of another person and 3-4 kitchen utensils. At first I set the larger head in the smaller pot and once the water started boiling hard the snout which was peaking out of the bubble bath starting spewing boiling “snot” rockets on to the cooktop… ‘oh my it was time for another head shuffle.
I kept thinking about my grandma making head cheese the way her mom would have made it, and her mother before that. I am grateful to be in a place where I am able to decide to engage in this process and learn from it.
I should say the smell of the day left a whole lot to be desired, there was the feint smell of scorched flesh and fresh bone, likely some smoking hair… all of the aromas the “convenience” of our society has taken out of our lives. Not only did I have this steamy pork head smell to contend with, but I set out to make a liver pate while those heads bubbled away. Maybe this is a good time to say I don’t enjoy or ever set out to enjoy organ meat… ever. So this was a huge culinary leap for me. I do recall all to well the smell of liver from my moms occasional indulgence in liverwurst (arg, which is all I could think about all day). I had been researching and reading dozens of pork liver pate recipes and for the most part I like the idea of pate, this one I made was filled with smokey local bacon, bratwurst sausage mix, leeks sauted in white wine, garlic and juniper berries with peppercorns… sounds great and I was totally on board right up to the liver in the food processor… geez the texture and sound of this freshly zipped up organ, along with the liverwurst like wafts turned me green, and honestly it took everything I had to keep choking back my cookies! That’s my thing though… I am certain in fact that this pate will be divine to all who love liver, and I hope to enjoy it soon…and it looks divine with it’s golden bacon lattice top.
As for the headcheese… I find this way less hard to stomach, although picking meat off these heads certainly had it’s challenging moments. After the heads and trotters boiled away for about 4.5 hours the head were removed and the stock was combined and left to boil away for a few extra hours.Once cooled I set to work picking the tender juicy meat bits out from the fatty tissue-y and just plain creepy parts. I decided it would be best if I just grabbed handfuls randomly without thought as to where they came from specifically.. this meant dealing with sorting “meat from other” on a handful by handful basis… which worked just fine… very chicken carcass like, with only a little added gross factor. Once I picked both heads as clean as I could I ended up with a large bowl of really nice meat bits, that looked like a blend of pulled pork pieces and chicken thigh meat. I seasoned the meat with lemon juice, S+P, cayanne, paprika, loads of fresh parsley and a splash of wine. This blend (some with and some without tongue) were pressed into 8 mini loaf pans and one standard loaf pan. The thickening stock is then poured over the top to set as gelatin. All of the extra bits and blogs went to the chickens, or the dogs, and finally the intestines went out into the woods for the millions of critters big and very very small to feed from.
Right now the head cheese and the pates are sitting in the fridge, and tomorrow I will serve them up along with my homemade mustard & pickles, some baguette and cheese, and maybe a micro green salad from the window. Tomorrow I will let you know how everything went over here and will share the exact recipes.