Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snout to tail is the route chefs are taking with the whole pig these days - The Boston Globe

Thanks to friend Dawn for making me aware of this article. Foodies and charcuter's (is that a real word?)should really enjoy reading this. I believe we are witnessing a veritible renaissance for the pig. What a happy thing, both for the welfare of pigs whose lives are sure to be improved by the attention to more humane and pig-friendly husbandry practices, and the farmers who take the time and make the effort to raise their hogs sustainably and humanely. It is much harder work to raise pigs this way vs. in a confinement barn, but the results are worth it. Farmers who raise their animals in a way that is respectful of the animals and our envinronment should be paid for their efforts. When this happens, it encourages more such responsible and eco-friendly enterprises. It is my sincere hope that this little revolution in the countryside will challenge the polluting corporate farms for both market share and acreage share. It is at least nice to think about small green family farms springing up faster than huge mega confined animal factory farms...

Snout to tail is the route chefs are taking with the whole pig these days - The Boston Globe

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Farm Conference Season

I just got back from a two day conference held by Grassworks, in Wisconsin Rapids. I feel energized and inspired! It felt so good to mingle and simply be amongst others who are working small farms. Many are direct marketing their meats and other products as we do, and all are part of the agricultural revolution that is quietly taking place out here in the country.

This one focuses on grazing animals on grass/forages as an alternative to a livestock system in which animals are fed on grain mixes that are brought to the animals, which are often confined to a building or small concrete lot. (aka conventional)

I went to workshops on outwintering livestock, beef genetics for grazing farms, sheep and goats on pasture, product pricing and marketing. At least as valuable to me were the networking opportunities and connecting with lots of wonderful people. The folks at these conferences are really down to earth, smart, interesting people. For folks who have never been to a farming conference, you might imagine the rooms filled with stereotyped caricatures of your imaginary farmer, but let me clear that up. This is a very diverse group of folks. I would say it was almost equally divided between male and female, and also between younger (20's)folks, those in their 30's and 40's, and quite a lot of the wise older folks with gray or white hair and beards. Some were very conservativly dressed, others had a bit of renegade written on them. Some were hip, some were totally square. The thing we all had in common is that we share a passion for farming, and we are all open to hearing about ways to farm that preserve the land, air, and water, while producing healthy food for people. It's really very heartwarming. I actually got choked up a couple of times, thinking about how grateful I was to be there, and participating in this. I had three wonderful meals, based on meats and dairy products that were provided by members in the room. Now that's walking the walk. At every meal, I had very engaging and interesting conversations with different people.

One thing that was really of personal interest to me, was the conincidence that I happened to sit next to two seperate, different people who dabble in charcuterie! I'm sure that if we surveyed all 300 people in the room maybe 10% (if that) would even know what the word means. BUT, I predict that more and more people will become familiar with charcuterie in the next five years. And I intend to serve that market!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Overcast, snow showers, 18 degrees

Well, here we are starting the second week of February already. Though time flies when looking at the calendar, I am ready to see some signs of Spring. From the sounds of the forecast, which is calling for several inches of snow this week, I will have to be patient.

While I just devoted a whole post about our new Berkshire pigs, there is other stuff going on so I thought I'd put it in another post altogether.

Karen is in the kitchen as I write this, furiously baking. She has made breads, muffins, and now is baking a pie using our own lard for the crust. Can't wait to see how that turns out! She is making a peach pie, from the peaches she canned this summer. MM.

Birk is enjoying a rare day of cartoons until we turn on the Big Game. When the Packers aren't in it, I don't often care too much who wins, but this year I am rooting for the underdog Saints. Yes, it's their first time, and that is always fun to watch, plus ya gotta pull for a team that didn't even have a place to play a few years ago, and managed to overcome so much local devastation. But the biggest reason I am a big Saints fan today is that they went ahead and knocked the stuffing out of Old Brent, whom we will never forget here in Packerland. It is the only way to beat him, and beat him they did. I tip my green and gold hat to them.

I mentioned the peaches and the lard - we are still actually eating from our garden and fruit trees. We still have a good dozen or more garlic bulbs left, as well as some onions and quite a lot of potatoes. The onions are holding up well, particularly my favorite, Red Zeppelin. We have gone through the garlic pretty quickly with all the cooking that goes on here, and we are down to the skinny bulbs, but they are there nevertheless. The potatoes are holding up very nicely, and we may have enough to plant with again the Spring, which is an added and welcome bonus. Most everything else that we are still using was canned or frozen. Today Karen opened up one of the last jars of our own sweet cherries, to be put into muffins for Birk's class.

The sausage making results came out very well. The apple brats were very tasty and just the right amount of sweet. Pork pairs so well with so many different types of flavors. The sweet italian variety came out pretty good, too. I used the recipe from Charcuterie, though I would cut back a bit on the salt next time. We are going to be eating these sausages as SuperBowl watching food. With our own red onions atop, of course!

I got a Weber Smoky Mountain smoker a few weeks back, and am just itching to try it out, but it's been a bit too cold out yet, which would interfere with the meats' ability to cook properly at this point. I picked up a book called Low and Slow from the library, which is essentially a tutorial on how to become a master of the WSM. It's a very good book and one I think I'll add to my personal library. Lots of very good recipes in there.

Well, the sun is going down and it's time to put the chickens and pigs to bed, and get the sausage going before the big game. GO SAINTS!

SuperBerk Sunday

We have pigs again! Today I finally got some Berkshire pigs. I’ve been interested in Berkshires and wanting to get some for…wow, actually over ten years! Berkshires are a heritage breed, and they are fairly rare, so it wasn’t easy to find anyone raising them. I finally did locate a few pig guys that had them about an hour from here. I toured three farms, and one stood out above the others in regards to his animals. So a few weeks later, I have three Berk barrows, ready to finish. Here they are in the trailer, snoring away. Looks like they enjoyed the ride.

I backed the trailer up to the barn door, and Karen helped me set up the doors, gates, and makeshift alley way into their new digs. We went slow and quiet, and they eventually walked off the trailer and sauntered into our barn.

I’ve only had these pigs a few hours at this point, but I am even more happy with them than I thought I’d be. I think I can easily say these are the nicest pigs I’ve ever owned. They are very fit and healthy, have sound legs and lungs. Physically, as the old timers would say when paying a big compliment, “There’s nothing wrong with them” They are solid and meaty, with lots of length for bacon and nice loins for chops. In addition, I am really impressed with their dispositions. These guys are calm, mellow, and docile. They are being friendly and inquisitive without any hint of aggression or destructiveness. Of course it’s still a bit soon to be giving them a final grade, but as I said I am pleased with these pigs. They are going to make some premium pork.
I had to pay a bit more for these guys, but I don’t balk at paying a farmer a premium for producing exceptional animals. It makes all the difference to us in our business further down the road. He and I chatted over the bed of my pickup truck today about working together in the future. I think we are both hoping things work out well. I am giving him an alternative market for his pigs that don’t become show pigs, and he is providing me with good looking, good doing, premium pork producing pigs.
If Karen and I decide down the road that we want to purchase breeding stock, I know where we will go. But for now this really gives us some flexibility in our production schedule, and it’s nice to know someone who really knows what he’s doing is getting the piglets up and ready to go out on pasture and make exceptional, heritage, artisanal pork!

I am so crazy about my pigs, just to give you a hint, I am actually sitting next to them in the barn typing this, listening to them snore. It is 18 degrees in here right now, but they are cozy in their mound of hay. I am a little chilly, but I can’t stop looking at them. I can’t believe I finally have Berkshires. I love them. It doesn’t hurt that they are really cute! They are black, with white socks, and white on their faces and tails. Their noses are slightly dished, and they have upright ears. Yep. That’s exactly the right kind of pig for me. I own Berkshires now. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.

Here they are just after arriving, checking out the chickens.

Aren't they cute?

Look at those shoulders. Nice pigs.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Overcast, 23 degrees

Been cold again. Funny how a week of 33+ temps. makes us feel the cold so fully again. Kind of a drag, since we know it isn't going to warm up much for a good while. I await Sun Prairie Jimmy's prognostication tomorrow!

Last night we made a new batch of sausages. We made sweet italian sausage, and some apple brats. Lake Geneva makes totally delicious cherry and apple brats, which inspired me to try a sweet fruit flavor. We will consume them for dinner tonight, and I do look forward to it!

The sausage making process itself did not go as smoothly as I would have liked. First, I believe I'm coming down with a new version of a cold or something, so my energy level was low. And I have to say, though the meat grinder we bought from Northern Tool got high marks and reviews on the nets, I have found it to be a confusing and vexing, indeed frustrating and angering little appliance. The issues stem mainly from the very, very poorly written instructions included with the unit. This thing is clearly made somewhere far away, and their english writing skills are sorely lacking. Normally I am fairly adept at interpretation, but I have to say this particular little machine does not lend itself to intuitive or logical assembly, resulting in multiple episodes of jaw-gritting force jamming meat in one end and getting a disgusting mush out the other end, unfit for consumption. And when you have taken the time to raise this meat yourself, this is more than disappointing. After many re-tries involving taking it apart again, pulling mushy gooey pork out, cleaning it, and picking up any of the attachment parts, holding it up to the machine, looking again at the pictures, trying to read the ridiculous instructions, "Wait, try this one this way", "No, that can't be right, it looks backwards", "No, this? No. this one? No...."
And then, finally, it seems we figured it out by turning the blade backwards, or what appeared to be backwards, and voila, we got nicely ground pork coming out the other end! Finally!
By the way, we were grinding "pork trim", as it was labeled from the butcher. I highly recommend anyone who has the interest or ability to make your own sausage, etc. to ask for your pork trim back. It makes very nice sausage grindings. If you have your pork processed into sausage at the butcher, they will use this to make your sausage for you. We kept the pork very cold through the whole process, almost freezing, by stashing it in the freezer whenever we were working on other things for a few minutes, and by setting the bowl in another bowl of ice while we were grinding. This keeps the pork from getting too pasty a consistency.

After grinding, we added spices and other flavorings, and mixed it up using the kitchenaid paddle mixer. Then, after chilled again, stuffed into natural casings. Supper is going to be served in a short while, I'll let you know how it came out!

Today I also met with a pig farmer as a potential source for our future stock, but I was able to determine pretty quickly determine this was not where we would be getting our pigs from. His pigs were a little rough looking, not very uniform, I saw quite a few hernias which can impede growth. I thanked him for his time and left. I met with a couple other pig farmers a couple of weeks ago, and I really liked the stock from one of them. Very strong, healthy, growthy pigs. And he raises Berkshires, the breed Karen and have been keen on getting and trying. Berkshires are said to produce the most flavorful, marbeled pork of any pig, and they are highly sought ofter in Japan, called Kurobuta there, "black pig". Berkshires are an old, heritage breed, and as such may not grow quite as fast as many of the more modern commercial breeds which produce the dry, white pork common in the supermarkets of the United States. So Berks have fallen out of favor with commercial pork farmers, and that means that Berkshires have become a bit of a rarity, and hard to find. However, foodies and gourmets and anyone else who really enjoys a juicy, tender, flavorful pork roast or chop are asking for Berkshire meat.
Here is an article that sums it up nicely. We'll be taking orders soon.