Last fall we got news that the couple who ran a farm that we’d been buying eggs and pork from for about 3 years had decided to pack it in and close the farm. It was a bummer for us because there isn’t exactly a plethora of choices for truly pastured eggs in our area. In fact, we’ve been going without eggs for much of this winter, and this played a large part in our decision to take the plunge and get our own chickens this spring. (I’m sure it was a bummer for them too, I believe they plan to transition to some farm consulting and advocacy work.)
When the farm announced that they’d be selling a number of hog wholes and halves, both gilts (young females who have not had piglets) and sows (females who have had piglets). The gilts were about 200 lbs. live weight and the sows about 400 lbs. Because the sows were more mature, they promised a great quantity of quality pastured lard, our cooking fat of choice. (Here’s a long article on the benefits of pastured lard if you are interested.) We were nervous about the sheer quantity of meat that half a 400 lb. sow would provide. How much freezer space would it take? Would we get sick of pork long before it was gone? Would we regret the purchase if none of our friends wanted to buy any?
The sow itself would be $4.50 per lb. based on the post-slaughter hanging weight of the the half sow. We had a choice of whether to have it butchered at Willow Glen Meats for $1 per lb., or to go to the Rib King (aka Loren Ozaki) for a personal butchering lesson and more control over the cuts, for $2.50 per lb. We opted for the latter, for the control over the final product as well as an investment in learning how to do it ourselves in the future.
One thing to remember when procuring a whole or half animal directly from a farmer, is that things may not always adhere to a rigid schedule. We expected our half sow to be delivered to the butcher on a Friday and weren’t sure when to schedule our butchering lesson, since I had a 5 day business trip starting that Saturday. We assumed we’d schedule the butchering after I got back. How things really happened: We got a call on Thursday from Loren, to let us know the meat had already been dropped off and was hanging in his fridge. And pork can’t hang and age like beef can, so could we come in in the next few days for our butchering lesson? I wrote my boss what was probably the most unusual time-off request ever in a silicon valley biotech startup, asking if I could take the next day off to butcher my pig. She graciously agreed, and we headed over the meet The Rib King at his shared kitchen (The Butcher, The Baker, The Wedding Cake Maker, isn’t that a great name?).
Some lessons learned:
- You can’t have bone-in pork chops AND ribs, the bone in the the bone-in chop IS the rib.
- Speaking of ribs, even if you start with half of a 400 pound animal, there are only a certain number of ribs per pig. This number is not enough to share with friends.
- Also speaking of ribs, baby back ribs are not from baby pigs, they are just the smaller portion from the back of the animal. The longer portion that wraps around the side of the pig are called the spare ribs.
- There are many roasts on a big pig – I think we had about a dozen different roasts.
- A ham is just a roast until you cure it.
- Tenderloin makes the most awesomely tender ham you’ve ever tasted, if you’re wiling to use it that way (there’s also only one tenderloin per half animal)
- And finally: There’s never enough bacon.
Here’s some big pieces of pig:
Click on the image above for a gallery of photos of the whole process. (And P.S…See that thick layer of fat? That is some quality pastured lard right there. It’s going to keep us in cooking fat for at least a year.)
Oh and one more, here’s the final haul (about 145 pounds) after we stuffed it all into my parent’s freezer: