If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I don’t mince words and I am passionate about local foods, homesteading and knowing where your food comes from. So here it is, in living color. If you are disturbed by these images all I can say is you should be more disturbed about what goes on in your local chain grocery or within the FDA and what they allow to go on in your local chain grocery store or CAFO farms where most of this country’s meat comes from.

For those of you who follow me on facebook, you know that last week I started my studies this week at Sterling College’s Vermont’s Table program. It is a mix of culinary arts, food entrepreneurship and agriculture studies. If you follow my farm blog, Got Goats? you will have read about my thoughts on Whole Farm Thinking and Traditional Farming methods and more on why I want to be a farmer.

Well yesterday was my first all day culinary course, Value-Added Products. It is all day on Thursdays and is a practical skills hands -on course. The day before I read several articles on charcuterie , the glories of sausage making and meat in general – how it is produced, the various muscles and how they develop into meat and primal and retail cuts.

 

Cole Ward

All that reading in no way replaces spending 4 hours with a real expert. Yesterday that expert was Cole Ward aka The Gourmet Butcher and a person that I am honored to know, learn from and be inspired by. Cole knows his stuff. He was recently featured in the book Primal Cuts, published by Welcome Books about the 50 best butchers in America. Cole has been a butcher for almost 50 years. He has seen the changes to the art of butchery over his long years of expertise, and frankly is not at all impressed by the current trends in butchery, especially that of grocery stores. If you haven’t seen his blog, I would suggest keeping an eye on it. He mentioned to us that he is going to be writing many more posts about what goes on behind the scenes in many grocery stores across the country that consumers really need to know about. Let’s just say he wouldn’t feed ground meat from the grocery store to his dog. Everyone who eats and buys meat needs to be informed.

Yesterday Cole was a guest teacher in our class of 5 students. We butchered a 270 lb local, pastured pig. He did the first half through demonstration, and then we, the students butchered the second half. I had the honor of butchering a lamb with Cole this past fall, and it was an unforgettable experience. If you want to learn from this master butcher, you can! He is holding a 2-day workshop at the end of the month . We will be butchering another pig and part of a beef cow. Participants will learn the skills, and the meat will be divided between all attendees. Lunch is included. This is a really great opportunity to learn more about the art of butchery from the best. Cole is immensely entertaining, un-untiringly patient and full of so much knowledge. He is a real integral figure in the local food movement and an ally to homesteaders and small farmers who really need a lot of help learning these skills. Simply put, Cole is AWESOME and deserves all the accolades one can muster.

 

Natural hog casings, ground sausage, pork shoulder with wine soaked cranberries and spices, grinding the sausage

After Cole left, we set up to process a lot of the meat. We were divided into two groups, and each group made one kind of sausage and set up curing another cut for smoking next week. My group cured the pork belly for maple bacon, and made a cranberry-sage link sausage, using natural hog casings. The other group made brine for the 2 loins and made Loukanika sausage, flavored with orange zest, bay and coriander. Next week we will focus on the smoking and make some other products.

 

Cranberry-Sage Sausage and  Loukanika Sausage

Roberto and I had the sausages for breakfast this morning and they were both delicious. We particularly liked the cranberry-sage and feel it complements a breakfast meal, perfectly. The rest of the sausages will be feeding the Sterling College population at their barbecue tonight for dinner. Since I live off campus, and don’t eat my meals there, I get to take home my portion.

We were on our feet for 8 hours, with a 40 minute break for lunch. It was a long day, but very satisfying. I loved the communal labor involved to turn what was essentially a freshly slaughtered animal into a variety of food items, in a short period of time.

One thing we did learn though, is, if you are ever in the market for a whole pig that you plan to butcher yourself, make sure you do not wrap it in plastic, until it has been cut up to your liking and going into the freezer. Our pig was delivered in plastic and because plastic makes the flesh sweat, we were not able to use the skin or the head and many of the exposed bones, because of the moisture, those areas were beginning to take on an unfavorable characteristic. So we had to take extra measures to clean the exposed surfaces of the pig with salt and also soak other parts in a salt water brine for several hours. Not to mention having to throw away nearly 30 lbs of what should have been useable stuff.

Many farms are new to farmshares, and sending out whole animals vs. nicely vacuum sealed pieces to their customers. This is information that years of industrial farming, and consumers buying meat at the grocery store, has allowed our culture to lose. But thankfully demand for whole animals, and on farm buying has gotten bigger in the past few years. This is a GOOD thing. But your farmer may not be used to it, and may appreciate a gentle reminder that whole animals should be wrapped in cheesecloth or paper. They would much more prefer you telling them this, than having dissatisfied customers on the other end.