Friday, 8 March 2013

Bringing home the bacon


When I first thought about keeping pigs, I dreamt of bacon, sausages, gammon and ham on tap. For these were the products which lured me away from veganism many years ago!

The sausages came, but the other products weren't so straightforward. So up till now we've been eating a lot more pork chops and joints than we ever used to. Not that they aren't totally tasty.

From our second litter, though, we kept two girls to the grand old age of almost one year. Their fate, to be salted and cured.

The morning they went away

Safely delivered to the abattoir

And on the afternoon before I jetted off, they came back from the butchers.

I managed to get the 150 or so packs of sausages into the fridge and freezer, but I had to leave poor old Sue to deal with the rest of the two pigs. T
here were four whole sides, which she cut along the length to separate the loin from the belly. These were destined to become back bacon and streaky bacon. Pork belly has proved very popular with our customers, so some of that went into the fridge ready for collection. This was fortunate as all four of our freezers are bulging at the seams!

There were also four gigantic legs to be turned into smaller gammons.

That's a lot of meat to sort out.

Sue spent the rest of the evening cutting the meat into manageable chunks and she then set about the ancient art of curing the meat.

We had ordered two prepared dry-cure mixes from Surfy's Homecuring Supplies - one traditional curing mix and one smoked. We thought that for our first effort it would be safest to rely on a ready-mixed cure.
Essentially a cure is a careful mix of salt and sodium nitrite. The latter gives the cured product its pinkness. To this are added the ingredients which give the distinctive flavours and characters to be found in the vast range of hams, bacons and gammons.
The drycure mixes are carefully weighed out and rubbed all into the meat. We chose to do this in tupperware boxes, but zip-lock bags supposedly work very well, if you can find big enough bags. A vacuum packer is the professional's choice.
Each day the meat is turned and rubbed again. How long this is done for depends on the thickness of the slab of meat.
The instructions that came with the Surfy's cures were excesslent, as was the e-mail support Sue received when she asked them about wet-cure procedures.

We decided to take off the skin on this occasion. Not only does the cure take longer to penetrate the skin, but the rind is a real obstacle when it comes to slicing the bacon. We have plenty of crackling from our pork and can't really see the point of rind on bacon.

For the gammons, Sue followed a Hugh F-W wet-cure recipe - curing salts plus lots of sugar, juniper berries, spices...

And now, on my return from India, the bacon was ready.

And so began the job of bacon slicing. I borrowed a slicer from a friend and we proceeded to massacre the meat!
Well, it didn't take long to get used to it. The first lump of cured loin came out a bit ragged, but we ended up with some rather rustic slices of back bacon plus a good quantity of bacon scraps - they'll be delicious in omelettes - and a couple of wedges we've called bacon steaks.

But by the end Team Bacon was running like a well-oiled machine and we now have a mountain of fine bacon in the freezer, enough for us for the next year. We ended up with a much wider range of bacon slices than you find in the shops.

And for a late dinner, of course, bacon sandwiches. DELICIOUS!

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