There are many reasons why we raise pigs. For one, they are fun to have around. The pigs we raised this year were the sweetest and most patient we have experienced yet. When walking out to feed them we were often greeted by pigs sitting on their rumps and making a low whining/grunting suggestion, a far cry from the usual screaming and carrying on we have heard from other pigs.
We rotate our pigs on pasture so that they have fresh grass weekly. While they do turn over the soil and make holes and humps it seems like they are still improving the pasture. We have a lot of stumps from softwoods that we cleared over the past 4 years that become older and more rotted and loosened with each year’s work from the pigs and chickens. Pigs also eat the roots of a lot of perennial plants- it appears that the goldenrod population has decreased and desired grasses increased in land visited by the pigs. Of course they also offer the gift of a lot of fertility, which is nicely dispersed in a pasture based setting.
As much as we enjoy the lives of the pigs we raise- we know that ultimately their purpose is to fill the freezer with tasty meat. We choose to hire a professional to do on farm slaughtering because it seems the quickest and least stressful way for the pigs to go. We also butcher at home because it is actually a fun time that we spend with family (though lots of greasy work). Using the whole hog “nose to tail” is an old concept that is newly promoted by some current chefs and foodies. To us, using the most that you can from an animal makes economic sense and feels more respectful of the life that was given.
We can not claim to literally use everything nose to tail. We aren’t using the nose or tail, or skin, or most of the head (perhaps we’ll aspire toward those parts in the future). We have gotten braver as the years pass and add a new experience to our repertoire annually. We always make scrapple, sausage and lard. Last year we tried Guanciale, which is a a dry cured meat made from the jowl or cheek of the pig. The jowl is fatty and in many ways similar to pork belly.
The guanciale turned out great, it cured down to something that looked like concentrated bacon with loads of flavor. With our first cured meat experience behind us, this year we are inspired to do more Guanciale, and also to experiment with dry cured bacon and Canadian Bacon. Our fridge is full of marinating experiments. We also saved the feet this year as we were inspired by a recipe for a slow cooked beef roast that called for a pig’s foot. The feet are supposed to be delicious if cooked slowly and the collagen allowed to dissolve. The final new discovery for the year is using cracklings in cooking. Cracklings are the little meaty bits that are the left over by product of rendering lard. We usually feed them to the chickens who greatly appreciate a little fat in the cold months. This year I started nibbling on them and noticed that I was returning to the bowl for more. They are tasty little niblets- we want to try adding them to cornbread, roasting them with root veggies, using them on top of a gratin, or throwing them into stews. We’ll share some with the chickens and ducks too. We’ll all be enjoying the many gifts of a pig through the cold months ahead.
Thank you Sprout and Ginger!