Last week we bought a pig. Yes, really, a whole pig.
No, I didn’t have to put up a pen and give it a place in which to wallow in the backyard, but we are now the proud owners of a pasture raised, organically fed, heritage breed pig, albeit one in nice, neat, paper-wrapped packages.
Perhaps I should back up a little. Last year I made a conscious decision to be conscious about the food I eat. Meaning, to be aware of what was in my food, where it came from and how it was raised. I’d been thinking about it for a while and it seems like many factors conspired to push me in that direction including, but not limited to, seeing the movie Food, Inc., sourcing out a local and organically raised turkey last Thanksgiving, and doing a 21 day cleanse diet which was vegan, gluten free, and sugar free (an an eye-opening experience). I’m currently reading a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about one family’s experience growing their own food and eating only local products for a full year which is helping to keep the issue of food sustainability at the forefront of my mind.
At some point this year, we talked about buying “half a cow” (grass fed) or “half a pig” (raised naturally) and started searching for a farm nearby. This proved more difficult than we thought in Los Angeles. My mother, while visiting family up in Grants Pass Oregon, discovered that there are plenty of small farms in the area raising less than a dozen animals per season, for their own consumption and for sale.
After a little research, my mom found O’ Brian’s Family Farm in Grant’s Pass OR, where they raise heritage breed pigs (a mix of Tamworths, Durocs and Berkshires) every season. These pigs have plenty of room on the farm to run, play, and wallow. They are fed a diet of vegetables off the farm, all the acorns they can forage, and excess goat’s milk and cheese from a neighboring farm. They aren’t given any hormones or antibiotics in their feed.
The farm is not certified organic, but that “organic” certification says nothing about how animals are raised. Some pigs which are certified organic are raised in concrete pens with no consideration to their environment. The O’Brien Family Farm pigs are happy and healthy pigs. If you live in the area, you should check out the farm; they have pork from this season’s pigs available for purchase in as small as 25 lb packages. Our experience with the folks at the farm was great. They were very helpful and generous with their time in answering the questions we asked about the pigs and how they were raised and we recommend them highly.
Our plan was to be there right after the slaughter to butcher (with my uncle’s help) the pig ourselves. I will be the first to admit, while I’m all for knowing where the pig comes from, I was not yet ready to participate in the process of the slaughter, no matter how humane I’m sure it was. I was, however, excited at the prospect of learning to butcher a whole animal where my previous experience has been limited to fish and fowl.
Unfortunately, schedule conflicts conspired against us being up in Oregon at the exact time to be able to do the butchering. Instead, our pig went to a local artisan butcher at The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point Oregon (the best in the county so we are told) who cut and wrapped the pig to our specifications for .55 cents a pound. They would have also made sausage, cured bacon, and smoked some of the pork for us, but we wanted to do it ourselves. My mom, who dealt with the butcher, also gives them high marks for helpful information and good customer service.
Our pig, the largest of the bunch, had a “hanging weight” of 175 lbs. Hanging weight refers to the pig without the head, and already gutted. Cut down, we received about 150 lbs of pork. The breakdown is listed below. We’d asked to have the trotters and ears included, but local food laws prohibited them from letting us have them.
What are you going to do with all that pork, you ask?
Porkapalooza? The Year in Pork?
Something like that, though this will not become the “all pork all the time” blog, I promise. I’m sure we will be making bacon, plenty of sausage, and all sorts of other delicious goodies in the coming months and I hope to share some of that here.
I’m aware that not everyone has the means to buy and store a whole, or even half, an animal. In fact, we recently bought a 5 foot tall standing freezer with this in mind, allowing us to preserve some of the summer garden’s produce and so we could have the space to buy in bulk.
The process can be daunting and expensive, but in the long term view, it actually cost us significantly less than buying the by the individual cut (especially if buying organically raised pork at some place like Whole Foods) and gave us the peace of mind about the quality of the food we’re eating. This is a great option for a family or a group of friends or neighbors to go in on together.
My mother cooked the first piece, a 4.5 lb loin which was actually only ½ of a full pork loin from just one side. We kept it as simple as possible because we wanted to taste the flavor of pork. The loin went into a simple brine solution of water, salt and brown sugar for 12 hours, and then on to the BBQ for about 40 minutes until it reached an internal temperature of 135 degrees. We then let it rest for 15 minutes. By the time we cut it, it was perfectly cooked inside, and yet still juicy. We noted that the pork was leaner and slightly darker than commercially raised pork we’ve bought in the past. And yes, it was more flavorful. What little fat that was still on the outside was really tasty too. Eight people at dinner polished off almost the whole loin.
Below is a breakdown of everything we got in packages. All weights are approximate.
Pork Chops- 11 packages-16 lbs with 2 chops each
Spare Ribs- 3 packages- 11 lbs
Jowl- 2 each totaling 3.5 lbs
Loin Ribs-1.25 lbs
Fresh Hams-6 each, 30.5 lbs
Roasts- 4 each-20.75 lbs
Ground pork- 17 lbs
Loin- 2 each, 10 lbs
Belly/side- 6 packages, 19 lbs Total weight was 153 lbs