Paddock to Plate

Bryan Martin's pigs, Kevin and Julia, at three months old and still a manageable size.
Bryan Martin's pigs, Kevin and Julia, at three months old and still a manageable size. Photo: Bryan Martin

Bryan Martin

It felt like an example of the butterfly effect when, after much thought and internal turmoil, I finally made the decision that the pig we've been raising for a year-and-a-half had run its course and must be slaughtered for the good of my marriage, my farm fences and ultimately my larder. But did I inadvertently cause the political spill in the Labor Party last month that saw the end of a prime minister?

Just as an insect beats its wings in China and changes the weather in London, could these seemingly unrelated events have become inadvertently and inextricably linked in February last year? That was when we bought a pair of recently weaned piglets and named them Kevin and Julia because their namesakes were all over the press at the time, tussling it out for leadership.

Maybe you shouldn't name your food, but both of these black Berkshire pigs became part of the family, and at first, welcome and celebrated members at that. But as they grew, and grew and grew, it became apparent we had some hard choices ahead.

Pork and fennel sausages.
Pork and fennel sausages. Photo: Domino Postiglione

Since we got them for food rather than companionship, we knew one had to go first, and it was an easy choice. Kev was getting pretty aggressive and eating all the food, even though we had parts of him removed in a earlier pre-emptive strike that was meant to stop the aggression and also avoid the strong ''boar taint'' of male pigs.

So Kevin got the chop last September and is still hanging in the wine cellar at work, slowly curing as prosciutto. The hind legs were salted for about 14 days first and the plan is to leave them to air dry for at least a year, maybe even two. The great jamon from Spain is dried for 10 months to five years. So Kevin still hangs around in the cellar, but won't be making a miraculous return to former glory any time soon.

On the political scene we thought the other Kevin was gone, too, but not so it seemed.

Julia remained and flourished, and now having all the food she quickly passed 100 kilograms, always wanting more food and more space. What amazes more than anything about raising a pig is that they really can and will eat anything, all the time getting bigger and bigger. Pretty soon you realise she is no longer transportable. Thinking she was too close to ever kill, we tried to find homes for her, but getting a 200-kilogram pig into the back of a family people mover isn't possible and she resisted every attempt to walk up a ramp into a trailer.

So we thought we'd keep her and grow old together, a happy ending. My wife and I agreed and we made long-term plans. But an event changed all this, and a cautionary word on relationships. You have your ups and downs as couples, but it's all about finding life's boundaries together, sharing experiences, watching the children grow and taking on the challenges life throws at you. Like having a pig the size of a baby rhinoceros taking a dip in the muddy dam then run though the screen door and run amok throughout the house, scraping herself against every wall and carpet before deciding it is time for a rest on a recently and expensively re-covered couch.

I wasn't there at the time, but I knew something was afoot from the screams and pretty well put the pieces together on the 200-metre run back from the vineyard. As I approached the shuddering house, I had two choices - jump in the four-wheel drive and get the hell out of here until it all calmed down (this was my first choice) or try to get pig out of the lounge and see whether I could salvage the situation and 23 years of marriage. Everyone concerned was pale faced.

We can laugh about this now, yep lots of fun re-creating this scene for the marriage councillor, but it was the point at which our unfortunate Julia's fate was sealed. It seems in life, love and the political theatre, popularity is paramount. The day after our last pig met her fate, her political namesake met hers, and I have to say I feel partly responsible.

Another surprise in this story is just how much pork you get from a pig this big. You need commercial coolrooms for storage. Whole communities could live well from just one animal. I end up with enough free-range, local, organic pork that I need to get the sausage-making gear out.

When pigs are less than one year old, you can make prosciutto, coppa, guanciale, pancetta, bacon, the list is quite extensive. But in a large pig, normally called a ''salami sow'', while there's heaps of protein and fat, most of the large primal cuts are too big for other uses. So again, it is sausage time.

The best meat is everything around the shoulder, neck and jowl, which has exactly the right amount of fat. I like the thick, Italian-style pork sausage, with large chunks of fat, a good amount of cracked pepper and garlic. This recipe is for fresh sausages rather than the cured version.

Cook them over a moderate heat, using just a little oil to stop them sticking. Don't ever prick the skin. Turn every other minute, or once they are browned all over finish in a hot oven.

Sausages have an affinity with fried onions, mustard, mash potato, buttered bread, hardware shops and footy grounds.

Go wild, is all I can say. You can break open the casing and cook the sausage meat with a tomato passato to have with pasta. When you potentially have, as I do, 120 kilograms of snags you need an arsenal of recipes.

Alas, this finishes my time as a pig farmer. I'd like to thank everyone concerned. It's been a journey, but I think I might now leave it to the experts and focus on something else. I hear water buffalo are making a return.

>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au

Fresh pork snags

You can reduce the quantities as needed.

10m small pork casings (ask your butcher)

10kg boneless pork shoulder

180g salt flakes

50g black pepper, coarsely ground

3 whole heads garlic, minced

1 bottle cold red wine

Soak the casings in a few changes of water.

Chop the fat off the pork as best you can, focusing on the back and jowl fat. Chop up the meat into chunks. Weigh the fat and pork and aim for about 20 per cent fat and 80 per cent meat. Divide the salt proportionally between the fat and meat and mix well.

Add the pepper and garlic to the meat and mix well.

Chill both these bowls for 24 to 48 hours.

Dice the fat into small pieces.

Grind the meat and seasonings through the smallest holes of a sturdy meat grinder.

Add the red wine and mix well until it becomes very sticky - use a kitchen mixer with a paddle if you have one. Fold in diced fat.

Fill the casings, twisting every 12 centimetres. Let the snags set for a day or two before using or freezing.