Kevin, who didn't last the year. Illustration: Pat Campbell
The year, plain and simple, started and finished with Kevin and Julia for me. It wasn’t an easy choice for sure, who would stay and who would go, but, in retrospect, I made the correct one.
One thing about Kev, he really didn’t behave himself and toe the line and it has to be said, there’s many more options with Julia.
It has been a dream of mine for years, nay decades, that it really would be an achievement, one of guts, perseverance and in the end glory, to raise a pig from scratch and then make all the various charcuterie or salume from it.
Bryan Martin's Wessex Saddleback pigs at three months old, getting too big to handle. Photo: Bryan Martin
Circumstance provided me with this opportunity. I didn’t want just any pig, it had to be a Berkshire, surely the prince and/or princess of the pork world.
This noble breed from solid European stock is long of leg, black of skin and pure of heart. Given the right conditions and food source this breed can yield the most beautiful cured meat literally from its cheek to its bum.
The idea was circulating through my subconscious with surprising regularity, and after a trip to Spain where we basically immersed ourselves in fantastic food peppered with regular plates of jamon, I had to action the plan. Then after playing around with store-bought pig last year, well, I really had to go the whole hog. Buy a baby pig, free range it on a natural diet high on acorns and then slaughter it to make the salume. Seems simple, hey?
One of the main reasons not to try this at home is that you can’t really change your mind midway. So, say you get to know your pig and become friends, albeit a friendship where you are checking on various points of the body for size and structure with dark intent, if you get caught up in its beguiling and simple life, the problem is you can’t suddenly decide to keep it, particularly if it’s a male. They grow so very big in such a small time. After just four months, it would have been quite a task to get Kevin into the car, so you can’t really move them.
Pretty soon, all the gardens and fences you hold dear will be gone or flattened, and you’ll be spending all your spare time finding food for your pig. It’s like a logarithmic chart – food intake increases exponentially in relation to their size. So once you start, you are stuck with having to take that last step into the abyss and have it slaughtered.
Surprises, there have been many. First, how fast they grow from simply eating your scraps, the acorns off a little stand of oaks and the food gifts from the kindness of colleagues. In six months, they went from being something you could have on the couch with you to being the couch.
Second, the sheer volume of meat that one pig can yield. Okay, I’ve glossed over the very confrontational part of having it killed. If you want more information on this check out my blog: so you have 20 kilograms of pig guts and a bucket of blood (just kidding).
As I put time between that gruesome day and now, I’m thinking I will do it again. But I will change the timing. My pigs were born six months early. You want the piglets born around March or April. That way, when autumn comes the following year, you have all the acorns and apples to finish them on, and also all winter to salt and hang them. You can see why in traditional salume production this was the timing, also having the advantage of jamon or prosciutto by Christmas. Now you can use modern refrigeration to help.
So as the year winds down, I have a cellar full of body parts previously known as Kevin, a fridge full of salami and a 250lb female pig named Julia in season. Does anyone have a suitor? Preferably a Berkshire, though anything will do, as I need to get her sorted before Christmas if I’m to tick off from my bucket list raising a pig absolutely from scratch.
Fear not if you have a desire to make your own salume and don’t want to house a pig in the apartment. Two of the easiest and fastest cuts to cure are the belly and neck, and both are readily available from good butchers. And here’s a lovely pasta dish that relies on good pancetta or prosciutto, ideal for something you’ve cured yourself.
It’s worthwhile buying good pasta here. Forget the cheap brands. They’re so smooth that getting sauce to adhere to them is like trying to get sand to adhere to Teflon; you need pasta with texture.
A simple dry-cured pancetta
1-1.5kg side of pork belly, skin off
40g salt flakes
15g cure #2, nitrite salt (see below)
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
8 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves, chopped
3 extra tbsp of crushed black pepper, for rolling up belly
You need quite a meaty belly. Have the butcher skin it for you. Trim it into a neat square. Mix all the ingredients except the extra pepper, and rub the cure all over the pork. Place in a ziplock bag and leave in the fridge, flipping it every second day, until firm, about seven to 10 days.
Wash off the cure and pat dry. Sprinkle with the extra black pepper. Roll up tightly (with the pepper inside) and tie with good kitchen string into a big salami. Hang in a cool place – between 4C and 16C with 60 per cent humidity. Outside is good during winter; otherwise in a wine fridge or cellar. Hang for two to three weeks – it goes quite firm when it’s ready, and you’re good to go. You always cook pancetta before eating it, so you don’t need it as dry as ham.
Note: The nitrite salt is optional, but I’d recommend it as a safety precaution, plus it gives the belly has a much better colour and flavour. You can get it from Butts ‘N’ Brew in Kaleen.
Spaghetti with pancetta, peas and parmesan
500g good spaghetti
200g pancetta, diced into 5mm squares
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup white wine
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup peas, cooked
Cook the spaghetti to al dente, or slightly firm.Cook the pancetta in the butter over a very low heat to cook through, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the wine, reduce this with the cream to a thick sauce. Meanwhile, mix the well-beaten eggs and cheese in a big bowl.
Drain the pasta. Add to the eggs and cheese, mix well. Add the pancetta, peas and cream sauce.