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Charcuterie: Taking food safety into one's own hands

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China's per capita consumption of meat has nearly doubled over the past twenty years as urban wealth has fueled a growing appetite for pork, beef and poultry.

The average Chinese consumer still only eats half as much meat as the average American consumer, but the growth in meat consumption has forced industrialization of the business away from small farms.

In order to keep up with the increasing demand, hormones and antibiotics have become integral to China's meat production. This trend arguably creates health and environmental risks in addition to turning out inferior quality meats.

Three years ago, Haobao Organic Farm bought three wild boar piglets from Xishuangbanna and brought them to the farm. There they were raised on organic vegetables and grains until eventually reaching weights exceeding 200 kilograms (441 pounds) each.

Last week, a group of us bought the last remaining boar with the goal of processing it into sausages, bacon, salami, ham and prosciutto. We had very little butchering experience, but we were motivated by curiosity and the desire to involve ourselves in the process and tradition of charcuterie, the art of making prepared meat products.

Nearly everything from the pig was used
Nearly everything from the pig was used

At 210 kilograms, it took four of the farm's workers to restrain the animal and end its life as quickly and painlessly as possible – a job best left to professionals as it can be dangerous for both the animal and the butcher.

We spent the better part of that day cutting, chopping and sawing the animal into tenderloin, loin, belly, ribs, chops, hind leg, front leg and chump end. The head, organs and fat were set aside for local friends who regard those cuts the best parts of the animal.

Very little to none of the animal went to waste. The process was incredibly laborious and none of us were really prepared for how much work it takes to butcher such a large animal; and butchering the animal was only just the beginning.

Your correspondent hard at work
Your correspondent hard at work

Back in Kunming, we stayed up late prepping a brine made from apple juice and whiskey for a ham that should be ready by Christmas. We buried the other hind leg in salt where it will stay for a month before hanging an additional nine months to make prosciutto.

The two enormous pork bellies, weighing over 10 kilos each, went into a salt and brown sugar cure and should be ready within a week. The salami will take two more months of aging, but the sausages are ready to eat and are delicious.

These were made with the expertise of Phil Willson, Kunming's sausage king
These were made with the expertise of Phil Willson, Kunming's sausage king

The experience of butchering an animal is obviously not for everyone; but for those of us who eat meat, knowing where that meat comes from and how it is prepared can be both liberating and salutary.

In an age when our connection to the food on our plate gets further and further from the farm, it does the mind and body good to respectfully participate in the butchering of animals that end up as our meals. And when it comes to meat, our experience is that you can create a far tastier and healthier product by doing it yourself rather than counting on the markets to do it for you.

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Comments

I fully agree with Colin's point made in the last paragraph. I've been a vegetarian for a few years, mainly because I did want to know where my food comes from and those findings proved to be far from pleasant for both animal and consumer. Sticking your head in the sand surely doesn't change anything.

I'll admit I wouldn't be too keen on following Colin's example, but I definitely admire his deed. Otherwise, I believe knowing the origins of our foodstuff is desirable (and challenging!) at the least.

Also looking forward to have a taste of the resulting products!

Selman

Great work Colin et al, glad to see it all came to fruition, it's an awful lot of preparation and I'm sure when Christmas arrives even mus-jews amongst the km community will be lining up to savour the charcutier's chops.

"a job best left to professionals as it can be dangerous for both the animal and the butcher."

Sorry, but that made me laugh.

Superb work guys, and a great article.

Interesting article, and thanks for all the information. Phil "The Kunming Sausage King" told us about your plans the day before — had we known a bit earlier Cas & I surely would have loved to tag along and help out. Well, enjoy, and know that your ideas and insight on all of this — having knowledge of where our meat comes from, participating, are the way of our parents and grandparents. Sadly, few people now take the time, and this is pretty inspiring!
Nevada

thanks for the comments guys... if anyone is interested in trying out some sausages, you can get them at salvador's for 80 per 6-link package. hopefully bacon will be available soon and salami and prosciutto later next year. cheers

I'll be there right away!

My parents used to do that. Split it with another family so they'd have half a pig to charcuterie,,charcute,, cut up and deposit in the freezer. I remember it took the better part of a day, but definitely worth considering around these parts. Mind if I ask how much you guys had to fork (ho ho) over for 200 kilos of Porky?

wasn't cheap. at 50 per kilo(living weight), organic wild boar costs about 3 times that of normal pork. i had lofty goals of turning a profit on it, but now just making back a good chunk of the cost would be great. regardless, the experience was worth it. hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, we'll have our own brand of organic fine meats.

John Patterson

If you interested in talking to more slow food farmers, butchers, processors and Charcuterie experts you can find a group on Facebook called "The Salt Cured Pig".

www.facebook.com/groups/125499327503217/

Colin is right, the sausages are delicious. I'll be first in line when the salami and prosciutto goes on sale. Many thanks!!

Just a note to any of you buying these sausages. The best way I have found to cook them are to first poach them in just a half inch of water (or beer of course) on a low flame for 5 - 10 mins, turning them once, just to set the skins, then pour out the liquid, add a little oil and leave on low for another 5mins, turning them every minute or so. Finally crank up the heat but keep turning them constantly for another 2 or 3 mins. mmmmmmmmmm!

Basically, if you cook them too hot, too soon, they will burst.

Thanks Collin for the experience it was an exhausting couple of days but well worth it.

Kunming Sausage King

PS. I cant wait for that bacon!

All hail Sausage King Willson. Cheers for the tip.

Jen

Colin - you go!! So much fun to read about your Kunming adventures while we are back in the States! Thanks for sharing and keep up the unique opportunities!

George

Should get your grandma's receipe for Kielbasa

fuck yes to Kielbasa!

frank

I tried the sausages last night. They were very good, but more of an English breakfast sausage. All this talk of salami and prosciutto had me imagining that they may have been spiced in a way that would have gone well with my pasta sauce. Nevertheless, very tasty.

Hey Frank, you know your shit! They are in fact a breakfast sausage recipe, good guess, but if you're quick you can ask for the other recipe which has Garlic & crushed coriander seeds. It is perfect with pastas etc. We did only a few kgs of that one so they will be in short supply.

Jarhead

What's the point of this?vegetarian?

docriley

had similiar experience a few years back in the big town of pleasanton, ks. bought a sow and told she was pregnant, could expect up to a dozen piglets, feed and raise to the ripe old age of 2 years. sell all but one, butcher, and load the freezer. turned out she wasn't with child (children), so we took her straight to the butcher. she too weighed in at 400lbs. lost a third, divided up the proceeds and stuck in the freezer. two days later, freezer broke down, and all was lost. ironic huh?

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