A few weeks ago I was approached by a friend and asked if I would like to attend an event where: A hog or two are killed; the hog is strung up and butchered into primal cuts; classes are given on sausage making, pork rind frying, souse meat/Brunswick stew/soap making. To the layman this would possibly illicit the gag reflex, but to me it was a sign from above that I was about to be steeped in all things pig. Oh GLORIOUS pig! I couldn’t say “YES” fast enough, and begun to count the days until my time at Old South Farm Museum and Ag Center in Woodland, Georgia (www.oldsouthfarm.com/) quickly approached.
What did I take from my day in Hog Heaven (insert joke here)? Aside from samples of the goodies mentioned above I took home a better appreciation of where our food comes from. The whole setting was a bit antiquated in that the butchering and meat curing were being done by hand instead of a stainless steel covered factory. But please remember that how you and I get our sausage and cold cuts from the grocery store; all neatly packed in plastic covered sanitary freshness is a relatively new phenomenon. For hundreds of years it was (and in some circles) still done on the farm; field to table existence at its best.
Now here is where I take my new found knowledge and put it into practice: I am now in the middle of meat curing bliss. I have a fresh picnic ham in the fridge that is a month and a half old. Is it bad? Nope, it’s only getting better. It has gone through a three step salt/sugar/sodium nitrate curing process on its way to becoming what is known as “country ham”. That salty, chewy, deeply ham flavored chunk-o-meat that you just can’t get everywhere. It takes time (and since time=love) it takes love as well. You just can’t make it happen after a couple hours in the oven. It has to develop its flavor after months of curing, smoking, and finally being hung in a cool dry place. Mine will be ready sometime in August---Yum.
That leads me to bacon. Pushing my interest yet a step further down the road of obsession I decided to try my hand at bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon? A vegan? They don’t count in the land of meat, so off I went into the low slung world of pork belly. First of all do you know how hard it is to find fresh pork belly? It isn’t easy. Sure you could mail order it from an organic farm in Timbuktu, but I wanted local. And I found it near Augusta, Georgia at Thomson Packing Company in Thomson, Georgia. 11.57 lbs is what I got from my Saturday morning road trip. I brought it home and cut the pork belly in half for two separate batches of bacon. Bacon only takes seven days to cure and so a nice soft apple wood smoke was in order when my curing was complete. After about 10 hours of gentle low heat smoke my slab was ready for the frying pan. It turned out a little salty for my first turn, but the flavor was spot on. I sliced the next batch up and soaked it in fresh water for about 10 minutes to leach out a bit of the salt. That was the ticket. Bacon nirvana had been achieved. I can die a happy man.