Makin’ Bacon

You’ve probably figured out by now this is a not post for the vegetarian reader.

But if you like bacon then I’m talking to you. And if you’ve ever thought even for a second about curing your own bacon then I’m beseeching you. Because this bacon brought tears to my eyes it was so amazing. Without a doubt this was the best bacon I’ve ever eaten. I give 100% of the credit not to the cures or the smoke but to the farmer. He was the one that chose these particular pigs for their meat flavor, pastured them in what sunshine we get here in Seattle, and fed them an all natural diet.

More reading of a slightly more graphic nature on that.

When you get a pig there is but one belly and a whole lot of ham to eat before you can get another pig for more belly. My house is filled with bacon lovers. So I made bacon from non-traditional cuts as well.

Anatomy of a Pig

The primal cuts from a pig are the hams (rear leg and behind), the picnic hams (front leg), the shoulders (also called the Boston Butt), the lower legs (hocks), the belly (bacon), the ribs, the small tenderloin just inside the ribs and the loin which is much larger than the tenderloin and just outside of the ribs. The loin is the section sometimes cut as pork chops when not removed from the ribs. If not handled correctly it can become dry and tough. We found that we aren’t actually that fond of pork chops but we sure do like bacon.

Increasing the Cured Meats

Cured meat is tasty but it’s also very flexible and can make a ho hum dish into an amazing dish simply by the addition of some chopped bacon or ham. It’s also one of the few homemade lunchmeats and makes a mean breakfast sammy. And then what would sun ripened tomatoes be without that first BLT of the year? So rather than cut the loin into steaks I decided to cure it like ham. I’m calling it cottage bacon. Not that we live in a cottage but it sounds more quaint to me than “war box bacon” or “tiny 1 toilet house bacon.” I’m quite pleased with the results and so is the rest of the family.

I cured the Canadian bacon, cottage bacon and breakfast bacon for about a week in the fridge before hot smoking it all on Sunday.

I find it interesting that there were only slight variations in the cures, which were all water with kosher salt and mostly one other ingredient, but the cuts all tasted so different. The Canadian bacon had garlic and thyme in the salt brine. The cottage bacon had brown sugar in the salt brine. The breakfast bacon had a salt and maple syrup rub on it. The ratio of fat to meat in each cut is really the distinguishing factor here, as well as how large the cut was since the flatter cuts absorbed more smoke and brine than the larger ones.

Each one was succulent and flavorful beyond belief in it’s own way. Each one will be the perfect addition to oh so many good meals for us into fall.

When you do your own meat you can choose how much you want to grind up into sausage versus how much you want to leave uncured for later smoking or braising versus how much you want to cure into salted, aged goodness.

I have a feeling we finally have enough bacon in the house to keep Pickle Man happy. And the really nice thing about this is that all of the bacons and ham are hot smoked so I felt completely comfortable using just kosher salt and no nitrates or nitrites or flavorings or preservatives of any kind. I know the conditions the pigs lived in, I know that they were all happy enough to still have curly tails (feedlot pigs do not because they are so stressed out they would chew each others tails off), and I know firsthand that the pig was treated with respect even in death.

All these recipes are from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn which covers not only smoking but salt curing, fresh sausages, dry curing, pates and confits. It makes all this completely approachable for the home cook and I highly recommend this book.

Maple Cured Smoked Bacon

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 – 5 pound pork belly, skin on (mine was off) and cut to fit into 2-1 gallon Ziploc bags

Combine the first 3 ingredients and rub on the pork bellies then place the bellies in the bags in a refrigerator for 7 days, turning to distribute the cure daily until the meat is firm to the touch.

Remove the belly from the brine, rinse and pat dry (I didn’t actually rinse off that maple syrup) and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit to an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the bacon overnight to firm it up before slicing as thinly as possible. Fry up a taster piece and weep like a girl. Oh wait, that was me.

Canadian Bacon

1 gallon water
1 1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 – 4 pound pork loin

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large pot and bring it to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the pork loin in it and use an overturned plate to keep it submerged in the brine for 48 hours. Remove the loin from the brine, rinse and pat dry and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.

Cottage Bacon

1/2 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 loin, cut into 2 or 3 pieces

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the loin pieces in the brine and use an overturned plate to keep them submerged in the brine for 3-4 days. Remove the loins, rinse and pat dry and place them on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until they reach an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.

I’ll leave you with an image of a gargantuan 20 pound bone-in ham which I’m hoping my friend the serious wood smoker will do a post on.  And yes, it fills a full length cookie sheet.

Happy Easter!

45 Responses to Makin’ Bacon

  1. Those cured meats are gorgeous! I thought I had read through that farm’s blog and saw they fed food waste and commercial hog feed to their pigs. We are looking for summer pastured hogs, hoping to find pork that has had more grass.

    I love Charcuterie and can’t wait to try out some recipes. First though to find some meat.

  2. So beautiful! I’m dying to have a taste, Annette!

  3. You are killing me!

  4. Hi Nicole, I spoke with Bruce about that and they do use commercial feed. Everyone does because pigs aren’t ruminants and take so much food to raise them to harvest weight.

    Last fall I got a pastured pig from Akyla and the lady that runs it is WAPF but the pork was extremeley expensive and the pigs were fed the same commercial feed. The breed of the pig was not as amazing for eating as these either. Pigs begin on grass and very quickly destroy it.

    Bruce is buying a large parcel of forest adjacent to his existing acreage where he plans to build a house and move the pigs.

    As far as the food waste I asked about that and it’s not spoiled food they are fed, it’s non-saleable food that may have physical imperfections.

    My husband and I have decided since finding out how much food it takes to get pork to market that we will not get as much next year, despite how amazing it tastes. It just seems like it’s not the most efficient use of the world’s resources. We’ll see if my kids agree, however. :)

    Wardeh & Auburn, I wish I could send some to you!

  5. Thanks, I agree, we as consumers demand products fast and with commercial soy and corn feeds that makes it possible. We usually try to limit ourselves to 1/2 a hog for the entire year. Otherwise, we feel like we are responsible for using up too many resources from the growing of the crops that maybe should be put to better use.

    We’re thinking of going to just grassfed beef for our meat needs. I’ll miss bacon, but it’s getting to the point that we all need to look at the bigger picture.

  6. Oh Annette, thank you so much for this post. I’m in the process of trying to decide who to get a pig from and this post has helped me make my decision. The bacon you made looks amazing! I can’t wait to try it in our smoker. I love your blog.

  7. Wow, wow, wow. These look gorgeous. Stellar! Is that your smoker? When I made bacon I used my oven–though I would want to use a smoker for an amount of meat like this. Where and how are you storing all of this? How long will it keep?

  8. Wowsa! I am dying to try making bacon! Looks fantastic!

  9. If you were to have little samples of the bacon at your Open Garden, I wouldn’t say no.

  10. Wow, what fun! I just bought that book myself and am eager to try it out–thanks for sharing your yummy experiments with us, as always!

    However, I wanted to reply to some comments you made, though I mean all of the following as constructive criticism. I also don’t want to hijack your blog, so I’ll summarize here and email you more.

    “[...]Everyone does because pigs aren’t ruminants and take so much food to raise them to harvest weight.”

    Not everyone–Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, is a great example. If Bruce must bring in that much food, in order to raise the hundreds of pigs, chickens, and turkeys to market weight, then he’s not farming what his current acreage can sustain and trying to compete with factory farm growth time tables.

    “As far as the food waste I asked about that and it’s not spoiled food they are fed, it’s non-saleable food that may have physical imperfections.”

    But remember, we are what we eat, and so are they, and fresh or not, is their food something I would buy? Are the 5 tons of fish he fed them farmed fish that I don’t support? Are the tons of condensed sweetened cream from factory farmed cows? What about the 7-layer dip? http://ebeyfarm.blogspot.com/2009/12/45-tons-of-7-layer-dip-what-i-feed-my.html Are the veggies and beans in the dip from GE crops? Sprayed with pesticide? Filled with HFCS, preservatives, or artificial colors and flavors? Would I buy it for my family directly? Then why am I feeding it to them indirectly through their meat?

    Are pigs meant to eat this? Bruce has been having problems with late term dead piglets–could the mothers be miscarrying or having stillbirths due to all this unnatural feed? We don’t know yet, but I don’t feel comfortable with it.

    I love Bruce’s blog and have followed it for quite some time. It is educational, and the pigs lead a good life followed by a good death. They are far from the factory farm, but still a ways from the sustainable natural farm as well. Thanks still go to Bruce for what he has provided–a stepping stone between factory farming and natural living. I just wanted to point out some things to think about as we each journey towards more sustainable living.

  11. Dana’s comment really saddens me. It makes me feel that whatever I/we do is never enough.

    Cooking everything from scratch is not enough.

    Buying meats, poultry, eggs, milk, grains from local farmers isn’t enough.

    Having to police everything, ask every single question and demand that farmers not feed the animals anything I wouldn’t buy may be the right thing to do but it really makes me feel quite paranoid, you know.

  12. Well, I for one love the look of that home cured meat and am in awe of the hard work that you put into providing such abundance for your family. You are amazing – simply amazing.

  13. Nicole, I agree. If it’s so hard on the planet to raise pigs we should be demanding fewer of them. Hypocritical of me to say now but we were planning on getting another 1/2 hog this fall and may not now. I’ll be experimenting with cured beef sausages instead, none of which are appealing for breakfast.

    Brittney, I emailed probably a dozen pig farmers last fall and they ALL used the same non-organic soy/corn based feed along with hay and spent grain. The price range was amazing. The natural pork you get at Silvana meats or Thundering Hooves (PCC) or higher priced places like Akyla Farms has the same diet. It just comes down to if you want to buy pork or not. If you do then check on price, ask about diet and then breed of pig makes a HUGE difference. Chubby was half Duroc, half Berkshire. The flavor is incredible compared to any pork I’ve ever had before.
    Julia, It is our smoker. It’s a Bradley so we dont have to constantly check the temp which is great. I’ll slice and freeze this bacon tonight and it will keep longer than it will last.
    Jenny, remind me the night before and I’ll slice you some cottage bacon ;)
    Dana, I completely agree with your comments – the fish was wild Alaska caught fish, but the 7 layer dip was something I would not buy for my family. I HAVE bought it for my family in the past and you do need to make some concessions when eating non-grass fed or wild caught foods. Yes, Joel Salatin is doing it right but do you know for a fact that he is growing 100% of his pig’s food on the farm? If not do you know exactly what their diet is? Bruce has been working hard with the county to add acreage but that process is very long and drawn out and many people buy farmland then find that if it’s not been actively farmed for 5 years it’s suddenly declared wetland and they are not allowed to farm it (but still have to pay the property taxes and now can’t sell as farmland w/o risk of lawsuit for prior knowledge).

    Farmland is a hard topic. We are rapidly losing it with no protections yet there are protections in place to prevent it from becoming farmland again. As far as what pigs are meant to eat – no one knows. They don’t have a native diet, they adapt to whatever climate they are in and always have. There is a reason so many religions disallow followers to eat pork. Pigs will eat anything and therefore can harbor diseases.

    Here is a list of things Bruce has raised the question about whether pigs should eat or not: http://ebeyfarm.blogspot.com/2009/11/pigs-hay-and-free-food.html. I love that he is thinking about this and not accepting any free food he is offered. I love that he is increasing his paddock space. I love that he cares deeply for the pigs. I think he could be doing a few things better. I would prefer the pigs had not been fed spent grain or 7 layer dip or condensed milk but I am ok with my family occasionally eating treats outside the house and feel that it represents a small part of their diet.

    I would love to hear of any other local pig farms that don’t feed their pigs any of these things, or conventional soy/corn feed. I would almost rather the pigs ate 7 layer dip than soy based feed actually. I personally feel that dairy and non-soy legumes and avocado are healthier for them in the long run.

    We all have to do our homework and get comfortable with what we eat and what we eat ate.

    In an imperfect world where I am not willing to completely give up bacon (and have never even heard of organic bacon) I am willing to splurge on Bruce’s pork.

    I will just try to limit the amount that we eat going forward knowing now what I know about the size of a pig’s carbon footprint. I agree that 100% grass fed beef is preferable, but then so are organic legumes and dairy.

    I plan to revisit my quest for affordable, local organic legumes this year. I can’t believe they are as hard to find as they seem to be. If I am unsuccessful then next year I will consider getting a P-patch plot to grow my own legumes because I do feel like we are eating way too much meat of any kind, grass fed or other.

    Legumes just aren’t as fun to smoke and cure but perhaps I’ll create a new food in trying. :p

    I really appreciate your thought provoking comment and hope you’ll keep it up. We should question everything about what we eat, and what we do and friends like you will help to challenge me and help me grow. I also hope that Bruce will pay attention to your comments and consider making changes based on what he reads here. Hugs!

  14. Thanks so much for pointing out the soy aspect of most feed! I honestly had not thought to ask that yet at Thundering Hooves and other local farms and I really am trying to avoid that. Farmland also certainly is a hard thing (some of Bruce’s posts about dealing with bureaucracy would have made me pull my hair out–what patience he has!).

    I know we’re all doing the best we can with where we are (you too Bruce!) and am glad to be able to openly discuss topics like this without stepping on toes. Thanks for making me feel welcome!

    Auburn–that’s how I felt after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, and watching Food Inc. Don’t let the sadness rule though! We’re all doing so great being where we are even, and as the culture shifts back (as I think it will given current health issues) it won’t be nearly so stressful or as much work for any of us to eat the way my Grandmother and previous generations did without a second thought. It’s all about striving for knowledge while still being contented with our lives in the process–is that a zen thing?

  15. Dana, no worries at all. I’m thrilled to be HAVING this discussion if you know what I mean. Most people unquestioningly just put the styrofoam package in the cart because it says all natural (meaning no antibiotics given, not that the animal ate a natural diet in any way.)

    I’m really curious how much food Joel brings in for his pigs and if it’s organic (unlikely) or if he ever takes free food. When I was up there the pigs had just been dining on broccoli & snap peas.

    What really makes me curious is I’m obsessed with backyard rabbits now that I’ve tackled Chubby but I won’t do it until I can figure out what to feed them. I won’t buy any prepared pellets or feed unless I know it’s local, organic and just what’s in it. The chicken feed I buy is local and organic and free of corn and soy. You can’t buy eggs like that anywhere. Likely any meat rabbits I buy would have eaten those pellets sold for pet rabbits. I believe firmly you are what you eat. Except in the case of wild caught fish or 100% grass fed beef it’s hard to know what that animal has eaten, no matter how many questions you ask.

    What is important is that we are asking the questions. This makes for a more educated farmer too. So keep asking questions!

    Auburn is correct in that it’s not enough that the farmers be local. Just because they sell at the farmer’s market doesn’t make their produce necessarily better than what is at the grocers. You need to let them know what kind of food you want them to grow for you and then ask the questions to be sure they are doing it.

  16. Hi Dana,

    I know and I won’t. :)

    I think that what makes me feel like I’m losing the battle sometimes is that, in my area, farmers seem to talk more about sustainability than they actually do.

    When you ask them what they feed their animals, most will give you a “we don’t feed them anything bad, it’s all organic” type of answer and if you ask if they know if there’s any soy in the feed the answer often is “not sure about that.”

    Some will tell you that their cows only eat a very small amount of corn silage which is grown on the farm sustainably. But when you ask what they feed their pigs they usually dodge the question. This makes me think that they haven’t yet found a “sustainably correct” answer to that question. If you know what I mean.

    So far, the only time I got a straight answer, was when I emailed a local apiary and told the owner/manager that I needed to know if they fed their bees HFCS because I am allergic to it (I’m not). She replied with a “Yes we do on occasion use corn syrup as bee feed. Sorry.”

    Sigh.

    • Auburn,
      I feel like you’re describing a vicious circle between farmers that feel forced to tell a story that consumers want to hear and consumers that are, for all practical purposes, just looking for farmers to mislead them or outright lie to them. Honey and pork are two things that I think farmers/beekeepers would be hard pressed to produce at double the price of local, so-called “sustainable” counterparts produced without commodity feedstuffs.
      (As an aside, 99% of consumers falsely assume that feeding HFCS to bees means that the “honey” is somehow made of HFCS. But when beekeepers talk about feeding syrup to bees, they’re essentially talking about something they do AFTER they’ve taken the honey off the hive. In other words, beekeepers typically harvest the honey for human consumption, leaving the bees short on the honey stores they would need to make it through the winter, so the syrup is used to provide winter stores, which are basically consumed over the winter before the empty combs used for the harvestable surplus are ever put back on the hive the following May/June.)
      For the pseudo-organic beekeeper where I live, not feeding sugar probably means feeding $5+/lb honey instead of 40c/lb sugar. Just to throw out some very rough numbers, if the average per hive surplus is otherwise 60 lbs and the average hive is fed 30 lbs of sugar that would mean the beekeeper would harvest $150 of honey instead of $300 minus $12 of sugar. If the average crop is 45 lbs, then it’s the difference between $225 and $75 in sales. How many customers care enough to pay 2 to 3 times as much — there are enough other things, easier things, to sell customers on, and supplies of pseudo-organic honey are limited already, so there’s no pressure to go further than the next guy in order to win customers. And because it’s not just the producing colonies that need to eat, these issues would only be multiplied for the beekeepers that are using hives for other purposes besides producing honey (building up replacements, making increase, raising queens, etc.), which a lot of organically inclined beekeepers are doing. And perhaps even more to the point, how many customers trust farmers enough to pay 2 to 3 times the going price? I think coming at farmers with litmus tests communicates foremost that “organic” consumers are suspicious of them/don’t trust them, so instead of communicating to the farmers (some of whom really want to be more organic) that there’s a demand for, for example, honey from hives not fed syrup, the opposite message is communicated: the kind of customers that would care about what I as a beekeeper feed my bees are too guarded to support any costly organic steps I might take. Perhaps consumers’ guardedness is warranted, but I think consumers should learn that there’s no hope of finding some of the things they’re looking for without investing in relationships of trust with farmers.

      • Annette Cottrell

        Hi Eric,

        Let me start off by saying that I don’t have bees yet so this may be completely dumb BUT why don’t you take the honey in the spring so you don’t have to feed anything? I have friends that do this and was planning to do this myself. I know I won’t get the same yield but it’s just for my family so I’d rather have the bees for pollination purposes and any honey we get in the spring will be bonus. And perhaps maybe the bees work that much harder in the spring when there is pollen to be had.

  17. I’ll only chime in to say that Polface does not raise any grain or any crops that require plowing. They source feed from local growers in their county and give them the business. That being said, Polyface pigs are on full feed, and pastured during the grazing season only. Joel is shepherding his land. Which means taking care of it. He buys weaners from local farmers also, not caring to go down the farrow to finish route. One thing that EVERYONE misses is that Polyface pigs (and at many other farms too) is that during the non grazing season the pigs are inside on deep bedding, not out in swill, or tearing up pasture or woodlands during the dormant season. It is a misnomer that pigs like mud, they do but only during warm weather, otherwise they hate it as much as us, they just can’t convey that.

    • Actually, Polyface doesn’t “source” anything. Polyface buys pre-mixed rations from a nearby feed dealer/mill that does all the sourcing. The dealer has said he sources his soybeans mainly (or entirely) from Pennsylvania, so even indirectly Polyface isn’t sourcing feed from in-state, let alone their county. I think Polyface is largely guilty for leading consumers and admiring small farmers to these false assumptions.
      I’m sure Salatin’s land is very fertile, well protected from soil-eroding farming practices, etc., etc., but such comments miss the point that Salatin his simply outsourced the nutrient-depleting, pesticide-applying, soil-eroding abuses to the farms that are actually growing the calories that make his pigs (and chickens…) Avoiding the high costs of sustainable practice by outsourcing those elements to conventional farms hardly warrants praise for sustainability.
      Bruce clearly scores higher than Salatin in my book.

  18. Nita, thanks so much for your timely comments. Do you know if any of Joel’s books cover how he raises rabbits? I am obsessed with that but would need to understand how to feed them a natural diet that I could source locally or supplement from my yard. I am constantly amazed at how self-sufficient you are and your post about why you don’t raise chickens really gave me food for thought. I had experimented last summer with growing sunflowers and other things to feed mine so this year I am really working on increasing our home grown chicken forage. In the meantime I’m getting local feed that contains no soy or corn for them and they are getting a ton of garden and lawn.

  19. Auburn, thanks for sharing that. I’ve been buying local organic honey from a small keeper but that is a question I didn’t know to ask. I’m trying to talk my husband into getting honey bees without luck yet but I think I’ve got my next door neighbor convinced to get them and let me help him care for them and honey share. One less food I won’t need to ask a million questions about.

  20. Annette, I do raise chickens for our own consumption, but do not raise them to sell anymore. I have not ever found a meat chicken that is affordable to raise even for our own table, without using some soy and corn in the mix. And yes I do use the industrial Cornish, because it still does not make sense to me to use even more grains of any type to raise a bird for my table. It just doesn’t make economic sense. Think of a Cornish as a high mileage car. If I can get more mileage/meat from the same amount of feed in a short time it would be no different than driving an economical car… I raise my meat birds at a time of year that the grass and temperature is at an optimum from grazing and growing and I harvest them before it gets too hot. That being said the feed I am using this year contain GMO free corn and soy and it is not cheap. Our consumption of chicken and pork needs to be re-thought in my household.

    As for Daniel Salatin’s rabbits, a good look at some of their rabbits can be seen in a Smithsonian article in the July 2000 issue, which also shows some of the winter housing of Polyface pigs, and hens. They have been utilizing hoophouses for winter housing for many years. The Polyface DVD also contains some information on the rabbits and their feeding. The breeders eat alfalfa pellets, supplemented with forbs, weeds and hay, and the fryers are finished on grass. I believe Acres USA may carry some audio or CD from seminars on the different aspects of Polyface. Joel does not step on his children’s toes, and the rabbits are his son’s operation, and to my knowledge there has been no book written by the Salatins on their rabbit operation.

    As for all of the hullabaloo about feeding pigs commercial feed, I think it is necessary in most cases, and possibly if farmers aren’t forthcoming with what they feed, it is probably because they are gun shy about using soy, etc. But unless you own a dairy, I doubt you could get by without supplementing some sort of feed. The posts farther back on Bruce’s blog about the 90% hay feeding for pigs was right on. I doubt you could keep the flesh on a pig with just hay. As a producer, we are honest about what we feed, because it is the best solution we have arrived at after taking many things into consideration. If the consumer doesn’t like that, they have to find someone else. The farmer’s hands are tied in many ways, and so are the consumers.

    And a word on pricing, it varies depending on what the traffic will bear and what the debt load is or isn’t. Thundering Hooves has spent a million dollars getting their mobile butchering unit off the ground. That will take a lot of truck loads of meat coming over the pass to pay for that…

  21. Throwback and trapper creek is referring to one fairly prominent blogger has claimed that he can raise pigs on pasture alone, and that his pigs diet is “90% forage”, or alternately, that he could bring pigs to market with “no supplemental feed and they take about 10% longer to grow out”

    I finally got tired of that claim and offered $10,000 to him if he could bring a pig to market on the diet he describes. He declined my challenge – despite publically asking for donations for a project he’s building at the same time. I asked him to raise 4 pigs,and offered $10,000 to do that. Draw your own conclusions about the feasibility of raising pigs without supplemental feed.

    $10,000 sugar mountain challenge:
    http://ebeyfarm.blogspot.com/2009/11/10000-sugar-mountain-farm-challenge.html

    Summary: I’m very skeptical of claims people make on the internet, especially about raising pigs on forage alone and when you drill down on their claims, they often turn out to be fantasy.

  22. Another great post and timely! My girlfriend called a couple days ago to say she’d decided to raise a few pigs this summer and is going to raise one for us! We had bought a half a local pig last spring and at first we had been excited to find local pig and see some pictures of the pigs and their housing. However, the hams are still pink and full of nitrates etc. We too have discovered that we don’t care for pork chops much. I have been wanting to raise our own pigs so I can be sure of happy lives, respectful deaths and have full say of what cuts we end up with and how the meat is cured. I recently came across the Charcuterie book you mentioned, so I’ll be reading that and getting ready for meat curing come fall.

    And no, organic on its own is not enough, nor is local, and even when you raise them and kill them yourself there is always something you can be doing better, less corn, more grass, moving away from conventional practices, and learning traditional farming methods. Should we be sad, scared, paranoid that nothing will ever be good enough and there will always be something? Maybe. The more you learn the less you know. We do what we can, make do with what we’ve got, make concessions where we have to and try to improve upon where we’ve been. Realizing that there will always be room for improvement in our quest to eat a more healthy, sustainable diet and have less impact on our environment, well that is a sort of peace in itself.

  23. Bruce, that is interesting. I love that you challenged him. And I love your meat. :) Thanks so much for commenting on this thread (and for keeping a blog). What an amazing opportunity for consumers to read first hand about challenges our food providers are up against.

    Nita, thanks so much for that info on Polyface. It’s interesting that you as someone with a lot of land to grow forage can’t economically get fryers to the table. Several generations ago pigs and chickens were reserved for special occasions. Right now I pay way more money for corn/soy free chicken from Pastured Sensations than I do for 100% grass fed beef. My husband questions that fact but I believe it’s the way it should be – paying a fair price for meat to be raised correctly. If we can’t afford to eat chicken but twice a month then that is what we do. Food shouldn’t be cheap if it can be naturally and ethically produced inexpensively. If we paid accurate (non-subsidized) prices we wouldn’t be consuming mostly empty grains and sugars and feed lot meats. It’s time to turn our cupboards inside out and rethink food as consumers.

  24. meant to say food shouldn’t be cheap if it CAN’T ethically and naturally be produced inexpensively. Derp!

  25. Hope all is well, this has not much to do with your bacon post though I loved it! I posted your “recipe” for a disinfectant spray on my blog, my husband pointed out that though I gave you credit I should have asked first, hope that it was ok with you. http://www.farmingmom.blogspot.com
    Thanks
    Beth

  26. Annette, the marketing of white meat and “the other meat” had been a driving force for the consumption of chicken and pork. As a child growing up on this farm – we never ate chicken! We had a few free range hens, and banties for a eggs and that was it. Now we use one chicken a week for DH’s lunch meat, two meals, 5 qts of broth and dog food. As for a land base, yes we have that, but as you know heat units are what counts in raising grain crops (and most vegetable crops). Here rye, oats and barley would grow – but I like being a grass farmer and building organic matter in my soil, cropping takes too much away for a small gain.

    We could probably finish two pigs per year on our milk surplus, plus vegetables and fruit from the gardens, with minimum of supplementation – maybe. For profit, never.

    There was an interesting article in Acres several months back about the lard being a health food if the pig had been fed with supplemental grazing, however many pigs are fed stale baked goods, and homogenized milk, etc., and the fat profile changed totally. If the pig was fed trans fats it transferred to their fat and subsequently to their human consumers.

    Blech!

  27. Annette, one more thing I learned about beekeepers:

    There are dishonest people out there and I came across one of them while looking for local raw honey.

    Last April I thought I had found the best source. The guy tells me he moves his hives all over the region so that he can offer many different flavors and that his raw honey is 100% ‘kosher’ (has not been heated and contains no HFCS). So I drive 70 miles to buy a 60 lb pail of goldenrod raw honey from him.

    By late September I contacted him again to place an order for another pail. He tells me that he may have a quart or two left but, for some reason, this year “his” bees didn’t produce enough goldenrod honey but if I gave him a few weeks he might be able to put together a pail for me.

    A month passes by and no word from the guy so I called him. He talks a lot and has a very bad memory…

    Long story short: most of the honey he sells is not “his” honey, but it comes from a very large apiary in Pennsylvania (they are the ones who move their hives all over the region!) who delivers honey and packaged bees to some areas of New England every few weeks during the season. No HFCS-free disclaimer on their site but they do say that they warm their honey ‘slightly’ before bottling.

    Another lesson learned the hard way. :(

  28. Nita, I have heard a lot about healthy lard. I’m wondering just what constitutes pasturing for pigs. For instance, at Bruce’s place they started out on pasture but in the winter the grass is gone now. Bruce beds them in hay which they eat but that is but a piece of their diet.

    In the absence of enough information I’ve been saving pork lard for making soap and using lard from 100% grass fed beef for frying but I hate wasting the pork lard. Better wasted than making us unhealthy, however. If only olive trees would do great in Seattle I’d have it made…

    Auburn, amazing. I *guess* that’s better than them selling you Chinese honey as local honey but not by too much.

  29. Beth – no worries. A link is all you ever need when reposting someone else’s ideas. Images are another story though.

  30. I got the Charcuterie book you recommeded and I’m trying a recipe for smoked chicken. Did you use soduim nitrite (a.k.a. pink salt) in any of the recipes you used? Do you know where I can buy some? We’re having a hard time finding a source. Thanks Annette!

  31. Hi Brittney, I did not use pink salt since I salted the meat and aged it under refrigeration the hot smoked it. Where you need pink salt is if you are curing raw meat or curing meat at room temp for weeks or months. I personally prefer not to use any additives unless necessary. That is one of the bonuses of curing your own meat! Hope this helps.

  32. Just got here… this all looks wonderful… I just smoked 10 lbs. of bacon that I cured with great local miso. It’s all packed in the freezer now.

    I’m teaching a class on lacto-fermenting tomorrow, but I haven’t written a post about it in a while. If I can find one, I’ll submit the link for your other post.

  33. Hi Peter – where are you from? Local miso sounds divine…and what are you teaching in the class tomorrow? I’d love you to post anything new (or even repeats) on the lacto-fermentation carnival. Thanks for stopping by!

  34. Kraut, kimchi, tsukemono and vinegar pickles. I heard about your blog from Julia S.; I live near her in the Hudson Valley. She hooked me up with a great farmer for a recent article on sustainable & humane meat farming. Somehow I ended up with a freezer full of beef.

  35. Hi Annette. This is a great post, and discussion in the comment section! We have struggled to find decent, local pork here in NW Indiana. We purchased a 1/2 pig in the fall of 2008. This was before I was aware of the nasty stuff used in curing, conventional GM corn/ soy feed, and how horrible unfermented soy is in general. The pork was good, but not great. One day I noticed the label on a package of sausage. Yep, MSG, nitrates, etc. I decided to look more closely at the farm’s Website. Then I noticed that right there it said the pigs were supplemented with corn and soy, with no mention of “organic”. Recently I discovered that they are offering curing without all the crap, so a lot of customers must have complained. I also came across info that they don’t use GM feed. However, since we didn’t think the pork was excellent, we’re on the hunt for a new farmer.

    I found a farm that raises pastured pigs, who consume up to 30% of their diet from the pasture. The rest of the diet is organic, and while I’m sure some of those grains are soy, at least they’re not pesticide laden or GM! This is the ONLY local farm I have found that offers organic, pastured pork. They also purchased their own processing facility, so they can offer natural curing. I think we’re going for it after asking a few of those pesky questions in person. :)

    http://www.thisoldfarminc.com/

    I agree with several comments here. It is important to ask hard questions of the farmers. It’s the only way they are going to know what customers want. My own method is to search high and low for all options of the product I’m looking for, call or email with questions, and work my way down the list to the best option available to me. That’s all I can do, and it does involve compromises. In the end, I am happy and satisfied to know that I am supporting a local farm, and feeding my family higher quality food than could ever be found at the grocery store.

    Your home cured pork looks awesome!!!

  36. Thank you. I have learned more reading the comments than I ever imagined! And I am so intrigued about buying and processing a pig. We have many family allergies and I am always trying to improve our diet. Thank you for so much helpful information and discussion.

  37. The statement that “up to 30% of their diet…” could also mean that they recieve none of their diet from pasture.

    When you challenge the producers on this sort of claim my direct experience has been that they just don’t hold up. Take a look in this comment thread about my $10,000 challenge to one farmer.

  38. Pingback: Happy Earth Day!

  39. Bruce, is that because there is nothing left in their particular paddock to eat (ie they’ve rooted everything to mud already?)

  40. It’s funny, I just made this bacon and had made notes in my Charcuterie book, but didn’t tell myself where I had gotten the notes from. It took me a bit to realize that it was you that had been my inspiration. Thanks!

  41. Annette, When a beekeeper harvests the honey isn’t really the issue. It’s going to take roughly a certain amount of honey to overwinter a hive in any given location (and to weather other nectar dearth periods throughout the year.) The question (assuming a hive is able to make that much honey in the first place, which isn’t always the case) is whether the beekeeper is going to leave that full amount on each hive or whether he’s going to take more for himself and compensate by feeding back some kind of syrup. There are times and places where hives would starve without feeding even if the beekeeper didn’t take any honey at all. Or the bees make just enough for their own needs, so subsequent feeding makes the difference between a honey crop and no crop at all. On average — and this would depend a lot on location and whether the bees are trucked around between different parts of the country to reach more nectar flows than they would in any one place — experienced, capable beekeepers with average nectar sources for their bees would, I would say, have more honey than their bees need (although averages are rarely the reality in any given year, and with enough hives, even in good years there will be some hives that don’t meet their own needs), but even then the beekeeper is faced with choices of harvesting, like in the one example I gave above, $300 of honey and subsequently feeding back $12 of sugar syrup or harvesting $150 and not having to feed syrup, and the average reality for the local beekeeper is probably more extreme than that. To put it simply, whatever honey the beekeeper lets the bees eat over the winter (or whenever) is honey that the beekeeper will never sell. If the honey is there, the local beekeeper can forgo selling it, but that comes at a very dramatic cost, which to be sustainable would theoretically have to be reflected in a very dramatic price difference (maybe 200-300% over other local, so-called “sustainable” honey — that might look like $25-40/quart around here instead of $10-15.)

  42. Pingback: Local Foodshed Spotlight– A Successful Everett Area Pig Farmer | Food, Farming and Faith in Snohomish County

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