Processing our pigs takes several weeks and consumes a good chunk of the end of December. We usually wait until December to process so that it is cold enough to hang the carcasses outside and so the root cellar is cold enough to brine the hams and salt-cure the bacon. (If you want to know more about our animal philosophy and on-farm slaughter you can read our previous blog post Embracing the Web. We take photos of slaughter and butchering which we do here on the farm so if you are learning how humanely raised food goes from the barn to the freezer I can send you the link.) For now let’s skip to the end – the fresh cuts are wrapped, the leaf lard is rendered and jarred, and then we make sausage, hams and bacon – a.k.a. the Omnivores Ambrosia. This is a rough description of the process not a recipe or instructions – if you want specific instructions let me know, it requires accurately weighing salt and controlling temperature and humidity, otherwise you can poison yourself, and that’s no fun.
Sausage – we grind fresh pork and then mix it with garlic and herbs from the garden and Celtic sea salt, a bit of maple syrup and local apple cider vinegar. The ingredients are adjusted to make three recipes (sage, maple, and italian). The grinding, grating and measuring of ingredients takes almost all day. We leave the breakfast sausage in logs so we can cut patties, and the Italian sausage we put into natural casings.
Hams – whole hams are cut into two halves. A brine is made from water, Celtic sea salt, apple cider, juniper berry and bay leaf and injected into the ham every two inches. (So far we have not added any nitrates such as Cure #1 or celery powder, but the hams and bacon are for our private consumption, so we take the risk.) Then the halves are submerged under brine in food-grade plastic 5-gal buckets. The hams are rotated every day in the buckets to keep the brine evenly distributed. After 7 days they are hung to dry in the root cellar (conditioned to 38 degrees) for 7 days. The root cellar humidity needs to be kept lower than normal for this week (under 75%) so the hams and bacon don’t grow mold.
Bacon – we trim the belly cuts and place them in a shallow tub, rub them with Celtic sea salt and maple syrup as well as sage and juniper berries. The bellies are stacked criss-cross 2-3 high and flipped every day for a week and additional salt is rubbed on if necessary. The bacon slabs are then placed on hangers and left to dry in the root cellar for 2 days.
Smoking – The bacon and hams are then rinsed, patted dry and hung in the smokehouse, which we renovated from an old corncrib behind the barn. They are smoked for 12 hours per day for two days using apple wood. Here are a few photos of the smokehouse construction in 2010 and more from last year while it’s in use.