Over the last fortnight we have been cooking and eating pork in many different forms – but not just any pork – this has been Malabar Farm pork! Ever so slightly inspired by Gourmet farmer, Matthew Evans, we reared and fattened a couple of "large white" piglets over a 12 week period, before sending them to the butcher in late September.
This was our first time raising pigs, and we’ve learnt a few lessons along the way. Firstly, don’t give the pigs names! It was not easy sending Porky and Smokey away, but there is no doubt these home reared, free range pigs had a great life, before providing pork with great flavour and a good cover of fat. And they were free range – any fence without an electric wire was a mere speed hump for theses wandering souls, forever on the search for fresh dirt (or lawn or garden!) to plough or roll in.
It’s not surprising as consumers increasingly seek quality produce from well cared for animals that we are seeing more pork producers at the local farmers markets. In our immediate vicinity there is Dan from Amber Creek Farm (Fish Creek), and Nadine at Wattlebank Park Farm (Inverloch) who are supplying flavoursome pork and bacon.
But in one sense, these businesses are stepping back in time when pig farming was a common activity on the dairy farms of the district. Before technology allowed whole milk to be collected from farms, the cream was separated from the milk to be churned into butter, and the remaining skimmed milk was fed to pigs to provide an additional source of income. Most were sent by rail to the Melbourne markets, or to the Meeniyan bacon factory at the beginning of the last century. In fact I’m lead to believe there were pig sale yards operating at Meeniyan until the 1970s. Whilst travelling the winding back roads in the district towards Fish Creek a few relics of old pig pens can still be seen as reminders of this past.
We also learnt the sex of the pigs can impact on eating quality. Our pigs were purchased as entire males, but we have avoided any boar taint in the meat which Stephanie Alexander warns about in The Cook’s Companion – probably by not letting them get too old. She recommends consumers seek out pork from female pigs which is generally regarded as the sweetest and highest quality. (Interestingly, a Melbourne friend tells us a number of the butchers at the Queen Victoria market have signs displaying their pork is sourced from sows only.) We have just purchased another couple of piglets – Wessex Saddlebacks – a female and a castrated male, so the education continues!
Porky and Smokey yielded great carcasses weighing 77kg and 66 kg, with a good fat cover of 2-
From the 2 rear ends we have smoked two legs for ham, and boned out the other legs and netted for roasts. Some of these interior muscles had little fat cover so will need cooking carefully to prevent them drying too much. The shoulder section has provided us with more roasts (to be slow cooked), trimmings for mince and the front legs were sent for smoking to create hocks for Jen’s soups.
But the highlight is the mid-
The hams, bacon and hocks were sent to a smokehouse at Tooradin, and the flavour particularly from the bacon is extraordinary – something you just can’t get from the supermarket shelf. I have been crisping a few rashes of bacon in the oven, breaking them into small portions and they add a great dimension to risottos (with asparagus, mushrooms or whatever).
Most of the trimmings went through the mincer and were transformed into Prom Meats’ special pork and fennel sausages -
So we now have a ready supply of pork stacked in the freezers to savour over the coming months.
Maurine O’Sullivan (mum) is a great cook. I remember from childhood days she would bake the loin chops with a delicious seasoning on top. Tear up 2-