Monday, 19 December 2011

The hoover - the charcutier's friend

I was hoping to make porchetta over Christmas. I'd usually do this using boned shoulder of pork. However, there was a pig's mask hanging in the School's chiller on our last day, so I got given this as a  'project' and duly went off to research porchetta di testa.

It was clear from the one good video online:

and various other posts, that my main problem was going to be how to sous-vide the pork, in order to cook it in its cure on a really low temperature.

I considered various options, including taking it in a bag to my butcher's, and asking them to vacuum seal it for me, or using a Ziploc bag and hoping for the best, until I remembered that I had some spare vacuum bags left from my recent house move - bought with bedding, rather than porcine, storage in mind. I found one the perfect size, got the mask in its marinade into it without incident, when I discovered - disaster - the bag was just a bonus one that came with the set, and didn't have a vacuum cleaner plughole. But necessity is the mother etc etc. I got as much air out of it as I could, zipped it up, then opened the zipper slightly and shoved the hoover nozzle into the opening. I was a bit concerned that I would end up with the marinade in the hoover, but it seems to be ok. Although I won't know until I start the cooking process whether my cunning plan has worked. I'm also concerned that I've done a marinade, rather than a cure, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Watch this space.

In the meantime, here is what I did to prepare the mask for its 3-day wallow in the vacuum spa....

Onions and garlic, fresh rosemary and bay, fennel seeds, ground cloves, salt and pepper for the marinade. Based on Nigella's Porchetta recipe in Forever Summer.

The only decision remaining today is what to do with the pig's ears. I hate throwing anything away, and I thought they'd make a nice present for the two dogs on Christmas Day, but when I googled 'pig's ears for dog food', I ended reading a load of stuff about how they can be bad for dogs. As I write, the jury's out and they're still on the cutting block. Watch out for next week's thrilling instalment.....

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A ray of hope...

A couple of events recently have given me hope for the future, of this little bit of world, at least. The first was the Tasting the Future Assembly in the London Living Room on November 28th.  Frustratingly, I can't find any mention of the assembly on the WWF website, but here is where it all happened.

I never thought I would attend a conference that started with singing, let alone being taught a song by a bloke with long hair and no shoes or socks, walking round playing the guitar. Instead of finding it too happy-clappy for words, it actually kicked off what turned out to be a brilliantly-facilitated conference. I can think of a few consulting firms who could learn from the way it was run. The discussions that took place were fascinating and heartfelt. I pinned up on the 'agenda' board a question around the supermarkets and whether we should be acknowledging their power and living with them, instead of bashing them all the time. Not because I think that's what we should be doing, but just to get the debate going. I was amazed to find that 12 people turned up to take part in the discussion, including the Head of Sustainability from M&S.

I also took part in a 'hear the story' session from London City Farmers, and ended up sitting next to Rosie Boycott, whose journalism I have always admired, and who heads up Capital Growth on Boris's behalf.

Now that I've lost my 'southernist' viewpoint, I have started challenging the notion that everything starts in London - with all the zealousness of a new non-smoker who won't tolerate anyone smoking around them. I asked her to what extent Capital Growth had engaged with other UK cities and was disappointed that she answered in terms of 'oh yes, Manchester have been to see us' and some others that she couldn't remember. I wondered if she had any idea how Londonist she was being. I know that's her job, but really....I felt exasperated by the response.

The second event was a visit to the School by Stephen Gould, the MD of Everards in Leicester, to talk to us about Project William and their collaboration with artisan food producers and publicans. They have come up with a startlingly simple way of investing in local businesses that is really working. And in some cases has obviated the need for those businesses to beg for investment from those pesky bankers. Brilliant!

And in the meantime, here's a picture of the class's pork pies back at the ranch, just to prove I have been doing some Butchery as well...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Friesans on acid, funky sheep and a very unusual postbox.

Last Friday, we had a short visit to Upper Booth Farm, in Hope Valley in the Peak District, to learn more about raising rare breeds.

I knew that the bureaucracy for farmers was bonkers, but what I was hearing was even worse than I expected. On top of which, this particular farm gets their water from a borehole, the pipe from which had become blocked, and they were desperately trying to get the water flowing again before the arrival of a large party of campers.  It was extremely decent of them not to cancel our visit - I'm sure they could have done without having to show us around.

I was delighted to find that they had a herd of Belted Galloways - quite rare in this country, more common in the U.S., from what I can gather.  I remember my first beltie, spotted as I was driving down the A30 to Cornwall. I did that route a few times before realising that the herd actually wasn't Friesans with rather straight spots! Belties are uniquely suited to the foothills of peaks, as they're light of foot, so don't churn up the soil. One of the things that makes their meat so good is that they are very placid. Nothing like a chilled out cow on your plate.....

The cloud was very low on Friday, so you couldn't see much further than the end of your nose, which was a pity, as this farm is just below Kinder Scout and the views are fabulous.

Their main breed of sheep is Swaledales, although they also have Blue-faced Leicesters and Texels amongs their tups. Here are the tups, waiting patiently for their day to come (as it were.....)

And, a complete aside, but a virtual prize to anyone who can spot what is unusual about this postbox, built into the wall of this farm:

Monday, 7 November 2011

A game bird with a knife.

Oddly, I don't seem able to write without inspiration from the pictures I've taken. Or maybe I just have a bad memory.

Anyway, last week was excellent. Big game this time, in the form of a roe deer and a red deer. We did some seaming and I think I may just about have the hang of sharpening a knife, if nothing else. We have different teachers on Wednesday and Thursday and they like us to sharpen two different ways. When I'm back in the class later this week, I will take pictures of each way. I really think I didn't know what a sharp knife was until I started this course. We are getting our own sets of knives soon - which is good, as it's never nice to go back to a knife and find someone else has been using it. I'm sure one can tell.

We made black pudding last week, too, but I forgot to take it home with me, so I'm hoping there's some left in the chiller tomorrow, so I get to try it. We used dried blood and sifted out the pearl barley, and replaced that during the cooking process with rice. All very mud pies and messy, but not gory at all - I suspect it's much less appetising when you have to boil up real blood.

All much better than two weeks ago when we worked on game birds and a rabbit - could have done without that - fiddly, pongy, generally minging. I don't like eating game, so I don't even get a reward for all that faffing about!

Back with pictures soon.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The abattoir

Moving. Not a word you'd expect to hear when someone describes their first visit to the slaughterhouse. 

Having had a briefing from the owner, we went outside to see stock arriving and being unloaded straight into the pens. This was the only really tough moment for me, and for others, I later found out. These gorgeous cows were looking at us with their big brown eyes through the slats of the transporter and they were just so pretty - it was awful to think that they only had a couple of hours left to live.

The first thing I was moved by was how old the first farmer I encountered was, and I wondered who would replace him in his work once he retired. This thought was quite upsetting. Turns out he wasn't a farmer at all, but a chap who makes his living by collecting and delivering animals on behalf of farmers - I still wonder who will do that job eventually.

Next, I was moved by the respect that was shown by everyone concerned for the animal. And, as the owner said, by his own admittance in a cynical way, it's absolutely in his interests to treat the animals well - a stressed animal will show signs of suffering that will lower the deadweight price he gets for his meat.

Our group didn't actually see the kill, which, frankly, I was quite glad about. However, we did see the whole line, from the just-killed carcass onwards. Some things were ever so slightly macabre, and I wouldn't want to get shut in the carcass chiller, but it was clear that each member of staff on the line was highly skilled, and was allowed  plenty of time for their particular task. I asked the operations manager about staff turnover and it's very low. Of course, being situated in such a poor ex-mining area helps (you can see the mine wheels from the abattoir), but most staff are skilled in most tasks on the line, which presumably helps avoid stress and repetitive strain injury. I suspect that staff in larger abattoirs have to work many multiples faster, but the throughput in this one was about 28-30 beasts (cattle) an hour.

Finally, I was moved by the dedication of the owner to the company, the animals and his staff in a shrinking market and in the face of increasing bureaucracy. We should be appreciating our meat more, eating less of it, paying the proper price for it, and keeping firms like this one in business.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Why foodboog?

Simples. The result of a typing error on a Facebook post that had meandered onto whether or not I was going to write a blog (I wasn't), but we all quite liked it. When I looked it up, courtesy of Google translate, I discovered that 'boog' meant 'arc' or 'vault' in Dutch. I think this is quite appropriate, as I will be posting on food generally, i.e., the whole arc of the subject, and also on butchery and charcuterie specifically - and yes, meat could conceivably be cured in a vault. A bit tenuous, but I'm also sure I will find that 'boog' means 'book' in some language or other. Someone please tell me if it does.

Tomorrow is what I am trying not to regard as my first big test in the first few days of the first semester - a visit to an abattoir. This is all I'm going to write for now, as I need to spend the evening reading up on slaughterhouses before the visit, and in particular, to read a bit more about Temple Grandin and her work.

The morning commute to the School through the Welbeck Estate:

Me looking like something out of a 50's sitcom: