Prosciutto with Proletariat Butchery

Yesterday I stopped at Proletariat Butchery up on Fremont Street in Portland to visit with owner and artisan butcher, Zeph Shepard.  Zeph’s shop is the epitome of small batch, service-oriented butchery.  He takes pride in knowing his customers and helping them get the most out of their eating experience.

I took a hands-on pig butchery class from Zeph last year and it was really helpful to see how a butcher views a half pig and the options it contains.  With knife-in-hand, we cut up the carcass ourselves and it was educational and fun.

One great thing about working with Zeph is he’ll teach and do as much or as little as you want.  If you want to learn how to cut up your pig yourself, he’ll teach you.  If you just want to have him do it, he’ll cut it up for you.  But no matter what you have in mind, he starts with a conversation about what you like to eat and how you can make the most out of your meat.

Proscuitto: ham cured with salt, air, and plenty of patience

Proscuitto: ham cured with salt, air, and plenty of patience

Yesterday, I took Zeph a whole rear leg of pork to be cured into Prosciutto.  I took the photo above in his shop and these are hams that have been salted, coated with leaf fat, and are now aging.  Over time, the salt works its way into the meat while the water slowly exits the meat.  Capillary action pulls the salt in as the water escapes and the meat slowly cures and becomes firm.  A leg this size will take about a year to get to where I can start eating it and maybe another six to twelve months after that to develop its full potential of rich flavors.

This type of charcuterie is all about patience.  I’m looking forward to sharpening my knife and taking the first thin slices off my Elkhorn prosciutto a year from now.

If you’d like to learn how to do charcuterie or maybe have Zeph get it going for you, Elkhorn can provide the primal cuts of pork you need to get started and Zeph can help you get it finished.  Let us know when you’re ready and we’ll get you on the road to great eating!

 

Pig Tales: Must Read

Pig Tales by Barry Estabrook is a “must read” book for eaters, farmers, and anyone who even remotely cares about sustainability.  Estabrook covers the very best and worst in the lives of modern day pigs and the farms that raise them.
Pig TalesMy hat is off to Mr. Estabrook for telling this important story and not flipping out in the process.  There’s no way I could visit a factory hog “farm” and tolerate seeing 8,000 sows in gestation crates so small that the sows cannot move.  I hope that in my lifetime, practices like these will be outlawed.

There used to be a sacred pact between the farmer and the animals he raised.  The farmer had to earn a living, but he also did whatever he could to give his animals a good life.  The farmer respected his livestock.  I raise my pigs that way and thankfully, there is a small, but growing population of farmers who raise their pigs “the old way”.  Estabrook covers both sides of the story, but clearly sides with the pigs and the alternatives to our American factory farms.

This book reminds me that humans often discount and underestimate what they don’t understand and yet, there is so little effort put forth to even try and understand the unknown.  I learned a lot about pigs while reading this book and was completely fascinated with the stories of lab research that probed the intelligence and capabilities of pigs.

Pig Tales is an easy read and a book that I looked forward to picking up every day.  I hope you give it a chance too.

Great For The Pigs

I tell people that we raise pigs using methods that are great for the pigs and great for the table.  It’s no accident that “great for the pigs” comes first in that phrase.  I want my pigs to live happy, healthy lives.  Yes, it makes for better tasting pork, but pigs are smart, fun creatures and they deserve at least the same care and respect we afford our dogs and cats.

Grass Paddock

Pigs are very adaptable and can live almost anywhere, even in small, confined spaces but that’s not how they would choose to live.  Roughly 100 million pigs are raised in the United States every year and about 97% of those are raised inside industrial confinement warehouses.  Of the 3% that are grown outside on what we picture in our minds when we think of the word “farm”, the vast majority of those pigs are raised in small dirt confinement areas. The butcher who comes to my farm says that roughly 9 out of 10 pigs he slaughters are raised in small feedlot conditions where the pigs are in a dirt pen without a blade of grass anywhere.

These pigs made themselves a dirt wallow under some trees to escape the heat.

These pigs made themselves a dirt wallow under some trees to escape the heat.

We don’t raise our pigs that way.  Our pigs are free to roam and root in grass and forest and they make good use of the variety, browsing on green grass, shrubs, and rooting up goodies from the earth.  Their diverse diet provides great flavor to the meat, but more than that, it lets pigs be pigs.  They get to decide what to eat and whether they want to rest in the grass, under trees, or in the shelter we built for them.  They chase each other around and roam free.  When they’ve sufficiently beat up the grass in one area, we move them to a new area and let the last grass rest and recover.  It takes a lot more land and effort to raise pigs this way, but it’s better for the land and better for the pigs so we put in the extra effort.  We respect the carrying capacity of the land and let our pigs be pigs.  It really is great for the pigs and it tastes great too.

How Big Is Half A Pig?


DSC03120
Every week I talk with people who are interested in buying a half-share of pork, but they’re not sure how much freezer space it will use.  I picked up this half-share of pork from The Meating Place in Hillsboro recently and thought I’d share some photos to help people visualize the volume.  This represents half a hog (hanging weight 93.5 pounds for the half-share).

DSC03118 DSC03123

The meat fit into a 100 quart cooler (the five bags of fat shown on the right fit into a separate box).  This is about the same volume as three grocery bags.  In terms of freezer space, it’s more than you’ll want to try and cram into your refrigerator freezer.  A very small chest freezer (8 cubic feet) will hold all of this easily.  If it seems like a lot of meat, it somehow disappears faster than you think.  Whenever I open my freezer, I want to take out and start cooking everything.  Who says pulled pork isn’t breakfast food?

 

Welcome to my farm blog

Pigs!

My name is Matt Alford and I am a small-time pig farmer located in the unincorporated community of Laurelwood, Oregon, about five miles from Gaston and 50 minutes from Portland.  I raise Gloucestershire Old Spot heritage hogs and sell them farm-direct to local eaters, who appreciate the high quality of the meat and the extensive effort that I put into making sure the hogs live the very best life possible.

People who know me, know that I have a very high bar for the meat that I put on my own table.  About fifteen years ago, I quit eating meat entirely after learning what “factory farming” meant.  I wanted nothing to do with that and I spent the next two years thinking about life, death, right, wrong, meat, murder, capital punishment, religion, hunting and all sorts of other tangents related to meat. I finally came to the conclusion that eating meat isn’t wrong and whatever meat I consume, I’m going to know that meat from field to table.  I also decided to confront the fact that meat comes from a living, breathing being that thinks for itself and feels pain.  Meat nourishes life by taking life and at the very least, I owed the animal the respect of looking it in the eye and taking its life myself if I thought eating meat was so important that the animal needed to die in order to feed me.

As a result, I learned how to hunt, first with bow and arrow, then later with rifle and shotgun.  I learned what it meant to hunt animals in the wild, on their own terms and what it meant to eat a lot of salad after coming home empty-handed.  I spent days and weeks sitting quietly in the woods, watching animals interact with each other, care for their young, and live in freedom.  I learned humility and respect for every piece of meat I brought home for the table.Chewy

Eventually, I started raising packgoats to help me carry my camp into the backcountry and the meat back out to the truck.  I was a slow learner, but my goats were kind enough to teach me lessons over and over about what it meant to put up a fence and keep it up.  They also made sure I understood that they viewed anything I built as a temporary structure and they were put on this earth to see to it that temporary structures were torn down.

After about seven years of “goat learning” I decided to raise a couple weaner pigs for my own consumption.  HeaderI already had good fences, water, and pasture.  While I expected the final pork would taste great (and it did), what I didn’t expect was to like being around pigs as much as I did.  Pigs are funny.  They chase each other around, root in the dirt, and like to come over and investigate whatever I’m doing.  Now, my farm doesn’t feel complete without them.

I like pigs and I’m happy raising them in a manner that supports their “pigness” and happiness.  It seems that other people like it too because wherever I go and talk to people about how and why I raise pigs, there is someone who asks if they can buy pork from me.  That makes me happy, because every pig that I sell reduces the demand on factory pig farms.  Maybe someday, enough people will buy local, pasture-raised pigs that there won’t be any demand for factory farms and they will just become a shameful foot note in our history.  Industrial pig farming hasn’t been kind to pigs and they deserve better.  I’m doing my part, a few pigs at a time.

–MATT