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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Second Helpings of The Meat Course

Day 2 of the Meat Course started with breakfast, Bacon, Eggs, Black Pudding, artisan Bread, and vegetarian options of home-made Yoghurt (from the milking goats), jams and preserves and lots of coffee or tea, and food for thought. If we eat meat then we should respect the animal and eat as much of it as possible. Black Pudding uses the pig to the end, of course, in Ireland Sheep blood is made into Drisheen a Cork-centric Black Pudding.

Today we would concentrate on Butchery and making maximum use of a carcass so Bacon and Black Pudding were an appropriate start.

Trealy Farm is where Trealy Farm Charcuterie started and, though they have moved the production side to larger premises a few miles away, the original, fully fitted production unit is still on site and would be our base for the day.

Crossing the yard we entered, put on red overalls and shoe protectors and went through to the unit where we met John Standerwick the Trealy Farm Butcher. With 34 years in the trade John is highly skilled and his ability to explain clearly what he was doing really helped as most of the group had little or no experience in this area.

Whilst working John talked extensively about the craft of butchery, and how the rise of supermarket meat had led to a down skilling and many traditional butchers going out d business.

As a student at Ballymaloe Cookery School I had seen some serious knife skills from Phillip Dennhardt, a German  trained butcher, and Rory O’Connell who once apologised for taking 40 seconds to joint a Duck as he usually took less than 30, but John was even better than them.

Starting with a Sheep. John led us through the major cuts of meat and explained that the carcass was not the one we had seen slaughtered the day before as meat had to be hung to maximise the flavour. Supermarket meat tends to be killed and butchered very quickly leading to a paler, flabbier and less tasty meat. In hanging up to 30% of the weight could be lost so getting meat on display as soon as possible maximised profit. There is a trend today to say that supermarket meat has been “aged”14 days or so but this does not mean that it has been hung 14 days rather it is electronically massaged to produce the effect of hanging. The moral of the story is always buy meat from your local independent butcher, or from the farmer at a Farmers Market.

There were a few surprises for students such as Suet is the fatty surround to a kidney (usually beef suet) and that livers actually look like livers and the knowledge of the group shot up during the 20 minutes or so that John took to prepare the sheep.

Next up half a pig and again John demonstrated great skill in butchering the carcass, even taking time to demonstrate “Seam Butchery” a dying art in which each individual muscle is separated from the fat and membrane that surrounds it to leave a lean cut of meat. Once again the importance of using as much of the animal as possible was stressed, and the group were reminded of old recipes such as brawn, terrines and trotters. Interestingly trotters  or Crubeens are common in Irish butchers but rarely seen in the UK. If nothing else trotters give an amazing jelly for Pork Pie fillings, terrines or just to enhance a stock or gravy.

Demonstration over we were equipped with protective gloves and flexible knives and let loose on our own slabs of pork belly.

First up, separate the ribs from the belly meat, a few long strokes from the flexible knife and we had a lovely rack of ribs and a large piece of belly pork. The sheet I would later cut into individual ribs, poach and then roast in a home-made spicy barbecue sauce to serve with a few chips and home-made bread.

At this point enter James.

James runs the charcuterie side of Trealy Farm and is expert in fermented meats – air dried hams, salamis and sausages, puddings and peperoni and he would teach us to process meat and add value.

Carefully we weighed our pork bellies which would be converted into bacon by curing with a salt rub. 35g of salt per 1kg of meat is the magic formula and then spices and seasonings can be added to give the bacon its final taste. I chose a simple fennel and black pepper rub and massaged it in to the meat side before turning over and rubbing the skin side. Vacuum packed into a plastic bag the bacon would be spending the next five days in the bottom of my fridge, being turned daily, as the cure got to work and drew some of the moisture from the meat. Washed and dried after five days the bacon would be cut into rashers though some of mine might be given a little rest in my small smoker, and some might be further processed into Bacon Jam.

Curing done we headed for lunch, again a good selection of cured meats including air dried Lamb, Ham and Beef, sausages and salami and some miniature faggots,as always there was a good vegetarian selection available with one of the cheeses being made at the top of the hill above the Farm by Wye Valley Cheese. Again the importance of using as much of an animal as possible, should you eat meat, was stressed and the tasty array would have encouraged anyone,

As we lazed in the sunshine after lunch James lead us through the history of charcuterie and the types of preserving meat. Originally people had their own pigs, even in towns, and killed them late in the year and preserved them to last through the Winter months. The late killing also meant that the animals did not have to be fed at a time when supplies would be running low. Gradually different types of preserved meat emerged, most countries have a sausage though each varies, most countries have developed blood puddings, be they Morcilla, Boudin Noir or plain black pudding. The principles of preservation are the same, the product varies.

Armed with this additional knowledge we went back to the unit to make sausages. Meats were minced and mixed in the industrial mincer, the setting on coarse. Some breadcrumbs were added and the mixture went back into the machine to mix and be minced again. Once the, now visibly,  sausage meat emerged we each received a kilo and a chart indicating the types of flavourings available. I chose to mix Tomato Powder, Garlic and Oregano to make an Italian style sausage that would equally well break down into meatballs that could be rolled in polenta, fried and then added to a tomato sauce for a pasta dish.

Working in pairs we put the mix through a hand-cranked sausage filler and into natural casings, any unused meat being quickly fried off so that we could have a taster of our chosen blend.

Meanwhile James had mixed and minced some offal and we were given a free hand in making faggots. Rolling small balls and wrapping them in caul fat was remarkably therapeutic, and my half dozen will make a good supper with rich onion gravy, champ and the last of the purple sprouting broccoli.

At this point the practical side of the course was over but an early dinner, as usual with good meat and vegetarian selections on offer, and debrief followed before we went our separate ways.

What did I get out of the course? A greater knowledge of farming and raising meat, a reinforcement of my belief that small low impact farming is much better than agri-business, confirmation that local abattoirs are much preferable to giant industrial plants reached only after considerable travel, that local butchers do a better job than supermarkets and that older breeds give more taste than modern commercial ones. The major thing for me was that we need to eat less meat but better meat to improve both our diets and animal welfare and protect our environment.

The Meat Course answered many questions but to me the mark of a good course is that it asks even more, this one certainly did! I can only say that you should do it yourself.

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