With love, from a pig farmer II.

The continued story of a woman on a mission to be a free range pig farmer and charcutier…

It seems like forever ago that we tasted our first homegrown pig as roast pork the night before the first ever Koondrook Barham Farmers Market. Actually selling the pork was so exciting, and we quickly realised one market wasn’t enough to make a living off so I started going to Mansfield, Fairfield and Castlemaine farmers’ markets, baby in tow always. I distinctively remember our first Fairfield market where I was frantically trying to apply our logo stickers to the cold packed meat as I was selling it but they kept slipping off. Thanks to a now good friend Susanne who told me to ‘get your shit together piggy’ the next market I was more organised. Every market taught me something new about our product, the process and what people wanted from their farmers. The most common question being ‘how are they killed?’ The answer ‘we pop them in a trailer and drive 30 minutes down the road and they’re stunned and stuck, it’s not pretty but its fast and humane and they aren’t stressed or mishandled’. Customers didn’t like meat on trays, preservatives or meat that had been frozen. They wanted free range, killed humanely, stress free animals that had been raised lovingly. Tick. We were doing the right thing.

Straight away we knew we had to be making our own smallgoods, but no one local could/would do the processing for us. We started getting our pigs packed in Gunbower, bacon and ham made by Peter Bouchier in Melbourne which we’d pick up the morning of Melbourne farmers’ markets (because logistics was too hard getting it back to Barham first) then off we’d go and sell it. The logistics of this quickly became a strain. I was driving to Melbourne once a week to deliver to restaurants, after picking up meat from the butchers along the way with a kid in the backseat next to the engel, then heading back down on the weekend for the markets. In 2013, Frida our second child was 3 months old, I bit the bullet and made the decision to build an on-farm butchery and do the butchering and smallgoods myself. Surely, can’t be that hard? (No offense to trained butchers who have done years of training to get their certificates). The Jonas family in Daylesford were thinking about doing the same things so it gave me quiet confidence we could also do it. I used to dissect dead animals when I was a kid on the farm, I remember cutting mice, rats and fish into pieces but I wanted to be a Vet.. maybe this was the first sign of things to come and I had the direction a bit off?

We have a small carport next to the house which seemed like an easy transition to convert into a butchery. It is about 5 meters long and 3 meters wide so we lined it and put a drain in, and a coolroom around 4 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. Surely this was big enough. We purchased a vac sealing machine, a bench top bandsaw and I got myself some knives and vac pouches for packing the meat, although I wasn’t at all happy about using plastic… surely there’s a better alternative out there?! For the first few months I went and picked up the pigs myself from the abattoir in our little trailer then after a while the truck delivered back to us and was a great help. I studied butchery books and practiced at night time (until Frida awoke for a night feed) and my friend Troy spent a day with me on the farm cutting and showing me some new tricks. After some months, it became easier, although I refrained from using the bandsaw (images of a hand-less mother wasn’t encouraging) and I found the work was therapeutic and very rewarding. I got really strong and knew my way around the cuts and what we could yield from our pigs. I handcut and handsawed everything myself and cut on the bench, not from the rail. I used the carcass weight to seam butcher. The best way to learn I found was trial and error and repeatedly practicing every week. I was making sausages in a hand crank filler and developed crap-free recipes for Italian pork and fennel sausages and French Toulouse sausages (thank you to friends for helping here, you know who you are!) and nitrate free bacon. After a few years it became second nature. The first time I smoked bacon in our little Hark smoker, I was constantly on the phone to Troy, stressing about whether I was going to kill someone from botulism… once again training here would have been beneficial! But that first lot of bacon we ate was like the ‘oh my god’ moment. Lucy our eldest proclaimed ‘Mummy made bacon!’ Yes I did. It’s funny looking back at what little knowledge and skill I had in the beginning, but if there’s anything I can say about that is that YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE A GO!

The second OMG moment was after I made come whole muscle cures. We cured some neck muscle into the Italian Capocollo using spices and red wine. The result wasn’t perfect after some months but it was so tasty, I was amazed at how salt and time transformed something already so good into something even better. I wondered if everyone else wanted to eat charcuterie. We crowd funded in 2014 to test the market. Successfully raising over $18K to add a kitchen and curing room into the carport (now we had no carport left for the car) we realised that yes, everyone wanted to eat charcuterie too- YAY! This is literally how we began our journey, and recognizing that value adding the pork by preserving into long life products meant that we could stay reasonably small and maintain high quality production. And how easy this was all going to be, the abattoir just down the road, the butchery at the back door, farmers markets all teed up…

Then we got a call… The abattoir is closed. Do not send your pigs today.

To be continued…

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