Pork, raised by Jews, for Jews

A few years ago, our friends the Waismans bought a farm that’s only about 20 minutes from downtown Madison. There, they raise asparagus and pigs and chickens and goats, not to mention also their three kids.

David Waisman and I like to joke that their pigs are pork raised by Jews, for Jews. Their first pair of pigs were named Mazel and Tov.

This year I went in with 3 other families and we got a whole pig. My 1/4 of the animal amounts to roasts and chops and ham and ham steaks. Ribs and a hock. Bacon of course, and breakfast links, and bulk breakfast sausage and some Italian links – but not as much ground meat as I think we wanted. The cut sheet was a mystery, and I think some of our preferences were lost in translation.

The belly – what wasn’t made into bacon – came as one big piece. I watched this video and am going to try to bone it and cut it into fourths, so we each get a hunk.

There were four 10-pound bags of ground lard, and we took two. It looks like pink brains, at least the cartoon or Starbucks drink vision of brains. We were hoping for rendered, but I guess this butcher doesn’t do that. I was afraid of rendering it, imagining doing it stove top and remembering what a mess rendering chicken fat makes. But I found a couple of recipes for doing it the oven, so I’m not afraid of rendering lard anymore. I’m thinking about New Mexican biscochitos made with my own lard for Christmas this year.

I decided I was afraid of the jowls, though. I read some recipes on how to cure it into Guanciale and I think it’s too much for me. There was a cheaters recipe in the NYT, where you coat it with a spice & salt rub, leave it to cure in the back of the fridge, then finish by roasting at a low heat, which is pretty much the method I’ve used to make very tasty home corned beef. With lots of juniper and allspice, mmmm, it smells like Christmas. It’s Elizabeth David’s, by way of Laurie Colwin’s, spiced beef if you want to Google it. But the commentators, Guanciale purists no doubt, reacted in horror. “Cook it!?! Never! You must hang it to cure and if it gets moldy, scrape it off”. Uh yea – not for me. Plus there’s the skin factor and the still totally looking like half a pig head factor. So not me. Render lard, yes, cut up a pork belly, ok, but no pig heads hanging in the basement. I mean, what would the cats think?