It was with mixed emotion that I accepted the invitation. I was super excited to be spending three days with a group of food lovers, learning new charcuterie skills. But I was dreading the fact that, well, first we were going to kill a pig. A home slaughter. A chicken is one thing, but a pig, sheesh, how would that go?
I'm a firm believer of knowing where your food comes from, and taking responsiblity for the food you eat. And I endeavour to make sure that most of what we eat comes direct from the farmer, including any meat. But yeah, I was about to take a giant leap into, the, um business end of being an omnivore, and I was not sure I if I was entirely up to the challenge.
We all arrived at my friends' farm early on a gloomy winter's morning. Most brought with them a wealth of family tradition and recipes for butchering a pig, sharing their stories over a fortifying glass of Strega. Meanwhile, that little pig sniffed and poked around in her little pen laid deep with fresh straw, took a little nap and looked perfectly content, oblivious to the fact that her hours were numbered. Once everything was ready, a call was made to the butcher and as soon as he arrived I felt a huge sense of relief. He looked strong, he looked capable and reassuringly, he looked kind.
Some people went inside, unable to watch the deed, but I felt that this was something, as meat eater, I had to see, and stayed to watch the slaughter, albeit from a comfortable distance.
Far from the horrific scene I had imagined, it was the complete opposite. It was quick, it was calm and it was respectful. One moment at home, happily burrowing her nose in the straw, the next...
The pig was still warm when the hard work began, breaking down the carcass and divvying up the recipes. Prosciutto, pancetta, brawn, cotechino, salami, bacon, ham, mortadella and sausages, an impressive amount of food to feed five families. The fat was rendered into lard and the skin turned into chicharron. The blood collected and mixed with chocolate, masala and raisins to make sangiuinaccio. Nothing was wasted. Every part of the animal was treated with the utmost respect and care.
At the end of three days we celebrated with a feast. We celebrated our work, we celebrated the abundance of food and we celebrated the pig. Tasting what was ready to eat and admiring what was yet to cure.
The whole experience was the most amazing and humbling three days I could ever imagine. An honour in fact. I walked away with a newfound awareness, a feeling of gratitude to the pig, thankful to the friends who invited me to share and to teach. And also admiration for the incredible tradition that a handful of people continue.
It's easy to buy a packet of bacon from the supermarket, a few slices of ham from the deli. Too easy. I can now see how that makes us so removed from our food and the animals that provide us with nourishment. Absolves us from any blood on our hands (and believe me, there is blood). After this week I'm not sure I can buy bacon from the shop ever again, or ham, or any pork product. Or in fact any meat. For me, I don't think it's the right thing to do. I'd rather eat less meat and pay more for it, buying directly from a friend or farmer. Or perhaps even think about raising our own.
Maybe, some people might find this story uncomfortable, and wonder "how could you?" After this amazing experience, I wonder, how could you not.
P.S. If you're interested in seeing something similar done beautifully you should watch Anatomy of Thrift