Tamworth Pig

December 13, 2010

With just a few weeks left in 2010, it is time to take stock of my world of meat.

Herschel the prosciutto is 14 months old and looking good. Firm to the touch, sweet-smelling, and no sign of troublesome molds, bugs, or other unwanted natural intruders.

Construction on the kitchen (meat processing facility) is complete and it is a great setup. Yes, it is small (180 square feet), but it allows me to do all the butchering, sausage making, and food prep that I can handle.

The goal of building this space, getting the USDA’s approval of my work, and selling artisan meats is becoming very real. With just a few more tasks to document and complete, I hope to be working under USDA inspection with approved legal sausage for sale soon. The transition from librarian to sausage-hobbiest to artisan meat business is very real. Once I’m up and running, of course I’ll announce it here.

Below is my latest project in the new kitchen. A friend of mine was co-owner of a Tamworth pig that was raised just north of Seattle. The animal was slaughtered two days ago. I now get to take 100lb (half the animal) of this beautiful meat and turn it into sausage, bacon, a few other meaty meals for his family.

Below is the 100lb Tamworth pig I just got. 44lb of belly, 31lb shoulder, 26lb leg, and enough offal for everyone subscribed to this blog.

Below is a reminder of the tight quarters (my home-kitchen) I used in March 2010 to do a similar project. As much as I tried to convince myself, this is not work that can easily be done in a residential kitchen. My commercial workspace is certainly not huge, but the difference is pretty obvious.

Here’s the 44lb mid-section of the pig.

Below: that’s all from the same mid-section shown above. The belly on the right will be bacon.

I’m getting used to monitoring temperatures every hour as I work. As long as the meat temperature doesn’t ever exceed 41 degrees, things are safe. The belly was 36.1 degrees F at the start of this small project. And below, you can see that it is 37.3 degrees F when I put it into the cooler. We’re safe!

All the meat is in the cooler until I’m ready to process the rest of the pork.

And on a very different note….

If anyone knows how to knit well, let me know. I want one of these!

(from http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2009/01/neck_sausage_scarf.html)


More Kitchen Progress

October 28, 2010

The kitchen is definitely coming along.

Below are some photos of the meat processing facility I’ve built over the past three months. It is exactly as big as it looks…an 18′ x 12′ stretch of real estate (aka, my former garage).   There are some tweaks to make still, but the space is exactly what I had in mind.  After reading chapter 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 9 chapter 3 part 417….to be exact) numerous  times, I’m getting very close to applying for a grant of federal inspection on this space so I can sell some meat made here. There are a lot of rules to follow that don’t seem directly related to the production of amazing sausage, but the intent of the USDA is to keep people safe and healthy, and I’m on board with that.  But with a 3-comp sink the size of my old Chevy Citation (works more reliably than the Citation) and FRP walls all around for easy cleaning, this room is built to do exactly what its meant to do…..cut, grind, spice, stuff,  package, and (hopefully) sell a ton of great sausage.

That’s Herschel on the table. I pulled out the leg just for the photo shoot. A bit like Waldo or the red couch.

I don’t know if it was a good idea, but I managed to successfully put 4 castors on the refrigerator without assistance. I didn’t break the fridge or my back. Not bad!

Big shiny knives are the reason I do this. I don’t want to explain.

Below are sample packages of sausage I made last week using Tails & Trotters hazelnut-finished pork from Portland, OR. I used 67 pounds of meat to start testing the new kitchen and test all of my equipment and processes. There’s a lot of Italian and Jalapeno sausage ready to share. So far, so good.

Oh…..and Herschel is just about 12 months old. Since salting and hanging that prosciutto a year ago, I’ve learned an awful lot about meat. Fun stuff!

Building a Meat Kitchen

September 2, 2010

After more than 10 years of grinding, stuffing, curing, fermenting, drying, and exploring the world of sausage-making, the past few days have been big ones. I began construction on a commercial kitchen which will serve as a USDA inspected production site for fresh sausage, and eventually cured meats. The goal is to make and sell sausage, and that does not happen legally without being blessed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Learning to make good sausage is one thing, but getting the city, county, state, and USDA on the same page regarding what is and is not expected in a facility like the one I’m building is a whole new experience in this culinary celebration of ambiguity. Well actually, the USDA is not ambiguous at all. The  Code of Federal Regulations spells everything out regarding Animal Products, Food Safety, and Regulatory requirements under Federal Meat Inspection. There are a lot of rules to be aware of and to follow, but the Feds are a pretty decisive group. Not a lot of small talk or chatter, but so far, I’ve gotten helpful, succinct, and specific answers to all of my questions about making safe meat and building an acceptable kitchen.

Every jurisdiction has its own role to play in monitoring and regulating commercial food production. It looks a bit like this:

  • The city of Seattle  has responsibility for building permits and zoning. Are you even allowed to build the thing you intend to build, and are you allowed to operate the type of business you hope to run?  That’s their  domain.
  • The county is the land of the department of health, plumbing inspections, and all retail-kitchen oversite. If you intend to sell wholesale, than the county backs off with the exception of plumbing expectations. Someone has to keep an eye on what’s being  flushed down the drain, right?
  • The State of Washington…..well, the secretary of state granted me a business license, but so far, I don’t see the State being involved in my work. But as there are so many layers in the story, I’m prepared to be corrected.
  • And finally the trump card….the USDA. Meat can not be sold wholesale to the public for resale purposes unless its production has been inspected by the USDA. Getting the little USDA “bug” (the circular logo identifying a USDA facility number) on your food label is a big deal, and among other things, this involves applying for a grant of federal inspection….which requires lots of stuff: HACCP Plan for each unique type of meat product you plan to sell. Sanitation Operation Plan. And of course, plenty of specific facility expectations which dictate how the construction of the kitchen must proceed.

There are a lot of rules and expectations to be aware of, but I think I have most of the story figured out. Here’s where I am on the project so far.

Entry to the “lab”

Walls are firred out flat and prepped for plastic panels, which are washable.

FRP (fiberglass reinforces plastic) plastic panels are attached to the walls. Its going to be a bright white room. My newly acquired 3-compartment sink is in place for the plumbing rough-in. That’s 109″ of sink in the picture. Pretty damned large.

Plumbing rough-in is complete. Water, drains, and vents are in place and ready to be connected to the equipment.

Next week, it is onto electrical work in the room. Then, the plumbers come back to connect everything and make the room functional, and get inspected by the county department of health.

As I said, things are moving quickly. It will be good to get through the next few weeks, and get closer to making sausage.

Herschel Update: Herschel the prosciutto is 10 months old now. Everything’s looking (and smelling) good. The photo below also shows a curing sheep liver wrapped in a bug net.  It is just about ready to eat, so I’ll try to share some details about that soon.

Welcome to September!

Chain Mail and White Robes

July 21, 2010

With the warm summer weather, my butchering and sausage making has slowed down a lot. This is mostly due to my newly acquired knowledge of bacteria and food safety when working with meat at different temperatures. If I had a well air-conditioned workspace, I’d be cutting and grinding 12 months out of the year, but that is not the case today. Small batch experiments are the theme of summertime meat projects (lox, bacon, cooked charcuterie). But as soon as the cool weather is back, I’ll be ready to go.

In the meantime, I’ve found the “Super Bowl” of the butchering world. The competitors in this video are beyond fast. It’s scary to think of boning knives moving this quickly and precisely. Someday, a trip to Germany to watch the European Deboning Championships needs to happen. I realize that this is not everyone’s typical food-travel fantasy, but I bet if you’re reading this blog,  and if you don’t feel squeamish after viewing the video, you might want to join me.

Sorry to provide only a link to the video. I don’t have permission to embed the source file in the blog.


Cold Smoked Lox

July 9, 2010

Sometimes, pork lovers crave lox and bagels.  I don’t see any inherent conflict with loving both. And it is Copper River Salmon season here in the Northwest, so the fish couldn’t be fattier or more perfect than it is now.

I’ve created an effective method of cold smoking meat and fish that is not particularly efficient, but very effective at keeping temperatures low (below 90 degrees) while exposing the lucky protein to plenty of smoke. If you’re one of those guys who already spent a bunch of money on a fancy smoker that maintains low temps, I would love to hear your experiences and impressions of the equipment. But for anyone who wants to cold-smoke meat without travelling farther than Home Depot and without spending more than $70 on a new electric smoker, I hope you’ll find this interesting and useful.

After cleaning a side of Copper River Sockeye and removing as many bones as I could find, I massaged the fish with a cure of  white sugar, brown sugar,  salt, toasted fennel, juniper, and peppercorns. All this took place in a 2 lb zip-lock bag. Three days of refrigeration later, after plenty of liquid had collected in the bag, I rinsed the fish with fresh water and placed it in the refrigerator to dry overnight (12 hours) in preparation for drying. A dry surface will hold the smoke flavor better than a damp surface of meat. Below is the rinsed 2# filet ready for smoking.

I used plum wood for smoking this batch of lox. Outdoor temperature was in the 50s when I started the smoking. A lot of Seattleites think 50 degrees is too cold for early July, but it was perfect air temp for this fish.

Over the grate holding the fish, I placed a rolled cylinder of rigid chicken wire, and then put the smoker’s lid on top of that. The chicken wire allows plenty of cool air to circulate across the fish, keeping the meat cool. It also prevents birds, bugs, or other critters from exploring my birthday breakfast. Plenty of smoke rises from the base of the unit, passing right over the fish. But with all that circulation, the air temp and the fish-temp never gets warm at all. I suppose this whole setup could be placed inside a tent to increase the efficiency. Actually, there are probably plenty of ways to increase the efficiency of this setup. But this works, and it requires very minimal special equipment.

The fish was smoked for 4 hours with a steady level of smoke the whole time. Air and meat temp never got warmer than 90F.

I pulled the cool but well-smoked salmon off the grill late at night, tasted a bit, and refrigerated the rest. In the morning, we sliced the fish, and ate it with pumpernickel bagels, cream cheese and capers. Awesome!

Buying cold-river Alaskan salmon from a named river is definitely pricier than settling for “wild”  unknown-origin salmon, and it is a lot more expensive than farm-raised salmon (pale, pink, and fat-free…..DRY!). But if you’re a lox fan, and you can find fresh salmon of any origin, give this a try. A cheap smoker and a roll of chicken wire should be all you need to succeed.

Leg vs. Leg Update (and some finished product)

May 7, 2010

My first round of meats dried in the new walk-in have lost enough water weight to eat.

From left to right is: sweet coppa, spicy coppa, duck salami, and carne salata boneless leg. The photo above shows a bunch of duck breast prosciutto wrapped in cheese cloth hanging with the other meats, but that didn’t make it into the pics below.

Below you can see the cross-section of all four items. This round of coppa is a bit saltier than I would like, and saltier than previous coppa that I’ve made. Some recipe and duration adjustments need to be made, but there’s a nice difference in flavor between all four items.

Sliced paper-thin and ready to pair with a piece of fresh fruit.

Below is a side-by-side view of both prosciutto legs. Herschel on the left is 6 months old. Hazel, on the right is 2 months old.


Herschel (left):

  • 30 of 30 days salting complete
  • 90 of 90 days drying complete
  • 60 of 365 days aging complete

Hazel (right)

  • 30 of 30 days salting complete
  • 30 of 90 days drying complete
  • 0 of 365 days aging complete

Hot Dog Day

April 25, 2010

Last Saturday was “Sausage Day” at my home. Twice each year, a friend joins me for a consistently over-ambitious plan to make MANY varieties of fresh sausage in a single day. Each year we get faster and more efficient, and more importantly, each year the final sausage product becomes significantly better than the previous attempt. (We’re convinced that this is true, but who really knows.)  Our families enjoyed dinner on Saturday, and we will have a supply of great sausage in the freezer for a few months to come.

But we still manage to make way too many varieties of sausage in one day than should probably be attempted. It is a lot of work!

My insistence on going metric and keeping notes about each recipe seems to be paying off. Spices and fat content continue to get better each year. But there was a lot of meat to grind and a lot of spices to weigh.

The results from the day included:

  • Merguez lamb sausage
  • Chorizo (pork)
  • Jalapeno (pork)
  • Poblano (pork)
  • Italian (pork)
  • and about 12 lb of beef hot dogs.

I did not take any pictures of the pork sausage work, but below are a few images of the hot-dog process.

Here’s one plate of the hot dogs (pre-smoking).

Below is the freshly ground beef with a paste of spices, ready to be mixed. The clear bowl is large, and this is about 10lb of beef.

Below, meat is in the stuffer and ready to go. This F.Dick stuffer holds 12 lbs of meat in the can.

I did not take a photo of the 45 minutes I spent untangling the pre-salted sheep casings for these hot dogs. I buy my casings from Butcher and Packer in Michigan. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of everything they send me, but I do not understand the knot tying technique used by those guys. I had a major (time consuming) challenge unraveling the knotted mess of sheep intestines, which were used on these hot dogs.  If anyone can shed some light on a reasonable technique to pull these out of the salted bag and unravel, please share some hints. Once the knotty mess was untangled and rinsed with clean cold water, everything worked seamlessly.

And below are the final dogs ready for drying in the fridge over night. The smoke sticks to the surface of the hot dogs much better if the surface is dry.

This is where the photography ended for the project. But the next steps involved hot-smoking these dogs, and then plunging them into  ice water to quickly cool them. Finally, I cut the links into individual dogs, and vacuum sealed them in packs of four or six. Hot dog night at our house is looking good for a while.

My next blog post will be an update on Herschel the prosciutto and the status of other drying meat in the cooler. There is a real nice collection of treats down there right now, and many will be ready to taste soon. Duck salami, two coppas, a large carne salata. Can’t wait!  Herschel’s current batting average and other status as of today are:

  • 30 of 30 days salting complete
  • 90 of 90 days of drying complete
  • 53 of 365 days of aging complete. (10 months to go)

The leg still looks and smells good. The new cooler is working well.