Going whole-hog with a half pig: how I got meat for the winter and decided to start a food blog

To really get what food is all about, you have to make it. I don’t mean you can’t enjoy it if you don’t get your hands in there, but to really get a sense of how a good meal comes together, to understand why a dish is successful or not, there’s nothing quite like practical experience.

This fall, I’ve taken the do-it-yourself approach farther than usual. A lot of baking, to better understand leavening, gluten formation, hydration – and generally, how you make better bread. I made breads I’d never tried before, like San Francisco Sourdough, baguette and brioche (which was the most successful of the three).

On the meat side of things, I bought half of an organic pig from a small farmer, who raises about twenty pigs at a time. Top notch stuff, and a huge hog, at that: 123 pounds for half the pig, without the head (next year, I’ll keep the head, too).

Serrano-to-be and other cuts from the big half-pig

Serrano-to-be and other cuts from the big half-pig

Bringing that down to single-meal servings was quite an operation: about four hours of cutting and sawing, done with my in-laws and my wife, on a Friday afternoon, with the reward of large, delicious pork chops at dinner time. And that’s not counting the sausage making, rillettes and managing the ham’s salt cure. Tiring, but highly satisfying stuff.

The whole operation yielded: a 28-pound ham that has now been salt-cured and will now hang in my root cellar for a year or so, as it turns into jamon Queberico, as I call my local version of serrano; six roasts from the shoulder and the loin; two portions of pork chops; five bags of pork cubes; rillettes and cretons; ribs and pigs’ feet; four bags of cooking sausages (two Italian, two andouille-style); two dozen chorizos, almost dry after hanging in the root cellar for a month or so; four large slabs of bacon (two cured with maple syrup, two with a drier salt and spices cure), three of which were hot-smoked in my oven, and one which is hanging in my root cellar to become lard séché, an air-dried delicacy I’ve learned to enjoy through my Swiss in-laws and trips to Valais, the Swiss Canton at the very heart of the Alps.

In short, plenty of meat for the winter. Tasty, consistent, snout and shoulders above anything mass produced – and not much more expensive, when you buy in large amounts.

Two hot-smoked slabs of bacon. The maple-cured slab is on the right (note the difference in color).

Two hot-smoked slabs of bacon. The maple-cured slab is on the right (note the difference in color).

The half-pig is now a gift that keeps on giving. Whether it’s the rillettes, the roast pork shoulder with root vegetables, the tuscan-style braised pork with pancetta, tomatoes and red wine, or the best BLT sandwiches around, the pleasure keeps on going, and going, and going…

From hog to blog

OK, but how does this explain my decision to bring my food experiences to the blogosphere?

I actually started sharing culinary experiences on the web through a little Twitter hashtag I created. Originally, the tag was #tcl for Twitter Cooking Live, as a nod to #ttl (Twitter Taste Live) but since that tag got appropriated without warning, the idea moved on to a new (more descriptive) hashtag, #cookinglive, adopted by a couple on spoonfuls… I mean, handfuls of Twitter foodies.

So that operation of sharing kitchen-related experiences was already in the air. And then, as the half-pig operation was going on, I got this Tweet from my friend Rachel Black, a foodie and anthropologist:

@RemyCharest I can almost taste it. What a great project. I hope you will write about it.

To which I replied:

@nebbiolata Stop it. You’re going to convince me to start a food blog. ;-)

And that’s where she got me thinking, with her next reply:

@RemyCharest one cannot write about wine alone.

She’s right, you know. Wine is part of a whole sensory and cultural experience that surrounds one of our main daily activities. So writing The Food Case seems like a natural extension of what started two years ago on The Wine Case. And more opportunity to explore the world of wine matching.

See you at the next meal!

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20 Comments

  1. Posted December 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Bravo! And thank you for launching The Food Case. I do enjoy following your cooking live on Twitter, but at times I yearn for more than 140 characters at a go. And I’m beside myself with envy of the swinous delights that will carry you through the winter… let me know how the jamon Queberico turns out. I may have to pay you a visit for a sample.

  2. Posted December 16, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    My man, when you go for pig, you sure don’t go halfway! Save some bacon for me!

  3. Posted December 18, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Felicitations, Remy! Great stuff. I look forward to reading about your culinary adventures from now on…..can a book deal (in both languages!) be far behind?

  4. Posted December 19, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the good words, Arjun. Book deal would be a logical step, wouldn’t it?

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3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by RemyCharest and Raelinn, Matthew Rorick. Matthew Rorick said: RT @RemyCharest: Just started a food blog: The Food Case, and it's all @nebbiolata's fault. First post: http://bit.ly/5tUY6Y ==>tasty stuff [...]

  2. By Year-old ham, dried bacon and Christmas marvels on December 25, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    [...] in my cellar for a little over a year and some delightful air-dried bacon from this fall’s Operation Half-Pig accompanied the just-finished chardonnay that my father-in-law made from pressings I brought back [...]

  3. By Conversations with winemakers on Twitter on December 31, 2009 at 12:16 am

    [...] I must also point out that Twitter also helped me get a new food blog started, as I explained in my first post on Foodcase.ca. Because the conversations are more than just distracting. They can also be engaging and [...]

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