If you're looking for info about our delicious Pasture-Based Pork, click here. If you're looking to get on the list for the 2017 season, click here. If you are still figuring this whole buying direct from the farmer thing, read on:
Buying a whole or half (or quarter, though we don't do that with hogs) animal is nearly always intimidating the first time. If you haven't done it, it can seem weird. One of our customers thought they were going to be handed half a pig, not yet cut up and somehow have to figure out what to do with it.
Most of us, myself included, grew up going to the grocery store and grabbing a few pounds of meat here and there. Until recently, not many of us were really paying attention to where that meat was coming from and didn't care much about the quality of the meat, though maybe we were familiar with which cuts were better than others. Add to that the loss of cooking culture, resulting in the use of a smaller number of cuts in the vast majority of our recipes, and it's no wonder that receiving an entire animal feels overwhelming. If that weren't enough, it's a significant outlay of cash to purchase animals this way.
So, if you are thinking about purchasing a part or whole animal of any kind, and are feeling any of the above stresses, here's a few bits to chew on:
What do I do with all this meat?
You eat it, mostly. But the question is reasonable. From two angles. The first is the shear volume of meat that you receive. Even half of a pig still yields around 80 pounds usually, which if you lay it out on your table looks like this:
That much meat will pack standard vertical freezer on a fridge/freezer combo to the gills. That's why we always recommend getting another freezer. They are ubiquitous on craigslist. We have 2 vertical freezers, 2 vertical freezer/fridge combos and 2 chest freezers. Most we got for free. Total actual cost has been a little over $100. Of course we've been lucky on that front, but it really isn't too tough to find an affordable freezer. And I promise you will never, ever regret it.
The second angle on this question is also very sensible. Usually what people really mean is, how do I cook the cuts of meat I'm less familiar with? One thing to note is that the butcher will work with you to decide which cuts make the most sense for your family in those instances where there is a choice. For example, we don't get sausage, instead we ask for more ground pork, because it's more versatile.
Really though, this is the fun part. Getting more cuts that you wouldn't typically choose to pick up makes for a fantastic opportunity to expand the family pallet. We've been buying whole beef and pork for years now and it has really afforded us the opportunity to grow in our cooking.
But what about the weird stuff?
Ok yes, if you wanted to, you could learn how to cook a pigs head. It's actually really good and there are a surprising number of ways to use it. We typically keep it simple and use it for stock. Then we give it to the chickens to pick clean and finally the skull and jaw become a soil amendment. When you buy an animal this way, you are actually, legally speaking, purchasing the whole animal, not just the meat. That means meat, bones, fat, organs, skin, feet or whatever.
Fat can be rendered into lard, bones can be used to make stock, skin becomes leather, feet can be pickled. There are really so many ways to use all of this. But most of our customers choose to forgo the extras. We don't mind that because then we get to keep it. Our dogs are in love with pig feet and liver.
Friend, that's a lot of cash.
For a little perspective on this topic, please check out our article laying out a brief philosophy on the cost of food. What we produce is more expensive than buying cuts from a middle of the road grocery store, but on balance it's less expensive than buying them from the fancy grocery store. And, it's a way to vote with your dollars for the kind of food system that is desperately needed to meet both our present and future challenges.
Typically though, it's not the cost that so daunting, it's the fact that you pay it all at once. It does change the way you do your monthly food budget to eat this way. It means you start to build into your food budget a savings plan for larger one time animal purchases like this. After a time it doesn't feel so daunting, especially since you are now purchasing less meat from the store.
In order to make this easier, we do offer our pigs on lay-away. We usually take deposits for hogs in the beginning of the year and there is typically 6-10 months between the initial deposit and slaughter. The remainder is always due at slaughter, but we recommend people pay for their pigs throughout the season, both because it's typically easier for them and helpful to us. Spreading the cashflow throughout the year allows us to front less cash in the production of our hogs.
Going whole hog.
When people ask if they should get a half or whole hog, some context is helpful. If they have a family of more than two, and want the meat to last them for most of the year, they should go whole hog. If there is only two of them and they only eat pork occasionally, a half hog is probably a better fit.
The last thing we should say is that the increase in meat quality when you purchase this way from a good producer is pretty unbelievable. Be warned, it may ruin store bought meat for you forever. But maybe that's not such a bad thing.