The Pig


At age 30, we moved to Massachusetts. Our sons were five and three. At age 54 we moved to San Francisco. All but one year of that time, we lived at 48 Harrison Street, Newton Highlands MA 02138. 617-969-3359 It was the time when we embraced adulthood, raised our children and forged lasting friendships. A time like no other in our lives. This is about revisiting New England, not for reflection and nostalgia, but for activity and exploration.
Our visit was centered around the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) annual Nose to Tail Pig Processing Workshop during Columbus Day weekend. Before, we made our way to the Belfast Maine environs, and after, we drove across the whole of New England to Cooperstown, New York, and from there to Newton Highlands.
The story has a beginning, middle and end. You recently read the beginning, “Getting to the Pig.” And here is the middle and the raison d’etre, “The Pig” where we will journey from two snorting and snuffling pigs to some hams, bacon, sausages and the like.

Pig One

We called this fella “Pig One” He’s been in this stall about two days to get used to his surroundings. He’s had his food withheld but given plenty of water. He’s met the farmers, Paul and Everett, so he knows them and is not afraid.

the big room with tables in a “U” shape

We met in this big, high room each morning for coffee and a muffin and to discuss what will be going on that day. Eric — at the corner table — says that today, Paul and Everett, our farmer instructors, will lead us through the process of killing and dressing two pigs.

The day was cloudy and quite cool, perfect weather for our task at hand. We walked across the field to greet Pig One and be instructed how he will meet his demise. The killing must be quick and efficient and cause no trauma in the pig. In this case, Paul will shoot the pig with a .22 caliber pistol aimed at the center of a triangle formed by the pigs eyes and nose. — I was surprised at how calm the pig was, Paul walked into the stall and slowly up to the pig’s head and BANG. — The pig will writhe violently, so stand clear, a flailing leg could cause serious injury.

As soon as possible, the pig will be “stuck” by inserting a knife just above the breast bone and thrusting up. This will cut the main artery that runs above the breast bone and the pigs own heart will pump all of the blood out onto the straw of the pen. Very efficient. That whole process took about 30 seconds.

spreader attached to the pig

A spreader is attached to the pig’s hind feet and he will be picked up and hosed down to wash off mud, blood and straw.

We will process two pigs, the first will be scraped clean of his hair and dressed with his skin on. Often, for hams or bacon, the cut with skin on is preferred. Excess skin can be boiled and ground into sausage, as well. The other pig will be skinned.

Very early, a trough was filled with water and a fire built under the trough. Now the water temperature is just under boiling and the pig will be lowered into the water and sloshed around. The hot water bath eases the scraping… just like shaving, guys.

the pig, being guided into very hot water

The table to the right has been washed and sanitized with a vinegar water solution. Out he comes, onto the table.

pig on the table

scraping starts at the head

For this pig, the head will be cut off whole, to be boiled and made into headcheese.

students are gathered to scrape

One doesn’t think of a pig having a lot of hair, but this pig has a lot of hair.

some of the tools for butchery

here, farmer Paul is carefully making a cut along the breast bone

now, a saw is used to cut through the bone

In each case, Paul starts the work and the students continue.

hosing down the pig

Cleanliness is extremely important as we’re dealing with fresh — oh so fresh — meat.

beginning to cut the pig into two “sides”

As the pig is cut, care is taken to not cut or rupture any of the “private parts,” (bung and penis).

Eric is catching the entrails in a bucket.

Meanwhile, the penis and bung are held well clear.

the entrails are placed on the — once again sterilized — table to be sorted

covered boxes in the foreground

The lungs, liver, heart, kidneys are separated and put into clean, covered containers to be prepared later for lunches. For this butchering, the intestines will not be cleaned to make sausage casings, as that is a long and difficult process. If we were, the large intestines to the left would be used for cured meat — salami and such — and the small intestines for fresh sausages.

this is Pig Two. He is hung by his head to start the skinning process

make the first cut

The pig skin is cut with a utility knife — what we architects call a mat knife. (you’ll see two or three in the kit of tools, above) The blade is set to about 1/4 inch exposed, so the skin is cut, but not the flesh of the pig.

the first strip is peeled back

Once a pair of cuts are made, a cut is made across the top of, enough of the skin to grip is cut loose, and the strip is pulled off, not unlike peeling a banana.

soon there are many strips cut

The beat goes on, and finally, four “sides” are in the cooler in the kitchen.

two guys tote a half beast into the kitchen

Eric maps out the pig parts.

Shoulder to his right, the loin under his left fingers, ham to his left by the lady with the pig shirt.

here, the bacon is cut out

The bacon will be brined overnight, then smoked in a smoke tent.

Maple Cured Bacon
From Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn

5 pounds pork belly, skin on (we also processed skinless pork belly for comparison)
50 grams salt
12 grams pink salt
50 grams maple sugar or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup

Combine salts and sugar, add syrup.
Rub cure over entire surface of the meat
Place skin side down in a 2 gallon Ziploc bag. The meat will release water into the cure to create a brine, and the meat needs to stay in contact with this brine throughout the curing process.
Refrigerate for 7 days, turning and mushing brine around every other day.
Remove, rinse, pat dry, place on a rack over a sheet tray and place in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours to dry.
Hot smoke to an internal temperature of 150°F (about 3 hours).
After bacon is cold, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.

Of necessity, we short cut the curing process and cold smoked for a day and night. Had for breakfast on Monday. YUM.



two in the cooler

Back at the ranch, we relax on Saturday evening over a nice dinner of soup, salad, good bread and cheese.

While Eric and I were out, the last of the vegetables were picked and dug and the hoop house cleaned for the winter.

some big carrots and beets for soups and roasting


2 thoughts on “The Pig

  1. A very unique experience. Was it your first time being involved with slaughtering & preparing pig parts? You certainly described everything clearly.


  2. Pam,
    I had been to demonstrations of breaking down a side of pig, but that was where we started with the side on a table in a classroom or kitchen. Never from a pig snorting in straw.


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