Friday, November 6, 2009

Baconian Science

This past week I butchered a hog in what felt like record time (about 2 hours) and it didn't even hurt. At first I thought the reason it went so quickly was the combined result of a good night's sleep, sharp knives, a new saw blade and, well, rock star butchers don't dawdle for god's sake. However, I later realized that part of what made the work go so fast was the relatively huge amount of soft intramuscular and extramuscular fat. The fat was so soft that the knife just whizzed through like striped bass fry through a school of bluefish.

Too bad soft pork fat makes the meat no good for aging more than a couple of months. The unsaturated fatty acids that make up the bulk of the fat molecules in soft fat oxidize and become rancid more rapidly than saturated fatty acids. So none of the hog that I cut last week is going into anything that needs to age for a long time and most of it became chops, roasts and fresh sausage.

Here is a slide show of me taking off some of the bacon.




This group of pictures shows pork bellies being prepared for hanging in the aging room.

16 comments:

Jessika said...

How do you measure this in pigs that are on a specific diet such as pata negra ham pigs whose diet is predominantly aycorns and a few other nuts. If you have fats, on a pig that can go rancid fast if you subject it to storing, added to the fact that the pig has had a diet where the contents too are subject to a rather fast rancidity. Do you need to balance this somehow?

Andrew said...

Bob
Is there a relatively easy way to tell the difference in fats beyond hard vs. soft? I get an Old Spot that is very fatty and I'd like to know what I'm dealing with (I generally don't do dry curing, but it'd be nice to know).

Bob del Grosso said...

Jessika
Pigs that eat lots of acorns or other types of nuts lay down fat that is rich in mononunsaturated fats. Monunsaturated fats are less prone to oxidation than are the polyunsaturated fats that result from feeding the pigs corn and soy which most American hogs eat for most of their lives. Finally saturated fats which are made by the pig when it either has very little fat in it's diet or if it is fed a diet rich in saturated fat, is the longest lasting of all of the fats.

So, I think the answer to your question is that pork that will last the longest will have come from a hog that has eaten lots of monounsatured fat -e.g. acorns- and or saturated fat -e.g. avocados, beef fat.

Bob del Grosso said...

Andrew

Yes. Soft fat looks greasy. Hard fat looks dry. Soft fat is mushy, hard fat is very stiff.

Michael said...

Sounds like you have been spoiled by the fat on the mangalitsa!

Jessika said...

So, just so I get this straight, if you were to have pigs fed predominantly on acorns, other monounsaturated nuts rather than on corn you could completely or partly eliminate the problem with rancidity?

If so than that should be another (in a biiiig numger) argument in providing good diets to cattle and pigs.
I don't quite understand what you mean with beef fat though. Are pigs omnivorous? Living in Europe and having been through one BSE-panic I'd rather not see that any animal fat being fed to cattle and pigs, a diet created for cost efficient reasons. Had they studied history for a bit or at least anthropological history they would have found the disease kuru, present in a small tribe where it was customary to consume their deceased kin - not cannibalism as such - but as part of the burial ceremony to allow the spirit of the dead to live on). But then cost benefit analysis doesn't yield to history.

Bob del Grosso said...

Jessika
Yes, when the amount of monounsaturated and saturated fat in pork is increased the onset of rancidity is delayed.

And yes, pigs are most definitely omnivorous and in fact will prey on animals including other pigs. I share your concern about BSE, but to my knowledge the prions that cause it are restricted to nerve tissue, not fat. So it should be safe to feed pigs fresh solid beef fat.

Heath said...

Bob - it is a pity they fed the pig the wrong stuff, producing a lot of soft fat. I think of that as a "wasted pig" - a topic I've written about:

http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2008/02/jess-thompson-on-our-bacon-no-wasted.html


Even for fresh products, soft pork tastes noticeably worse than neutral-tasting hard fat. Besides the rancidity, there's the problem that the pig's fat tastes like the fat it ate, which isn't normally very tasty.

Jessika - pigs are omnivorous. They really love meat: http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2009/06/wild-boar-documentary.html

If you love your pigs, you'll feed them meat and ice cream - the stuff pigs crave.

If you force them to eat an all vegetarian diet, not only are you doing something unnatural and arguably cruel, but you are also, in the case of the piglets, probably hurting their growth and health. I've written about that.

http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2009/09/cargill-update.html

Nobody has been able to make pigs catch prion diseases like BSE by feeding them meat. Pigs have been cannibalistic omnivores for millions of years. They have developed mechanisms that prevent them from catching prion diseases by eating contaminated food.

Jessika said...
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Heath said...

Jessika,

Pigs aren't cattle.

Here's more on cattle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle


Here's more on rendering:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rendering_(food_processing)#Advantages_and_disadvantages_of_rendering

The blood and bone meal has to go somewhere. Rendering and feeding it is one way to deal with it.

Jessika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heath said...

Jessika,

The fact that cattle can catch diseases by eating animal protein is not a valid reason to prevent pigs from eating rendered products, which is exactly what you suggested when you wrote, "..I'd rather not see that any animal fat being fed to cattle and pigs, a diet created for cost efficient reasons..."

What you suggest would harm piglet health. That's unacceptable; so long as my pigs need animal protein to be healthy, I feel its my obligation to give it to them. History is on my side. Pigs have been scavenging carrion for millions of years. People have been feeding meat scraps to pigs for thousands of years.

Feeding pigs rendered products is economical and - most important - good for pig health. Denying pigs what they need (and love to eat) is wrong.

As Harris explained more than a hundred years ago, Pigs will eat food which, but for them, would be wasted. That includes rendered products.

Jessika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heath said...

Jessika - I'm not defensive.

I'm tired of ignorant people inventing animal feeding policies which, if implemented, would be bad for pig health, bad for the environment and bad for consumers.

The fact that you don't know if pigs are cattle or not suggest to me that you don't know much about pigs.

It isn't "short term thinking" to feed animals rendered products. We've fed pigs food waste for thousands of years. That's why pigs are so popular; they eat food that, but for pigs, would be waste.

Your statement, "Research is rarely, in large scale meat production, a significant factor" is also ignorant.

Obviously, when feeding thousands of animals, it pays to do research into optimal feeding - because the marginal benefits are economically significant, and given that the animals are (when raised in those numbers) inevitably commodities, if one doesn't feed the animals optimally, you'll get driven out of business.

Hence, your blanket statement, "Research is rarely, in large scale meat production, a significant factor" isn't in agreement with what I see. If anything, it is the smaller producers, who don't have an economic incentive to be maximally efficient, who ignore research.

Jessika said...

Then; alea iacta est

Jessika said...

I have, after some consideration, decided to remove most of my comments in this thread despite it disrupting the "discussion" and turning it into a monologue. But so I was an ignorant idiot. I have at one time been suspected of having a prion disease. I fortunately did not. I do currently not have access to my English dictionary making what would be a simpler language distinction more difficult.
In all my ignorance I find it terribly off-putting to be used as a pinata.
All this said, good luck with your farming and whatever you find is the best way of feeding your pigs.