Food from farm to fork – the journey continues

4 April 2013 - 10:59am -- Gerry Danby
James with the lamb

Yesterday at Trealy Farm was a voyage of discovery and understanding , today our journey continues as we discover how to make good use of the whole animal. It was James’ turn to lead.

First, a hearty breakfast of the famous Trealy Farm boudin noir (black pudding), bacon and freshly laid eggs with plenty of good bread and all the accompaniments you might expect set us up for the day.

We gathered around a traditional wooden long butcher’s table, which I learn are now back in favour for preparing meat. The sheep with whom we had become acquainted the previous day was now laid out before us. James sought to dispel any mystery that might surround how to butcher a lamb and professed his own skills in the matter were modest. A good sharp, slightly flexible knife and a bone saw is all you need, he explained. First, James removed the legs, then it was a collaborative effort with each of us taking a turn at cutting and sawing to prepare the shoulders, loin, neck, breast and soon we had a fully jointed lamb carcase displayed much as could be seen in any butcher’s shop window. The difference was this lamb had a story to tell.

When it came to butchering a pig I was in no doubt that it too had a story to tell, that it had been cared for throughout its life and which we should now respect by making good use of the whole animal. A pig, James explained, has four fats. The flare fat is the only fat inside the cavity of the pig and this can be rendered for lard. It never goes in salami or sausage since it is too soft. Once rendered for lard what remains are the authentic pork scratchings. The other fats are the belly, shoulder and back fat, and it is the hard back fat which is used in salami and sausages.

Butchering the pig took a little longer but proceeded along roughly the same lines as the lamb, with the added task of removing the head and sawing it in half. Again, it was a collaborative effort, undertaken with much thought and concentration. Perhaps just to ensure that we all went away knowing how to make good use of the whole animal, Nicky came along to show us how easy it was to make a really tasty head brawn. We discovered one had been prepared earlier and awaited us at lunch.

Head brawn

Nicky demonstrates how to make a delicious head brawn

In the afternoon we were introduced to the basics of charcuterie, starting with pancetta. We each took about a kilo of belly pork and rubbed it with curing salt. It then needs a week or more in the refrigerator when the salt is washed off and it is hung in a cool dry place for a while longer. James explained that a mould may develop on the surface of the pancetta and provided us with a helpful rule of thumb in determining whether this was a good or a bad thing.

Clearly, the pancetta will need to be finished off at home and we moved on to chorizo.

There are, it seems, as many variations of chorizo as places in which it is made. The only thing they have in common is minced pork and paprika. The rest is local custom whether fresh, cured or dried. We started with 10 kg of pork using leg meat and the back fat. Note here that the leg in a commercial pig is 70 % water but far less in a traditional breed. The pork is soon minced and mixed to ensure the fat is evenly distributed. We add curing salt and the paprika, plus some spices, whatever takes your fancy really but no more than three or four.

The sausage casings are soaked in warm water to remove the salt and make them more pliable. The casings are then filled using a small sausage stuffer. When I was a kid I had a Saturday job in the local butchers and one of the highlights was being allowed to make the sausages. I wondered whether I could still remember how to make traditional sausage links and discovered I could but I also quickly learned that was precisely not what to do with a semi-dried sausage like chorizo, so sadly my linking had to be undone. It’s obvious really if I had thought about it. The chorizo were another one to finish off at home but would be ready a few days later.

Sausage stuffer

Ruth preparing the sausage stuffer

If you want fresh sausage use ordinary salt and breadcrumb (you can get de-yeasted bread crumbs for a better flavour) for the traditional British banger. If you want to experiment try polenta in place of the breadcrumbs.

Finally, James demonstrated how to make an emulsion sausage such as the traditional German frankfurter. Using lean pork meat and back fat blended in a domestic food processor with spices and curing salt. The mixture should emulsify much as it does when making a traditional mayonnaise when it can be made into sausages.

In addition to the frankfurter, the emulsion is the basis of French garlic sausage and Italian mortadella in which separately cured meat cubes are mixed in to the emulsion prior to filling the casing.

When the session came to a close we had both witnessed and been participants in literally every stage of the journey food takes to our plate, well almost as that was about to come!

We sat down for supper that evening having hardly had a moment to ourselves, so much had occupied our time. It was, once again, time for the ‘fork’ part of the story. Once more Nicky came up trumps with a spiced Moroccan style stew made with lambs hearts, possibly my favourite dish of the weekend, and over dinner we shared our thoughts and recollections of the weekend. We finally departed Trealy Farm, saying our farewells to Ruth, James and Nicky, laden not only with what we had made but also what felt like half a pig – and a fresh caught rabbit for good measure. Much more importantly, we took away a host of memories of the weekend which would provide true food for thought in the days to come.

It took me a while to take in everything I had observed, felt and learned from my weekend on The Meat Course at Trealy Farm. I still am taking it in, making all the connections and seeing how so much of farming and food is so intimately inter-connected. If you want to be connected with your food, and we all should be, I can think of no better way of going about it than spending a weekend at Trealy Farm. One thing above all is clear to me. The survival of sustainable welfare-friendly British agriculture will in no small measure be down to the efforts of Ruth and James and others like them who share a deep understanding of farming and the cycle of life.


The Meat Course costs £270 per person or £255 per person for two people booking together. Inclusive in the price is two nights’ accommodation and meals from Saturday breakfast to Sunday evening meal.

Trealy Farm is one of the UK’s leading artisan charcuterie producers, blending traditional practices and innovative technology to make great tasting products.

If you are looking for equipment to make charcuterie yourself take a look at Weschenfelder who can supply all you might need – apart from the meat.

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