Friday, January 06, 2006


Well, we did it! And there was a lot of "it" to do. Our half pig weighed in at 112 pounds.

I can't say enough about the meat processor we went to. It's called Fries Frozen Foods, and it's in the town of Millen, Ga., in the uncharted region south of Augusta. "Fries" is the family name, and it's pronounced "freeze."

The proprietor, Bobby Fries, graduated from Auburn University in the early 1970s and was accepted to Mercer Law School. But he went home to work for his father that summer (as he had done most of his life) and just couldn't leave. Meat processing was in his blood...and, he figured, the world probably had enough lawyers.

He does things right. The plant is small and so clean that you could probably eat off the floor. There's a real smokehouse on site. Mr. Fries disapproves of the way the majority of processors inject hams with artificial flavor, paint them with liquid smoke, bake them for an hour, and call them "cured." He cures and smokes his meats the old-fashioned way. A giant stack of bagged hickory chips in the storeroom bears witness to this fact.

He commissioned a spice company in Texas to make a proprietary sausage mix for him. He tested scores of samples before finding the perfect one. He had to go out of state to find a producer, since most sausage mixes are made with extracts rather than real spices.

Bobby Fries's son had meat processing in his blood, too, and decided to work for the family business rather than finishing college the way his father encouraged him to. But he was killed several years ago, so now Mr. Fries figures that when he retires, the business will close. No grocery-store butcher can do what he does; they simply don't have the skill set, because grocery stores receive meat already cut up from the big corporations.

I don't know why I'm writing this, except if anyone's looking for a direction in life, you could do a lot worse than apprenticing with Bobby Fries. I really hope these old-fashioned ways don't die out.

Anyhow, the pig. The first order of business was to put the liver, half head, and trotters in the freezer, because there is plenty to do on processing day without even beginning to think about those things.

We put the s.o.'s laptop, with the Pig in a Day DVD loaded in it, in a handy location on the back porch (AKA processing area), sharpened the knives, made up a tub of bleach water, and started cutting. When all the cutting was done, we did a little charcuterie. Here's what we ended up with:

• One giant rack and one mini rack of ribs
• Three big slabs of bacon (currently curing in a salty, brown-sugary rub)
• A 19.5-pound ham (currently submerged in a giant bucket of cidery brine)
• Eight one-inch-thick loin chops
• Four thin boneless shoulder chops
• A tenderloin
• A gigantic boneless rolled loin roast
• Several other rolled roasts whose names I forget
• A hock
• 81, yes, 81 sausages (Italian, English breakfast, and a few experimental chorizos)
• I'm probably forgetting a whole bunch of other things

Yesterday we never had a proper dinner--it was sort of beside the point. Late in the afternoon we fried up a piece of belly and reveled in its deep, porky flavor. Several other times we fried up little patties of sausage mix for quality control purposes. I would make the Italian sausage a little less salty if I had it to do again. Otherwise I am more than pleased with our efforts.

At this point, the majority of the excess fat is in the oven, rendering into homemade lard. The dogs have been sniffing around obsessively for a full day, trying to figure out if there's a way they can get sausages off the ceiling hooks on the porch (but that chance is fast fading...everything but the chorizo is done hanging and has been moved to the freezer).

The half pig cost us $237 including processing. If you do the math, I'm sure you can see how profitable this venture was. Even if it were not a free-range pig with an organic diet that included everything from cowpeas to corn, it would still be an incredible bargain.

I will post a few more pics of the processing as the mood strikes me.