I LOVE FOOD.
I love everything about food. I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love sharing it and I love understanding it. Last Christmas my boyfriend bought me a voucher to attend a one day cookery school at River Cottage and almost a year later I finally made it to the Devon farmhouse I had seen so many times on the television. A winter weekend away to the coast is something I always romanticise about, wrapping up warm and braving the brisk breeze of the sea air. We stayed at a pub in a local fishing town appropriately named Beer, whose cobble beach is lined with beach huts, a selection of charming fishing boats and heaps of colourful nets and floats.
Early on Sunday in the coastal drizzle of a December morning I set out to make my way to the farm to attend my ‘Meat curing and smoking‘ course. And after frantically tearing round the country side in various wrong directions I received a phone call from the guys at river cottage directing me the right way (thanks guys!). A bumpy ride in a tractor trailer took me and a dozen other eager wanna-be’s down to the farm, with each new pot hole in the track knocking more excitement into us that the last. My course was made up of a small group of four; a chap about to move to the country with plans to keep pigs as part of a new lifestyle, two old school friends from wales with one who had family background of keeping pigs… and me. We tentatively made our way through to what would be our classroom for the day. Awaiting us inside was a whole half a pig with its head still intact and four chairs sat in front of it with four fresh white aprons hung over the back. Ta daaaa!
Our tutor Steven Lamb – perhaps one of the most engaging teachers I’ve ever had – introduced himself and gave us an outline of what we would be doing throughout the day, and swiftly after he explained we would be butchering the pig ourselves he ordered over five glasses of the local apple cider brandy! My sort of teacher – if only my classes in college had started this way then I might have applied myself a bit more! ha ha – only joking….. (I’m probably not joking)
We donned our aprons, toasted to Christmas and downed our apple brandy, then got to work on the pig which was one of the farms very own. Under the instruction of our tutor we took it in turns to chop, slice, saw and dismantle our swine learning each step of the way what each part of the pig is, how you can use and how not to let any part of the pig go to waste. There is a huge respect for the animal at River cottage in both life and death and I love their ethos of using quality local and seasonal ingredients and not letting anything go to waste.
I’ve been quite selective with the photos I’ve used on here as I know not everyone has a steel lined stomach like me – apologies to anyone if you find any of this offensive.
Butchering the pig was a surprise part of the course that I wasn’t expecting (although that might be because I didn’t read the course notes properly) but I was so grateful to get the opportunity. It really gives you a whole new understanding of the meat you’re using and you become much more appreciative of what you have to work with.
When we finished it was time to move on the curing and smoking. We made four different types of bacon. We made chorizo; sausage machines are fun. We made pastrami and bresaola. We brined ham. We cold smoked and hot smoked. I now have big plans to build* a cold smoker in the back garden.
(*get my boyfriend to build)
And then we ate. We ate face bacon, back bacon, streaky bacon and pancetta. We ate devilled kidney and fried brain that had just come fresh from our pig – both of which were surprisingly delicious. Even the brain. Yep. I ate brain. We ate smoked cured pork and smoked chicken. And we tasted Blue-Peter-style-here’s-one-I-made-earlier samples of everything we’d just been making. AND we had the most amazing lunch cooked for us with ingredients sourced solely from the farm. And washed it all down with locally made cider. Oh, and dessert. I ate a lot that day – it was amazing.
I loved my River Cottage experience and hope to go back to do more cookery school days. I came away away full of enthusiasm to put my new skills into action. Infact at the first opportunity I had, I marched into town to my local butchers and ordered a pair of pigs cheeks. “Do you want these scoring or anything?” the bemused looking butcher asked me before he disappeared out to the back room. “No thanks” I said smugly “I’m making face bacon”.