Swine and Cheese

A passion for Pigs and Food

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Neale’s kitchen garden

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March

Last time I mentioned about Neale’s first attempt at growing a variety of fruit and veg in his four raised beds was back in March when he had just created the actual beds. It’s amazing how quickly, just four months on, we now have a glut of the most delicious vegetables. We’re learning hard and fast from our mistakes as well as our successes such as one large lettuce a day is too much for just the two of us, peas need covering with netting to prevent the pea moth maggots from spoiling numerous pods and our broad beans are covered with little black bugs. As for the raspberries, big mistake not covering them with netting. Every morning for the last week I walk past the raspberries on my way to feed the chickens but if I don’t pick them there and then they are gone by the end of the day. I’ve even caught a pheasant repeatedly jumping to snatch gooseberries from our standard gooseberry trees – quite cute to watch!

One of the nicest parts about growing your own is deciding what to cook based on what looks ripe and ready right outside your door. All the food magazines have countless seasonal recipes to try and it has been really fun to try lots of them out such as the chicken with broad beans in a creamy dijon sauce; linguine with goats cheese, peas and broad beans; spinach & red chard lasagne; french bean, pea & hazelnut salad; raspberry and gooseberry jam; beetroot in white sauce; lamb with carrots, new potatoes, shallots, garlic, peas & broad beans ……  The other really good reason for growing your own apart from the freshness is the savings it’s made to my housekeeping budget. I have been surprised though at how little difference there is in flavour to freshly dug or picked to some of the veg you can buy locally at farm shops or even supermarkets. Perhaps that has more to do with the varieties we have chosen to grow this year but I must admit I was expecting to be blown away by the flavour which I haven’t been for the most part. All tastes perfectly nice and I’m sure side by side with the usual supermarket veg ours would have the edge on flavour. We have much to learn – a work in progress as you might say!

June

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Written by Sarah

July 11th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Fruit and veg

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Grand Canal, Venice

Butternut squash ravioli

Having just returned from a few days in Venice for Neale’s birthday it never ceases to amaze me how many delicious ways there are of serving vegetables when you are freed from the constraints of the English cooking mentality of meat and two veg! Venice wasn’t cheap by any means however we managed to eat splendidly for a reasonable sum each day and the variety of dishes on offer was mouth watering. I may be being a little harsh but I do find English cuisine, in most restaurants, to be very formulaic and predictable when it comes to how to best present vegetables. Sad considering there are plenty of recipes out there showing us how to use all sorts of vegetables in imaginative ways. I do get so bored when in a supermarket, looking at all the fruit and veg on offer. Most of it is grown far away, picked before achieving full ripeness, grown for yield and uniformity and invariably tastes of very little. I am always blown away by freshly picked, home grown fruit and veg especially when the varieties are particularly good for flavour. On this note I’m very excited because Neale has built four raised beds this year and is currently growing just about everything, although most of it is still under the surface! He does assure me that he has only planted the very best varieties for flavour such as Ratte potatoes, nobbly, yellow Venetian courgettes etc.- I’ll let you know but at the moment our cat Gus thinks he’s just had four enormous litter trays dug and the rabbits Neale worked so hard to keep out of the garden are edging ever closer! Fatally he had rabbit-proof fencing put the whole way round our perimeter but sadly failed to eradicate the last few ‘indigenous’ rabbits before sealing them in.

Gus's litter trays!

Whilst in Venice we were served the most delicious vegetables in dishes such as sea bass on braised red chicory, asparagus lasagne, butternut squash ravioli with pine nuts, home-made gnocchi with scampi and broccoli sauce. Vegetables are either very much integral to the dish or are dressed up so they stand out in their own right rather than being left floundering on the side of the plate as is so often the case in the UK, both in home cooking and in your bog standard restaurants. Perhaps this is why we Brits love Asian cuisine so much with fabulous curries and the equally delicious vegetable side dishes available to take away in virtually every town and village.

As for fruit in the UK don’t get me started. Vile, unripe, flavourless, unappealing mounds of fruit greet you at the entrance to every supermarket. Why oh why is this the case when we have such amazingly good, tasty old species of fruit such as Winter Queening apples for eating, Codlin apples for cooking, quinces and greengages which the shops never seem to offer. Instead we are offered star fruit and rock hard soft fruits, out of season and flown thousand of miles from far flung corners of the globe! We also have the climate for producing the best array of berries, cherries and currants in the warmer months such as loganberries and mulberries, again hardly ever seen commercially. Home grown is fab, and carefully sourced farm shops are very good as are the few amazing green grocers, as ever mostly in London. Organic makes no difference to the flavour but obviously has a feel good factor and is supposedly better for you but I am always sceptical about food classifications. Maybe one day a real foodie will be employed as a buyer for one of the big supermarkets, or better still a few more ‘quality’ greengrocers will pop up – I live in hope!

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Written by Sarah

April 14th, 2010 at 7:25 pm

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Berkshire, Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pork

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If you are easily upset then look away now! I realise I never reported back about the taste of the finished product aka Tallulah, Lola and Oinky, our Berkshire, Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs respectively. Incidentally I have just posted a picture of the deerhound who took a keen interest in Tallulah in the Pig Diary (“Tallulah’s first suitor” episode). I’ve got to admit that it took about a month after their slaughter before I felt like eating any of them. From the image of how they returned from the abattoir you’ll see why I was a little upset especially as it was still obvious who was who. I remember when I was working at the Malton Bacon Factory back in the eighties I started working in the lairage for the first month and as a result I couldn’t eat any pork for that month. It was the association with a living animal that makes it so hard, and especially when you’ve got to know them so well. As before it was bacon that got me back on track again!

From L to R: Tallulah, Oinky and Lola

From L to R: Tallulah, Oinky and Lola

The overriding issue with all three animals has been the enormous amount of fat. How they had enough muscle to support themselves I do not know but Neale and I realise that we severely messed up with the balanced feeding programme. I suspect it was all those treacle puddings. With our next batch of pigs we will be much stricter with what we give them. All three types have tasted delicious but as we still haven’t compared them side by side it is difficult to say, hand on heart, which of the three has the best flavour. Glyn, our Dukeshill butcher, whose opinion I value highly particularly enjoyed the Tamworth shoulder joint we gave him saying it was one of the best pieces of pork he had tasted. Considering he has been in the pig trade for 45 years it must be good. One of the things I’ve noticed with all three types is the skin crackles exceptionally well. Also the fat has that lovely slight yellow tinge to it and every cut has been meltingly tender.

The faggots Neale and Glyn produced using their hearts and livers and lungs (lights as they are known in the trade) and the caul fat were absolutely delicious. They produced about 72 faggots from the three pigs based on our Dukeshill recipe. Neale and Glyn also produced sausages using the intestines, minced pork and fat, chorizo and flitches of bacon (which we have now hanging in our larder) and dry cured several of the legs resulting in delicious York ham. We were also left with numerous joints and chops, belly, tenderloin, ribs, kidneys, trotters. Not one bit of each pig was wasted, we felt we owed them that much with the exception of the heads and obviously the blood as we weren’t present at the killing. Neale really didn’t like seeing the heads of his three pigs bobbing up and down in the curing brine looking up at him, it was too much to bear so the brawn never got made! Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall would be horrified with us.

A Tallulah/Berkshire flitch

A Tallulah/Berkshire flitch

At the moment I’m trying out several recipes to use up the pork so I will report back on those in due course but I do think that for a superior flavour, when it comes to unalduterated pork, free range, rare breeds such as ours take some beating. Less so with dry cured hams and sausages etc. where the subtle flavour is masked by the salt in the case of the ham and seasoning in the case of the sausages. In fact the commercial breeds of pig are better suited for the dry cured hams we make at Dukeshill in terms of conformity. I know we would get numerous complaints about the fattiness of the hams if we were to use these breeds (even when fed correctly!) and as I’ve just said the flavour differences would be indistinguishable.

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Written by Sarah

January 24th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

The Killing Fields

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our happy hens

our happy hens

Very sadly after our weekend on Dartmoor last week we returned to find a fox had killed three of our chickens. It was our fault as we normally have house-sitters but thought we’d chance it for a weekend having seen no sign of any foxes for the last five years. Five years ago our entire flock of sixteen were torn to shreds. Luckily of the three killed this time two were the old Light Sussex hens but annoyingly the fox had also taken our new Buff Sussex hen. They’d certainly put up a fight as the blood and feathers were strewn around the chicken orchard and the pig pen. Fortunately the remaining nine hens seemed fine and remarkably stress free. Perhaps we should be using hens for combat in Afghanistan!

We’ve had our run in with foxes over the years. We used to have a wonderful Welsummer cockerel called Prince Naseem who was huge, proud and a real fighter. When the fox first attacked Prince Naseem’s flock he took on Mr Fox and amazingly survived, but ended up with a permanent crick in his neck. From that day onwards his head was always at an angle which is presumably why he didn’t win the second round with the fox, who came back to massacre the entire flock leaving all of them injured and dying. Before Prince Naseem I had a wonderful White Jersey Giant which I had hatched out after buying her as an egg from the rare breed centre at Onibury outside Ludlow. Edwina was beautiful and very tame. She was the only hen at the time who ate from my hand. When the fox got her he slashed her in three places but I thought she might survive so I kept her alive for three days but eventually she died. I felt terribly guilty for prolonging her agony.fox-hounds-copy

I was so cross when all the chippy, ill informed, anti foxhunting crowd and townie lot were calling for foxhunting to be banned all those years ago. If I had my way I’d kill every single one (fox that is!). Fortunately the ban has been totally unenforceable with the result that just as many foxes are being hunted and destroyed anyway, with farmers resorting to shooting them as well. If anything the fox is worse off and what is so ironic is the foxes have moved into the cities where they are causing havoc with domestic cats, bins etc.. I just wish that less time was wasted in this country on making laws that are ill thought through and useless, based on an appalling lack of knowledge and facts. I don’t personally hunt but I have many friends who do and they are a friendly bunch from all walks of life with an innate understanding of country life and respect for country ways where man and nature have co-existed successfully for centuries.

I have now replaced my latest three casualties with two Marans and a Welsummer from Gobbets Rare Breed Farm near Burwarton. They are twenty weeks old so should start to lay in the next month, fingers crossed.

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Written by Sarah

January 23rd, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Free range

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A Poulet de Bresse

A Poulet de Bresse

At Dukeshill we only use British outdoor reared pigs for our products however I recently met a free range producer of livestock. Our ensuing discussion was extremely interesting. The producer was promoting the “free range tastes better” point of view whereas my personal opinion is that I buy free range entirely due to concerns for the animals’ welfare and not the flavour implications. 

The upshot of all this was I got to wondering what the consumers think about free range. If they prefer the idea of free range was it because of the perceived, enhanced flavour or because they have concerns about animal welfare? 

To give an example I think I must have tried every commercially available free range chicken in the UK and to date I’ve yet to find one with any real flavour such as a magnificent Poulet de Bresse from France. Despite all the clever marketing and fancy breeds we’re told about on the packaging the UK never seems to get it’s head round the fact that time = flavour. The supermarkets make all sorts of claims as to why their plump free range bird is worth £X but they are rarely allowed to grow beyond 12 weeks and the breeds used don’t have enough flavour. Anyway my point is that I don’t believe free range in itself contributes to a better flavoured meat.

My next point is one that a pig farmer told me recently. Although he keeps his pigs outdoors for part of their life the commercial breed he uses has been bred to have less fat. Consequently they aren’t suited to being kept outside year round because like us they get cold! Fine for your fattier rare breed pigs. So even with the very best intentions with regards animal welfare you really need to know the specifics to make a judgement.

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Written by Sarah

May 15th, 2009 at 5:35 pm