It is said that pigs are like saints, more honored after their deaths than during their lives. Our pigs are certainly greatly honored after their deaths. When they return from the smokehouse in all their glory, we look forward to every new contact with them. We toast them with wine and think kindly of them. Tonight we had our first pork chop dinner of the winter. It was delicious, delicate in texture and robust in flavor.
On this occasion we remind each other of one of the germinal events of our growing concern about industrial farming. About twelve years ago we bought our last industrial pork chops. It was late in the evening of a busy work and school day. We grabbed the pork chops out of the meat cooler at the grocery store and brought them home to fry them up. We heated up the frying pan and threw them in … as we cooked them we became aware that something was missing — NO SMELL of frying pork at all. When they were cooked and we put them on plates, something else was missing — no taste of pork at all. The texture was woody. We didn’t even finish them. Our disappointment gave way to concern about how that pig was raised in order to completely extinguish the natural robust and delicious flavor and smell of cooking pork. In the next few months we heard about the huge pig-raising outfits in the southern states, where the smell was enough to kill plants and fish, and destroy neighborhood property values. We saw some pictures of how these poor pigs were treated. Sentient beings, mind you. If you treat a pig like an industrial widget instead of a pig, it will taste like a widget and not a pig. And if you eat some, you will be sorry.
A few weeks later we found our local farmers’ market. One of the vendors, Arnold Grant, sold pork. We asked him if he ever sold pork in bulk, and in this way we became owners of our first half pig. The flavor and texture were a big improvement over the industrial product. We enjoyed that pork so much that the next year we got a whole pig.
Pretty soon we found ourselves making cheese on a small farm on a hillside with a view over the whole upper Hudson Valley. Pigs were on the must-have list. They are among the most efficient users of whey. In the old days, every dairy farm had some pigs, especially if cheese was made there. There are pictures in the Argyle Historical Society’s very interesting books — farmers bringing milk to the cheese factory in the morning in cans and taking whey home again in the same cans in the evening to feed the pigs that everyone grew. So we grew pigs that thrived on our whey and pasture and fed our customers royally.
Pig raising involves using pig psychology. Once they outweigh us, they are like a group of burly linebackers trying to break our knees when we go into their pen, like giant rambunctious children, ever cheerful and carefree, romping about their pen, romping right over anything in their path. It is important to remind them that we are top pig. That is done by applying a hand (preferably gloved) to the side of their face and pushing them firmly sideways. They treat each other that way, too, only much harsher. Their top pig shoves with a lot more abandon than we do, but they seem to get our message give us space. Their self-control is not great, however, and they could so easily break our knees. They are the most dangerous animals we have on Longview Farm, except our earliest buck, our goat herd sire. This gives us a rather ambivalent relationship with them. We take great care of them, but we always have to watch our knees and backs. Until they come back from the smokehouse. Then the only threat to our knees and backs is from lifting the heavy boxes of pork into our customers’ cars, as we did yesterday. Tonight, a lot of pork chops are sizzling in a lot of kitchens in our area, and people are sniffing that real pork smell, and they are eating and saying, “MMMM.”