I bought a quarter of a pig

My search for a supply of sustainable meat is now ended, successfully. Pictured below is a quarter of a pig that is now in my freezer.

I had been calling around town and emailing people, trying to find someone who raises pigs in a sustainable manner. I found a few expensive shops that I could’t possibly afford, and I also found a few farmers who raise their pigs sustainably, but indoors. After reading "The Omnivore’s Dilemma" and two zillion other blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, and also actually using my brain to think instead of letting the television think for me, I knew I wanted my pig to have lived its life outside eating, living like a pig. I was hearing different stories about the rules in Quebec in regards to raising pigs outside: Some folks told me me it was completely illegal, some thought it was a black-market thing and others reported that it is just hard to find. I decided to call my vegetable CSA. I figured they would be in the know, and maybe I’d get lucky and they would actually know a farmer who was raising some pigs outside, in a pasture.

To my absolute astonishment and delight , it turns out that my vegetable CSA is also a meat CSA! They also pasture their pigs! From what they told me, the government no longer issues licenses that allow pigs to be pastured anymore, but they will allow an existing permit to be renewed. My CSA has had a permit to pasture their pigs for several years so they can renew their permit until the big pig factories or some other giant corporations gain total control our government or they mess up our environment so badly that a pig could no longer survive outdoors.

I also found out they raise chickens, outdoors, and I immediately bought five — the limit per CSA member. For the pig, I was told that my name would be placed on a waiting list. I could put my name down for either a half or whole pig. I asked if I could just buy a quarter pig as we would only be two people eating it and we have limited freezer space. I couldn’t actually buy a quarter pig unless someone else ahead of me on the list for half a pig only wanted a quarter, and then I could get in with them. This seemed pretty fair, especially since my only other choices were buying a pig that never saw the sky or ate any whole foods, or even worse, ending up with factory-farmed, pesticide- and antibiotic-laced pork that came from a pig whose only walking occurred when it was forced up a ramp to its death.

I was told that it would be at least a month, maybe more until my name came up to the top of the list. Imagine my surprise when I was left a message on Monday evening stating that the person at the top of the list suddenly only wanted a quarter pig. I spent the night figuring out what cuts I may or may not be getting and then dreaming of the different ways I would be eating pork all winter. I called the farm the next morning only to find out that my supposed pig-partner had changed their mind and would take the half pig to themselves. I would have to wait another month, at least, and my only consolation was that I would get to choose the cuts myself. I knew I’d have no trouble finding someone to take a quarter of my half pig, so my daydreaming began. Would I want more ribs and less bacon? Maybe I’d want more ground meat and less roasts? The possibilites were mind-boggling and mouth-watering!

On Wednesday my telephone rang again and I was told that the same person had changed their mind yet again and now I could have the quarter pig. I could only call the farm back in the evening, and I was hoping that by then no more mind-changing had occurred. Sure enough, when I called at 6 p.m., I was told that a quarter pig would be at the CSA dropoff location with my name on it. It weighed 50 pounds and cost me $200.

Here is what was in my quarter pig:

  • 1 tenderloin
  • 24 sausages
  • 1 side spare ribs
  • 2 pork steaks
  • 4 packets of what I think is liver
  • 1 tongue
  • 16 pork chops
  • 2 packs pork medallions
  • 2 packs ground pork
  • 1 big roast labeled "pattes de porc – laconnes"
  • 1 soc de pork
  • 1 other roast
  • unknown quantity of bacon (still at the smoker)
  • 1 or more smoked hams or roasts, at the smoker

I am a little confused by a few of the pieces and am waiting for an email response from the farm about the ‘soc’ and the ‘lacones’. I can’t wait to taste the bacon. I considered getting a copy of Michael Rulhman’s Charcuterie and curing my own bacon, but I need something to look forward to for next year. I was so excited that I quickly took a photo of it all laid out on the table and then stuffed it in my freezer, minus two pork chops which went straight to the grill with a little salt and pepper. Delicious.

8 Responsesto “I bought a quarter of a pig”

  1. We get most of our pork these days from Wil-Den Family Farms in western Pa. They call it “fresh-air” pork, because it is not 100% grass-fed or anything, but the pigs are raised and live in the fresh air, eating a lot of grass and some grains.

    The pork is fantastic. We love it. I believe I used some Wil-Den center-cut chops for this pan-roasted chops recipe that is always fantastic.

  2. Afella in VT says:

    I get my pastured pork south of you at Sugar mountain Farm in Vermont. I am now up to getting a Pig at a time for my wife and our infant son. That’s about six months of meat for us, we don’t buy much beef because we don’t have a pastured source we can afford. You might be surprised that you don’t need a whole lot of freezer to for a whole pig. I fit a 180 pound (dressed) pig into a 5 cubic foot chest freezer along with our other stuff that goes in the freezer. We got a $200 freezer from sears that does the trick. The other nice thing about the chest freezer (as opposed to the one on top of a frig) is it is a lot colder and more efficient. Typical freezer temp for a frig freezer is around 20F, but my chest freezer is at 0F, which keeps food fresh much longer and better. Buying a whole pig is also a lot cheaper where I buy. But if you can reliably get a 1/4 pig at a time that’s a good option too.

    I brine the hams and bacon myself, easy to do with good hygene, a clean 3 gallon food bucket and a large cooler. You can search the blog at http://www.sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/ for a description and recipes.

    Hope you enjoy your pig as much as we do.

    Afella in VT

  3. Peter aka Nosher of the North says:

    The pig I got isn’t certified organic. In my opinion, certification is for people who do not know or have not met the farmer or have any connection to the farmer whatsoever – for example a friend of a friend…word of mouth, etc. I know the farmers that raised my pig and I trust them, so in this case a “certificate” is not necessary – it has been certified by me, for me. These days, certification means less and less as time goes by and BIG organic gets its grubby hands on the certification regulations.
    It’s time everyone tries to only buy food from people they trust and reduce the amount of intermediary wholesalers that stands between them and their food. I suppose it started out with people growing their own food and animals and then progressed to people buying their food from their neighbourhood stores, where they knew and trusted the owner. Now if you shop at a store, you probably won’t know the owner or even any of the employees.

    Good for you! I visited Walter at his farm a few weeks ago
    and was very impressed by the experience. It was Walter that inspired me to find a good source of pork in my neck of the woods. And, you’re right – the quarter pig didn’t take up as much space as I thought.

  4. Localivore says:

    I am really disturbed at the idea that pasturing pork is not permitted somewhere. Am I assuming correctly, Peter, that you’re in Canada? Can you provide some links to your sources for this information?

  5. Laura says:

    We’ve got a 1/2 pastured hog coming from a farm in Mt. Vernon, WA later this month. We can hardly wait! The 1/4 beef and 25 chickens in our freezer have been just excellent, so we’re assuming the pork will be equally good.

    We’re looking forward to continuing our commitment to local food through the winter with help from our freezer, the year-round market and the fruits and veggies we preserved this summer.

  6. Peter aka Nosher of the North says:

    I had trouble finding the laws regarding swine production in Quebec as our provincial laws are only available in French. I have sent an email to the “centre du development du porc du Quebec” and will let you know as soon as they send me a reply (if they actually send one).

  7. Vikki says:

    It’s heart-warming to read about the passion in your quest of finding sustainable and tasty pork, and I’m glad to hear that you found your supply!

    I share your passion too, but not your CSA, and I don’t have a big freezer either. Do you mind sharing the list of “small expensive shops” that has the goods in smaller quantities?

    BTW how do the chickens taste like, being free-range (and maybe grassfed too?) More flavour than the regular kind?

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Peter aka Nosher of the North says:

    @Vikki – You can get good pork at PorcMeilleur in the JT market. They are not certified, but they will tell you that their pork is raised on their own farm and uses no growth-hormones or antibiotics. The pigs are raised indoors.