It began by pressing play; ‘It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid’ streamed from the speakers as I slammed the pig on the counter.
She lay across the whole counter, in the space carefully left between bone saw, boning knife, steak knife, diamond cut steel, butchers block and an array of different size containers. The carefully laid out table looked like a surgery, I was just missing a nursing team and anaesthetist, although both would have been redundant at this point, a little late for pain relief. Looking over my carefully prepared lay out, I knew I was going to have a productive and enjoyable evening. I’ve always enjoyed butchery.
The irony struck me straight away, I had a dead pig in front of me. With Band Aid blaring out I had to make every cut, every retrievable, useable piece of meat and fat count. It was a responsibility I owed to the pig, that a friend, the owner of the hotel had reared from piglet.
‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas’ echoed around the empty kitchen. In my youth, I had served my apprenticeship in a butcher’s factory but this was the first time I felt I was treating my craft and my pig with the respect they both deserved.
I’ve never been a mindless butcher, but never before have I been a sentimental butcher.
After dealing with hundreds of pigs, lambs, bullocks and heffers, something about Winder Hall, the surroundings and having met this pig, alive, made me realise I was only a worker before, a cog in a machine, I was about to become a butcher.
Just as ‘our troubles will be far away’ played over the stereo, I made my first incision. The head and dead staring eyes have never disturbed me but as I cut around the neck, I did so with a heavy heart.
Completing the cut, I grasped both ears, twisted and pulled the head of this magnificent animal free.
Strange that this is how I was shown to remove a head when I was an apprentice and yet despite buying no less than seven reference books before my return to butchery, not one suggested this method. I removed all the meat from the head in the way I was shown as a young apprentice, but this time I paid more attention, I checked every crevice, every inch to ensure I wasn’t doing her an injustice.
I recalled how simple and easy it was to remove the cheeks but this time, it just wasn’t so. I hacked and slashed, eventually retrieving the precious gems. The cheeks are not being turned into sausage, it’s just respect.
The head you’re told in training, is a two minute job. I had spent twenty minutes ensuring nothing was left. Not an economic use of my time but I didn’t care, I’d paid the proper respect.
The irony really struck me as I cleaved the pig into its three main components, shoulder, loin and leg, when The Darkness started playing, ‘don’t let the bells end’ it seemed somehow more inappropriate than ‘feed the world’. Butchery is a time honoured, skilled trade that deserves nothing but respect, yet it seemed that the universe was sending me a signal; ‘The Darkness’. Is there something dark about the careful art that I was performing? I chose to take this as a sign to continue paying respect in the only way I could, ensuring nothing went to waste.
After a full day’s work, weariness set in that not even The Pogues could lift. I began to get sloppy; the bones weren’t coming out clean and I nicked my finger – very unusual. With only a shoulder left, I decided I could no longer pay the proper respect.
I wrapped and labelled all the different ‘products’ that this wonderful, giving pig had produced.
After meticulously washing and sterilising all the surfaces and equipment, I neatly stored the containers in the cold room. It felt like putting the pig to bed, perhaps for the last time.
Tomorrow, we will be making some incredible sausage, there’s belly that will be layered with black pudding and become a delightful starter on the restaurant menu.
There is loin that will be butterflied, stuffed with apricots, apple, sage and thyme and provide the perfect meat for a happy couple’s wedding breakfast.
The bones will provide a superb stock, going into all kinds of wonderful sauces. The skin is destined to be crisp, addictive crackling. As I put the tenderloin away, thinking of the sharp yet subtle salad it could become the crown of, I realised I wasn’t putting this pig to bed for the last time.
This pig’s final resting place, after she has fulfilled her wide reaching destiny, is in the smile on your face.
If you would like to try some of our wonderful produce check out a sample menu. With just over a month left until we re-open, we’re still working away getting the place ready so you could be just in time time to buy a gift voucher for christmas.