Upper Hunter Smoke House
I am lucky enough to call the Upper Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s finest food bowls, home. I decided that we needed to find a glue to connect my smokehouse with our farm. Pigs of course! Given the smokehouse will produce top line artesian smallgoods; any old pig simply would not do. After extensive research, I landed on free-range Wessex Saddlebacks. A rare, slow growing, black pig with a white belt that’s very chic in the paddock to plate foodie world right now. This rare breed originates from the west country of England (Wessex) but is said to be extinct in its homeland.
We ventured out and purchased two gilts (female pigs that have never produced a litter before, although our two girls are now up the duff) and a boar, Boris Big-Balls. Rather than producing pork from a bogas backyard venture we paid a premium, purchasing registered stock with traceable bloodlines. We are now in the process of becoming one of the few registered breeders of saddlebacks in the country.
Good meat is attributed to much more than just the breed. Environment and diet are critical factors. Free range pigs with plenty of space to fodder, quality shelter and fresh drinking water is a given so I have now turned my mind to the food.
Spain is undoubtedly famous for their jamon (Spanish for ham, although it’s more like a prosciutto), so I looked to the great for inspiration. Top class pigs used for jamon were traditionally finished off on a diet of nothing but acorns and olives. Our specific breed of pig traditionally scavenged their food in forests with a diet consisting of acorns and chestnuts. We have therefore agreed our next endeavour is to plant a number of oak trees around our pig pens to foster natural foraging of acorns. We’re also looking to plant a small apple orchard of different varieties and some nut trees for piggy treats – stay tuned on this.
Some facts on pigs:
- A pig’s gestation is very easy to remember- 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days
- A boar is a male pig with his family jewels still in tact
- Pigs are said to have the intelligence of a 3 year old
- Pigs have eyes in the back of their heads, okay they don’t actually have eyes in the back of their head, but they do have a wide 310 degree angle of vision
- Pigs are not able to focus both eyes on the same spot
- Grower pigs eat about 3% and drink about 10% of their body weight daily
- Pigs cant sweat, they typically bury themselves in mud to cool
- A ‘baconer’ is for exactly that, delicious bacon. Pigs used for bacon weigh in at approximately 60-80kgs after they’ve been slaughtered, whereas a backfatter is bigger. A spit pig generally sits between 15 and 30kgs post slaughter and a delicious suckling is generally 12kg live weight.