When someone asks me for a lean slice of salame (with less fat) there is a part of me that drops a tear Okay, I am being dramatic, but let me tell you why we are so passionate about FAT here at the farm. Fat is where all the magic is hiding. Indeed, you can call me a fat farmer, since all I do is for the sake of that firm, snow white, fragrant, amazing fat that our piggies start growing only after 8 to 10 months old. This is officially known as subcutaneous back fat.
Why do we care about fat, and why should you?
First of all, even for your fresh meat, you should care about your fat (I mean, the fat of the pork you are cooking) because the fat is trapping all that amazing flavors that the animal has been accumulating over its life. That special bush of natural herbs he found in early spring, the overly ripe tomatoes he eat from the farmers’ hand that special Saturday, those morsels of wild mushrooms he would find around the woods after the spring rains, all of those flavors are stored like little memories in the fat. It also makes sense that if you are preparing a pork chop raised using conventional feed, you probably want the least fat as possible as the only flavors you will find there are sad memories of corn and soy – the diet of conventionally raised pigs is 60% corn, 30% soy and the rest are little hints of supplements and minerals. Next time you eat one of our chops, choose one with a nice thick (1/2 inch) layer of fat. Cook it and savor at least one thin slice from the fat– you may surprise yourself to have turned into a fat lover – and NO, one slice of pork fat does not automatically turn into your own belly fat, but too many cookies will.
For the norcino (butcher specialized in making cured meats), fat consistency, and not only flavor, is essential. Fat is water repellant, thus, in salame, the fat creates a web through which the water molecules need to go through to pass from the inside to the outside, thus dehydrating the product and making it safe to eat. A fat that has a hard consistency can be cut in bits that are clearly defined and do not smear the lean meat. How thick and intricate the web is will affect how quickly the meat can dry and therefore its consistency and its flavor. If the fat is squishy if may smear, creating a cover around the lean meat which may trap the water inside the product, causing the whole process to go wrong. Pigs fed too much whey, for example, will have a soft fat not ideal for making salame. Also, the perfect consistency for fat for salame comes from the fat that grows right under the skin but the pig does not start producing this fat before age 8 to 10 months, so for this reason we grow our pigs longer than the conventional 5 to 6 months. At our farm, pigs are harvested at 12 to 14 months of age.
Finally, the composition of the fat is important for the aging process. A pig that was raised on a diet rich in sugars (e.g., a lot of corn) will have a yellowish fat. The sugar in the fat reacts to oxygen and starts to become rancid soon after it is exposed to air. If you are eating fresh meat, this may not matter too much since you may cook it and render that fat and then even toss it. However, when you prepare salame, you let that piece of meat hang for months (2 months for our salame). If the fat is high in sugars, it will turn yellow and leave a rancid flavor to the product. You want a back fat that is whiter than milk.
So these are the secrets of why, if you come to our farm, you may see us running after pigs trying to squeeze their butts – well, that and also it is fun.