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Do it yourself; When it comes to butchery, most of us leave it to the professionals. But, as Mark Adams of Food Adventure reveals, there's another way.

Byline: Mark Adams

AHANDS.ON butchery class may not sound the normal way to spend a Sunday, but as part of a recent Food Adventure, a group were able to try their hand at the mechanics of meat.

The tutor for this unique class was Illtud Llyr Dunsford, founder of the awardwinning Charcutier Ltd, an artisan charcuterie company which brings together British, South European and North American methods of curing.

First up, we learned about the different kinds of knife - and that all you really need is a boning knife. Occasionally a longer cutting knife can be handy for large pieces, such as when we cut the loin in half. There is very little need for a "chopper" or a cleaver, however - a saw is far more useful.

We learned that European butchery is mostly about "following the seam" and that's how we would cut that day.

We then each got our middle and started by removing the kidney and then the leaf lard. Then, following the seam of the ribs, we removed the tenderloin.

This left us with half the back and belly. We could either remove the ribs whole, European-style, or go British and cut them so that we had short ribs and baby ribs. Most of us took the latter option - probably because we wanted a go at sawing!

Again following the seam, we cut down behind the ribs until we reached the intersection where the belly became the back. Then it was out with the saw to split the ribs.

Back to the boning knife and remove the rest of the rib and eventually the spine.

Now we could separate the belly from the back and then split each of those in two so we had four pieces of meat - the belly for streaky and pancetta and the loin for back bacon.

When it came to curing, the first thing we learned was to burn our River Cottage cook book!

The purpose of curing is to remove moisture to help stop the meat spoiling. Traditionally this was done with salt - but we've realised it was impurities in the salt that helped prevent the formation of moulds, so modern ultra-pure salts are unsuitable. Hence bye bye, River Cottage.

As well as salt you need either a nitrite or a nitrate. Illtyd provided us with some of his cure that includes both, although he wouldn't divulge his secret recipe. That's all he uses, having decided not to add any of the anti-clumping agents we see in high-volume manufacturers' cures.

There is dry curing and wet curing (brining). Mass-produced bacon is mostly wet cured under pressure or injected, as this speeds up the process. Supermarket bacon is cured in less than a day.

We also learned that the white foam you often see when frying supermarket bacon is caused by this wet curing, as the liquids seep back out, or by the fact that the animal was stressed prior to slaughter, resulting in the release of adrenalin and proteins which can cause this foaming effect and affect the taste.

We made two traditional dry cure bacons - streaky belly bacon and back bacon. For every 1kg of meat we used 30g of cure, which we rubbed into the meat before bagging and placing in the fridge.

To make a sweet cure bacon we added 10g brown sugar per kilo of cure, rubbing this into the other piece of back bacon.

Lastly we made a pancetta from the remaining belly pork.

All the bacon was bagged and will be refrigerated for seven days. We will turn the meat over daily to help the liquid removal.

We were told to remove the bacon after seven days and wash it in clean, cold water to remove the remaining cure. Then we must pat it dry with a clean cloth and place it skin-side down on a wire rack and return to the fridge for a further seven days.

Illtyd advised putting a tray of salt under the wire rack to reduce the humidity in the fridge and help the curing process.

Then it's time to slice, fry and make a bacon butty! As we were making quite a lot, we could obviously freeze any remaining.

Illtyd was an excellent teacher, not only explaining what we had to do but why we had to do it. He contrasted traditional and modern methods, explained the difference between mass and small-scale production, and outlined the pros and cons of each.

After being shown what to do we would all go back to our bench and start work while Illtyd kept an eye on us, answering any questions and offering advice.

At the end of the course we took home around 8-9kg of bacon - one slab dry cure back, one slab dry cure streaky, one slab sweet cure back and one slab pancetta, as well as a pork tenderloin, a short rib rack, a baby rib rack and a block of leaf lard.

Afterwards, lunch was Illtud's sausage - Bratwurst and Texas Hot Links - served with brioche buns from Allen's Bakery in Cardiff. We were also treated to a cup of coffee and Allen's flapjacks and shortbread.

During the course, several guys broke out in a sweat and Illtud had to turn down the heating! But as all butchery was finished by lunch, the guys could kick back with a beer.

Turns out butchering a pork middle was much harder than we anticipated...

Upcoming Food Adventures include a Foraging Adventure in Brecon on April 4. For details visit www.foodadventure.co.uk

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 21, 2015
Words:932
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