If you are serious about curing meat, you'll probably need to learn how to cut up a hog.
The reason is that the best cured products are made from older heritage-breed pigs, fattened on a special diet. Those pigs have more flavorful meat and fat; the composition of the fat changes as they get old, and the proper feed helps tremendously.
The problem is, such hogs are very special - you essentially have to contract for them with a farmer. They have no commodity value; if you try to sell such a hog at auction in America, you'll be heavily penalized. They are too big and fat.
Hence, you can't just go down to your neighborhood store and say, "hey, do you have any pork from a really fat hog, that got fattened on things like barley and fresh hay, or perhaps some acorns and chestnuts? I want absolutely no high-PUFA feed in the finishing diet. And it needs to be scalded. And oh, I just want a jowl and perhaps a raw ham, so I can cure it in my basement."
Similarly, if you are a restaurant, and you call me up to get the jowls and hams from my specially fattened pigs, you put me in a jam. How can I get those cut and delivered to you at a reasonable price? And what do I do with the rest of the meat? If I freeze it, it is no good for curing. So I have to sell it.
But how do I sell someone a hog missing his legs and jowls? Anybody who'd take that hog is probably skilled enough that he wants the legs and jowls, to make his own products. Rather than selling to you, I'm better off selling the whole hog to someone, even if I have to work harder or give a discount.
Also the people who want the best hogs have the skills to use the whole thing, or they have friends who will take the parts they don't want. Transporting a half costs as much as a whole, so there isn't much of a market for halves.
A hog for curing should be at least 275 lbs or so (9 months, 300 lbs live). The ones we are selling now to restaurants are over 320 lbs (12+ months, 420+ lbs live). If you buy that, you'd better know how to cut it up and use it. Just the size of it is intimidating - see Kevin Gillespie, of Spokane's Luna, dwarfed by half of his hog - there's another half a hog hidden somewhere in that kitchen.
There aren't very good materials on hog butchery in English. That's too bad - people who want the best meat need to learn how to do it.
There's a really great "Hausschlachten" by Aichwalder. It is available from Amazon.de and Amazon.ca, and recommended highly by Austrians who make their living curing hogs on their small farms. The book covers all sorts of things: how to fatten a hog properly, how to slaughter it, divide it, wrap the meat for freezing, cure the meat, etc. If you read German, it is a great resource. There's nothing like it in English.
The book has more detailed info - that's just from the overview on the different methods, including wet curing, dry curing, mixed curing, various smoking methods, etc.
- Here's Aichwalder on curing. I've include d a chart showing the Austrian cuts and their names.
- Here's Aichwalder showing how to cut up a hog.
- Here are some photos from Marcel Kropf's very good book, "Spezialitaeten aus Flesich Selbstgemacht", showing how to cut up a hog. Marcel Kropf's is arguably the best butcher in Austria.
Also, wet curing, the way it is done in Austria, is a very neat process. Guys do it because it is foolproof and gives great results. American chefs seem to do more dry curing - but the older generation does the wet curing. There's not much information in the newer American books on it - so that summary above might be helpful.