Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chef Kevin Gillespie Talking Fat Quality

We visited Kevin Gillespie, Executive Chef of Spokane's Luna restaurant. We gave him some Mangalitsa piglet meat to taste - as we'll be slaughtering a batch of those, and need people to get ready for them.

He compared our hog's fat to that of other hogs. He also showed us products he's made from the hog, but technical difficulties prevent me from uploading the video of it:

He went on to explain that his favorite hog ever was a Red Wattle. The Red Wattle breed is famous for the special flavor of the meat (but it is a lean breed). But he also conceded that our hog's fat was indeed the best he'd ever gotten.

We are very happy with Chef Gillespie's assessment; the hogs with the best fat make the best cured products - and the best cooking fat. Lard is hands down the absolute best cooking fat. If you don't believe me, please read this article in Food & Wine.

And then Chef Gillespie ordered a buch of pork fat - 50lbs - which we'll deliver to him next week - along with more pork. Our pork fat is better suited to some applications than butter - and a lot cheaper. Until very recently, lard was the cooking fat, and pigs were raised for their fat.

We appreciate Chef Gillespie tremendously for being willing to buy our fat!

If you are a consumer and you want to buy lard, don't be surprised if a farmer can't sell you lard from his hogs: almost no USDA processors will make lard for a guy with just a few hogs.

So you'll have to buy fat. But don't be surprised if the farmer wants to deal in big blocks of it. This isn't the farmer's fault: if he asks the slaughterhouse to pack the fat in small packages, they'll refuse, or insist on charging $1/lb for the service - too much work. And legally, the farmer can't just open up his big packages, cut them and repackage them - unless he's a meat processor too.

Don't be afraid about 20 lbs of pork fat. Just render the stuff and keep in a cool, dark place. It keeps a very long time. You can always share it with your foodie friends.

Of course, the fat quality is key - if you use high-PUFA fat from a commodity hog (or a hog raised by a small farmer who doesn't finish the pig properly), expect it to be soft, yellowish and runny. That fat will go rancid quickly, and taste nasty. If you are going to do the work of rendering, why not work with the best fat? Even the best fat doesn't cost much - just $1/lb or so.


bob mcgee said...

How does one go about finding out about the local USDA processing plant, their limitations, costs, techniques? Custom slaughtering is my preference, but when considering feasability, I should have a backup plan.

Heath Putnam said...

The USDA has directories of inspected plants -

Not all of those slaughter pigs, and not all of them process pigs (even if they slaughter). And not all of them want your business.

Some of them are really great for small farmers, like these guys - - they specifically say that they can take your meat and give you product back, ready for resale. They'll keep your meat from whatever else they are processing, which is very important for organic, natural or breed-specific products.

In your own area, there are probably just a handful of plants. If you talk to the farmers in your area, they'll be able to tell you what they'll do for you.

It can be really odd - maybe one place just slaughters and cuts, with no curing. But maybe they are good at shipping those carcasses to customers. Maybe one of them scalds, but can't make bacon.

What processing you have is critical - if your pigs start getting really big, you may want to kill and freeze them. You'll need a USDA plant to do that for you, unless you intend to break the law.

Even if you are OK with breaking the law, you won't be able to move much product, and what product you do move will sell at a deep discount to the legal stuff.

Kevin Kossowan said...

You've sold me on finding some good fat. I'll have to do some homework.