We all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but I am determined to finesse the most for the least – as long as its healthy for my family… and tasty.
I’ve already become the chicken lady, the one who will adopt and eventually harvest chickens for the table. We ate a very delicious rooster name Pablo just a few nights ago! But my latest escapade tops a million free chickens. My latest was a pig. A really big pig. A pig called Noodles. All 700 lbs of her.
It started as an innocent exchange. The old mother of a woman I met had a pig as a pet that was simply too big for her anymore. Noodles. The cheese vendors at the Market where we met (the ones with, you know, the farm) kept saying they’d take Noodles, but my new friend had been talking to them for 3 months. The big pig needed to go. The farm-having, pig-avoiding, promise-makers were not being helpful. Thankfully I was there to offer my expertise. Which was really nothing, but I still made things happen.
So last Monday my friend Stan and I drove to Petaluma in his well-loved ’97 Toyota Tacoma, with a 4×8 U-Haul trailer attached to his hitch. We left at 6:30am, which is damn early for hedonists like ourselves. Anyway, we limped along in traffic and eventually arrived at our destination at 7:50. The outskirts of Petaluma, where this old mother was actually running a decent small farm – complete with blacksmith quarters, a couple cows, geese, one nice and one mean dog, and a gigantic pet pig. The old mother wore flannel and commanded her adult children to assist as needed. Not the needy old lady I expected. They were in charge of getting this pig into the trailer, thank god. Which took an hour and a half.
The pig made crazy sounds as it was smacked with giant boards to corral her onto the trailer. The easy way – apples, alfalfa and day-old bread – hadn’t worked. “Come on, Noodles! Good girl” hadn’t worked. It took the super-studly, all-business blacksmith brother to smack that angry pig into the trailer eventually. Thankfully we didn’t need a chain to get us out of the pen with the pig in the U-Haul. We drove away at 9am, the pig slam-dancing in the trailer attached to Stan’s well-loved truck. The family not asking too many questions about what they couldn’t bring themselves to do themselves.
10 minutes and we were at the slaughterhouse.
I expected the pig to charge out of the trailer once parked, but she sat with her ass facing us like a giant last fuck-you. The old slaughterhouse guys weren’t going in there for her! She eventually turned around and lumbered off the trailer onto the ground, the trailer and truck sighing with relief one hoof at a time. She meandered into the room with the scale, and the slaughterhouse guys waged guesses. 56o, 620… “700 even” the senior slaughterhouse man said as she was officially weighed. The even older, more cynical men in the office said “She gained weight since you called.” Whatever. I paid them their $100 kill fee and took Stan out to breakfast.
We left Noodles to meet her end at Rancho Meat Co. They would kill her with a shot to the head, then skin her and probably quarter her – she was too big for the machine according to senior slaughter man. I did not want her head or “offal” (guts), though I did want as much of the fat on her back as possible (Hmmm, sausage!).
I chose the slaughterhouse because it was in the same city as the pig. So naturally I agreed to have the pig delivered to the trusted butcher that the slaughterhouse delivered to for free… not the one closer to my house that they would charge $100 for delivery. I chose the friendly butcher in Cotati: Ibleto Meats. Free delivery from the slaughterhouse to the butcher made sense. I’m willing to drive. It is part of the adventure.
Stan had to work on the pick-up day, so my friend Shelee and I arrived at Ibleto’s to collect the prize around 1pm Thursday – 4 days after slaughter. The butcher (like all the guys we’ve dealt with regarding this pig) was flabbergasted. “It is unbelievable” said Freddy, the young butcher at Ibleto’s when we arrived. We entered the walk-in where the hogs hung from meat hooks. From the back he wheeled out a wrought iron “tree” of hooks, each hook supporting a massive section of pig flesh. I couldn’t believe how much there was! Then he wheeled out the second tree… holy frijoles.
He laid butcher paper in the back of the Nissan Pathfinder and started stacking giant slabs of pig one on top of the other. The mass was covered by another sheet of heavy brown paper and, after paying Freddy $75 for the “primal cut” break-down, we were off. The car has no air conditioning. The gas light came on. But I knew the food gods were smiling on us. We sputtered into our alley, Jay met us at the garage, and we squeezed every piece of meat into the extra freezer and fridge we just happened to have. All except one giant shoulder. I carved 9 lbs of fat off it (which I cubed and froze) and cooked it for 5 1/2 hours. I wish I could share it with you right now. There’s plenty to go around, and it is quite sublime.
In total, rounding up, we’ve spent just under $250 on 500 lbs of pork. There is a lot of fat, which will serve us well when we start raising rabbits and want to make sausages (and who doesn’t?). The ribs look like something from the Flintstones. We expect this pig – Noodles – to feed our family for at least a year. Thank you, Noodles. I will now spend the next day or two figuring out how to best cut, smoke, render and store you.