July 22, 2014 by Dadinator
I am not vegetarian. I understand why people are, and that’s cool. I am not. I find meat delicious, but I have never “worked” with meat until Saturday when I tried my hand at making Salami. (Also, if you are vegetarian, this post is probably not for you as it contains photos – not gruesome, but still of meat so, fair warning!). A while ago we discovered Jonai Farms. A wonderful small farm not far from us founded by the idealistic and passionate Tammi and Stuart Jonas. They are small scale operation that run rare breed pork and beef in a free range environment. They also do all their butchering and sausage making in situ, which is cool. These days we get our meat from there for three reasons:
- We value giving farm animals a free-range existence. If we are going to eat them we should aim to give them a good life. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to get our own chickens, so we didn’t buy supermarket eggs any more.
- We want to source our food locally as much as we can, this farm is a 35 minute drive from our house.
- We want our meat to be additive free, and Jonai Farms does this. You are getting meat, no extras, no colouring.
Having eaten their pork and beef for months (and it is delicious may I add), I signed up earlier in the year to attend a salami making day. Basically we were going to get a 1/2 pig, chop it up and turn it into salami. The beast was already slaughtered and the offal was removed, but we were going to get in there and handle the stuff and see what goes into salami and how it is made.
I am crazy passionate about my children learning where food really comes from. I want them to understand that if we eat meat, we are eating animals, if we eat fruit that it comes from a tree and if we eat vegetables that they grow in the dirt. I never ever ever want my kids thinking “food comes from the supermarket” and that’s the end of the story so I was keen to see how this all worked, and possibly to show the kids how it works one day.
A final note: I made myself a promise, if the process was something I couldn’t handle I’d go off eating Salami forever. This is a big call for me because I LOVE salami, but if I can’t stomach making it I feel I shouldn’t be eating it.
Fortunately I didn’t get squeamish.
I arrived in the morning (a shade late, thanks kids), and talked to Stuart about how they process their meat and how they bone and butcher it all on sight. He showed us the facilities and was quite proud of the fact that they had built the boning room themselves (except for wiring it up, that was done by an electrician as it should be), and passed all relevant safety checks with flying colours. They send their stock to an abattoir for slaughter and receive the whole carcasses on site. They cut it up, cryovac and freeze it and then ship it out to their customers both in the local region and in Melbourne. After this short introduction it was straight into the salami shed.
Tammi, our guide, talked about the curing process for meats such as salami, prosciutto and a bunch of others I can’t remember the name of. Essentially to cure meat you need: Meat, salt, appropriate hanging conditions and time. You can flavour it however you want. I must admit my eyebrow raised when I found out it was so simple. Different kinds of cured meat have different spices added to them, different ratios of meat to fat and different salt contents, that’s the main difference. it wasn’t long before we were joined by 1/2 a pig. I shall refer to her as Porky from now on.
Tammi did the butchering and boning and then gave out portions of Porky for us all to cut up and cube. We had to separate fat from meat too. Basically we were cubing massive chunks of pork, taking the skin off where necessary and getting rid of the gristle and sinew throughout. I also had to get as much meat as possible off a few bones, and I think for a non-butcher I didn’t do too badly.
Porky’s leg was reserved by Tammi for a prosciutto, which hangs for at least 12 months before it is ready. I got to try last year’s, and oh my god it was unbelievably delicious…
Once we had cubed Porky, we got to the “massaging” stage, where salt and flavourings are added to the meat. We made two batches one flavoured with chilli, one with fennel seeds. Both also had: Garlic infused wine, salt and pepper added to them Massaging the meat was exactly as it sounded. We kneaded it, turned it, mixed it and blended it to get all the flavouring evenly throughout the two 14 kilo tubs of meat and fat we had put together. Then we let it rest for about 2 hours while we had lunch. We also had a tour of the farm and got to see the paddocks, the sows and the future pork.
The pigs had loads of room to range around and were fed on a combination of grains left over from a local brewery (Holgate Brewery in Woodend), grass and grubs from the paddocks and feed-grain. They are rotated between paddocks to ensure grass has a chance to grow back and the ground could recover from the pounding these hefty creatures give it. Tammi told us that they often get out of their allocated field and just run around, but they always re-form into their litter groups in the end. Plans for the future include growing fodder crops and fruit trees to add more variety to the pigs diet.
Another aspect of the farm that Tammi made clear to us on the tour was that they run on a “no-growth” model. Most people gasp and shake their heads when they tell them that, but Jonai Farms doesn’t want to get any bigger. Bigger farms mean more work and I understand that Tammi and Stuart are busy enough. They are happy to diversify and look into doing new things, but they have no plans to expand the herd, and no plans to purchase next-doors farm. It’s a refreshing way of operating. It also means that they are a farm which actively encourages people to eat less meat, just eat better meat.
By the time we returned lunch was ready. I got to try “Pate de Tete” a pate made from the head of a pig, as well as Stuart’s home-made rum (which was highly potent). We also had roast pork and lovely local vegetables. We even had a band playing while we ate, drank and conversed on a sunny winters day. But soon it was back to Porky and the business end of salami making.
First we had to mince the meat, then stuff it into sausage casings and finally set it hanging where it would sit for a minimum of 4 weeks. After that time we would be welcome to come back to the farm and have a taste of what we’d made. (Due to the nature of their operation it was not possible for us to take any of it home ourselves, unfortunate though that might be. This could change when Jonai build their own curing room in the nearish future.)
This part of the work required a bit of concentration, which after a big dinner and strong rum was a little challenging at times. However I persevered, and managed to avoid breaking any salami skins as we stuffed the mince into the sausage casing.
I did make a fatal flaw however in how I tied the end of my salamis off. I was keen to avoid any wastage and was sure to tie off with no meat “overhanging” out the end. This was an error of judgement, as it meant that my early salamis slipped off their strings and landed on the floor shortly after hanging. It happened to a few, which was mighty unfortunate. Poor little sausages, covered in dust lying forgotten on the floor.
In spite of this set back I managed to contribute well, and in the end between us we had a fair rack of sausages hanging in the shed. I really look forward to getting back to Jonai farms for a picnic with the kids soon, and feel inspired to have a go at making salami at home.
The Mamanator has already bagsed a spot at the next workshop, while I look after the kids. And she’ll attest to the fact that I am yet to shut up about it since. It’s a wonderful thing to reconnect to food, to look at traditional methods of preparation, to share food making as an event and to educate yourself about what goes into the stuff that goes into you. It’s part of what Jonai Farms encourage us all to do, and it’s part of why I’m so interested in producers like these. Food is best when it feels personal. When you cook it at home, make it from scratch or grow it in the garden. It’s part of our tree-change dream, and after Saturday it all feels a little bit closer.