Cure For the Rainy Day Blues: sausage making workshop with UFC.

Thanks to Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective and Nancy Gaedke and Michael Sussman of Cross Plains, F.H. King members got to move beyond vegetables last night as we learned how to butcher a hog and prepare pepperoni in the UFC kitchen.

The night started off with an overview of the facility where UFC both prepares their products for Underground Meats and also operates their catering company.  Since the group began experimenting with and processing pork in 2007, they slowly began to acquire the necessary equipment to become a licensed vendor.  Their kitchen is now a state-licensed meat processing facility capable of smoking, curing and packaging a wide range of fresh, prepared, and specialty meats.  Underground Meats offers CSA-style meat offerings throughout the year while also selling wholesale products to restaurants and markets.  Check them out at the indoor market beginning this Saturday!

We got to sample a variety of meats while Jonny taught us about their meat business and history: Tuscan salami, pepperoni, and many others.

Sandwiched between the curing coolers and the sinks, we all gathered around a cutting board table as Jonny unloaded pig parts from two cardboard boxes.  Meanwhile, Nancy, the woman who donated her dear Ferkel to us for sausage making, told us her history of raising hogs, which is short, but quite impressive.  It all began several years ago, when the city of Madison passed an ordinance that allowed single-family residences to have up to four domestic fowl on their property.  Nancy immediately went out to get some chickens.  She calls them her “gateway drug” to bigger and badder farm animal rearing.

Four years ago, Nancy and her husband moved to Cross Plains where they could have a little more room to roam so to speak.  She became very interested in a breed that was growing extremely rare: American Guinea hogs.  In fact, she became interested in numerous heritage breeds.  On the farm now they have a llama, some sheep, geese, ducks and chickens alongside their hogs.

Their first four hogs came from a man in St. Paul who worked at a nature center that had a farm element.  The American Guinea hogs were small and had a friendly temperament: perfect for children (and for Nancy).  She was looking for a heritage breed that could also provide some meat for the household.  American Guinea hogs are perfect for this.  Because of their small size, the amount of pork they provide is manageable.  Currently Nancy has six sows and three boars (an unusual ratio of sows to boars, my farm growing up had 25 sows to 2 boars that we rotated).  But this ratio is not so odd when dealing with heritage breeds, the ratio of sows to boars is for genetic preservation purposes.

The donated hog was sent to Black Earth Meats, who cut it into “primals” (meaning the first large cuts of an animal, separating large cuts from one another).  Jonny first pieced the hog back together so we could see its original form.

As he elegantly cut the meat off the bones, Jonny explained the separate cuts of meat and how to prepare them as well as which pieces were best for sausage making.  When making sausage, you look for a 30% fat to 70% meat ratio.

He began with the head, and told us all if we were interested in butchering, this was where to begin because you can get heads for cheap.  First he cut off the jowls (those fatty neck parts of the hog), explaining how they were almost analogous to pork belly.  Then he removed the cheeks (something that looked a lot more tricky), from both inside and outside of the jaw bone.  These are one of Jonny’s favorite cuts of meat.  Supposedly they have great flavor development because of their extensive muscle use (pigs are always eating!).  He cut the jowls into smaller pieces and put them into a tub (which would eventually be what we ground up for sausage) and set the head (eyes forward) down on the table, placing the cheeks beside it.  These pieces were up for grabs.

Jonny then brought out an interesting meat for us to try.   It was a cured meat made of pig head, after removing all the bones (but none of the skin) and tying it tight before curing.  When he pulled it out of the cooler, you could see the snout!

He then went on to the belly, which is where bacon, pancetta and pork belly (obviously) come from.  This was cut into smaller pieces and also placed in the large meat tub.

Then onto the ham, otherwise known as the hog’s butt and hind leg, and removed the massive bone which involved cutting through a very disgusting and very strong tendon.

The front shoulder, also called the Boston Butt (on top) and Picnic Butt (on bottom) was then dismembered.  All the leg meat pieces were thrown into the meat tub while the bones were placed onto the “grab bag” pile of things not appropriate for sausage.

The baby back ribs were removed from the loin and together the baby back and spare ribs were placed into the “discard” pile.  The loin was cut into smaller pieces for our sausage.

It was pretty apparent that having a meat processing facility and a catering company was a brilliant paring.  The fattiest pieces could be used for sausage while the remainder (bones, checks and ribs) could be used for catering.  It was also clear why UFC loved pork: it was incredibly useful, nothing was wasted.

With our giant tub of meat, we went on to begin the sausage.  The meat was weighed and this weight was calculated so that the meat/fat mixture would constitute 95% of the weight while the dry milk and spices would account for the other 5%.

Together, we measured out the dry milk, anise, fennel, paprika, salt, pepper, brown sugar, mustard seeds and ground up pre-smoked jalepenos that Jonny had smoked in his homemade smoker.  This spice mixture was layered into the meat and Jonny mixed it all together with his hands.  The mixture was then put into a meat grinder with small holes followed by an addition of red wine vinegar and brown sugar and then the mixture was run through another grinder with a kidney grinder attachment.  These two grindings ensured the meat and spices all stuck together.

Then we moved onto the casings, otherwise known as cow or pork middles, also known as intestines.  Yup, casings and middles sounds much nicer, doesn’t it?  Jonny rinsed off the cow and pork middles, which looked like mini balloons and stretched them over the stuffing machine.  Here, a manual crank pushed the meat through a small tube (around which the casings were wrapped).

We used about half cow and half pork for the casings.  The pork middles were obviously much smaller; when they were filled they were about the diameter of a bratwurst.  For the larger, beef cased sausages we cut them to a desired length (around 12 inches) and then tied both ends off with square knots.  For the smaller sausages we pinched them into 12 inch segments and then twisted to get a long rope of separate sausage links!

We cleaned up thoroughly and then placed the sausages in the smoker where they would remain for the next two days.  The smoker was lined with cherry wood chips.

The evening was a pretty great escape to the rainy weather: preparing sausages in the Underground Food Collective Kitchen.  We were taught how to butcher an animal and make sausages from a former vegetarian while working beside a hog farmer who got into farming in order to preserve the breed.  All in all, it was not only a spectacularly educational night, but also an evening of sharing knowledge and passion.  It’s beautiful how food continues to bring us all together.