Monday, April 18, 2011

Eat meat responsibly

Over the past few years I’ve realised more and more just how essential it is to know as much as possible about where ones food comes from and to be guided by ones conscience when making choices. So when I started my artisanal charturerie it was a no brainer that I would source local free range meat. It takes time and I have to do my homework and sometimes I battle to get enough stock but I’m proud to say that everything I produce is 100% free range. I visit the farms and find out for myself that ethical animal husbandry is practised. It’s essential for all domestic livestock to be free range, treated with love and respect and not mutilated in any way: also that neither growth hormones nor antibiotics are used and that their slaughter is as painless and stress free as possible.
Some might say that this begs the meaty questions of whether we should be rearing animals for  slaughter in the first place, irrespective of how well they’re cared for, how healthy their meat or how humane their death.
I’ve given this plenty of thought and this is how I see it. Research confirms that humans have been carnivores since at least the Stone Age and the few remaining indigenous tribes who still live in close harmony with wild nature continue to hunt even today. As one of my favourite foodies, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall puts it, “For hundreds of thousands of years we have hunted animals and for tens of thousands we have farmed them so that we can eat their meat.” So all in all I’m satisfied that our eating meat per se is not doing anything that’s outside the natural order of things and that if done correctly, our killing methods are as, if not more, humane than those of other non-human predators.
Where things have gone horribly wrong is that we’ve become greedy and lost sight of the fact that these are sentient beings that deserve to be treated as such. Those of us who believe that there is a moral content to eating meat have to take the responsibility for changing this. That means saying “no more” to industrial meat production and the factory farming systems where the animals are seen as commodities and profit is the only goal.  Instead of encouraging businesses to produce bigger piles of bad quality cheap meat and poultry, we must stop buying these dubious products all together. Instead we need to take the time and trouble to seek out the ethical small producers and then be prepared to spend a little more and eat meat a little less often.
Become very particular about what you buy and make sure that every time you serve any kind of meat dish everyone can honestly say that it was so good and brought such pleasure to their lives that the animal who gave its life was honoured in the process.
You can find me at the Constantia Waldorf’s Organic & Biodynamic Produce Market from 11am to 3pm every Friday during term time and at the Earth Fair Market, South Palms, 333 Main Road, Tokai every Saturday morning. But if this doesn’t fit in with your schedule email me at or call me on 072 240 8511 and I’ll deliver to you personally.

I'm out to cure the world.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Antibiotic feed additives

Adding antibiotics to animal feed started about 70 years ago when it was discovered that including this in the diets of simple-stomached animals, like pigs and poultry, increased their growth. At the time it was hailed as a real breakthrough in farming technology and over the next fifty years, the inclusion of antibiotics as feed additives in commercial pig and poultry production became virtually universal.
This not only enhanced performance by increasing growth but also improved feed efficiency, altered intestinal bacteria and reduced incidence of disease in factory type farming conditions. Post-weaning diarrhoea and mortality was curbed drastically and piglets took about 5 days less to reach a live weight of 25 kg. Obviously this was all good for the bottom line and initially it was easy for everyone to ignore those who warned that regular feeding with growth promoting antibiotics would lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria, germs and viruses developing in both animals and also in humans. 
But people can’t be fooled forever, and as evidence of this mounted it became more and more apparent that when pigs are fed low levels of antibiotics for extended periods of time, their intestinal bacteria becomes resistant to the antibiotics used. Then when they are slaughtered these resistant bacteria can enter the human food chain and cause illness in humans. These infections have also become more difficult to treat with antibiotics which are similar to those that were fed to the pigs in the first place. And so the vicious circle has spiralled and who knows where it will end.
In light of these concerns, many countries have decided that the risks are unacceptable to their public, and have placed heavy restrictions on or even banned the use of some of the antimicrobials assessed to pose a risk to human health. Some are taking an even more proactive stance and pressing for a comprehensive and complete ban.
Fortunately you don’t need to sit around waiting for this to happen. You have the choice of taking responsibility for your own good health and that of your family’s right now. All you need to do is only eat free range pork and pork products. There are a few morally responsible small producers who are prepared to look beyond the quick buck and who have made a conscious decision to adopt the correct combination of nutrition, housing and husbandry. They’ve delayed weaning, improved sanitation and general living conditions and are rearing and finishing their piglets very happily, without the use of any antibiotics what so ever..
Surely it makes all the sense in the world to support them and those of us who only use their pork and poultry in the production of our products.    
I’m out to cure the world.                                                                                                      
You can find me at the Constantia Waldorf’s Organic & Biodynamic Produce Market from 11am to 3pm every Friday during term time and at the Earth Fair Market, South Palms, 333 Main Road, Tokai every Saturday morning. But if this doesn’t fit in with your schedule email me at or call me on 072 240 8511 and I’ll deliver to you personally.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Saving the planets bacon

There’s no doubt that the message about there being nothing new under the sun has particular relevance for those of us who live in this gloriously sun drenched country.  That’s why it’s so cool that more and more enterprising visionaries have reverted back to the age old concepts of free range and organic farming and they deserve our full buy- in. I definitely only use free range meat and poultry in my artisanal charcuterie.  It’s good for the planet, morally right, so much healthier and without a doubt the end product tastes miles better, even though it’s farmed close to home.  So get to the market mense, and buy my bacon, together we can definitely cure the world and enjoy doing it too!  
I’m out to cure the world.
You can find me at the Constantia Waldorf’s Organic & Biodynamic Produce Market from 11am to 3pm every Friday during term time and at the Earth Fair Market, South Palms, 333 Main Road, Tokai every Saturday morning. But if this doesn’t fit in with your schedule email me at or call me on 072 240 8511 and I’ll deliver to you personally.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How different is your artisanal bacon from that which is mass produced really?

Being a small, artisanal producer who crafts premium bacon from free range pork by using old fashioned dry- curing methods and plenty of hand labour, when I’m asked this question my short answer is, very.
Firstly as I’ve already said, my bacon is free range.
But let’s leave that out of this particular discussion. How I go about making my bacon is very different too.  In fact other than that our bacon is all made from pork that’s been cut into slabs, cured, smoked and sliced, there is nothing much else about the process that’s the same.
My research shows that mass produced bacon is made in a matter of hours by machines. Whereas, without giving away all my secrets, I can tell you that my bacon is made over many days and almost all of the work is done by hand.
Their process usually begins with frozen pork that’s thawed and tumbled in a metal drum to soften the meat. I always begin with fresh pork which gives the bacon a better texture and flavour than when it’s been frozen.
Theirs is then placed on hangers and pumped full of a liquid cure solution, which includes curing salts such as sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite, as well as phosphates that bind the water to the cells in the meat and plump it up .Mine is dry-cured, which means I hand rub each slab  with a dry mixture of herbs, sugars, salt, and a  small amount of curing salts and then, turning it daily, I leave it in this mix for a number of days so that it can properly permeate the meat and intensify  the flavours.
Often instead of actually smoking the meat, they add liquid smoke and other flavourings such as sweeteners, herbs and spices to their cure and then, when the slabs have been curing for a few hours, they’re sprayed with more liquid smoke and heated in a thermal processing unit, which is called the smokehouse. When my slabs are completely  cured I hang each one in my smokehouse where it  slow smokes over oak wood chips for hours and hours, with me adding more chips every half hour or so.
Finally their slabs are quickly chilled, machine-pressed into a uniform shape, sliced and packaged for sale. Whereas I have no way of creating a uniform shape, so my slices are not all the same size, but surely that’s all part of the charm of hand made.

So just to recap, artisanal bacon takes lots more time and hand labour and real wood smoke to make. The extended curing time intensifies the pork flavour and shrinks the meat, and because no brine is pumped in, you pay only for meat and the bacon doesn’t shrivel at all in the pan. And most important of all, it just tastes so much better.

I’m out to cure the world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shells stuffed with free range bacon bits, spinach and mozzarella

Saturday Market
I served these on Saturday at the market to show-case my bacon and they received rave reviews, although many, including me, thought that they were unnecessarily elaborate for that purpose. When I took this up with the domestic goddess, ( she insists that I refer to her as such in this piece) and CEO of our family home, who made them for me, she pointed out that I am so “snoep” with my “free off- cuts” that she needed to stretch them as far as possible. What this recipe does show, as she so astutely observed, is that the flavour and texture of my bacon is so intense that one needs very much less of it to have the same impact when combining this with other strong flavours. 
I promised to post the recipe so here it is folks.
1 packet giant pasta shells
A little splash of local olive oil (not that imported Italian junk)
Couple cloves chopped garlic
A good handful of free range bacon bits
4- 5 canned Italian tomatoes
15ml fresh bread crumbs
60ml cream or yogurt
2 cups ricotta or mozzarella cheese
Two handfuls of chopped well drained cooked spinach
3 leaves of fresh basil
A small handful of grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook pasta shells until al dente.  Rinse and set aside.
Heat oil in a pan and sauté garlic and bacon until crisp.
Squeeze tomatoes with your hands over sink and add pulp to pan.
Stir in bread crumbs and then add cream/yogurt.
Stir well over the heat until mixture has lost most of the moisture and is quite dry.
Place all the cheese in a bowl with bacon/garlic and spinach and mix well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste – bear in mind that the bacon is fairly savoury already.
Stuff shells with filling and then place together in an oiled, shallow ovenproof dish.
5 minutes before you want to eat bake at 180ºC until cheese is melted and golden.
Sprinkle with basil and serve.

I’m out to cure the world

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Artisanal Charcuterie

I really felt validated when I read in last Friday’s Business Day that the journalist who interviewed master meat curer Roberto sa Gimenez came away believing that “charturerie is among the noblest professions” - I’ve been saying this to anyone who’d listen, for at least six months.
Not that I’m comparing myself to this famous salumiere who’s been in the game for over  20 years and is known throughout the country for his Jamon Serrano and other splendidly cured pork goodies. Personally I can’t think of many things I’d rather do than spend some time with him and his magnificent year old fat covered hams. Perhaps he’d even let me sniff a few of his salami varieties with their alluring mould rind and that “indescribable sweet-salt, pungent foot thing going on.”
As the article says these are not average supermarket products, “there’s a complexity and intensity that cannot be reproduced by any tricks that food technology might have up its sleeve.” Let’s face it there’s no doubt that cured meats benefits enormously from the care and attention that can only be achieved by personal small-batch production.
It’s the same with my bacon, and because it’s free range pork which I dry cure and oak smoke I cannot produce it at the same price as commercial brine cured bacon, but then as we all know, you get  you pay for. 
Check out:

I’m out to cure the world.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Humanely raised piggies

I find some people looking at me as if I’m smoking something (which I am) when I tell them I’m making free- range bacon. They say it’s a contradiction in terms. I understand that free- range conjures up visions of herds of energetic and agile Springbok and Nguni streaking across the wide open veld, which is not exactly the image we have of porkers. With sayings like “you eat like a pig, this is a pigsty and I’m as happy as a pig in sh1t,” it’s easy to see why people don’t consider free- range to be uppermost on a pig’s must have list.  
But seriously guys, pig farming is big business all over the world and the driving force behind these huge commercial factory farms is money and nothing else. You know, good old free enterprise - supply and demand. As far as they’re concerned the faster they can produce this commodity and the less it costs to do so, the greater the profit, finished and klaar.
For the best results they will have intense concentration of twenty odd pigs cooped up in tiny indoor pens. To minimise the impact caused when fights breaking out they are often castrated, de-tailed and de-teethed. The breeding sows are, for most of their adult lives, kept in gestation crates which are only about ½ m x 2 m in size and often, for fear of them squashing their babies, they’re prevented from ever actually lying down properly.
All these overcrowded and confined conditions, the use of antibiotics and pesticides are essential to prevent the spread of disease and pestilence. Adlib feeding with added hormones stimulate growth and get the animals ready in double quick time.
As soon as they reach optimum weight they’re trucked off en mass to the abattoirs. Here they are herded in to pens with strange pigs and fights beak out resulting in torn ears and gashes all over their bodies. This is extremely stressful and painful for the animals and the trauma toughens their meat.  
So when I say free range I’m talking about pigs that live their lives roaming around outside in large shady camps where they are can forage for leaves, roots and grass at their leisure and interact with other pig if and when they please.
The sows are comfortably housed when they farrow down and at around 5 weeks the piglets are removed to weaning pens and the sows go back in to the camps. The piglets also go into camps where they’re left to live out their lives for the next five or six months which is how long it takes for them to reach optimum weight in their own time. If additional feeding is necessary this comprises only of natural fodder like high protein cereal, whey and fruit and no stimulants or growth hormones what so ever are added.
They’re driven to the abattoirs by the farmer and to ensure minimum stress they remain in separate pens with only other pigs from their camp, which means they’re calm and relaxed because they know each other.  Apart from this being a far more humane existence it also goes a long way to ensuring that their meat is not stressed before they’re slaughtered.
That it come at a price is true. But the price is to our pockets, which I think you’ll agree is worth it.
I’m out to cure the world.