After deciding that I wanted to learn more about meat (the cuts, how to cook them, the animal behind the cuts etc.) I looked to see what was available in the way of meat education in Sydney. Much to my delight I found a butcher (Feather and Bone Providor) offering a whole pig butchery course that very weekend. The meat gods must have been smiling; I booked it there and then.
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It was awesome. Despite not wearing appropriate clothing and consequently shivering for the entirety of the class (4 hours in the cool room), I learned a lot and came out with a beautifully-rolled pork shoulder. Check out the video to see all the juicy bits:
The biggest takeaway of the day was learning the anatomy of a pig and how to break it down into all of its various cuts (you can use my not-so-accurately drawn pic below for reference).
The next major takeaway was learning all about the quality of the meat. Specifically looking at the treatment of the animal when it was alive, and the treatment of the meat afterwards.
Essentially, if the animal has lived a life as close to that which animal should live (i.e. not intensively farmed, free from hormones and antibiotics etc.) this will be produce high quality meat. Happy, active animals that have been allowed to eat what is natural for them will result in tastier meat that's better for us. It's a no-brainer.
Next, once the animal has been slaughtered, it should be hung to age. This ageing or "ripening" process means holding the carcass or large cuts of meat at refrigerated temperatures to allow natural processes to improve flavour and tenderness. The muscle supposedly undergoes progressive changes after slaughter that affect tenderness of the cooked product. Most of the meat we eat from the big supermarkets is packaged while it's still warm and twitching (graphic, I know - these were the words our butcher used), so the result will rarely be as good as aged stuff. I have to say, the pork we ate after the class (which came from a 'happy pig', and had been hung to age several weeks) was delicious.