A couple of weeks ago I dragged myself out of bed on a Saturday morning and headed off to Borough Market and the Cannon and Cannon Meat School. I’d been waiting four months to get my hands dirty on their “butchery for curing” course that Mr L had arranged for my birthday. I’ve long been interested in the process of curing and have wanted to try it at home, but been too nervous to just jump in without guidance, so this half-day course seemed like the perfect place to start.
I was so keen to get my butchery on that I arrived early and was ushered off into the depths of the market for lunch while the tutor and course co-ordinator anxiously awaited the arrival of the pigs heads we’d be working with. After a very satisfying falafel wrap from Arabica (always my go-to lunch whilst in the area) I dashed back, donned an apron and got stuck in.
Andrew Sharp aka Farmer Sharp, or “Sharpy” is a long standing character from Borough. I had the pleasure of trading next to him when he still operated his wholesale business from the market and it was lovely to have him teaching us. His passion for butchery oozes from every pour, and his no-nonsense approach and gruff northern voice seemed so perfectly fitting to tackling the removal of a pigs tongue and the break of a jaw to get the very best cheek meat!
After breaking down both a pigs head (and in one case a wild boar) and a side of pork into the requisite pieces we then discussed the ratios of salt and sugar needed to produce cured meat such as bacon, the potential to add spices and the difficulties in making salumi and large hams. All the way through Farmer Sharp kept reinforcing the knife skills needed to keep us safe and the meat in the best shape.
The session ended the day with a cold beer for us all and a tasting of some of the charcuterie that is currently on offer from the Cannon and Cannon stall at Borough.
Throughout the day we were fuelled with a constant supply of hot strong tea and butchery jokes, and I came away inspired, energised and itching to sharpen my knives and get in touch with my local farmer for more meat to experiment with at home. I was also armed with several packages of vac-packed meat already in a curing solution.I could barely wait to crack them open and have a taste. After a little over a week in the cure, I unpacked the pork belly, washed off the liquid and set the meat to dry. With no safe place to hang it (pesky cats!) I opted to dry it out on a baking tray over three days and then slice it into bacon with the off-cuts from my poor slicing skills going towards pancetta.
I couldn’t believe that it would be so easy to produce my own bacon, the feeling of pride I had whilst slicing it was just wonderful, and I cannot wait to start playing around with spices and flavours in my next batch. Oh dear, yet another hobby to find time for. But a tasty one!
I would highly recommend trying your hand a curing and starting with a course like I did. It made me feel confident about what I was doing, taught me all about the true differences between commercial and rare breed pork and I know now that I could make a more informed decision about the cuts of meat I choose whilst at the butcher and the potential they have when I get them home. Give it a go, you’d be surprised at how fun, easy and tasty the results are!
[This is not a sponsored post, I was given the course as a birthday present and enjoyed it so much I simply wanted to share it here and recommend it based on my own experience]