Paulette Whitney on roasting a whole pig.
Aline of partygoers, burdened with camp chairs and picnic baskets, follow their noses, drawn to the scent of roasting meat. A 40-kilo Large Black pig that Coreen and Matt have raised at Our Mates’ Farm is rotating on a spit, all heat-blistered coppery skin with caramelising juices running hither and yon. The kids flinch at first, seeing ears, curly tail and snout, but the promise of crackling soon wins them over.
Coreen and Matt and their two mini farmers, Julian and Rachel, bought a neglected apple orchard at Geeveston in the Huon Valley four years ago, converted it to organic, grubbed out trees grown to triffid-like proportions, introduced pigs, cattle and sheep to the production system, and grafted traditional cider varieties and more flavoursome fresh-eating cultivars onto the old rootstocks. They’re innovative farmers, pruning apple branches higher so sheep can run the orchard eating the lush pasture growing under the trees – eliminating the need to slash or
spray. They press single-variety apple juices, make pies, tuck a jar of apple sauce in with every side of pork they sell, and work with a special pig, the Large Black, a breed that will graze and scavenge apples under trees without the bulldozery habits other breeds have. This kind of polyculture makes sense. Why wouldn’t you use sheep instead of herbicide to manage grass – growing chops underneath your apple crumble – with the sheep adding little pellets of fertiliser as they graze? And the pigs eating fallen fruit is a boon to the organic farmer, breaking the life cycles of pests such as the codling moth, which emerges from fruit left on the ground to infest next season’s crops.
The feasting begins as Masaaki Komaya, chef and local legend, does the rounds with a platter of rainbow-coloured sushi, alchemically more delicious than the rice, seasonings and vegetables it’s made up of. Our fluid intake is well
served, too. In an orcharding part of the world, amply supplied with cider makers, the pop of bottle caps and murmurs of wild ferments and forgotten casks rediscovered is a constant hum, while the kids are queuing clutching mugs before an urn of warm spiced apple juice.
I’ve picked the first of my cucumbers and turned the last of my medlar paste, made with Coreen and Matt’s medlars, into a fool with whipped cream and honey, and our friend, chef and farmer Matthew Evans, has baked little rolls that are being stolen from the table by tiny hands long before the pig is done. The bring-a-plate table is heaving with the choicest things we guests could muster from our gardens or larders.
There seems to be an established tradition of Matt Tack – our host farmer – growing or catching a particular type of animal, then inviting the appropriate chef over to help prepare it. If there’s a tuna on the table Masaaki is in charge, but carving the pig on the spit falls smack bang in Matthew Evans’s field of expertise. I’m not sure what draws me – the lure of properly sharpened knives, perhaps, or my latent desire to become a butcher’s apprentice – but I find myself alongside Matthew, slicing up the pig after it’s been declared cooked and heaved onto a workbench for carving. We try to be fair, giving everyone a little piece of puffed, crackling skin, but we make sure to slice off the odd perfect piece and sneak it into our own mouths. Having piled meat onto plate after plate we’re about to fill our own, when Masaaki arrives with his. We carve juicy, pale slices of loin, melting, fatty bits of belly, plump cheeks and dark slices of leg and shoulder meat, noticing the fresh sweetness of loin compared with the richness of the belly or the gaminess of the cheek. A meal like this, the bounty of a whole beast, grown with love, shared between a happy, grateful horde and savoured with our almost scientific analysis and juicy-chinned smiles, doesn’t feel like gluttony, it feels like plenty – a soul-enriching bounty and a delicious learning experience.
We carve juicy, pale slices of loin, melting, fatty bits of belly, plump cheeks.