Pigs, acorns and glorious cured meats

Ever fancied a career change? Richard Bosman did. Just two years ago he ran a deli in Hermanus, now he’s a connoisseur and purveyor of world-class, South African charcuterie.

We spied Bosman’s excellent article on the different parts of a pig and sought him out to answer a few questions on the main concerns in his life: happy pigs and time. Read on if you want to find out how to cure your own meat, why pigs eat acorns and what that white stuff is when you cook bacon (yuck).

Until 2009 you ran a deli in Hermanus, what made you change tack and venture into charcuterie?
I was buying-in imported cured meats to sell in the deli and thought it would be fun to try and make some myself. I started making products for the deli and then decided to expand and supply the rest of the world.

How did you learn about pig farming and curing meats?
The real expert in pig farming is Charlie Crowther – he’s got a pig farm in the Hemel and Aarde valley outside Hermanus. He heard about the products that I was making at the deli and asked me if I would be interested in buying his pigs.

We are still learning every day and new and surprising things always crop up and need to be dealt with. On the production side, Walter Haller helped me get started; he trained as a Fleischmeister in Germany. He now has a very successful spice business and he taught me the traditional curing methods that we use in the factory.

Why do you use traditional methods of curing and how do they differ from more commonly used methods?
The aim of many modern production techniques is to speed up the time it takes to make something or to bulk up a product so that the cost per kg is as little as possible. Take bacon as a perfect example – the modern way is to inject the product with brine so that it cures in a day. It is then frozen, sliced and packed and the whole process takes less than a week. Up to 25% of the weight is water that comes out in that white gunk and evaporates when it is cooked. We salt our bacon by hand using coarse sea salt and herbs, which takes up to 10 days. We then hang up the bacon for two weeks to allow it to air dry and at that point is has lost up to 25% of its original weight. The flavour is better, the texture is better and when you cook it you can see the difference.

Tell us about your pigs…
The pigs are reared on Glen Oakes Farm in the Hemel and Aarde Valley. Charlie Crowther and his wonderful wife Julie own the farm and are the most fantastic parents a pig could ever have. The pigs are pasture-reared and have many hectares of pasture to roam. We breed a Duroc boar with Large Whites as this gives a very good muscle to fat ratio and the muscle has wonderful marbling which is good for curing. The pigs are 12-14 months by the time they reach the desired weight as opposed to four months for a commercial pig. We do not give them any hormones, growth stimulants or antibiotics. The only medication they receive is for de-worming which is why they cannot be classified as organic. They forage in the pastures and are also fed barley and acorns which gives the meat a slightly nutty flavour.

Talk us through the curing process
Once the fresh meat is cut and trimmed to size, it is salted. The meat is placed in large crates in our salting room for 7-30 days depending on the size of the muscle. It is then spiced and hung in our drying room for 2-12 months. The temperature and humidity are monitored daily to ensure that the optimal drying conditions are maintained and I check each batch every day to monitor the curing process. Once the product has matured and lost the desired quantity of moisture, we slice and pack the product to order.

Is it possible to cure your own meat at home?
Yes, it’s actually very simple and really just requires the right place to dry out your meat. This simple recipe can be used to make your own pancetta:

1kg pork belly
30g coarse sea salt
3g curing salt or pink salt
2g ground black pepper
10g paprika
2g dried rosemary
2g dried thyme

1. Rub the meat with all the other ingredients and place in a Ziploc bag. Place in the fridge for 7 days, turning over every day.
2. Hang the meat up in a cool dry place for 4 weeks. You need a bit of air circulation but not a fan. The humidity should not fall below 65% and, if it does, place a bowl of water in the room.
3. Check your meat every week and do not be alarmed if a white mould starts to grow. This is a healthy penicillin derivative and is very good for digestion. Any black or green mould should be washed off.
4. If it smells bad don’t eat it but otherwise you should be fine.
5. Cut thin strips for breakfast bacon or chop up into lardons for pasta sauces

Where can we buy your glorious meats?
Melissa’s, The Food Barn, The Salmon Bar, &Union, Manna Epicure, Seapoint Spar, Eastcliff Spar, Houwhoek Farmstall, The Bay Market.

Stay tuned for recipes by the man himself, Richard Bosman.