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top local experts, from Tim Maddams of River Cottage fame to foraging queen Chris Westgate of Heavenly Hedgerows and Vivien Lloyd, who has to be the UK’s leading expert on preserving. I’d found myself on a pig butchery course with Robin Rea, who worked with the likes of Michael Caines and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall before setting up his own artisan charcuterie store and supper club, Rusty Pig, in Devon. This is field-to-fork, and then some.

As you walk up the crunchy gravel drive to the school it feels as if you are approaching someone’s home. And that’s because you are. Vale House itself belongs to Bod and Annie Griffiths – plus baby Michael and Bonnie the Labrador, of course – who moved here from London three years ago. The family live in the main building, a Grade-II listed, 19th-century manor, while the old pool house round the back has been converted into the school. It’s small, but that’s no bad thing in my book. It means that class numbers are limited to around eight max, and all workshops are hands on. There are also on-site beehives, chickens and a corner for pigs, although none were here today. You see, Sausage and Bacon, the two

on-site Plum Pudding pigs, had gone to the local abattoir (only a few miles away) just a couple of days before the course. Oxford Sandy and Blacks, as the breed are also known, are some of the oldest pig types native to Britain, and – according to Robin – are some of the tastiest swines around. And so the education began. As we headed upstairs, we were met

with Bacon laid out on the butcher’s block, two halves of the pig side by side. For the squeamish, it’s not exactly a pretty sight – but for anyone that cares about the food they eat, it’s something you should see. Robin and Bod talked us through the whole stage of the beast’s life, advising us on husbandry (Bod sourced these two from a farmer near Ston Easton) and the slaughter process, before handing us a saw. Robin showed us the

t radi t iona l Engl i sh butcher cuts – straight and simple(ish), rather than the French’s complicated seam

Bacon the pig, as he was once known, soon becomes pork, with the help of Robin – who teaches us how to cut, cure, string, smoke and more. (And who was tops at stringing together her sausages? You know how we don’t like to boast...) 73

butchery, isolating individual muscles – and then let us each have a go. The trick is to saw down through the bone and then use sweeping motions with a sharp butcher’s knife for the flesh. Soon Bacon becomes recognizable as the cuts of meat we’re used to buying in the shops – there’s the shoulder, leg, and we also string up a porchetta. Robin shows us how to string the cuts up with proper knots – “over the tree, round the fence, through the hole…” Get it? Oh, just Google it. Then we took a look at the pluck (that’s the nice name for

Robin’s sausage

Titter. (Well, we had to get at least one innuendo into this feature, right?) This basic recipe allows you plenty of freedom to experiment. If you

you will have perfectly seasoned bangers every time. However, if you decide to add further

flavours – like mixed fruit, figs, even plums – you may need to add between 10-20g more salt.

INGREDIENTS 5kg minced pork

(ideally from the shoulder and belly) 50g salt

20g garam masala 100g rusk (optional)

hog or sheep’s casings METHOD

– Mix the mince, salt, garam masala and rusk together and feed through a sausage maker into the casings.

– Link into sausages and refrigerate until ready to cook.

– Grill or fry the sausages – and don’t prick that banger!

the offal, the lungs, heart and liver) and the brain (surprisingly small). The boys back out of tasting the brain, but we soon tuck into a bit of devilled kidneys (with a smidge of Bod’s raspberry jam – inspired), pan-fried liver and lung. Each is so incredibly tender, and packed with real pork flavour. No part of Bacon is wasted – well,

keep the meat-to-salt ratio the same when using dry spices, like the garam masala below, then

except for the glands (inedible) and the oink. Robin tells us that you can harvest roughly 1 litre of usable blood per pig, and so we set to work making black pudding (or blood cake, as it is also known). The colour is incredible, the taste even better: Robin makes his with a smidge of mace, cayenne pepper, cream, cider brandy and smoked paprika. We also learnt about dry and wet

curing (use fine-grade vacuum salt from builder’s yards, rather than coarse sea salt), making our own bacon, and hot and cold smoking, plus we made a pork pie, complete with hot crust pastry. There was surprisingly still time for homemade beef bourguignon (courtesy of Annie) and apple crumble (courtesy of Bod) in their dining room, before we head back upstairs to make sausages, and a salami, which we were given to take home (mine is currently hanging above the bath). I go on a lot of cookery courses, but

I’ve never had as much fun – or learnt as much – as I did here. Pig butchery might not sound glam, but for anyone with a genuine interest in food it’s an essential thing to try. You might not love the idea of it – I get that – but afterwards you’ll understand where every cut comes from, why different cuts need different cooking times, and will be reminded of the infinite recipe possibilities from a single animal. It’s about R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The oink!

Pig Butchery at Vale House Kitchen costs £180 and is taught by Robin Rea. The next course takes places on 31 May. For details of this and other courses, visit For more info on Robin’s charcuterie store, visit


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