Monday, March 21, 2011

Czech Pig Butchering {Zabijačka} - Part II

I've been stalling. I wanted to write all about the pig-sticking days weeks ago. And I had started by going through the pictures. And then I stopped.

Days after the event they just seemed, well, a touch graphic. During the actual pig affair, when I was learning all about the different steps, and behind my lens happily snapping away, the resulting images spoke to me in an aesthetic way -  as normal images of landscapes or food would typically do. I judged the lighting, composition, and so on. Then I got busy with life for a few days. After which I looked again. Away from the sunny Saturday afternoon surrounded by a family all pitching in together to ensure they eat quite well over the coming months, the images just seemed shocking. I needed some distance.

Hopefully the time has helped my judgement and the pictures in the album reflect the choice to show the zabijačka in it's full light, guts and all. I think it more useful to describe the day on this post and leave the gamut of visuals on a separate page (with a warning that some may appear graphic, but it is for the sole purpose of being illustrative of the home butchering process). Note that three of the pictures are from a previous year, as this year I was in the kitchen when they sliced pig open, but I really wanted to show how that stage looks.

Okay, done with the warnings. On to the day.

The entire event took place in the backyard using an open shed next to a wine cellar as the home base. The wine cellar conveniently has two rooms, one outer room for processing the offal and the forthcoming products, and an inner cellar, which is cool enough to house the meat cuts during the day. A large metal vat over a flame is also in non-stop usage. The tools are otherwise pretty basic - assorted knives and hatchets and barrels of different sizes. The specialty tools come in for making the head cheese and puddings.

We started at 5:45 (and cold! -8°C/ 17°F.) We met my father-in-law at the pig farm to purchase a 160 kilo (350 lb) pig. There were two other families buying a pig that morning. One family killed it there at the farm, which is not common. We brought it back to the house using a cage borrowed from the village, which specifically offers it's residents use of such cages for zabijačka.

7:00 Pig was home and being put down. There is a strange and unique moment right before the actual death of the animal. The method used is simple and extremely humane. It was over very quickly using a type of gun which shoots a large metal spike into the brain. Despite this fairly mild process, many women typically still stay in the house for this (and during the hair removal) and prepare food for the day.

9:00 The body hair has been removed by covering the pig in a powdered resin and pouring hot water over it, which makes the hair stick together and ball up. Various scraping tools are then used to remove it from the root.

The head has been removed and organs are being taken out and brought to the cellar. The blood was kept and is placed on the seat of the tractor, which was frozen overnight and seems like the best place to keep it cool for later use.

{2 rounds of slivovice (plum brandy), 1 of grog and a plate of sweets so far}

10:00 Liver has finished boiling, and brains have been scrambled with eggs. Time for brekkie. The eggs/brains are spread on toast and eaten with coffee and more slivovice (there were also muffins there for those not feeling up to pig products so early in the day.)

The stomach was brought into the kitchen to be repeatedly boiled/emptied for cleaning, and the diaphragm was being divided up between my mother-in-law and her sister. It's good for making meatloaf (sekaná), used as a netting to wrap around the meatloaf and hold everything in place.
It's 3°C / 37°F and the guys are in the cellar working on sorting, cleaning and other processing of the offal, preparing things for various meat delicacies. The meat is also being portioned up into various cuts.

11:00 I'd been spending time in the kitchen chatting with an auntie to avoid the fresh offal smell in the cellar. She is rendering some fat in the oven to bring forth some cracklings/pork rind.

12:00 Various offal have finished boiling in the big metal vat, and they're jumbled on the cellar table while we pick through the best of them for a light lunch. Liver, kidney, neck meat, snout, and tongue are all sliced up and eaten with bread, horseradish, apples, and mustard. Barley is soaking in preparation for the puddings. Soup and broth are being prepared with a few vegetables.
14:30 The meat has been cut up and laid out in the wine cellar. The head cheese (tlačenka, pictured on the left) has been made with the best organs and skin. The lesser pieces are for the black and white puddings (pictured below to the right.) The guts have been cleaned and are waiting for the filling to be ground up to make puddings. The fat is being melted down over a fire to make lard.

For more details on the making of these famed pork products - head cheese and black and white pudding - check out the last post here.

15:30 The puddings have both been made. White got a selection of offal, and black got a similar offal selection, as well as barley, blood, and a glass of red wine. The cracklings/pork rinds are just about finished. Time to clean up.

It was an early day. The hubs recalls zabijačkas  where there were even more people helping out, and still they were finishing well past dusk. However, he also recalls that a lot more slivovice was had during these days. I smell a slight correlation...

I hope this information might be as interesting to some as it is to me. I sincerely think it's amazing that this traditional pig-sticking is still able to go on as a small-scale family event. In times of (over) regulation due to food safety scares, it is refreshing that we are still able to go from pig to plate in our own backyards.

More info:
For the first half of the pig-sticking affair, see this post.
For more on the village, Němčičky, where it was held, see this post.
And for the pictures of the pig-sticking, check out the online album.
To see Anthony Bourdain's zabijačka experience, watch his No Reservations Prague episode:

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy
-- Jo

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