“I could drink this straight from the bottle” laughs Sarah Mills, of Parsonage Farm in Hampshire, as we glug Twisted Nose Gin into a container of freshly made sausage meat. We are here to take part in a butchery and charcuterie workshop, picking up tips from experts in making salamis, saucisson and lomo.
We wind along Hampshire’s country roads, through lush green countryside and peaceful red-brick-cottage hamlets, to Parsonage Farm, owned by Mills’ family since 1932. A hearty welcome from Sarah and her husband John is made all the warmer with Sarah’s homemade lemon cake, and then it’s straight out to the fields for John to share his wisdom on feeding and rearing pigs.
Back in the Meat Room we put on aprons and listen intently as local butcher Mike shares butchery tips (this course is not for the squeamish; participants work their way through a whole pig). Butchery is done in ‘thumbs’, and we watch as Mike expertly slices through the pig without losing one of his own. The aim is to prepare the carcass into appropriate cuts for charcuterie – the belly for bacon and streaky bacon, the loin for lomo, the wonderful combination of meat and fat at the collar for coppa, the shoulder for salami and the leg for cured ham – and Mike shares tips on everything from making the shoulder as long as possible for coppa to cutting off the flare fat from the bottom of the ribs to melt into lard.
With just six people in the class, working in pairs, there’s plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and to have a go at everything Mike shows us, preparing each cut of meat. It’s my job to section off the prized lomo, and using Mike’s knives and equipment, it’s surprisingly easy to pull the loin away from the rest of the muscle.
A well-deserved lunch break takes us over to the Mills’ beautiful farmhouse kitchen, where bowls of warming butternut squash soup, baskets of bread, local cheeses and a selection of Parsonage Farm charcuterie are passed around the large wooden table. We try Tangworth cheese, learn about Hampshire wines (bookmarking Hambleton sparkling wine as a must-try) and sample Sarah’s watercress and gin salami (later, we make it ourselves).
Split into pairs again for the afternoon session this time the focus is on turning the freshly butchered cuts of pork into delicious cured meats, using local ingredients such as Upham Brewery Stakes Beer, Anna Valley Chillies spice mixes, and that very drinkable Twisted Nose Gin from Winchester. Each participant gets to create their own personal bacon cure – we mix spoons of sticky black treacle with salt and Sarah teaches us how to rub the cure into the meat using a curing bag.
Most fun, however, is making saucisson. We mince meat and use our hands to combine it with salt and almost-luminous green watercress powder, taking care to ensure the seasoning is fully incorporated into every part of the mix (this avoids rotting during the curing process), before topping it off with a healthy amount of gin and slipping it into sausage cases using a wind-up machine.
Our finished products are taken into a drying room and carefully hung alongside red wine and garlic salami, Merguez sausages and snacking chorizo to finish the curing process.
A fond fare well to our new friends and it’s time to head back to London with a fresh set of skills and some fresh country air in our lungs. A few weeks later, a brown paper package arrives at home containing our air-dried salamis and saucisson – the Parsonage Farm charcuterie course is certainly one that keeps on giving.
Butchery and charcuterie courses at Parsonage Farm cost £150 including lunch (10am – 4pm); parsonage-farm.co.uk
Writer: Alex Crossley
First published: February 2016
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