The slaughter of the pig is probably the main reason many of us are here. As a meat-eating group we feel we should understand where our food comes from and what is involved in its production. A 6.30 start and a rainy morning; the weather otherwise has been good. We take a traditional palinka in the cellar beforehand to steel ourselves. The pig (not a mangalitza) is lying quietly in its pen.
The killing itself is swift and efficient. The pig squeals but that’s because it’s being pulled out of its pen. A quick bolt gun to the head stuns it and it collapses. A precise knife hole – not a slit – severs the artery and blood pours out but in an ordered stream. The pig convulses while the heftier of our group sit on it. This lasts perhaps 15 seconds and it goes still.
The fascinating part is in the hours that follow as the corpse is transformed into piles of butchered flesh. There are preparatory stages of burning with a propane torch and scrubbing and scraping. This process is repeated and captured in detail by numerous cameras, including a couple of Hungarian photographers. A German business magazine – Business Punk, ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ – had commissioned an article on the killing. Its writer Nina has been instructed to get suitably blooded.
The pig is then manoeuvred onto a pallet on its back with its feet in the air. The inner parts of the ears and the eyes are cut out. The head is sliced off and the cheeks removed.
Then the belly is slit with a sharp knife, being careful not to penetrate the organs below. The cut skirts around the urethra and the first task is to carefully remove that and the bladder. After some more slicing most of the internal organs can be lifted out in one go. The liver is retained and the stomach is set aside. The heart and lungs are taken out separately.
We don’t attempt to clean the intestines: it’s long, tedious and unpleasant work, and usually (I’m told) given to women. Today we use rehydrated intestines from another animal. The kidneys and the surrounding suet are next to come out. Then the tenderloin muscles, on the inside of the ribcage, are cut out.
Some careful axing of the backbone means the two halves are separated. Care is taken to then remove the spinal cord. The meat butchery can begin.
The cuts are rather different from what you’d find in the UK. We were surprised at the extent to which they removed the skin and fat from the various joints. Historically the fat is important as the main source of oil, and the local cooking styles of stews and frying don’t need it. Even the caul fat is simply added to one of the stew pans.
It was fascinating to see the colours and textures of different muscles and similar variety in the types of different fats. The hams and bacon were set into pools of salted garlic water and would later be smoked. The meat we did not eat – the vast majority of it – was donated to a local old people’s home.
Other cuts were the hams and fatty bacon, the tenderloins and lumps of shoulder.