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Pig to Pork: Hair Removal

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As part of my butchery project, I attended "From Pig to Pork" hosted by Fleisher's. There we witnessed the transition from animal to meat and the prep that takes it from the farm to our table. I'll be posting with observations about experience both at the farm and in the shop. Just a heads up, some of the photos are pretty graphic. The point here is to appreciate the value of the process through potentially challenging images, not to gross anyone out, so feel free to skip this post if it's not your thing.

So, the first thing to know is that all pigs are not pink and hairless like what you've seen on TV. Heritage breeds in particular often have hair, which makes sense since the idea is that they haven't been cross-bred for convenience. The pig slaughtered at the event had red, spotted hair.

One of the reasons we've come to expect pale, pink hairless pigs is because the factory farms have engineered breeds to reduce the effort needed to process their animals. They're inbred and have to live in clean rooms because of how susceptible they are to disease, but once they're dead they don't need a haircut.

That's not to belittle the effort that goes into the process. It's not so pretty. More on that after the jump.

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The pig is hoisted up and submerged in water heated to about 160 degrees for a few minutes. At that point, the skin contracts and the hair comes off with a small tug. The pig is then lifted out of the water and laid out on a surface. The hair has to be taken off while the skin is still wet and warm.

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At the event, viewers were invited to join in and help. A dozen people surrounded the table and used these odd little tools to scrape the hair in patches off of the skin. When it was all over, the pig on the table looked much more like the pink beast we are all accustomed to seeing.

If there was any moment of transformation from pig to pork, this was it for me. In classes and behind the counter and in my own kitchen, I've seen pigs like this. It was suddenly less strange to look at, less of an animal, in my own mind at least.

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