Where does pork come from
Pork is the name given to meat that comes from pigs. It is eaten in a variety of ways such as cooked and smoked. Some pieces of meat are smoked and then cooked such as a gammon steak. Pork is also often found in sausages and is one of the most commonly eaten meats in the world. Humans have been eating pork for a long time and there is evidence that pigs were bred for food as far back as 5000BC. That is about 7,000 years ago.
Pigs eat lots of different things. This made it easy for humans to breed them so they were more popular than other animals such as cows. They were usually used for food but people also used the skin of pigs (or hide as it is known) for shields and shoes. Their bones were made into tools and weapons and the bristles on their face for brushes.
The way pigs look for food has some benefits for humans. They like to dig up the ground and this makes it easier for ploughing. Also their noses are very sensitive and they can find an underground vegetable called a truffle. This is like a very expensive, underground mushroom that we eat and is a sought after speciality, especially in France.
Smoked pork was an early method of preserving pork. It meant that meat could be eaten throughout the year. The most common meats that are smoked this day are gammon and bacon. Bacon can be meat taken from the sides, belly or back of the pig. In Europe bacon is cut into small cubes called lardons. These are added to dishes to add flavour. In Italy they serve smoked pork in very thin strips. Pork has to be smoked for about ten hours using different types of wood. A thin strip of bacon in England is called a rasher and the skin, which is often left on, is called the rind.
The pig can be cut into different pieces. When you next go down to the butchers or supermarket have a look at the meat and see if you can find the following cuts or pieces of pork. This is how the different pieces are used:
This is similar to the loin and provides chops and steaks. You can also buy this as a small roast and is at a medium price when compared to the whole animal.
This is usually seen as the best quality meat. It provides lean meat (that is meat with less fat) and so it has the highest price. The leg is great for roasting and is also used for smoking to give ham and gammon.
This is a cheap part of the pig as it has more fat. The meat is ideal when you want to slow cook the meat and don't want the meat to dry out such as a casserole. If you roast the belly joint you can get lovely crackling. Crackling is the skin that has been cooked until really brown and crispy.
This is the lowest cost meat as there is more bone. The bones are used as spare ribs which are bones with a small amount of meat on and not enough meat for them to be called chops. You may have seen them cooked on a barbecue.
The loin covers the back of the pig and provides many of the smaller pieces of pork. There are chops that are like a steak with a bone in and then the loin is used for Bacon (smoked pork). It can also be roasted either on or off the bone, if off the bone the price will go up. If it is off the bone it can be rolled up so it is easier to slice when cooked. The prices are in the medium range.
This can be cut into half as a smaller roasting joint. It is cheaper than other roasting cuts like the leg and it can have all the bones taken out, then stuffed and rolled up before it is roasted. The shoulder has lots more flavour and can also be cut up into squares for stews or put on skewers that go on a barbeque.
Collar or neck
There are a number of pieces of meat that come from here. Such as ribs, chops, boneless steaks, cut up squares of pork and mince. This meat has more fat so it does not dry out when cooked. This is one of the cheaper pieces of pork.
This is not used very often in England. Sometimes it is cooked whole and decorated so it becomes the centre piece of a table. It can be used to make soups and is also boiled with herbs and seasoning to make a dish called brawn. This is like a meat paste or spread that you put on bread and is very cheap.