There has been a growing interest recently in butchery courses so when I got the chance to go to Sheffield and try the ‘Pig in a Day’ course at The Milestone Cookery School I couldn’t resist. I opted for the full Weekend Experience which includes dinner at the Wig and Pen in Sheffield city centre and a one-night stay at the Rutland Hotel. The package allowed me to travel up to Sheffield and stay over on the Friday night, eliminating any stress before the course on Saturday.
All three sites are well connected by Sheffield’s tram system. The Rutland is a pleasant boutique hotel with attractive gardens and friendly staff. My room was well appointed and spacious. Dinner at the Wig and Pen was a real treat, top quality food in a stylish yet uncomplicated dining area. The pan-fried whole plaice was worth the trip alone.
After a good breakfast I again used the tram to travel to the Milestone, a short ride away in Kelham Island. The course was held in the upstairs dining room, and as attendees chatted over morning coffee the restaurant kitchens began to clatter in to life, producing some seriously mouth-watering smells. There were nine of us attending – and we gathered round Paul, our chef, in the central demo area, to begin learning about what we could do with half a pig. An awful lot as it turned out.
Paul started off by explaining that there are different types of pig, and different pig diets – for example, pigs reared for pork have a different diet than ham and bacon pigs. He also told us what to look for in a butcher (family tradition) and what equipment you’d need to try this at home (butcher’s saw, Stanley knife) and showed us a picture of some incredibly cute pigs (rare breed). Then we were on to dissection. I’d been concerned this might be reminiscent of old science lessons, but in fact it was really fun. We were all fascinated to see how the range of cuts grew under Paul’s skilful blade. He invited us to get hands on by sawing through the rib cage – though this was optional.
There was very little that couldn’t be utilised. Even the tail could be used for stock. Everything but the squeak as my grandmother used to say. There were lots of tips, such as how to get the best crackling by scoring the fat with a Stanley knife and rubbing in salt. We tried this with our lunch and I can vouch for the results. Also try to get hold of butcher’s twine for tying up your joints and keeping the meat on the bone for roasting – to increase flavour, reduce shrinkage and retain moisture.
We each cooked a chop for our lunch, seasoned with salt and pepper and glazed with butter to finish. Paul had already helped us whip up a super and simple apple and ginger chutney, and we all sat down at a long table to enjoy the fruits of our labour with fresh potatoes and seasonal greens supplied by the restaurant kitchen, washed down with a generous helping of wine.
After lunch we made our take home goodies – dry cured bacon, sausages, and black pudding, as well as a joint to cook up as a confit. Each of these we sealed using the vacuum packing machine, which impressed us all. This method can add shelf life to your chilled goods and protect against freezer burn. It also made everything easier to transport home. We used dried blood to make the black pudding, which was simplicity itself, though the uncooked mix did look strangely like brownie batter.
By the end of the day we were all pretty keen on having a go at this again. I think the informal set up really helped as Paul was very keen to show us how feasible the whole approach was. Chris, who was a keen home cook and working next to me, seemed won over to the idea of keeping pigs, but even just buying a half pig was seen as a good start. It would certainly be something to consider around Christmas, and the amount we ended up with from one half was impressive. Actually I haven’t stopped telling friends and family about this, as well as the bonus that you can go directly to the farmers, choose a rare breed and know you’re getting good quality.
The whole weekend experience was really well put together. You can, if you choose, enjoy the experience by staying in Sheffield after the course instead, which would work well too. The experience can be booked individually or with a discount for two, or you can elect just to attend the day course. It was a perfect escape, and would make a good gift.
Weekend cookery experiences at the Milestone start from £345 for two people.