I know, I know. We make a big production out of buying a mulefoot, we track her progress for a year and half, and now we're eating some other pigs. Believe me, it's complicated.
Dee Dee, you may recall, got herself pregnant last winter. So that delayed any thought of harvesting her through her three-month, three-week, three-day (average) gestation. And then her piglets needed weaning for six weeks or so, and we wanted her to have a long happy summer out on the grass. By then she was getting pretty big. Really big. I worried that she'd be too fat--as in too much fat, not enough meat.
I wanted some insight on what we could expect from Dee Dee at her size, so I tried to call Arie McFarlen, South Dakota steward of the largest herd of mulefoots in existence. After repeated attempts I got her husband on the horn, who seemed angry--outraged even--that Dee Dee had gotten herself "with pig," as the discreet say. Once she's pregnant the meat is "ruined!" he declared. It was a short conversation. Further attempts to reach McFarlen have been unsuccessful, but I was a bit skeptical about the assertion. See, Linda Derrickson and Mark Kessenich, the original Whole Hog Project farmers, have been eating a sow since December. Remember Cherry? They froze her meat after butchering.
"It's an amazing culinary experience: juicy, flavorful, plenty of texture while still being tender," Linda told me. "And the fat! Oh my gosh, a gastronomic delight."
"A sow's condition changes when she's got pigs," he wrote. "If you eat her belly when she's lactating, it won't taste the same as when she's dry. After she nurses pigs, she'll have smaller reserves of fat. By the time she's had a few litters, she's a few years old, at which point she'll be tough." But . . . "As long as you finished the sow properly after weaning, I'd eat her."
By the time we met with Paul Kahan to start planning October 19th's dinner, we worried Dee Dee was too big. Kahan's more comfortable working with smaller animals, and in the end, Valerie Weihman-Rock offered to switch Dee Dee for three younger pigs, and to slaughter Dee Dee herself in September. But then, Dee Dee got herself pregnant again. So she has another few months at least.
I still have high hopes for her, and I'll be following her story until Valerie decides it's her time. Meanwhile, October 19th approaches.
The collected Whole Hog Project.