Monday, October 8, 2012

Project Pork - Again, "Everything you never wanted to know about buying pork at the fair"

Allllrighty then...  I owe you guys a post about The Pig Purchase Adventure!

Requisite Warning: "Rampant Rambling Ahead."  If buying meat-on-the-hoof at the fair doesn't interest you, then "Move along...  Nuthin' to see here..!"

And, BTW, this post will be WILDLY out-of-order - given that it's taken me over a week to finally write it!  But I'll *try* to stay On-Topic as much as I can (No easy feat - as I'm sure you're aware!!!)

As previously noted, Finnyknits and I went-in halvsies on the purchase of a pig at the San Benito County Fair...

Finny couldn't make it.  But Beloved Hubs and I made the trek down to Bolado Park, in Trés Pinos - on the other side of Hollister, CA ("Birthplace of the American Biker").  Figure, it's appx 50 miles South of here...  (Ooh, and we drove through ohhh-sooo-aromatic Gilroy - "Garlic Capital of the World" - and GAWD was I hungry!)  

So anyway, prior to the inception of "Project Pork" (which, actually, started LAST year with my Reconnaissance Mission to the San Benito County Fair), I did do a fair amount of research.

I found the most useful info at these sites:  This one, and this one.  Although the pricing listed on these sites is nowhere near what we paid (:::sigh:::  "It's for a Good Cause!")

I also did further "relevant" research for the local butchers.  We ended up going with Freedom Meat Locker - primarily because they DO have a good web-site (with "cut-sheets" and prices posted), and also because the Yelpers gave 'em consistently rave reviews, including this one:

 - "Carnivores would probably have a boner when they walk in if they see this place. It's meat heaven." 

Consequently, Finny and I have (privately) dubbed this The Meat Bonéria!  Anyway, I checked their website, and also called them to have them fax their most-current price list (which - amazingly! - matches what's posted online!).
Details on pricing/butchering (in general):

To reiterate: When you buy the animal at the auction, you are bidding, per-pound for "live weight."  Then there is a flat "butchering"/"processing" fee (to "dispatch" the animal).  Then the Meat Locker charges you, per pound, based on "hanging weight" - which is roughly 2/3 of "live weight."  And that fee is just for cutting and packaging:  There are add'l (varying) charges if you want smoking (hams and bacon) or flavored sausages (higher $ still).  But the add'l charges are based on "actual poundage" for whatever meats you are smoking or having made into sausage...

I'm not certain, but I think the San Benito County Fair contracted with the "meat processors" - not sure what the correct term is... (aka "dispatchers") (aka "Send My Pig To FREEDOM") (Ultimately "Convert my pig from a living, sentient being, to a hanging carcass to be delivered to the Meat Locker").  Anyway, the cost for "dispatching" a pig is $30.00/head.  And I think that's a negotiated price based on the # of animals that the fair is planning to "dispatch" this year.  So that may vary, regionally...

San Benito County Fair uses these meat lockers: Freedom Meat Lockers, Corralitos Market (no website!) and Star Market.  Price-wise, they all looked pretty comparable.  And they all got Rave Reviews on Yelp.  So I ended up basing my decision on the "completeness" of their website, and the "helpfulness" of their staff when I called.  

Freedom won - hands-down.  The ladies who man (woman?) the phones are SUPER helpful and SUPER knowledgeable and seem to be very-much accustomed to neophytes (like me!) calling and asking silly questions! 

So the "Base Price" for processing @ Freedom is $0.98/lb for "hanging weight" which - as previously noted - is appx 2/3 of live weight.  That's for cut and wrap - to our specifications (i.e. I want 2 shoulder roasts @ ~3lbs, and the rest should be ground into sausage.  And I want the loin made into thick-cut, boneless pork-chops packaged in 2-serving portions, etc.).  

Smoking and Sausage are "extra." (Smoking - of hams and bacon - come in at $0.90/lb extra,  Sausages range from $2.35-$3.10/lb with a minimum order of 20# of a specific Sausage-Flavor (minimum needed to fill the grinder/stuffer contraption).  So: End Result:  Finny and I will be splitting 20# of Hot Italian Sausage (10# apiece).  That should still leave me a good-sized hunk of "Picnic Shoulder" (or whatevers) for smoking into a delicious "Pulled Pork" Extravaganza...

Here is the final "assumed" break-down (with the understanding that the roast poundage might end-up getting cut-back a squee, in order to maintain the sausage minimum):

Based on the review of site #2:   The assumption is, well, forget the assumptions (since this post has taken me so damned long to write!) - HERE is what we will PROBABLY end up with.  Well, more specifically, this is how my half will be portioned out.  Finny's order is similar.

We'll each get about a couple-dozen 3/4" pork chops (wrapped 2 per package), 2 shoulder roasts (prob'ly smaller than anticipated - or maybe just one roast), 1 smoked ham (in my case, it will be 3-4 "ham roasts" at 3-4 lbs apiece.  I think Finny went with Ham Steaks instead), 8 lbs of smoked thick-cut bacon, 3 lbs of spare ribs and 10 lbs of Smoked Hot Italian Sausage, and maybe a pound or two of plain, bulk, ground-pork sausage (which I may, or may not attempt to stuff into casings and smoke myself).

Also:  We had set a "theoretical cap" of $600, per couple, for the Piggy-Share.  I took that number and plugged it into a nifty little (Droid-Phone-Friendly) spreadsheet and factored-in all kinds of details like "dispatching" fees and per-lb "processing fees": and yada-yada, in order to come up with a "MAXIMUM" bid price, per animal, right????  And I was *so* proud of my Anal-Retentiveness in that particular endeavor! (More on that, later!)

Anyhooooo...  In the interest of preserving my "Random Ramblings" Title, let's move onto the Actual Adventure at the fair, shall we?  Ohhhh suuuuuuure!

So we arose, bright-and-early, at zero-dark-hundred on Saturday Morning.  Just FYI:  I do NOT function prior to 9:00am, as a rule!  But Hubs got me up and functional at around 6:00am - and lived to tell about it!

Now, it's late September, when the weather is generally "pretty pleasant," right?!!

We hit the road around 7:30am, so we could be assured of getting settled-in and parked and "checked-in" as a buyer by 9:00am, right?!

As we were driving down, we encountered this:

Friggin' SUCK-TASTIC "Wintry" lookin' weather on 101 South...

And as we got FURTHER south (where the weather is s'posed to be even NICER), we encountered THIS:

Weather sooooo froggy, my camera couldn't even focus!
This is hwy 25, eastbound, heading toward Hollister...

Once we reached the "other side" of Hollister, the heavens opened:

Yay!!!  Sunshine!!!

And we arrived at the fairgrounds:
We the Ferris Wheel - from a long-time back
(Actually goes back to our pre-marriage/pre-proposal trip to the Calaveras County Fair...)

But that's another story, for another time...  Point being:  I got checked-in, on time, and got my Critter Catalog and Bidder #:

Catalog and Bidder#

So, immediately after getting my Catalog and Bidder #, we went back and got some breakfast.  We had about an hour to kill, so I started scribbling notes on the Buyer's Catalog - which lists ALL of the animals + weights - about 'Max to Bid" per animal.

I was "PREPARED," right???

Welllll... Kinda!

I was thinking we were gonna be bidding in the range of roughly $3.50-5.00/lb (depending on weight), right?  And $5.00/lb was a SUPER-high estimate based on the fact that the gal at Freedom Meats told me that Safeway was "bidding-up" all the pigs at Santa Cruz County Fair (a couple of weeks prior) - to $5.00/lb.  Right out the chute, I was all "Oh, crap!"  That's gonna be over-budget - unless it's a smallish 200# pig.

Now, the night before, I re-worked my spreadsheet into a PRINTABLE format that listed Maximum-Bid, per weight.  So, like, if the pig was 190#, I could bid as high as $5.47/lb.  Whereas, if the pig was 235#, I could only bid $4.29/lb.  So I did all these calculations, clear up to 250#.  And my calculations were (stupidly) EXACT.  Yes, $4.29/lb.

There were a couple of flaws in this plan:  First one being: my spreadsheet maxed-out at 250#.  But appx 1/3 of the animals were OVER 250#. (Holy Bacon, Batman!  There were some 270+ pounders that looked like friggin' STEERS!).

The second flaw was that bids were increasing in $0.50 increments, so that $4.29 "exact max bid" wasn't gonna fly...

Okay, no worries!  I'll just round-down to the nearest $0.50/lb.

And, as for the pigs that exceeded my printed spreadsheet weight, I'll just use my Handy-Dandy "Pork Calculator App" (excel spreadsheet!) on my Droid!

Well, the third flaw (or "last nail in the coffin!") was that (as it turned out) the Opening Bids were starting at, or ABOVE my calculated maximum.  "Sh*t!"

Add one more "fly in the ointment:" Hubbie had a toothache that day.  Now, mind you, he didn't SAY anything about it when we woke-up that morning.  Bless his heart, I'm *guessing* that he figured he'd just come along, and we'd get in and buy the pig, and GO.  But - as it turned out - they kinda re-shuffled the "order" of things at the Auction, this year.  Pigs weren't going on the block until the VERY END of the day.

So, we got there bright and early.  Got registered and got our bidder#.  We also got settled in with some GOOD seats.  Down low, so we don't have to climb over strangers, and up toward the front, so we can SEE all the action - up close 'n personal, right?  

Getting ready to start the Auction...

And, once we were all settled in (with my spreadsheets and buyer's catalog, and maximum bids duly noted), THEN hubs decides to tell me about his throbbing toothache and how he thinks he might need an Emergency Extraction.


"Umm.  Why didn't you tell me this BEFORE we left?!  I could have come down by myself!!!"

Oh well...  Whatever.  We were there.  Might as well make the best of it.  Although we did relinquish our PRIMO seats and sat out in an open area near the barns to wait it out ('til after the rabbits, and turkeys, and 80-jillion sheep, and 30-jillion goats, and 50-jillion steers were sold).

Did I mention it was a GORGEOUS day?!
Looking toward the livestock barns and hills in the background...

While we were hanging out, I wandered off to take pictures of pigs...

Most were snoozing!

This guy really "hammed-it-up" for the camera
(Get it?!!  "Ham-it-up?!!")  (:::GROAN:::)

I also wandered back to the Auction Ring, from time-to-time, to see how things were progressing...

Here is one of the "Champion" Steers
Prob'ly sold for $8million...

Finally!!!  Pigs are in the ring!

So, the way it worked was:  The first critters (in each group) to be auctioned were the Champions and Reserve Champions (4-H and FFA), and some "Breeder's Choice" Hoo-Haw Awards (for animals bred/raised by the exihibitor, locally).  And for each of the "Prize" critters, we had to wait for the buyer and exhibitor (and critter) to be photographed.  So generally, the first half-dozen animals sold took a lot longer to GET sold.

Then, when they DID start auctioning the pigs, the FIRST pig (4-H champion) sold for a whopping $20+/lb. We are talking about a FIVE-THOUSAND-DOLLAR-HAM people!!!

Needless to say, I was all :::GULP!:::

And hubs was all "You're NOT paying those kind of prices, are you?!!" (he was feeling pretty grumpy at this point.  Apparently, the Motrins I'd tossed him earlier weren't working very well).

"Just hang on" I retorted "These are the Champion pigs...  Let's just sit tight and see what the Regular pigs are going for!"

Welllll....  As I'd stated earlier, most of the "starting bids" were already AT my pre-calculated maximum.  And now I'm getting all flustered because - Dammit - we woke up at the crack of doom, and drove all this way, and waited around, and blah-da-blah-da, and hubby is grumbling, and BY GOD I AM *NOT* GOING HOME WITHOUT A PIG, DAMMIT!!!

So then I'm consulting my "Cheat-Sheet" of maximum bids and I have more-or-less convinced myself that it'd be OK to go a "squee" above my stated maximum - and I'll just "eat the difference" (Arr-Arr!).  "So what if I end-up paying a couple-hundred more than Finny?  I mean, the meat is supposed to be stupendous and money really isn't a concern for me..."

What I hadn't considered was how Fast-Paced (and nerve-wracking) the whole Auction/ Bidding Experience was!  I mean, I watch Auction Kings and Storage Wars and all of those shows on History Channel, so I *thought* I was prepared!

Not so! (Oh my goodness, no!!!)

As it turned out, most of the pigs were selling in the $8-9/lb range.  Then one li'l piggie steps into the ring, and he's at "$4.50... $4.50... $4.50... Do I hear $5.00?  FIVE DOLLARS! $5.00... $5.00...  Do I hear $5.50?!  $5.50... $5.50...  Can I have SIX DOLLARS?"  And I bravely raised my number "SIX DOLLARS!  Can I have $6.50? $6.50... $6.50..." And somebody bid $6.50...  And the ring attendant (or whatever he's called) looked and nodded at me and I STUPIDLY nodded back...

And then I realized.  "Oh sh*t! I just bid $7.00/lb.  Oops.  Please SOMEBODY OUTBID ME!!!"

Well, nobody did.  Oopsie!

Looks like I just bought-us as pig!

So THEN, you're supposed to remain in your seat (here is the Educational Part of my post!), so that a 4H/FFA "Runner" can come and find you to fill out some paperwork to provide the purchaser's name/address/phone# and "disposition" of said purchase ("I want to take it home ALIVE, or I want to "donate him back" for a tax write-off, or I want to send it to thus-and-such Meat-Locker").  Okay, I fubar'd there.  Immediately after winning the pig, we headed toward the "Pay Here" office and, unfortunately, they couldn't take my money without the Runner's Paperwork! (so we tracked-down the "runner" who looked just as confused as we did!)

Then...  After doing the Runner's Paperwork, you learn your pig's "Tag#" (which is how he will be known, from that point forward).  You need the pig's Tag# in order to be able to place your order with the Meat Locker.  So, again, good "Educational Info" if you think you ever want to venture into "Buying Meat On-The-Hoof at the Fair" Territory!

Anyhooo...  No, I never did find out the pig's name.  Couldn't even find the exhibitor, but at least I found the pig and was able to take his picture, right?

I posted him on Facebook, and tagged Finny.  Figured we could name him "Spreckels" (although that goes against my "Never Eat Anything You've Named" rule).  Maybe it's better to just call him "Breakfast," right?!

Anyway, he is 217# and should net Finny and I appx 70-75# of meat apiece.  I paid $1549.00 to the fair (for $7/lb Live-Weight + $30.00 to "dispatch" him).  He is now hanging in the locker at Freedom Meats, and he should be ready for pick-up in appx 2-3 weeks.

Soooo...  After the fair...  I called Freedom Meat Locker and said "Hi, I am IM QTPI, and I purchased a pig at San Benito County Fair this past weekend.  I am calling to place an order for half of the pig with the tag# 123.  Finny will be calling to order the other half..."  And the ladies "walked me thru" the order process most professionally.  Finny and I will "settle-up" our Meat Locker Bills, individually.  Finny has graciously volunteered to "borrow" a ginormous cooler from me, and she will do the pick-up @ Freedom Meat Lockers, then drop the cooler-full-o-pig at my house.

Can't Freaking Wait!!!

I hope we get a few more "pleasant" afternoons where I can fire-up the smoker.  Not sure if we'll start-off with ribs, or maybe Picnic (shoulder) roasts, but I am totally JONESIN' for some good old-fashioned SMOKED PORK!!!


1 comment:

Roger said...

Congratulations on your pig, dear! We'll have some good eatin' ahead of us!


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