Seminar answers burning pig questions

How much of a pig is edible? That was the first question posed to a group of Young NPA producers and processors at a 'Pig To Plate Seminar' held by BPEX.

BPEX butchery and product development manager Keith Fisher, explained in detail with facts, figures and illustrations, how the live animal is transformed firstly into a carcase, then larger primal cuts and finally into consumer-sized steaks and joints.

"By developing new cuts, are you increasing the retail value of the carcase?" was a question asked by one member of the audience at the event, held at the Meat and Livestock Commission HQ in Milton Keynes. "And how do you get shoppers to demand these products and understand how to cook them?"

Fisher explained that many of the cuts of meat that consumers are now familiar with came about as a result of the MLC's development work, as well as the marketing support packages put behind the new products to help launch them onto the market. "Take pork belly," said Fisher. "Once upon a time it wasn't very popular at all, but now there are a number of top restaurants featuring it on the menu - and that has filtered down into many pubs, butchers and other retail outlets.

Fisher also spoke to the group while demonstrating how to seam butcher a whole range of cuts from a side of pork. "Different muscles have different textures and degrees of tenderness, depending on where they have come from on the animal," he explained. "As there are no hard and fast rules in place to tell butchers exactly how to cut meat, you often find inconsistencies from one cut to the next. That's why specifications are so important - and much of BPEX's work has focused on encouraging retailers and caterers to specify the exact products for their needs, helping them and their suppliers to achieve a better understanding, a more consistent product and ultimately a cost-saving."

"Why don't we see all these fabulous cuts you've shown us today on the fresh meat aisles in the supermarkets?" asked one of the delegates.

Fisher explained: "Some retailers do carry a wider range of fresh meat cuts. But ready-meal manufacturers are always looking for something different and are keen to try out new and different cuts, so that's where you'll see the biggest variety. In particular, cuts from the forequarter (such as shoulder and belly), offer excellent value for money and tend to be more widely available than the more traditional cuts, so they are very popular in ready meals."

Following the butchery demonstration, the group was introduced to MLC's home economics manager Clare Greenstreet, who set about explaining what happens to different cuts of pork when they are cooked. "It's vital that I know where on the animal the cut has come from," said Greenstreet, "this is so that the right cooking method is used to achieve the optimum cooking result. Legs, collar and shoulder are tougher as they have to work harder on the animal and require slow cooking. Loins and fillet will be more tender and therefore can be cooked quickly."

"There are two basic types of cooking," she added. "Quick and dry, such as grilling, griddling and barbecueing, or slow and moist, such as pot-roasting, braising or casseroling. Some of the nicest pork recipes use the tougher cuts, cooked on a low heat for a long period. But regardless of which method you chose, most people prefer to cook with store-cupboard products, so our recipe development work uses everyday accessible ingredients and the dishes are quick and simple to prepare."

Greenstreet demonstrated how to cook a range of pork cuts, including mince, stir-fry, escallops (from the leg) and roast fillet. Delegates were invited to taste her dishes before being introduced to sausage connoisseur, Barry Dean, for a sausage-making demonstration 'Generation Game' style, as the attendees were invited to have a go themselves!

To round off the seminar, MLC consumer marketing manager, Chris Lamb, explained how in-depth research has led to a much clearer insight into consumer shopping behaviour. Sharing that knowledge throughout the supply chain is of vital importance to ensure that everyone, from farmers and producers through to processors, manufacturers, retailers and caterers understands how to maximise profit potential and keep up with latest market trends.

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