One of Mike North's dreams when buying his own pub was to have enough land for a smallholding from which he could stock his menu. A year down the line and the first of the Nut Tree pork is on the menu. Tom Vaughan reports
Chloe lies down when you stroke her, Adolf has only one testicle and Colin, after being found doing laps of the village pond following a successful escape bid, is an aspiring athlete. But for all their foibles and lack of balls, Mike North's pigs are destined for only one place - the dinner table.
When North was on the hunt for a pub with his partner Imogen Young in 2006, the dream was to find a site with enough land for a miniature smallholding. With its three acres of land, the Nut Tree Inn in Murcott, Oxfordshire, was the perfect acquisition.
The first step on the road to partial self-sufficiency - a vegetable garden and chickens are planned - was the purchase of eight piglets in early 2007.
The aim was to send the first to slaughter after eight months, but the ban on the movement of livestock brought about by last year's foot-and-mouth scare meant it's only in the past few weeks that the first pigs have been shipped off to the abattoir.
The perks of keeping your own pigs are not in the economics of the setup, North admits. With each piglet costing £35, each consuming £25-worth of feed a week, and abattoir costs set at £15 an animal, the total value of each pig after eight months is about £250 - almost double the cost of a whole carcass bought from a meat supplier. "It's the added value of having the pigs trotting around the garden, being petted by the customers and then being on the menu," says North. "Although it costs twice as much, the pork becomes a premium product for us. Plus it gives me the added sanity of being able to pop out and see them every now and then."
Because North's father is a butcher, the pair can disassemble a pig carcass fairly efficiently, but even on his own, North is still very adept at taking the pig to pieces. "I'm nowhere near as good as my Dad," he confesses. "But I really enjoy just busying myself with the carcass for an hour or so and taking it all apart, and knowing every bit of it will be used."
North roasts the head until brown, braises it, strips it of its meat, scoops out the brains and reduces it all to a paste, then presses it into a terrine before setting it with clarified and reduced stock from the pig.
The shoulder is tied up into a spare rib roasting joint, cooked at 230°C for 10 minutes to get the crackling going, then for two hours at 180°C. The hand North parcures then turns into pork pies for the lunch menu.
The best end of the loin North French-trims for one large cutlet, which he'll either roast as a whole if the dinner service promises to be busy, or cut into individual cutlets on quieter nights. "Some chefs would question why I cut off the chine and trim the bones, and why not just serve it as a chop," says North. "But it's just to make it slightly easier to cut on the plate and to look a bit nicer."
The rump end of the loin is boned, rolled, scored and roasted and the belly confited for three and a half hours in duck fat until it's tender enough to push a spoon into. North bones the hind trotters then braises and stuffs them with black pudding and cured bacon bound with chicken mousse.
The final major cut, the leg, North cures in brine, having first boned it to ensure it doesn't rot from the centre during the curing process. It's put in brine for five to seven days, with the solution changed two or three times, then soaked in water for a few days, to get rid of any brackish residue, before being boiled with straw and beer.
And so to the bones and trimmings because nothing goes to waste. The fat trimmings he slices up and roasts into scratchings, using the rendered fat for hot-water pastry, the fore trotters are used to set the stock for the pork pies, and the tail is braised and sold with meaty fish such as monkfish and turbot. The kidneys go into a steak and kidney pie, the livers cooked and served with bacon, mash and Savoy cabbage and the bones used for stock and to roast the joints on. Nothing is unused.
Ignoring the costs saved on minor items such as scratchings and stock, the total retail value of the pig is just shy of £1,000. The terrine will serve about 15, with each portion priced at about £6, the back leg more than 20 sandwiches and the hand will serve about 24 four-inch diameter pies at about £4 each. The value of all the main-course cuts is about £11 - the shoulder joint will serve 24, the belly 16, the best end of loin 16, the rump of loin 20 and the trotters two.
Rearing your own
So although it may cost twice the amount of a normal pig, the difference in profit is only about 17% less when rearing your own. It's a gap that's of minimal importance when one considers the popularity of their home-reared pig. "We struggle shifting our other roasts when we have pork on of a Sunday because everyone wants some Nut Tree pig," says North.
Colin may have hit the menu this week but it'll be less than a fortnight before he sells out and Chloe, Rebecca or Duncan go to the abattoir. And with more piglets on the way, it may be the end of the road for the original Nut Tree gang, but not for the restaurant's home-reared pork.
Recipe: Nut Tree Inn pork pie
Ingredients (Makes about 10 pork pies)
For the filling 1 whole hand of pork (about 3kg)
3tbs ground coriander
750ml pork stock
For the pastry 550ml water
Salt to taste
1.5kg plain flour
Method Parcure the pork in salt for 24 hours, rinse thoroughly, then leave for another 24 hours. Dice into 1cm pieces, purée about 600g and mix all together with the coriander.
Simmer the stock with the pig trotter for a few hours, then pass through a fine chinois and allow to cool overnight, before scooping off the fat to leave only the jelly.
For the pastry, boil the water, lard and salt together to emulsify the fat, then whisk in the flour, knead and allow to cool.
To make the pie, get a ball of pastry roughly the size of a peach and push down on it with a rolling pin to form a cavity, then fill it in with a golf ball-sized amount of pork mixture. Work up the sides to shape the pie evenly, then cover the top with a layer of pastry, make a hole in the centre, then crimp around the edges.
Cook for 45 minutes at 180°C, take out and allow to cool for two hours. Reheat the jelly and allow to cool without setting, then pour into the hole at the top of the pies. The meat will shrink as it cools, so the pie will need topping up with jelly at regular intervals.
Don't pour in the jelly while it's too hot or it will melt the pastry, but conversely, if it's too cool it will set to jelly and won't pour.
The Nut Tree Inn: the story so far
After being awarded a surprise Michelin star in 2005 at nearby pub the Goose in Britwell Salome, Mike North and Imogen Young went it alone in November 2006, buying their dream pub, the Nut Tree Inn in Murcott, Oxfordshire.
The pair began to impose their stamp on the business after Christmas that year, and have steadily built a reputation among local diners while keeping the pub at the heart of the village. Their hard work, and North's ability in the kitchen, resulted in the pub being named among only five rising stars in the 2008 Michelin guide, an award given to businesses expected to gain a Michelin star in the near future.