30 December 2022

However you slice it, these hams are worth hogging

| James Coleman
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Griffith Butchery & Bakery

Richard Odell (centre) and sons Mike and Tim with a full leg of ham at the Griffith Butchery & Bakery. Photo: James Coleman.

While you’re hoeing into your Christmas ham at this time of year, do you ever pause to think where it came from?

A pig, obviously (thanks, Dad). But in the past 60 years, the raising of these little piggies has changed.

Initially, it consisted of open-air pens and barns, then it was industrial-scale cages and sheds, and now it seems to be going back to free-range style.

Longstanding Canberra butcher Richard Odell from the Griffith Butchery and Bakery realised this when he picked up an old copy of Australian County Magazine in an op-shop. Dated October 1966, the front cover proclaimed a switch in pig raising to ‘intensive housing’.

“A revolution in pig housing that’s dominating the industry … almost to the exclusion of all else,” the story reads.

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Well, now there’s a re-revolution, and it’s on the front cover of another piece of print media.

Established in 1989, not only does the Griffith Butchery have a 2021 Canberra Region Local Business Award up its sleeve, but its bacon went the whole hog in 2017/2018, taking out the Australian Porkmark Bacon Award, both nationally and for the ACT. In 2019/20 his bacon was named best in the ACT.

Richard prides himself on the fact “every cut of meat can be traced back directly to our breeders and producers”, and the pig is no exception. Over the years, he has sourced it from a number of breeders and wholesalers, but for the past three years, it’s been David Refalo of Refalo Free Range Pork in Canowindra.

It was David who appeared on the front cover of the farmer’s bible, The Land, on Thursday, 20 October 2022, for his free-range approach to pig farming.

“It’s been his life-long dream to run his own free-range pig farm,” Richard says.

“But it’s definitely not the most common method of pig farming out there nowadays.”

‘Intensive housing’ took Australia by storm in the 1970s as it saved time and effort while doubling meat output. By having all the pigs in one place, contained, it made feeding, parasite control and waste removal much simpler. It also meant the pigs could pack on more weight in a shorter time. With costs down and more pigs making more meat, the cost dropped so the consumer won too.

Unlike images of crammed and starved battery hens, Richard says this rearing method was never cruel, and there are still animal welfare and food safety inspections to pass, “but they may never see the sun from the time they’re born to the time they die”.

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However, there are implications for the taste and texture of the meat.

“In an animal that hasn’t been very active, the muscles retain more excess body fluid so the meat can end up watery.”

Richard says there are pros and cons to both, and he sees healthy competition between both methods continuing. Butcher shops will likely opt for more free-range options while chain supermarkets content themselves with pork from wholesalers, buying from large intensive-housing-style farms.

As for the legs of ham in the Griffith fridges, it will continue to come from Refalo.

“The meat is light in colour and soft, with a high meat-to-bone ratio, and the skin is softer and thicker too,” he says.

“Of course, the butcher has something to do with it and the pig made the ultimate sacrifice, but I put our award-winning pork down to Dave.”

The Griffith Butchery & Bakery at 10 Barker Street, Griffith, is open from 7:30 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, and 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, Saturday.

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