BANGKOK — Half of a pig lies open in front of the butcher. He expertly saws off its foot, separates the ribs and removes clumps of fat to be used for lard. Once deboned, the shoulder is seasoned with salt, pepper, herbs and lemon zest before being rolled and tied into a proper porchetta.
Joe Sloane is the owner of one of the first artisan meat distributors sourcing from local farms considered “high-welfare” because, as he puts it, they “keep the pigs and chickens happy.” Those familiar with the objectively sweeter, fresher tasting meat at trendy eateries such as Luka, Viva Thonglor, Jamie’s Italian or even Michelin-starred Gaggan and Bo.lan may recognize the common denominator or at least its flavor: meat sourced from Joe.
“I don’t want to make cheap, nasty things because they might sell,” said the 40-year-old native of Suffolk, England. “The humanity side of me wants the pigs and chickens we use to have a good life as well as death, and the chef side of me wants the best quality products available.”
Can’t Find the Good Stuff
Sloane trained in European kitchens for 15 years, doing everything from baking to patisserie, but found that he enjoyed butchery and charcuterie the most. He moved to Thailand in 2007 and started working at hotels, where he found the supply of artisan meats lacking. Whereas in London he could call up a supplier and choose which part of which pig he wanted, ordering in Bangkok meant being shipped generic, mass produced lumps.
“There was no direct contact with the farms. Pork was pork,” he said. “No one was making proper sausage or bacon. No one was smoking anything with wood. They were all using liquid smoke.”
I want to show how amazing Thai farms can be. I can prove that I can do things properly.
Through his friends, kitchen power couple Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bo.lan, Sloane discovered “some amazing pigs in Sisaket” and started making sausage to sell to local expats.
“I couldn’t bring a whole pig into the house. My wife and daughter wouldn’t be too happy about that,” he laughed. “At one point, I knew I had to do this seriously or stop. I thought that I might leave Thailand if I couldn’t do it properly, officially.”
He eventually took the leap by opening Sloane’s in 2012 to sell sausage and bacon from animals from farms he hand-picked. And as the artisan food scene blossomed in the capital in the past half decade, so Sloane has grown.
‘Good Life and Death’
Operational six years now, Sloane’s has grown from a single sausage-slinging dad to encompassing a factory in southeastern metro Bangkok that processes meat supplied from farms across the country.
His pigs come from four provinces: Ratchaburi, Sisaket, Chonburi and Chiang Mai. The chickens come from Chonburi, Chiang Rai, Khao Yai and Surin. Sloane recently started receiving Thai Angus beef from one farm in the eastern province of Sa Kaeo.
“I don’t like to use the word organic because there’s no organic meats in Thailand. However, these are high-welfare farms, where we make sure the pigs are happy,” Sloane said.
Sloane visits all farms that want to work with him to check if they pass his standards: Pigs must have natural bedding and, if not free-range, must have a large pen where they can dig and root around with their snouts. They must be fed a mix of animal feed and fruit but no hormones or antibiotics unless they are ill.
Interestingly, pigs must also have enrichment toys, usually a football they can kick around with their friends.
I’m not a vegetarian; will never be a vegetarian. But I think no animal should have to suffer.
“In Suffolk, where I’m from, the pig farms in the area are so big and strong they use buoys as toys,” he said.
Chickens can also have enrichment: perches and logs from which they can pluck insects and a “dust bath,” usually a tire filled with sand they can roll around in. Sloane said he drops in on all of his source farms at least once a year to do random inspections and check in on the livestock.
“People are shocked we say no to them,” said the pig expert. “There’s this farm that’s upset we don’t use them. They keep their sows in sow stool, so she can’t even lay down and has to stand there while the bull comes inseminate her, or wait for artificial insemination. They also use farrowing crates, so she continues to be stuck there while her piglets feed off of her.”
Grown pigs are then transported to a slaughterhouse of Sloane’s choice near the farm, so the pigs don’t have to be transported far.
“A pig could have the best life at a farm, but all that could be ruined by the slaughterhouse,” said the expert butcher.
A bad slaughterhouse would kill the pigs in front of their friends or beat them to get them to move, with terrified pigs squealing loudly. Abused pigs are not only bruised, but their meat is what butchers call PSE – pale, soft and extrudent, very watery. This is caused by a rush of adrenaline changing the acidity of the pig’s muscles, Sloane explained.
“If a pig’s been treated badly at death, any butcher can immediately see it. It’s the difference between a dead pig and pork,” he said. “Once we had to cancel quite a large order from an abattoir because their pigs were coming to us all bruised.”
Sloane says his slaughterhouses kill the pigs by quick electrocution in a separate room so the other pigs don’t see what is coming and panic. Nor do the staff beat the pigs, so there’s less of of the terrified squealing.
Industrial farms, of course, do the worst of what Sloane described.
“The larger farms, they’re not nice. I don’t like their ideas or support them; they go against what I believe. I hate the way their pigs are treated,” he said. “But some people need a cheap option to survive, so there’s a place in the world for horrible farms.”
Still, he said local industry is the lesser evil compared to what would come if a recent push for US pork imports were to become a reality.
“What they’re doing to the pigs in the states is a danger to human health and hygiene, and now they want to push them into Thailand,” Sloane said. “I hope they refuse them. What we have here is much better than American, Western farms.”
“I’m not a vegetarian; will never be a vegetarian. But I think no animal should have to suffer,” he said.
Eating a Sloane-made sausage after a lifetime of the 7-Eleven variety is like seeing color in a monochrome world for the first time. Bite into a fried banger and hear a light pop of the intestine casing as oodles of juicy meat, sweet without sugar, salt-and-peppered to perfection and not-overly oily educate the palate on what real sausage should taste like.
The ground meat is measured so it has 25 percent to 30 percent fat rather than the 60 percent found in mass-produced sausages (“and who knows what the other 40 percent are,” Sloane said) and is seasoned according to what type of sausage is being made. An American-Italian sausage will have cayenne, thyme, oregano, garlic and fennel, for example.
Customers can call to request custom cuts and ask for recommendations depending on whether they want to roast something, hold a big barbecue or cure some bacon.
“I love to provide that extra level of service,” Sloane said. “We’ve gotten some strange requests over the years. Once this 80 year old British guy asked for a Bath Chap. That’s a classic British braised dish, a pig’s jowl with the tongue wrapped inside. He said he hadn’t had it for many years.”
Indeed, if you’re not up to buying and frying the sausages and patties yourself (they cost around ฿300 for half a kilogram of sausage or kilo of ground pork), drop by Siam Discovery for the delightful meatball pappardelle (฿385) at Jamie’s Italian, where all the meat has been provided by Sloane’s after he furnished the UK-based chain with “so much documentation.”
“They’re famous for their food ethics, and they didn’t want to risk damaging their reputation by sourcing from Thailand, so they had to import everything from the UK and Australia,” Sloane said. “But I thought they should support local businesses. I want to show how amazing Thai farms can be. I can prove that I can do things properly.”
Sloane’s products are also used at Roast, Chew, Le Du and various hotels. Their shopfront in the La Salle area is closed indefinitely, but Sloane’s products can be found at Villa Market, Gourmet Market and Central Food Hall supermarkets, as well as through online delivery.