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Bath Chaps, Bath

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In times not too long past we ate everything of the pig except its squeak. The Bath chap is an example of a traditional delicacy that made the best of a slightly unpalatable cut of the animal, the meat from its jaw. Now that many who cook believe the pig is composed solely of back bacon and pork chops the chap has become unfashionable and indeed difficult to obtain.

What is it? A wedge shaped cut of meat from the pigs jaw, rather fatty it has to be admitted, but then it is tastier for that. The meat is cured like bacon (at one time they were also dried, but that practice is long gone), and can be smoked; it is boiled to cook the meat, boned and pressed in a mould to give the characteristic half-wedge shape; bread-crumbed to give a York Ham -like appearance, and like that luxury served cold. Traditionally eaten with mustard to cut through the fat, and with boiled or fried eggs, it makes good picnic food if you can find it, but was dinner-fare in earlier days.

There is something reassuringly Georgian about the dish, like the town of Bath itself, substantial and yet elegant, respectable but indulgent. The name chap is another version of the more contemporary word chop, and they are associated with Bath, or so it is thought, because the area once had an abundance of Gloucester Old Spot pigs , whose long jaw is ideally suited to the cut. These pigs gained flavour on a diet rich in Somerset s plentiful apples that they troughed in the autumn before slaughter, imparting no doubt a particular savour to the meat.

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