Wise to the Demise

Last Saturday, instead of heading to the farmers market, we spent the day in Napa, at The Fatted Calf with a 172 hog.

It takes a lot for us to miss a market. We even went to the market the morning of our wedding (which was admittedly insane, but it sounded like a good idea at the time). But we couldn’t pass up The Fatted Calf’s first Basic Pig Butchery class (part 1).

I always want to learn more about where my food comes from, particularly the King of Meats: pasture-raised pork. And who better to learn from than our friends at The Fatted Calf?

The Fatted Calf is where we learned what real bacon tastes like (and if you think what you normally eat is tasty, hold on to your hats). Their pork chops smell like bacon as they cook. The Fatted Calf is where we ate a porchetta sandwich so delicious we still talk about it a year later, and it was also thanks, in part, to Fatted that we had our best meal of 2008 at Solociccia. (Taylor, one of the owners of The Fatted Calf, was one of Dario Cecchini’s first interns.)

fatted-saw

The class wasn’t just an opportunity to learn from Taylor, it was also a way to be a more honest meat eater. I don’t want to hide the fact that meat is part of an animal.

It’s easy (too easy, in my opinion) to forget about the animal when you buy meat. When you look at a pork chop, you don’t see a pig. A steak doesn’t make most of us think about a cow.

But when you are breaking an animal down into its more recognizable cuts of meat, you get to see where your meat actually comes from, how it is part of a whole. Your pork chop was once connected to the ribs. That prosciutto had to be carefully separated from the center of the animal in order to cure correctly. That bacon? You can see it clearly when you divide the animal into its primal cuts (in fact, you can pretty much see it in the photo above).

fatted-skin

Our class pig was a mix of wild boar and a heritage pork breed that had spent its life on pasture at Riverdog Farms. It was already split in half so there was no blood or organs to deal with. Taylor showed us how to separate each half into its three primal cuts, and then into the cuts that are more familiar to us meat eaters: tenderloin, ribs, chops, shoulder.

I’d taken cooking classes before where you learned to work a knife in small, concise ways to dice vegetables or mince garlic, but separating the half pig into those first three parts required totally different knife skills.

There’s a reason they call it breaking down a pig. We had to use real force – driving the knife down through the flesh until you broke through the skin and then, ideally, pulling the blade through the muscle one clean, powerful pull. To get through the bone, we traded in our knives for a hacksaw.

fatted-sausage

We removed the tenderloin and separated the ribs into spare ribs and baby back ribs. We separated the back leg and the shoulder blade. We sawed off the trotters and the feet (the front feet are called trotters, the back are called feet), and carefully cut removed the skin. (The Fatted Calf uses every part of the animal – the feet go into soups and stocks, the skin becomes cracklins).

We turned one side of the hog into a rib roast we had for lunch, while the shoulder and leg that we’d practiced on was ground into three kinds of sausage: British bangers (a poached sausage), a spicy Italian sausage called a chipolata, and a magnificent batch of crepinettes, sausage patties studded with roast hazelnuts and wine-braised figs.

We got to take home much of the meat we’d made that day– two packs of crepinettes per person and easily a pound each of the bangers and chipolata. Most of our haul went into the freezer, but Mr. WholeHog and I ate some of the chipolatas we’d made on Saturday afternoon for dinner that night (just how fresh can you get y’all).

That’s the kind of meat eater I want to be.

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2 Responses to “Wise to the Demise”

  1. Bookmarked: Farm Blogs « Whole Hog Says:

    […] Whole Hog I Came to the City and It Changed My Life « Wise to the Demise […]

  2. Hasn’t it been a wonderful year? « Whole Hog Says:

    […] at our local farmers market continued to be a weekly treat for me, but this year, I also learned to break down half a hog at the Fatted Calf, saw a totally different kind of market in Palermo, Sicily, and came back to the Bay Area in time […]

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