As soon as I walked in the barn door, a mason jug of apple-flavored moonshine was thrust into my hands, I heard power tools starting up, and there were two large porcine heads on the adjacent table.
Every Saturday needs to be like this past one.
So I eat meat. I am not naive about doing so. When you put aside the bacon-themed novelties and the excitement about being part of a pig butchering and the intoxicating prospect of obtaining forty or fifty pounds of fresh pork and the little grunts we make during a meal of pork belly tacos, it’s sobering to remind yourself what actually has to happen. It is also essential that we occasionally do so. This was my long overdue first time.
I watched the little piggy snuff film. It was captured on a smartphone, and it only seemed respectful to watch the animal die. I watched the pig clawing desperately backward into the corner of the pen, and I watched its stubby little legs flailing helplessly as the animal was grappled and forced to the ground. I felt its soul-chilling desperate final sound lingering in my diaphragm as the act played itself out.
I am at peace with what I saw. But it was not a something I can just un-see.
We were left with two animals. Two heads, and four primal cuts suspended individually about eight feet off the ground. Our hosts took care of the heavy cutting: Breaking down the primals into pork chops and slabs of ribs and shoulders roast and hocks. We were entrusted with boning knives for some of the finer work – trimming silverskin, dispatching the heads into jowl and cheek, prepping the scrap for an extended sausage-making session. The process took only an hour so of actual cutting, but our gracious hosts were dealing with city people after all… foodies, no less. More time was probably spent among us pondering the consequences of our choices: between fattier belly and fattier ribs or between thicker ribs and less shoulder… not to mention the back and forth we had about spices and brines.
Three and a half things:
1. The pigs were considerably leaner than I expected. Maybe it was just my unrealistic fantasies of inches upon inches of jiggly, alabaster-colored pork fat, but there wasn’t THAT much. There was a nice layer around the belly, obviously, and along the edges of the rib meat, but, but otherwise, this was a thoroughly modern animal, and it was surprising to see.
2. There was an interesting cultural divide playing out in terms of “good” meat. I think our hosts expected that we would be excited about thick pork chops and luscious tenderloin (and of course we were), but I think they were amused at my enthusiasm for the odd cuts. I mean, I kind of understand that. I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time salivating over pernil and smokey end-bits that end up in soup, and braises that transform something “throwaway” into something extraordinary. This was not lost on me when I was practically fishing the trotters out of the scrap pile.
2a They let me have the trotters and gave me the right of first refusal on the brain meat, but they drew the line when I asked for the bladders (I swear it’s totally a thing). I think I actually made one of our hosts laugh the loudest when I told him that these pig feet I had “rescued” would go for $100 if coated with a parsillade and served with parsnips and served somewhere in “the city.”
3. I don’t have the faintest idea what I am going to do with all of this pig meat in my freezer. I’ve wanted to braise with coffee and Kahlua, I’m looking forward to all kinds of brine. I’ve been thinking about a Odd Bits” tasting, including trotter, jowl, and belly. Maybe another sous vide attempt. I did acquire one bit of essential reading (and Sara bought me another), so I look forward to sharing my further adventures.
So far, however, my experiments have been limited. I tried to make Spanish chorizo, but the pork had already been ground, and without a meat grinder it proved difficult to incorporate additional fat. The spicing was reasonably accurate, but because the sausage was relatively lean, the strong spices didn’t have a chance to spread out and entered the palate too abruptly. I threw them in some of “The Soup” and called it a day.
So much more to come…