She Who Must Be Obeyed, knowing that a tie or Sunday brunch wouldn’t cut it as Father’s Day gifts, bought me an early present: a pig butchery class presented by Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. I didn’t think I’d get any hands-on time with a knife and a pig (liability issues, I’m sure), but I knew I still had a bit to learn about breaking down the animal into its primals. So I donned my Charcutepalooza t-shirt (Standard response: “What’s that?” Oh, you Cambridge hipstersâ€¦) and headed to their prep facility in Alewife.
We were greeted by Formaggio’s charcutiÃ¨re Julie Biggs, an intact pig’s head (both above), a glass of hard cider, and a plate of homemade sausage wrapped in puff pastry.
First we learned about the pig she’d be working with. It was raised on Falter Farm in Ashby, Massachusets, was five months old and had a live weight of 120 pounds, and was a Landacre breed, known for its elongated body. After gutting and hanging it weighed in at 90 pounds. Julie had already removed the head and split the body into two halves. One of the halves had already been broken down, but sheÂ would demonstrate the process on the remaining half. She began by removing the shoulder and separating it into a Boston butt and a picnic ham. She then started the cuts to separate the ham (rear leg quarter).
Once the meat was cut away, she severed the chine bone (spine) with a meat saw. I have to get me one of those.
While the carnage continued up front, we were served a series of porky tidbits: posole made with pulled pork and hominy, house-made pÃ¢tÃ© de campagne,
and braised pork belly seasoned with star anise and szechuan peppercorns.
Julie finished the demo by removing the spine and ribs from the upper belly, which she then rolled into a porchetta. The lower belly was to small for bacon, but could have been cured and rolled for pancetta.
What happened to all of the pig parts after the demo? They were made available to us to buy. While people scrambled for the shoulder and loin, I calmly claimed the whole head (for only $4/pound), which had been staring at me from the table for the entire class. When asked “What will you do with that?,” I replied “Cook and eat it, of course,” which got a smile from Julie.
And that’s what I did. I removed the jowls and cured them to make guanciale. I separated the ears, which I’ve poached and will fry to make crispy pig’s ear salad (a favorite of He Who Will Not Be Ignored). And I roasted the entire head, using the recipe from The Odd Bits.
I got two meals out of just the meat from the head, made burritos withÂ the chopped tongue, and will make the salad over the weekend. Can you get that much satisfaction from a tenderloin? I think not.
* A tip of the hat to Fiona Apple.