There it was. Wrapped in plastic, looking foreign, and taking up five cutting boards. We finally got our halved Heritage pig, and it was a fatty. It tipped the scales at over 100 pounds (for just this half of the pig), and it was only a few years old.
We had Chef Marc today to take us through butchering a pig. One thing I really love about school are the teachers because most of them come from countries where butchering a pig is part of their tradition–not something they learned in a classroom. Chef Marc grew up in Alsace, France, where his parents had a smoke room in the basement. (A smoke room in the basement, people!) He was raised without modern amenities like a fridge, and his mother practiced charcuterie so they’d have preserved meat to last them through the winter. He talked about gathering pine needles to burn in the smoke room to give his meat an earthy, smoky flavor, and all I could think was, “Can your parents adopt me?”
The first order of business was to crack open the heads (we got two, not sure why) and boil them in a court bouillon, or a flavorful broth. This would be our fodder for headcheese–a dish that involves no cheese, but solidifying all the meat and skin from the head into a pâté. (It tastes better than it sounds, I promise.)
Then we got to work on the body. To help us segment the halved pig into primal cuts, we used a handsaw. I stepped in to saw off some ribs, and it involved a counterintuitive technique. I approached this half body, that weighs more than me, thinking I’d have to give a lot of pressure to receive a little leeway. But I needed to do the opposite. The more pressure I applied, the more my handsaw got tangled in the flesh. So it was light, quick back and forth movements that allowed me to saw through this pig. And after I did this, Georges told me I had some lumberjack inside me. I just hope I didn’t make this face when sawing:
I thought I’d be a little squeamish around a halved pig, but killing a lobster was a much harder day than today. I think because the pig is already dead and drained of most of its blood, it’s manageable. Plus, it was a great photo opportunity, so I’m going to have to inundated you with pictures now:
TIP OF THE DAY: The best way to brine a ham? Buy a brining needle. That way, you can inject your brining solution into the flesh and insure an even flavor.