The Whole Pig

Guest post by Tom today:

On Saturday I attended The Whole Pig, a class on pig butchery sponsored by the Institute of Urban Homesteading. I've taken classes with them before (cheesemaking), and we were a stop on their farm tour last year. Our instructor for this class was Seth Peterson, who lives in Berkeley and has worked in a variety of restaurants.

(Note: this post will contain pictures of pig parts. It mostly won't be anything you haven't seen in a grocery store, but if this isn't your thing, perhaps you'll want to read an archival post on shallots or bees instead.)

The pig we worked with was from Devil's Gulch Ranch, an 873 acre farm in Nicasio, CA, in Marin County, pretty close to the Point Reyes National Seashore. They supply pigs to all kinds of high-end restaurants in the area, but they'll also sell to regular folks.

We started our class with a discussion of knives and knife safety.

 It's such a delight to use really sharp knives. That's a bone saw, too.

It's such a delight to use really sharp knives. That's a bone saw, too.

The pig came in two halves, or sides; Seth had picked it up the day before, and it spent the night in the big spare freezer he keeps in his house. We next talked about how we were going to break down each side into its four quarters, and then take each quarter and break it down into the different parts you're used to seeing. For those of you counting at home, yes, one pig gives you eight quarters.

Before separating it into four quarters, we had to prep each side, which involved removing the hangar steak and skirt steak, the leaf fat (internal fat that's really good for pie crust) and the tenderloin.

Next, we removed the leg quarter (the hind leg and back side) and the shoulder quarter (with front leg) from the midsection. The midsection is then cut in half, into the loin (around the spine) and the belly (mmm, pork belly). Here's a good picture:

 Shoulder quarter on the left, leg quarter on the right, and a classmate separating the loin and belly.

Shoulder quarter on the left, leg quarter on the right, and a classmate separating the loin and belly.

Here's a closeup on the loin and belly, pre-separation:

 Soon-to-be pork chops on the left, belly on the right.

Soon-to-be pork chops on the left, belly on the right.

A big part of the rest of our discussion was on the choices a butcher has to make. Consider this picture of the belly and loin, post-separation:

We'd made the choice to cut where we did to kind of maximize belly, but had we cut a little further down, we'd have loin chops with that bit of rib on the end. See all that back fat on the loin? You might think about separating that out if you were going to make salumi. When separating the ribs from the belly, you've got to decide how much meat to leave on. With the loin, you've got the choice of cutting them into pork chops (which is what we did), but you could also cut a big section to make a loin roast.

Once quartered, we got to work on breaking things down. We decided to make pork chops:

The leg and shoulder quarters were separated out into roasts.

 

And the belly was cut into squares so we could all take some home.

Seth, our instructor, was wonderfully enthusiastic with us. We were all a little nervous about the process, and he was very encouraging about us just getting in there and cutting things. Our cuts were by no means expert, but it all worked out. We each got to take home 10 pounds of various pig parts -- some belly, a chop, a bit of ham hock and leaf fat, either some tenderloin or some ribs, and then some roasting bits. I cooked up a variety of our take for Sunday dinner.

 Cooking up a pork chop...

Cooking up a pork chop...

 Ribs, chop, and roast.

Ribs, chop, and roast.

A couple of takeaways:

If the only pork you're eating is tenderloin, that's maybe 3-4 pounds out of a 180-pound pig.

Seth paid $3.50 a pound for the pig, which is astoundingly inexpensive. This whole experience definitely made us think about going in with a few people and doing this ourselves. You need some pretty significant freezer space to store half a pig, but knowing exactly where and how your pig lived, and getting money directly into the hands of farmers, makes a lot of sense. (Two of my classmates were a couple that just started New Growth Farm in near-to-us Castro Valley, so we'll have to check them out).

We watched some video from Farmstead Meatsmith in preparation for class. This video about side butchery gives you all of the basics.

Joe the dog thought I smelled fabulous when I got home. He would have enjoyed this class, too.

 You gonna eat all that?

You gonna eat all that?