My six-year-old nephew won’t eat pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse because he doesn’t want to bite Mickey in the head. Because, of course, that’s “too mean.” However, when faced with a children’s menu in a restaurant with a drawing of a cow sectioned into “roast,” “shoulder,” “ground beef,” etc., he asked me what it was and I told him it’s where his hamburger came from. He looked confused, said, “A cow?” And, despite the protestations of my sister-in-law, I confirmed that yes, his hamburger comes from a cow. He shrugged and chowed down. There’s a disconnect there. I wish for my nephew, and every kid, what I didn’t have growing up — I want him to know where his food comes from.
In an effort to get to know our own food better, for his birthday, I gave K two spots in the Whole Hog Butchery class at Kitchen in the Market. He scored big husband points by taking me with. The class was taught by Mike Phillips of Three Sons Meats and his right hand man, Tyler of the Strip Club in St. Paul. When we walked into KITM, we were greeted by this:
I’m not going to lie — the teeth, the snout, the ear, the hooves, the little hairs still clinging to thick skin — seeing a piggie cut in half and knowing it was dinner was not easy. Tyler broke down the pig intuitively — he said the joints and muscles tell you where to cut, you just need to allow your knife to follow.
And, just like seeing pork packaged in plastic and styrofoam in the grocery store, the more Tyler broke down the pig, the less it looked like a recognizable animal and the easier it got.
But it was fascinating to learn about the different cuts of meat from different areas of the pig, learn how the pig was raised, when the pig was slaughtered and that it had a pretty happy life before it met its end. And that’s what matters most to me — we’re all going to die. If an animal is going to die in order to feed me, I want it to have the best life and least stressful death possible. I think that’s the best we can hope for *our* lives as well.
Mike and Tyler showed us how to use as much of the pig as possible, to make it count and not to waste anything. We came away from the class with ribs, pork belly, pork chops, skin and sausage. Lots of sausage.
Local pork, local beer, local meat masters making sausage. The secret to successful sausage? Fat. This sausage was about a 60/40 blend (60 percent meat, 40 percent fat) and was lightly spiced to keep it versatile.
In the end, we walked away with a *ton* of knowledge and a new appreciation for every bite of meat we take. And, in case you’re wondering what tools it takes to butcher a whole hog, the answer is some seriously sharp knives (and a tiny hand saw to get through a really tough bone or two). And the fact that the cleaver is “Dexter” was not lost on us.
If you have the opportunity to take a butchery class with Mike Phillips at Kitchen in the Market — jump on that opportunity immediately. The classes sell out quickly because they’re worth it and they’re a great value because you go home with lots of fresh, delicious meat.