Category Archives: Hobbies

The WHOLE Hog

A tweet on Friday from Kocurek Family Charcuterie, @KFAcharcuterie, read: Pig butchery class this weekend on for just a donation. location to be giving out two hours before demo…be in south austin…space limited

Pig butchering class? Yes, please! I cleared my night and anxiously awaited the location. It was announced at 5:30pm – a small kitchen in one hour. Traffic was at its worst, the first UT home game of the season, and I live on the other side of town. How could I forget? We fought traffic and arrived at 6:30pm on the nose. Once there we were promptly greeted by the fairly large fellow pictured below and a solid handshake from the man who raised him, Lawrence Kocurek.

Awhile back I posted about the Whole Hog Class with Dai Due. This was nothing like that. This was last minute, minimally planned, and free of any charge. This was a very small class for people who were genuinely interested taught by a man who truly wanted to share his craft. To paraphrase Lawrence, we would be butchering him anyway, so why not invite people to join?

The class consisted of Lawrence, another Kacurek Family Charcuterie employee, and five other people (myself included). The evening began with no introductions, they were unnecessary; instead, it began with removing the head from a 256 pound pig and not one person batted an eye.

Someone asked a question about rendering fat for lard. Lawrence stopped to show us the line between the soft and hard fat. He waited until we each had a chance to see for ourselves. He talked about modern breeds and how most don’t have much fat at all, how it has been bred out in favor of leaner meats. He took the time to explain why the pig they have for breeding is an old world breed, how they want to keep some of that fat on their animals. When he talked about his pigs his eyes lit up. These pigs aren’t just pigs that are raised somewhere for production – they are his pigs – his family – his livelihood – and it showed.

From that point forward the class went quickly. Lawrence explained each cut, each section of the pig, and what each part would be used for. Not one piece would go to waste. Questions were welcomed and he would stop to answer each one in detail.

We learned about processing plants, hanging weight versus regular weight, how to tell if the kidneys are healthy, and more. Topics varied, but no discussion strayed far from the noble beast at hand.

What began as an incredibly large animal was now nothing more than bones.

What surprised me the most was size of the hog’s frame. The bone structure supports 300+ pounds, but is tiny in comparison to the hog’s overall size.

An hour and a half later and it was over. There were no hand-out’s, no suggested reading material. The class was impromptu and somehow it worked. Lawrence shared his craft in a setting best described as casual; the five of us watched with wide eyes and learned everything we wanted to know because our questions helped guide the night and he had an answer to every one. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

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The Whole Hog

I have only a few end goals in life:

1) run a marathon

2) get a PhD

3) learn the butchering trade

Recently, beer has become a potential fourth goal, but that is neither here, nor there, at least not for this post.

In pursuit of goal #3, I signed up for a whole hog butchering class with Jesse of Dai Due. How could I not? I mean, have you tasted this man’s magnificent meat? It’s like heaven in mouth; deliciously soul stirring meat heaven in mouth. If that description doesn’t make you run to the Farmer’s Market on Guadalupe this Saturday, well, I don’t know what will.

Moving on..

This Whole Hog Butchering class took place some time ago in the yesteryear of November 21, 2010, but still remains vibrant in memory (and notes and pictures).

Here’s the legend and the beast:

This beautiful creature went from whole hog to shoulder, loin, belly, and leg in no time. Such a sight to behold.

My favorite part of the course, however, was the making of head cheese:

I could go on and on and on like the song that never ends about my meat morals and how no other culinary revival warms my heart like the revival of nose to tail eating, but I’ll spare you the verbose side note … for now, at least. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the classic favorite:

Pork belly! Pre-bacon bacon! But wait, there’s more!!

A whole slew of pretty piggy parts. Racks and hocks and loins – oh my! But what about the rest? We rendered leaf fat for luscious lard, prepared neck meat for rillettes, cured shoulder for tasso ham, braised and roasted belly to eat right out of the oven, and more.

But what was the focus? Oh yeah, SAUSAGE. From this class I went home with fresh liverwurst, kielbasa, chorizo, and boudin blanc. Four significantly different styles of sausage and all four of which were crazy good.

Important things I learned about sausage making: it’s not easy. More detailed? Use a mixer and mix until sticky to prevent crumbling; keep everything as cold as possible for better texture (grinder in freezer style); eyeball for 25% fat; etc..

We’re now about two and a half hours (and about a bottle of wine – did I mention it was BYOB, because it totally was) into the class. What does that mean? Break time! And what does break time at Dai Due mean? Lots of delicious food.

Pate, olive oil poached tuna, herbed cream cheese, pork cracklins, and more.

Break time over = headcheese time.

The cheek meat and tongue are, by far, the best part. This is a little picked over as we then pressed most of the meat (ears included) into a loaf pan to make headcheese. It was delicious right off the stove top, but even more delicious after it had time to gelatinize in the bread pan.

Let’s just say that since this class I have purchased a meat grinder, sausage stuffer, and several books on the topic. Although the home sausage making adventure has yet to begin, I have a feeling it will soon, and, rest assured, I will absolutely post about it.

And on a final note, here’s a list of my current reads:

The River Cottage Meat Book – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery – Jane Grigson

The Whole Beast. Nose to Tail Eating – Fergus Henderson

And a couple sausage making books.

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